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  1. #1
    Gentleman and Scholar Wulfa_Jones's Avatar
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    A question of Elves, Dwarfs, Orcs and Trolls...

    Although the the basic template for fantasy - i.e the quest for a magical item, the rescue of a princess and the slaying of a beast have been around for hundreds of years in the form of myths, legends and folk tales. However I feel its correct to say that J R R Tolkein created the whole modern fantasy genre (whether he would be happy about that statement I don't know).

    As far as I know he created Halflings and Orcs and mutated folk tale fairies such as Elves, Dwarfs and goblins into the iconic form with they now reside in modern Fantasy (bar in Harry Potter where they are much more like their fairy tale origins).

    But to the point of this post... Most fantasy books I have read (not including the likes of the Forgotten Realms books) tend not to have any of these stereotypical races in them.

    So, for example James Barclays books use Elves and Dragons but non of the other races, and while I am not a fan Terry Brooks also use's Elves from the small amount I have read of him. Other books like Tad Williams create their own, such as in the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. In this series he creates a race very much like the elves (the name escapes me) as they are the orginal inhabbitants of the world who are fading due to Man.

    Am I just not reading the right books or are the use of these orginal fantasy races dying out? and if so why? Is so not to draw comparrison with the like of the Hobbit and LoTR? or do writers feel that its to cheesy or tacky to use dwarfs goblins and orcs?
    Last edited by Wulfa_Jones; September 10th, 2003 at 03:23 PM.

  2. #2
    Fanboy Extraordinaire! Warewolf's Avatar
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    First, the elf-like race that Williams used was called the Sithi. He also had a dwarf-like race called the Druegar (sp?).

    Raymond Feist uses elves.

    Terry Brooks uses elves and halflings in his Shannara series. Heck, the main characters are halflings. He also uses dryads in his Landover series.

    David Eddings uses trolls.

    Dennis L. McKiernan uses elves and dwarves.

    I'll post again if I can think of any more...

  3. #3
    The Trickster
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    I hate reading books with elves and dwarves who are exactly like Tolkien's - e.g. Magician by Feist. Can't these authors at least change their races names or something? It is a cliche used by anyone who can't think of his own races.BTW, I hate Tolkien's elves too.

    But Terry Pratchet's dwarves and elves rule!

  4. #4
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    It's like evolution: If things don't adapt, they fade away. Fantasy adapts like anything else. If all that was on the shelves was crap that was derivative of Tolkien, with the same old stereotypical races, the same old stereotypical quests, I think that we'd get a little bored and stop buying.

    Raymond Feist uses elves.

    Terry Brooks uses elves and halflings in his Shannara series. Heck, the main characters are halflings. He also uses dryads in his Landover series.

    David Eddings uses trolls.

    Dennis L. McKiernan uses elves and dwarves.
    And these guys are all the more boring for it, generally. This seems a little lazy these days. They don't feel that they need to create anything new, so they'll give the reader something they're instantly familiar with and throw in pretty much all of the cardboard cutout traits that these groups are defined by, and figure people will buy it. Sad truth is, people still do.

    I think, though, that the works that will stand the test of time both in popularity and in literary value are those that aren't simply regurgitating what's come before.

    Then again, some people take these elements and use them in such a way as to say something or make things more interesting, for example, the bisexual casino owner female elf in HEROES DIE and some of the other races that are less mentioned that live in the racial slums of Overworld. They're the same races, but suddenly not dull and trite any more. Those who are still using these races as they were conceived years ago are generally contributing to the stagnation of the genre.

    Note also that those listed as using these races have been writing for at least 20 years in the same old world. Again, lack of creativity and laziness.

  5. #5
    Next to Arch Stanton ezchaos's Avatar
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    Am I just not reading the right books or are the use of these orginal fantasy races dying out? and if so why? Is so not to draw comparrison with the like of the Hobbit and LoTR? or do writers feel that its to cheesy or tacky to use dwarfs goblins and orcs?
    I think that many of the books written over the past five years or so are purposely NOT using the standard elves, dwarves, orcs, etc because authors obviously want their stories to be seen as somewhat original. Personally, I do see it as kind of cheesy to have just plain "elves" or "orcs" in a book. I mean, how many times have these ideas been used? Weren't the first few times enough?

    However, since I'm a fan of good ole classic fantasy, I do like to see variations of elf-like, dwarf-like, etc races--the more original, the better. For example the elf-like races in Kerr's Devery books and William's MS&T. Erikson's uses a variation on the dark elf, light elf, and grey elf in his books.

  6. #6
    Uh, Moderator
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    Heck, the main characters are halflings
    Ermmm, no, they're humans actually.

    I pretty much agree with most of the above statements. Orcs, Elves, etc are cliched and boring. I know as a reader I enjoy innovation or at least variation to these.

  7. #7
    Leisure time optimizer Moderator Nimea's Avatar
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    I am not against anything new and inventive. Not at all.

    But neither am I going to rant about well made cliches, including Elves, Orcs and all the other typical races you get to now so well by roleplaying.

    And maybe it has to do something with me roleplaying. We make up our own fantasy world where we interpret the classical races the way we want them. So maybe that's why I indeed would like to read something like that or at least doesn't mind.
    I am familiar with these things and like to see how an author interprets it.

    But don't get me wrong: stopped reading D&D novels. Enough of that.

    Is the use of these races dying out?
    Ehm, I think and hope not. But if there are fewer it is not bad either.

    Made any sense?


  8. #8
    I smell BBQ kegasaurus's Avatar
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    When the author uses a little nauce and individualises the beings of a race, then a new spin can be put on the old cliches. It gets a bit monotonous when humans are attacking the same old orcs, over and over again.

    Its generally not the race as a whole that intrigues us, but the individuals within.

  9. #9
    Gentleman and Scholar Wulfa_Jones's Avatar
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    Matrim - interesting, you hate Tolkeins Elves but like Pratchet's... hmmm I won't say anymore since I really can't stand Terry Pratchet.

    I see what some of you are saying, and the few books I have read that featured such races have not been very strong. I read one (I think it was a part of a series) that took the view point of Orcs instead of man. It was a clever idea but I had a problem coverting my mind to supporting Orcs instead of Humans!

    I would prefer writers to use the races already formed instead of using their characteristics and giving them a different name.
    The Sithi (thanks warewolf) where basicly elves but with a different name - Williams did not change anything else about their racial characteristics.


    Oh and Erfael, with out any offence intended, I am interested to see whom you enjoy reading.

  10. #10
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    None taken, Wulfa.

    I've mentioned quite a bit of what I like elsewhere, but I'll toss a few out here:


    Tad Williams, not always the absolute best stories, but I love the craft that goes into them.

    G.R.R. Martin, haven't read him in about 3 years, but assuming I still like him.

    Sean Russell, fantasy set in interesting, non-medieval fantasy settings, not an elf to be found.

    Neil Gaiman, really like everything I've read of his. I find them all to be very creative and interesting read. (He did use an implied troll under a bridge in a short story once, if I'm not mistaken)

    Patricia McKillip, again almost more for HOW it's written rather than the content.

    Matthew Woodring Stover, Have only read HEROES DIE so far, but I'm pretty sure I like this guy a lot.

    Guy Gavriel Kay, more fantasy set in period-esque locales(Italy, Provence, Spain)

    Steven King, I consider many of his works fantasy, and some of them are quite excellent (he does have some stinky ones, though, too)

    Steven Donaldson, Robin Hobb, Phillip Pullman, China Meiville, Jeff Vandermeer.

    There are more, but I need to run off for now. What do you think, Wulfa?

  11. #11
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Re: A question of Elves, Dwarfs, Orcs and Trolls...

    Originally posted by Wulfa_Jones
    Although the the basic template for fantasy - i.e the quest for a magical item, the rescue of a princess and the slaying of a beast have been around for hundreds of years in the form of myths, legends and folk tales. However I feel its correct to say that J R R Tolkein created the whole modern fantasy genre (whether he would be happy about that statement I don't know).

    As far as I know he created Halflings and Orcs and mutated folk tale fairies such as Elves, Dwarfs and goblins into the iconic form with they now reside in modern Fantasy (bar in Harry Potter where they are much more like their fairy tale origins).

    But to the point of this post... Most fantasy books I have read (not including the likes of the Forgotten Realms books) tend not to have any of these stereotypical races in them.

    So, for example James Barclays books use Elves and Dragons but non of the other races, and while I am not a fan Terry Brooks also use's Elves from the small amount I have read of him. Other books like Tad Williams create their own, such as in the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. In this series he creates a race very much like the elves (the name escapes me) as they are the orginal inhabbitants of the world who are fading due to Man.

    Am I just not reading the right books or are the use of these orginal fantasy races dying out? and if so why? Is so not to draw comparrison with the like of the Hobbit and LoTR? or do writers feel that its to cheesy or tacky to use dwarfs goblins and orcs?
    Tolkein didn't create the modern fantasy genre in the 1930's, when he wrote. He was actually using traditional fantasy mores in LOTR. However, it's fair to say that the success of his work, by the late sixties, was the spark that caused the modern fantasy category to be created by publishers, and that a lot of the fantasy writers then were working from that mythic template, such as Brooks and Feist.

    Tolkein did not invent orcs, haflings or even, strictly speaking, hobbits. And the fairy tale monsters and races were still alive and well in children's fiction before the adult modern fantasy genre was created. The D&D craze helped increase interest in such creatures, likewise dragons, unicorns and the like.

    But the category is getting older and as such, it's branching out. Elves, (fairie,) dwarves and bogeymen are still common, though they're often called something else. Epic fantasy has perhaps taken a bit of a dip, with the older, established names still doing well and the newer names not doing as well as they did in the nineties, sort of the way that horror was in the eighties. The success of the Tolkein movies may renew epic fantasy's position as the standard bearer of fantasy, but even so, people will look for new ideas, new cultural myths, using the standard Celtic-Anglo creatures when useful. This is probably a good thing, overall. But I hardly think the fair folk are going to die off from fantasy fiction anytime soon, and if they did somehow, they'd be brought back later as a novelty.

  12. #12
    Fanboy Extraordinaire! Warewolf's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Eventine


    Ermmm, no, they're humans actually.
    I have to disagree with you here. The Sword and the Elfstones could only be used by those with the blood of the Shannara family running through their veins. Jerle Shannara, the original weilder of the sword, was an elf. Therefore, they must have elven blood in them. Isn't this the definition of a halfing? Part elf and part human?

  13. #13
    Registered User rune's Avatar
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    I like the traditional creatures as well as any new ones that some imaginative authors come up with. Elizabeth Haydon is very good with creatures, I have got quite fond of her characters

    For me the more the merrier

    rune

  14. #14
    Just to point out:
    Feist's elves, while not original, were well explained and integral to the original stories. They could have been called anything, but there was no point in calling them some other name when they fit the (modern fantasy) definition of elves. Most likely he sarted with elves and built the story to fit but it could have happened the other way.
    His dwarves, on the other hand, were superfluous.

  15. #15
    Acolyte of Cainism Dominus's Avatar
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    Dennis L. McKiernan uses elves and dwarves.
    That's because he somehow gets away with blatant plagiarism of Tolkien. I'm not kidding.

    I agree with what most people have said, that most writers don't use the aforementioned races because they want, actually need, to be more original than that. Of course some still do, the good ones pulling it off, such as Stover. He did basically the same thing as Tolkien, using the myths and legends of the last few thousand years to his advantage. Tolkien wanted to write a mythology for Britain, and Stover wanted to make Overworld seem like it really could exist, an earth that is both similar and very, very different, with links to the earth that set the stage for the Blade of Tyshalle. One of many reasons why Stover is so kick-ass.

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