September 21, 2020, 05:00:20 PM

Author Topic: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?  (Read 4770 times)

Offline abatch

Re: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?
« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2020, 01:18:40 AM »
I don't enjoy novels with elves, dwarves and orcs in them (outside of the classics). It feels like lazy world-building to me -- just using the Tolkien or D & D templates. That said, there are always exceptions. I love the way Tad Williams has written elves over the years, for example. But I would say some of my favorite reads over the past decade or so have avoided them completely, by authors like Erikson, Cook, GRRM, Galley, Abercrombie, Bancroft et al. Personal preference, but I've got too many books on my TBR list to waste time on LOTR-type remakes.

Offline Peat

Re: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?
« Reply #16 on: September 16, 2020, 12:26:53 AM »
How many fantasy stories don't have lazy worldbuilding though? Real world analogues and stock stereotypes drawn from classic D&D worlds/early 80s fantasy are the foundation block of 9/10 fantasies that don't contain elves, dwarves et al, and I don't see how that's any less lazy. Each to their own on taste, but I see no reason to single out common demihuman races as lazy in this genre because if I were to restrict my reading solely to secondary world fantasies that weren't leaning on what came before, I'd pretty much read no fantasy.

I get they're unpopular. I get people feel they're played out. But I like them, and wish they were in more books.

Incidentally, isn't it humanocentric to assume all sentient races would have the same level of cultural diversity as us? :P That in itself could be an interesting point- looking at how different humanity is when you're from a culture that really is hardwired in so deep it's the same everywhere. I know people dislike it, because of real world implications as much as anything, but it is a potentially interesting route to go.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline cupiscent

Re: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?
« Reply #17 on: September 16, 2020, 12:37:35 AM »
Incidentally, isn't it humanocentric to assume all sentient races would have the same level of cultural diversity as us? :P That in itself could be an interesting point- looking at how different humanity is when you're from a culture that really is hardwired in so deep it's the same everywhere. I know people dislike it, because of real world implications as much as anything, but it is a potentially interesting route to go.

I mean... the problem comes when the non-human sentient race is clearly just a stand-in for a human ethnic group, and therefore having them all as one homogeneous stereotype is a bit gross. But a story that explored the idea that, say, dwarves didn't have that same "in-group/out-group" mental habit as humans did could be fascinating, because it helps examine that habit in humans, the ways in which it's harmful, but also the purposes it serves, and it considers alternative ways of serving those purposes or living without them.

One of the things I loved about Becky Chambers' Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was that humans were nothing special in the universal array of races.

Offline Peat

Re: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?
« Reply #18 on: September 16, 2020, 01:33:26 AM »
Incidentally, isn't it humanocentric to assume all sentient races would have the same level of cultural diversity as us? :P That in itself could be an interesting point- looking at how different humanity is when you're from a culture that really is hardwired in so deep it's the same everywhere. I know people dislike it, because of real world implications as much as anything, but it is a potentially interesting route to go.

I mean... the problem comes when the non-human sentient race is clearly just a stand-in for a human ethnic group, and therefore having them all as one homogeneous stereotype is a bit gross. But a story that explored the idea that, say, dwarves didn't have that same "in-group/out-group" mental habit as humans did could be fascinating, because it helps examine that habit in humans, the ways in which it's harmful, but also the purposes it serves, and it considers alternative ways of serving those purposes or living without them.

One of the things I loved about Becky Chambers' Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was that humans were nothing special in the universal array of races.

Maybe I'm being willfully blind but I honestly can't think of a single book where dwarves and elves are clearly one particular human ethnic group; I certainly wouldn't consider the classic Tolkienesque versions of them to be so. If they were being used that way then yes, tricky to say the (very) least.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Online Skip

Re: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?
« Reply #19 on: September 16, 2020, 04:46:56 PM »
I can't think of an ethnic example either, but there are many cases--Tolkien included--where each race is a set of characteristics and nothing more nor less. All elves are X. All dwarves are Y. There might be individual stories within that, but there's no real variation. How many elves drink too much and think farting is funny? How many elegant dwarves have you met in the literature?

Honestly, I don't mind the stereotypes in themselves. The laziness criticism holds water when an author just picks those up and uses them in place of putting any real work into the characters. That's not the fault of the elf or the dwarf, it's the fault of the human. The author.

And it's a shame because there's real opportunity in having non-humans. Let dwarves be as varied in culture and personality as are humans. At the same time, give them a cohesion that lets anyone recognize them instantly as dwarves. It's a real challenge.

Think about just our human race. A north Italian will recognize a south Italian instantly. A Swede might not distinguish, but he won't mistake either for a Frenchman. I'm consistently amused and bemused that I'm recognized immediately as American when I travel in Europe. I don't even have to speak. To someone on the other side of the planet, though, we're all just Westerners.

This fascinates me. What distinguishes us one from another, while at the same time what makes us indistinguishable?

What I hope to do in my own work, and what I look for in other fantasy writers, is that sort of cultural nuance. Physical differences help, of course, but there can be more to it than beards and ears.
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Offline Peat

Re: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?
« Reply #20 on: September 16, 2020, 06:00:07 PM »
I can't think of an ethnic example either, but there are many cases--Tolkien included--where each race is a set of characteristics and nothing more nor less. All elves are X. All dwarves are Y. There might be individual stories within that, but there's no real variation. How many elves drink too much and think farting is funny? How many elegant dwarves have you met in the literature?

Honestly, I don't mind the stereotypes in themselves. The laziness criticism holds water when an author just picks those up and uses them in place of putting any real work into the characters. That's not the fault of the elf or the dwarf, it's the fault of the human. The author.

And it's a shame because there's real opportunity in having non-humans. Let dwarves be as varied in culture and personality as are humans. At the same time, give them a cohesion that lets anyone recognize them instantly as dwarves. It's a real challenge.

Think about just our human race. A north Italian will recognize a south Italian instantly. A Swede might not distinguish, but he won't mistake either for a Frenchman. I'm consistently amused and bemused that I'm recognized immediately as American when I travel in Europe. I don't even have to speak. To someone on the other side of the planet, though, we're all just Westerners.

This fascinates me. What distinguishes us one from another, while at the same time what makes us indistinguishable?

What I hope to do in my own work, and what I look for in other fantasy writers, is that sort of cultural nuance. Physical differences help, of course, but there can be more to it than beards and ears.

Tolkien's elves, at least, are different from each other. The Noldor have a different culture to the Teleri have a different culture to the Vanyar; the Eldar are different to the Sindar who are different to Avari. In fact, Tolkien's elves probably show more cultural distinctions than his humans (a not uncommon state of affairs) which brings me back to my point about singling out non-humans for laziness - how many gems of refinement are there among the many not-Celto-Viking northmen? I'm reading Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart again at the moment - where are the Angelines for whom beauty isn't all?

Lazy worldbuilding is a fantasy standard. I don't see why we should be holding the demihumans to a higher standard - and I think we see less differences than exist too.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline Nighteyes

  • Juicy dwarf/orc erotica to go.
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Re: Elves, dwarves and orcs: where do they fit in these days?
« Reply #21 on: September 16, 2020, 07:22:36 PM »
I think there is a demand for dwarf/ orc erotica.
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