Elves and Dwarves and Humans, Oh My!

Dwarves Elves Friendship

Ah, the conflict between elves and dwarves in Middle Earth! Which do you prefer? Elves or dwarves? Why? Most people have a fairly strong preference. One of the reasons behind that is because Tolkien took the time to create deep cultures and histories for each of these races, and he made them complex and varied, as well. And he made them relatable. They aren’t so very different from humans that we can’t empathize with them at all.

One of the reasons I love the above quote so much is because it so perfectly encapsulates much of what we know about the interactions of elves and dwarves. With these simple lines he shows their history and their humanity. He gives us a picture of two races at odds with one another, and yet, like in many feuds we have seen time and time again in our own world, neither side has any idea of what they are actually fighting over. 

Today, we get to ask a question about one of my favorite aspects of world building: what intelligent species inhabit your realm?

One of the most fun things about world building is deciding and creating the intelligent races you want to see inhabiting your story world. Part of the reason it’s fun, is that it involves character creation… and while world building is something I’ve had to learn, characters are blissfully easy for me. They sort of step into my imagination fully formed and full of their own ideas and back stories (yes, very a la “The Man Who Invented Christmas”), and usually they bring all of this along with them and are pretty willing to share it with me right away. I’ve had a recent few give me a bit more difficulty, but characters are usually the part of the process that comes easiest… so today we get to hang out in comfortable territory for me! (lucky you!)

When you are creating a fantasy realm, you get to decide who inhabits your world, and since we’re playing in the fantasy sandbox, that means you get a few more options than people writing say… just about anything else outside of the speculative fiction boundaries (speculative fiction, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a way of lumping everything on the fantasy-to-science-fiction spectrum together in one easy to say genre label).

So, who do you want in your realm? The sky is, quite literally, just the beginning of your limits. You can stick with just humans, as I tried to do with the Turrim Archive (that failed miserably, but I didn’t even mean for it to, and I’m not going to tell you what other races showed up, but I didn’t invite them, they just jumped into my story without my permission, took up residence, and refused to leave).

You can follow the high fantasy 3-race structure of humans, elves, and dwarves.

In The Minstrel’s Song, I included humans, dragons, gryphons, merfolk, unicorns, pegasus, and a few others, giving each race their own unique cultures and characteristics, but making each race fully capable of both good and evil, just like humans. Dragons in my world are not “all good” or “all bad.” They have the ability to be either. In that story, the human and myth-folk kingdoms have had a long and varied history. In the ancient past, the human and myth-folk kingdoms experienced peace and viewed each other as allies. Dragons and their human riders patrolled the skies, helping to keep the peace. But all it takes are a few misunderstandings to form a rift. Eventually, the humans came to fear the myth-folk. Wars were fought, and the myth-folk retreated into hiding. At the beginning of King’s Warrior, most of the humans in the world have never seen a dragon (or any other myth-folk creature) and don’t even believe they ever existed. (We’ll talk more about dragons and the like later on next week, I just mention them here because in this series I treated them more like a cultural entity than like a fantasy creature).

When you are creating different sapient creatures for your story world, I recommend thinking carefully about why they exist. How do they help you tell a better story? If your main character is a half-elf or a dragon or a gnome, how does that help you tell the story better than if they were simply human? What characteristics does that allow you to play with? What tropes does it allow you to subvert? What tropes does it allow you to hit in a unique or brilliant way? Remember, tropes aren’t bad. Tropes exist because audiences love them. You don’t always have to subvert them, but if you’re going to include a trope (and you probably are, because there is nothing new under the sun), be careful it doesn’t become a cliche. Use it purposefully, and make it work for your story to develop your character, give depth to your world, or further your plot.

In Revelod, there are quite a few different races. There are humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, orcs, giants, drakin, and titans. The humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and orcs are all fairly standard to other versions you’ll find in most other fantasy novels. The drakin and the titans, however, are ones my husband created from scratch.

The drakin are descended from ordinary humans, who used to be enslaved by the dragon lords in Seyberron. However, 300 years ago, one of the Ari took pity on them and gave them the strength of their oppressors, allowing the human slaves to rise up and overthrow their overlords. This strength and other draconic traits gifted to them by the Ari were passed along to their children, causing the formation of a new race. While their heritage is human, they are now something that is partially human, partially dragon. They live in nomadic tribes and have a slightly longer lifespan than most humans. They love history and lore, but are deeply emotional and often unpredictable… a side effect of their draconic side.

The titans are a race that also descended from ordinary humans. During the Tytan War, the Haedrus Spire was the land of turmoil and destruction thanks to the Tytan Giants.  Driven by two of the Vanimor, the people of the Haedrus Spire lived with war and death as their constant companions.  After  a decade of war, two of the Ari took pity upon the Haedrian people and bent the Rules of Intervention and provided the strength and resolve the Haedrian people needed to stand up to the Dreadlord Tytan Giants wreaking havoc on the land.  Thus, was born the Titan people. Titans are a hearty people like dwarves, but they prefer wide open spaces.  The innate power of their Ari patrons blessed them with the ability to enhance their size and abilities to bolster their ranks on the battle field. They are forces to be reckoned with on and off the battlefield.

When you are considering what sapient races to include in your world, an additional question you might want to consider is: where do they come from?

Have these races always existed, side by side with the humans of your world? Does your world even have humans? Why or why not? Are they like traditional elves and dwarves, where they were created alongside humans? Or are they similar to the drakin and titans of Revelod and were once human but were somehow altered to become something new?

The good news is: this is YOUR world and there’s really no wrong answers here (huzzah!) If you want dragons, you can have them. If you want elves or purple-spotted gorantulas who live peacefully in the highest branches of an impossibly tall forest… be my guest! I am currently considering a flash fiction about crotchety old ice elementals who are rather put out at a perceived lack of respect by mortals… so… that should be fun to write.

Mountain Segue

Let’s chat! What fantasy races do you get most excited about when you see them featured in a story? Do you prefer elves or dwarves? (or neither?) Why? What are your favorite fantasy races to write about? What are some fantasy races you think are underused that you’d like to see more of? Are you enjoying fantasy month? I truly hope so! Make sure to go to the pinned post and check out some of the other awesome bloggers who have joined the link-up! There are some truly awesome, thought-provoking, entertaining, and informative posts that have been written and I don’t want you to miss any of them!

~ jenelle

10 Comments

Wyn Estelle

ELVES! I’ve always loved elves, ever since I read the Hobbit. Something about them just appeals to me. They’re my absolute favorite fantasy race ever, even though dwarves are cool as well (btw, the quote you used is one of my favorites and it made me smile to see it. I love Gandalf’s rather dry response).
Currently, I’m working on a story that has humans, elves, dwarves, elementals, and one or two other sparsely-populated races that I don’t want to reveal just yet. But when I was worldbuilding for the Elves, the Dwarves, and the Elementals, a friend and I went to great pains to figure out cultures from the real world to base each race on that fit but wasn’t the standard cliche of ‘Norse/Teutonic Dwarves’, etc. I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with!

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jenelle

I love elves! :)

Oooh, elementals! I haven’t written anything with them, but I always enjoy encountering them when I’m reading :)

That’s awesome that you’re trying to branch out with your races and make them less “been there done that!” I love it!

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A. M. Reynwood

This was an interesting post! (Not that the others haven’t been, because I’ve enjoyed them all so far). I can’t say I have a preference to either elves or dwarves, I like them both, for different reasons. Gnomes are creatures I haven’t seen much of, so much so that I keep forgetting about them!

In my current project I only have humans and dragons (and the people don’t know the dragons are sentient because they don’t speak the same language and the dragons still live like your average forest creature. For now). In a past project (my Journey Taken series) I had a few different races, but none super traditional except for humans and merfolk. I had cyborgs and demi-humans, and then the faenari and skivrig. I spent a lot of time on the history and origin of the world and their creation . . . I could yawp on for days here, but I won’t!

In the future I’d like to try being a little more exploratory with different races and creatures, like elementals and spirits and the like, but right now I really need to focus on finishing my current WIP . . .

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jenelle

Thank you!

Terry Brooks uses gnomes in his Shannara series, they are an interesting one. And they get used more often in books that came out of the D&D realms… I know they’ve featured in a few books I’ve read, but you’re right, they aren’t as common.

I really need to read some of your books!!! They sound awesome!

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DJ Edwardson

Okay, so I’m a bit late to the party, but yes, different races are part of what make fantasy so interesting. My personal favorite are Tolkien’s elves. Most other elven portrayals feel off.

Have you ever read the Dark Sun books? They’re a little, well, dark, but I liked the races in them quite a bit, particularly the main character who was part dwarf, part human, and therefore sterile. I liked that concept, that the mixing of the races was possible, but not intended. It was an interesting twist.

So, forgive me for my ignorance, but I’ve seen you talk about Revelod in several posts now, but I must have missed the post where you introduced it. What story is it connected to?

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jenelle

No forgiveness necessary! Revelod is not yet connected to any particular story. I’m using it as an example of a world that Derek and I have built together (though, mostly it’s been Derek building it… it started out as a world for us to play D&D in, but since we don’t have much time these days to play D&D, it has kind of morphed into a place where I might write some future stories… we have a few ideas). But it’s a great example of a place where a LOT of thought and effort have gone into the technical side of the world building, so it makes for a good example, and gives y’all a little bit of a “back page pass” into the world building process we use and some of the things we think about. :)

I’ve also been using Minstrel’s Song where applicable, and giving a few teasers/hints at Turrim Archive :)

I have not read the Dark Sun books, I don’t mind a little dark at times. They sound intriguing, I’ll have to look them up!

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E.F.B.

I’m definitely an elf fancier, at least when it comes to Tolkien’s elves. Like DJ, I feel other attempts at Tolkien-esque elves tend to miss the mark. IMO, there’s too much focus on the outward behaviors like being stoic and they miss the emotional depth and the history behind Tolkien’s elves. Tolkien elves aren’t just stoic to be stoic, they’re mourning the golden age of the past and the waning of their culture!

In my portal fantasy WIP some of my major characters are elves and I’d compare them more to the elves of the Silmarillion who were emotional, passionate, and even volatile. I’ve also added my own twist of each individual elf having a special “magical” talent of some variety.

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jenelle

Agreed! I love Tolkien’s elves.

I’m actually writing a story where elves and dwarves kind of showed up super unexpectedly for me, and it took me by surprise. I never intended to put them in this WIP, but now they’ve taken up residence and are refusing to leave.

I’m looking forward to putting some thought into the elves and dwarves of Revelod eventually. They are kind of there as “place holders” right now, but I definitely want to make them my own and not just plod along with the typical Tolkien or D&D style elves and dwarves.

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Christine

I am the saaaaame when it comes to characters. They just appear in my head— looks, personalities, and backgrounds included, and demanding I write them. I usually have no choice in the matter. XD Most of the time the characters come way before the plot. I have to work hard on the plot and world building, but the characters just…are. Which, ya know, I won’t complain about!

I really, really love when stories have different races and works hard to build their culture. I’ve been watching The Dragon Prince on Netflix, and though some of it is a little…meh, the world building is GREAT. It REALLY focuses on all sorts of different races and cultures. I enjoy watching it just for the world building alone. It’s super inspiring!

Also I have to flail real quick about your drakin. They sound EPIIIIC. Part dragon, part human? YESSSH.

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jenelle

Yes!!! My characters just… are. I don’t create them. I swear.

I am definitely in love with the drakin. I can’t wait to write about them!

We watched the first season and a half of Dragon Prince, I agree, the world building is epic. Wish the writers had made other choices with the story, because I really liked it, but we quit watching halfway through season 2.

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