1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Discussion: various portrayals of elves(and other established fantasy races)in books

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Mallory, Jul 27, 2011.

    So I've been reading a bit more fantasy stories lately, as I've been writing one (mine doesn't use elves or wizards or even spells really, it's more of a series of events that takes place in a made-up dimension.) However, I'm nowhere near an expert on the genre; I've just noticed a few things. It seems that lots of fantasy authors gravitate toward elves and faeries, and people's opinions on elves in books varies greatly. Some people are fine with absolutely anything, no matter how overused it seems, as long as it's well-written; others don't mind elves (or dwarves, goblins, faeries etc) as long as they're portrayed in a unique way and not just a 100 percent Tolkein ripoff, and others are hesitant upon reading the book jacket because they think it'll be cliche.

    So I'm just curious...what's your opinion on the usage of fantasy races and tropes that have already been used? How much reinventing of the wheel do you need to keep reading?

    What are some books that use a lot of the common pre-established fantasy races, but are able to make them feel completely original? What are some bad examples of ones that don't?

    And just to clarify, as noted above, I'm not asking this to run by anything I've written. My book right now doesn't involve any of the above things I've mentioned, but if I did want to use something elf-like in a future book, I'd make it completely my own. Likewise, if someone out there reading this is writing a story involving the races I've mentioned above, make your story unique and GO FOR IT, don't let anyone's personal preferences discourage you. This is just for discussion purposes only, not to imply anyone reading this has written a cliche story - because the only way to judge that would be to read it.
     
  2. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Recycling races and tropes is fine. If it works, don't muck it up. Saying something is blatantly similar to another author's something is an observation, not a criticism.

    As for books, though I'll probably be bum-rushed by jealous wannabes, Paolini did well in making elves 'original' in Brisingr. They were characterized more as artists than tree-huggers. Calling some of them 'the fair folk' would be a hilariously ironic statement.
    Dwarves too, were more interesting. They were depicted as miners, yes, but also as intellectuals and religious zealots.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, I am a great writer of elves. :p Been there, done that, got the t-shirt for every kind of elf possible to write - sometimes using more than one type in a story... :p

    They're a great cornerstone of mythology, especially since "elf" can apply to pretty much anything, even humans who've been touched by it. Elf-things are so prevalent through folklore they're pretty much ingrained, so why not use them?

    I started writing crappy Tolkein-knock-off elves (I am aware I may have got the ie the wrong way around in his name but it's 5am :p) and then I made them evil, and then I actually read some stuff about elves :p My most serious work, I only call them elves from the human perspective, and only ironically from the "elf"'s point of view. He's happier calling them "people" and he's the narrator, so what he says goes. :p By definition, he occasionally drops words like "spirit" or "dryad" which is closer anyhows, although he never points out he's technically a nymph of some sort. :p In my less-serious work, the elves are all a mess and change depending on pretty much everything from who's looking at them to the weather, and they follow what would happen if all the folklore people spout about them was true in some way. :p I don't use them much though - they're usually just a rabble. Can't be bothered with the whole mysterious danger thing they present... My characters just aren't scared or awed enough by them for it to work. :D

    Anyways.


    What's your opinion on the usage of fantasy races and tropes that have already been used? How much reinventing of the wheel do you need to keep reading? I don't read that much fantasy either for the amount I write, but I'm pretty easy with elves in whatever form they come, mostly because I've always tried it as well, so I can complain about published authors stealing my ideas, then nitpick their elves with glee, while secretly taking notes. :D

    There isn't much someone can do to annoy me about elves except for making them boring and not pointing out that they're boring. Boring elves are fine - they're one of the many tropes. But the writer has to intentionally make them boring, not just write really bland, useless elves. I usually start re-labelling super-power magic elves as some other creature if they start pulling special magic abilities out of their bums though. After a point they just aren't elves any more. :p Again, fail at examples. Also coherency because the earlier fail I typed below. :D

    I liked the Artemis Fowl books for that... I know there are a dozen other things I've read in the last few years that I liked as well, but like I said... 5am. brain not worky.
     
  4. AllThingsMagical
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    AllThingsMagical Member

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    As a general rule I would say that reinventing fantasy race is fine - just as long as there is something about them that is unique to you. I think it tends to make for slightly easier reading as well - like the reader half knows what to expect when the term elf is used but if you were to create something entirely new then there's a lot more for the reader to digest straight away, if that makes sense.

    That said quite a few of the authors of the really well known fantasy's have used predetermined fantasy races and mixed with there own creations. For example: Harry Potter - squibs, bowtruckles, knealzes to go with the pre-established ones; Eragon - shades, werecat; LotR - hobbits, orcs, river folk etc. I would say that this works really well as you can have conflicts and history between original fantasy races and new created ones which can then make the original ones seem less cliched.
     
  5. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    Dwarf Fortress portrays elves well. Also dwarves.
     

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