So there are a lot of things that are common in fantasy novels of every kind, and a lot of them started with Tolkien. This isn’t really about tropes to me as it is lazy writing as far as I’m concerned but trope is a nice word that explains what I’m talking about. Tropes aren’t a bad thing per se. If there are elves and dwarves and humans, whatever, that is a really common fantasy trope. It is when these races are always used in the same way that starts to get on my nerves and I know I’m not the only one.
Let’s start out with those common races. In Tolkien and subsequently a lot of other works they tend to have their own cultures, countries, and rulership. In fact they are extremely segregated to the point that a lot of the time they hate each other, mistrust one another, or just plain don’t understand each other.
The dwarves have their kingdom over here, they probably do a lot of mining or smithing and live in caves of some kind. They usually have a sort of Scottish thing going on, they drink and are gruff. They also seem to love axes, hammers, and facial hair is a big deal. So much of a big deal that it is hard to tell men from women. They are almost always white. I don’t actually have any non white dwarves that I know of personally but I’m sure they exist so I’m adding an ‘almost’ to my statement.
Then over here we have the elves, they live in forests or in otherworldly cities surrounded by nature. They are ethereal, arrogant, and usually immortal. They also have a tendency to stick to their area and actively keep people out – usually at arrow point – and discourage their own people from leaving. They are usually either fair skinned or have a woodsy tan depending on which sort of area they live in. They like archery, singing, and being mysterious assholes.
Now, humans. They usually have it a bit better with a variety of cultures, some of them are even not white which is nice but Tolkien didn’t exactly have a lot of variety. Then again he was trying to create a mythology for the area he grew up in which wasn’t particularly diverse and was influenced a lot by Scandinavian myths. Anyway, humans. They have a habit of having maybe one or two cities per kingdom and a whole lot of little dirtscrabble villages where everyone seems to farm cabbages and mud if they are poor, and sheep and tastier things if they are less poor. Human kingdoms can be very diverse, although I’ve seen many times where there is a nice peaceful kingdom that has a lot of freedom and hands out civil rights nicely, and then the evil empire where fun is forbidden.
The thing that is important here is that they all stay in their own little areas. There aren’t really any humans living with the elves except perhaps one or two exceptions for royal children in hiding or a wise wizard or some other such important person the elves have graciously allowed entrance. Definitely no dwarves living with the elves because. well, they hate them. For some reason. It isn’t always a very clear reason, although Tolkien’s dwarves had a legitimate beef. There are no elves living with the dwarves either and no humans living with the dwarves. There might be a dwarven smith living in a human city, making amazing weapons for ‘our heroes’. There might be caravans going back and forth but there just isn’t a lot of integration.
So those are some things that I’m trying to change in my story. I’ve got two kingdoms of dwarves: Northern dwarves who while really into mining and selling their goods are slave trading assholes. They are at the top of a rigid caste system and are the rulers of their country. Mostly the country has dwarves and humans, it is too cold for my lizardfolk. The southern dwarves living in the desert, have an arabian look to them, and they are very famous for their textiles. Some of them actually wrangle giant spiders underground to harvest their silk.
Now the lizardfolk live in the swamp turn grassland turn desert between a jungle and the desert. They have no government, but live in a series of ‘freeholds’ which are small socialist communes of humans, dwarves, and lizardfolk.
And humans. I’ve got all kinds and they mingle with each other for the most part and the dwarves and lizardfolk mingle with them. More lizardfolk the warmer the climate obviously. Their tails would fall off up north! A lot of the time it is the humans warring with each other all the time so I’m trying to keep that to a minimum. Mostly any attacking goes on politically or with quiet assassinations. There is a civil war brewing up north and I have a lot of refugees coming down causing some situations. Some of the dwarves in my main city aren’t happy to see low caste folk able to have the same things and wear the same clothes as more worthy folk and that is going to cause some nice tension and fighting.
I’m trying to think about this world I’m creating, I’m trying to not go so far off the charts that no one will be able to jump right in without a guidebook but different enough to hold people’s attention. I’m planning on writing out little histories of all these countries and folk and posting them here for my amusement. I don’t think anyone is really reading this, but I like to get my ideas out here. Anyway… umm… yeah I’ll write other one soon about other things that really grind my gears!