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In fantasy, what are the advantages and disadvantages of populating a world with established and popular races such as elves, dwarves, etc.?

Fantasy worlds, especially in a post-Tolkien setting, have tended to be peopled by many of the same types of beings: elves and dwarves, humans and orcs, giants and halflings. Many of these races, however, are reflective of real-world stereotyping at best and racism at worst. While of course most contemporary authors presumably do not mean to emphasize these negative associations and are merely utilizing shorthand inherent of the fantasy genre, the historical context of some of these races (especially evil or primitive races) still lingers. Steps have been taken by some, such as the publisher Wizards of the Coast, to challenge established norms of fantasy races and their characterizations. Nevertheless, the majority of fantasy still adheres to these popular tropes.

But is an author in 2022 who includes an unfavorable caricature-turned fantasy race in their story responsible for its negative history? Are contemporary vampires, who are largely praised for the wide variety of lifestyles and peoples they can represent in fiction, meant to be equated with Rowling’s goblins, who are often criticized as being an anti-Semitic stereotype? Are we far enough removed from Tolkien and his fantasy archetypes so entrenched in the fantasy genre that they have left their racially-charged roots behind? Is it useful to keep reverting to using monolithic races such as elves, dwarves, and orcs as literary shorthand for character traits? Or do new races which are not monolithic needed to keep fantasy from stagnating? Is that even possible?

In short, what are the advantages and disadvantages to continuing to use established fantasy races in the genre?

  • I think using actual quotes proving that the author has some racist ideal's would help establish credibility that Tolkien and other authors intentionally tried to create offensive depictions of other groups. This is typically the problem with this topic as for years people have tried to prove that Tolkien based orcs off (Africans, Jews, or Asians) with little success. This topic is not really new as this question came up in 2002 when Peter Jackson worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and again when the YouTube channel extra credits made a video saying that Orcs in video-games are an offensive depiction of black people. I am certain that some authors are actual racist and deliberately made fictional characters to depict a group of people. ( ex. H.P. Lovecraft was a known racist and homophob, but we have proof explaining that his work was based off his fears of other cultures/groups. Lovecraft also began to change his views later in life due to his friendship with a gay man.) Without that layer of definitive proof it is going to come across as speculation (I am aware of how Tolkien describes Orcs in The lord of Rings and The Silmarillion. But that doesn't prove he was delibrately basing them off of a particular racial group.) So, who ever writes on this topic should be careful not to simply state what Tolkien's intentions are with out proof. – Blackcat130 6 months ago
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  • "disadvantage" is a also a word,bit for my opinion,it's bad cause it might cause a lack of financial balance between humans and other creatures – Arlonavigne 6 months ago
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  • I believe the advantage comes from keeping fantasy stories accessible. For instance, although elves are portrayed in countless ways across the genre, they are grounded in specific conventions (pointed ears, slim-frame, slender etc.) which serves as a recognisable archetype from which writers build their narrative. It frees the writer from needing to outline, describe and explain an entirely new species. Alternatively, by choosing to utilise one such character, or 'species-archetype', the writer must adhere to these conventions in some fashion, limiting their creative choice to a certain, albeit, minimal extent. – Tea 5 months ago
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  • Personally, I think that while there is possibly a hurtful/harmful message behind the creation of some of these races, it is still fiction. At the end of the day Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, etc. don't exist outside of the context of the books. In our writing we are free to create new races, we don't have to stick to the old ones just because it's easy and they've already been established and people know them. As writers, we have the ability to undo or change the narrative on these things. – KGP5118 5 months ago
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