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Cannibal Elves and Midgets instead of Dwarves? Is re-imagining ever bad?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by AFistfulofBalderdash, Mar 6, 2012.

  1. Of course I'm sure we know about those central elements, creatures, and races in a fantasy setting. I'm also sure some of you have also groaned when you see the Elven ranger petting rabbits and the Dwarf whose eternally a drunk viking. Of course these stereotypes became so do to being entertaining but rehashing can kill anything. Re-imagining is nothing like pure unadulterated creation but I feel it allows me to be both familiar and entertaining to a vast degree.

    So I pose the question, do you think re-imagining can ever be bad?

    Let me just throw some examples out there for some discussion.
    Take your normal Elves...

    Now let's give them have a Victorian outlook on life, that it's the "Elven Burden" to bring civilization to the barbarians. Of course they believe this because their technology is based on stream-power while those filthy barbarians believe in their 'witchcraft' (It's an imperialistic thing, bud). Now let's say they also take slaves to support their hedonistic life-style, and even consume the flesh of these creatures. Now let's make those creatures human just to add a horror and Dark Fantasy element to this race that believes in their undeniable superiority. Plus it allows us to flip the stereotype where humans are the ones in power and elves are but a whimper of their former glory.

    Now let's take them Human-loving drunks- I mean Dwarves.

    Let's remove most of their D&D traits that have stayed with their concept for so long. These Dwarves are little more than stubborn midgets living in an xenophobic kingdom beneath the earth. They forsook the surface because they believed it was overrun by the same barbarians the Elves 'civilize'. But, where the Elves maintain their dominance the Dwarves have faltered. Their nullifying effect on magic prevents them harassing that power while their racism/stubbornness has resulted in a distaste for outside technology. Thus, the Dwarves have never evolved past the Bronze Age as a civilization. Their empire is collapsing as well, thus we will call it the Imperium to invoke the image of Rome's last day drunkenly declaring mastery over the world. And why make these Dwarves sober? Have you tried living in a backwards-ass empire where the barbarians are pounding at the gates and legions of soldiers vanish in the vast caverns you once thought were safe? Now Dwarves have a reason for their drinking problem, one I could endorse. Who wouldn't try to drink away the nearing drums of war?


    So what do you think? Should there be a limit to re-imagining when writing Fantasy or should the author only care to invoke the spirit of our genre when writing?
  2. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Maester

    Re-imagining is good. I think there are some weaknesses in your particular reimaginings, especially of the dwarves. The trait that I most like is their industry, give a dwarf an axe and he will be able to make a furnace for his forge to make a pick and a shovel to mine more ore, I think Terry Pratchett's version of the dwarven race is the best I've seen in a while.
  3. YohannIan

    YohannIan Dreamer

    Well, from my experience; I've come across cannibal elves in The Elder Scrolls series. If im not mistaken, the woodelves eat their dead as part of a ritual. And if you look into Forgotten Realms' lore, the entire Dark Elven culture is vastly different from the other elves.
    In A Song of Ice and Fire, the dwarves are actually in fact midgets (by our modern day word).
    So its not wrong to re-imagine. If the new image fits in well with your world, or if your world has been well crafted around that re-imagination, then I don't see how that can be a bad thing. If it works for your story and brings something new to the table in a presentable way, then its a good thing.
  4. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    reimagining is great! I fully support it, nothing's better then taking the tropes people are familiar with and twisting them into something else. I think it's important though, to not reimagine something so much that they are indestinguishable from their base form. If your dwarves are so different from normal dwarves that they only have the name in common, then you're better off calling them something different so as to prevent confusion.

    Of course you could play on that confusion by having the hero be someone from our world with the same expectations that you're subverting.
  5. arbiter117

    arbiter117 Minstrel

    Re-imagining is nice, but re-creating isn't so great. If it's nothing like the original give it a new name. If it's the original plus or minus some, keep the name.

    Elder Scrolls re-imagined the Dwarves as Dwemer, but they kept the Dwarven industry so it was good.

    What I wouldn't like is someone describing a blob of goo and telling me its a fairy or something. to me, fairies are annoying little lightballs that say "hey! listen!" :)
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I would have to agree with the consensus. To do something really different, it has to be done right or it's just a facsimile... and I've read some poorly done ones (threw away the books before I was far into them).

    If you told me that the way magic works is that each person in the world only gets to cast one spell, and no two people get to cast the same one.... well I might find that unbelievable, confusing even, but in Piers Anthony's Xanth series (which I am a great big old fan of), that's exactly how magic works, and who could ever imagine it other than it is in that world?

    You could probably get away with describing elves as little impish beings who hide your scissors at night and terrorize the cat.... but most people might just wonder why you didn't call it a brownie or make up a new name altogether, so hooray for being creative, I'm of course a big fan of creativity, so long as it's believable and doesn't make me roll my eyes.
  7. Oooh I used to Love the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony, but for some reason it became nearly impossible to get the later novels over here :( the puns could get a bit annoying sometimes though lol.
  8. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

    As people here have said, re-imagining is always good as it lets you have control over the society and charicerizations of the races, so long as they're still recognizable as the race themselves. If you call something an elf, then there's a few things (mostly in the physical apperance/description side) that most people would expect to stay to still be elves.

    If you do go so far as to overhaul all the basic images of the expectation, then it probably is better to rename them - unless your going for something horror/disturbing style; people like and feel more at ease when they have a general description/steriotype of a group, even if the group is entierly fictional. This can result in people putting something down quickly when the "elf" their reading about is actually (not using your example, ust a general statement about slapping existing names on new creatures) some form of tall, asexual golem thingy.

    so, in summary, re-imagining is good, and should be done if you want to, whereas if you create something different, give it it's own name :)
  9. Nah, I never do that. The races have their appearances but I like to go my separate path. I use the stereotype as a "This came before I was born. Respect why it got there, but follow your own thread."

    As for the examples are an amazing use of a special literary technique I call "pulling things out of my ass". :)

    Regardless, I like the responses, they're reassuring.
  10. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    Reimaginings are the heart of the genre. Fantasy lends itself to diversity, and creatures like elves have been interpreted so many times, not just in literature, but in folklore, that I doubt anyone will be shouting 'blasphemy' over it. Regarding your personal interpretation of the elves, cannibalism is a-okay in my books. If anything, my only concern might be for the non-elven characters. Whenever dealing with British Imperialism and slavery, I find most fantasy books make the oppressed culture either (a) a stereotype-ridden interpretation of the oppressed nations IRL, or (b) very European-esque, white character. The implications are unpleasant either way.

    The dwarves seem nice. It's nice to see an interpretation of the dwarves where they aren't the ones inventing steampunk machinery. Never made much sense to me, to be honest. Mining =/= hyper advanced civilization. After all, the most advanced civilizations in our world are using plastics and solar power more than anything you'd find in the ground.
  11. To me, historical influences allow me to add weight, a human element to an inhuman group. Humans are imperfect. We are both compassionate and cruel. The thing about fantasy humanoids is that ultimately they have to share some human aspects to really have any weight to the observer. This one of the reasons I believe Dwarves and Elves are so beloved. No matter the interpretation, that most popular are the most 'human' yet 'unique'.

    But I'm babbling now, ha.

    To me, the 'Elven Burden' is the crime of society, not the Elf. To me, when an empire commits a crime of oppression, it is imperfect there is no argument. I think this adds weight to the Elven society, allowing for characters to show a very human side of themselves while being 'distant and alien'. This social status-quot gives me a sword of characterization. But in the name of fantasy, these guys can't just be pointed-eared humans, the road to uniqueness is quite easy to walk to me.

    Vast differences can be obtained through, biology, lifespan, and cultural attitude. Considering as long as you keep with the message you want to get across, everything else is art. The past is the color, the societal attitude is the judgmental highlights, but I always think it is the individual that defines the race. Those who are the outcasts and those who defend this fictional banner to the end of days. Not a concise description filled with generalizations for racists to follow...

    Did I mention I love racism in my fantasy? It's so much fun insulting fictional beasts.

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