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Half the trouble with elves

Discussion in 'World Building' started by skip.knox, Aug 20, 2021.

  1. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

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    In clan-based societies, usually each parent does retain their own clan membership, but the children only inherit one. Among indigenous Americans, it's pretty much always the mother's clan (I don't know of any tribes that pass clan membership patrilineally, but I can think of several - Hopi, Navajo, Apache, Miwok, Paiute, Mohawk, to name a few - that are matrilineal). But clan kinship can get very complicated, and marriage negotiations even more complicated still: you can't marry anyone from your maternal clan, but your father's clan is also acknowledged, even if it isn't technically your clan, so a spouse from that clan may also be out, and then generations of clan intermarriages have to be considered to determine that the marriage isn't incestuous... it can take a village, literally, to figure it out.

    The Scottish clans are patrilineal, you inherit your father's clan, but everyone will remember which clan your mother was from, so in that way, you might get something of a hybrid approach. If you've read Outlander, you might remember that Jamie is in a predicament over that: he's a Fraser, but because his mother was a MacKenzie, and he's been partially raised by the MacKenzies, he could be in the running for leadership of the MacKenzie clan, even though he really doesn't want it, so he's caught up in the potentially deadly power struggles between the high placed MacKenzies.
     
  2. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

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    Would it work for their social/political system, if not their magic system? For example, only a halfling can be the ambassador from the elves to the humans. Or a halfling must preside every time they negotiate a treaty, because they're the only one who's genuinely on both sides. Something like that.
     
  3. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Only inheriting membership of one clan was/is fairly normal. It was certainly the case here in Sweden. Normally, your clan inheritance was patrilineal, but not always. It depended on whether your father was alive and to a degree also on the relative status of the two clans. Setting up a marriage could be a long process, especially if you were the child of one of the senior clan members, and it wasn't unknown for the clan "ting" to have the final say.
     
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  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Possible. But any time there's a "must" my first question is, sez who? That is, there needs to be some kind of authority to enforce that. Custom wouldn't hold up, as the needs of the moment will outweigh the weight of precedent. OTOH, I definitely can see a story place for antagonists to call upon a halfling to serve as an impartial arbitrator. In fact, a halfling could have any number of interesting social or political roles.
     
  5. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

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    No? Then why has there never been a female Pope or Dalai Lama? Or, for that matter, a female president of the United States (and it's not because none have run)?

    Seems to me custom holds up quite well.

    I don't know how well this fits your Altearth, but it doesn't seem out of the question to me that there might be some law, or at least a long standing agreement, rooted in the distant past saying a halfling must do such-and-such job when it comes to managing relations between the races. It may be that the only way both groups will accept an agreement is if someone who belongs to both groups puts the final stamp of approval on it. Something like that.
     
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  6. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Er, no, I don't agree with you. Custom and habit can be surprisingly strong ways to enforce things like this. To take clan inheritance in Sweden as an example, there was no law that said you had to inherit your father's clan. It was just a custom, that normally you would do so. Exceptions could be made, but they usually involved the clan "ting" taking the decision or at the very least providing "advice" to the head of the clan. Making an exception wasn't something that you did on the spur of the moment, nor was it driven by the needs of the moment. Since the whole political system was built on clans, a decision like that could have long term implications for the balance of power in the country and so it needed consideration.
     
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  7. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    Story, story, story. Is the story better with just elves and humans? Get rid of half elves.

    Is the story better with just humans? Get rid of even the elves.

    Is the story better with half elves and no 1/4 elves ...? etc

    Tolkien had elves and men. That is it. BUT elves were basically just men with some "magical" abilities like immortal bodies and unusal grace and "light in their eyes". Elves didn't have pointy ears or anything. So they COULD intermarry. When they did (it was rare) then offspring like Elrond and Elros had to decide whether they wanted to be elves or men - apparaently they decided, and that was it. No need for a physical transformation.

    What of the spouses? Luthien followed Beren into death as a human woman. Arwen with Aragorn, but more reluctantly at the very end. Contrast with Tuor - sailed into the west with Idril, and legend says he alone of all men "became an elf / was counted among the eldar"
    Note that Luthien - Dior - Earendil - Elrond and Elros four generations before Elrond and Elros (and Earendil) had to choose - never clear what Dior "chose to be" but he died violently - did he go to Mandos, like an elf? Never clarified in Silmarillion?

    Note that Aragorn's kids didn't get to choose, Arwen became a human woman, so the kids were all mortal. The story is mainly driving it. What if Aragorn had been offered the chance to forsake being king and become an elf, and sail into the west with Arwen and Elrond? A different tale. What tale do you want to tell? Handwavium/fairy dust takes care of the rest.

    ====================

    Me, in my DnD games, I STRICTLY go with "half-elf + half-elf" = half elf kids
    Elf + half-elf = elf kid, human + half-elf = human kid. Some version of DnD had this, cannot remember which one... (3.0 or 2nd ed?)
    So there are NO "quarter elves"
    BUT
    I have it this way for a "story" reason - explains the evil drow elves and why they are so powerful.

    warning - "adult" idea coming -
    Drow cities have money - all that mineral wealth in the underdark (dug by slaves) - human slaves from surface, cannot run away cos they need light to flee by - not available if drow switch magic lights off underground. Sell the mineral wealth for money to buy more slaves. Since society is geared for war, no marriage bonds. The best and most obedient drow males get lots of sex at monthly drug-fuelled orgy, but the women raise kids in matriarchal clans and no man is the "father figure" - males get killed in wars and no mourning period, not like surface elves who mourn dead husband/wife for 100s of years.
    AND - lots of human female slaves. Many end up getting used for breeding stock by the drow males - offspring are half elves. Occasionally a male drow falls in love with a slave, likes being a "dad" and flees with his family - but most don't. DROW BLOOD does NOT get "watered down" - every 100 years, the supply of female human slaves is cut off for a while, and the half-elf drow are strongly encouraged to mate with full elf drow - in this way, drow of the underdark soon massively outnumber surface elves - I want it this way, I want them to be one of the "dominant powers".

    Some drow cities huff about "diluting" their bloodline but the result is a city of drow elves with some half-elf drow, not half and quarter elves - half-elves who breed with human slaves produce human offspring, who simply become slaves. The results speak for themselves. Drow cities that go this route soon strong-arm cities that do not....

    So - what story are you trying to tell? Then choose accordingly. I'd say it is a major mistake to look up a book on genetics and start from there, asking how pointy the ears of a 1/16th elfs would be. It is fantasy, after all.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2021
  8. ButlerianHeretic

    ButlerianHeretic Minstrel

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    I'm going the sterility route. The four peoples (elves, dwarves, orcs, and nomads - no vanilla humans) were descended from common ancestors long ago and are now separate species that were bred for various purposes by the Celestial gods of Order. They can't even pronounce the sounds of each others' tongues, so everyone speaks various languages in their separate tongues and just learns to understand the languages spoken in their area. Fertility between the peoples is reduced so halfbreeds are rare, but because each people has different talents and halfbreeds inherit the talents of both their parents then they are more capable, and also they tend to be more likely to be talented with the various forms of magic in the world. It is commonly believed that only foul magic or demonic meddling can produce halfbreeds so they are heavily stigmatized.

    Originally, I'd planned for no halfbreeds to be possible. But the narrative possibilities seemed intriguing but I didn't want things to get out of hand so I made the stipulation of sterility which seemed reasonable if they were supposed to be separate species descended from a common ancestor. Then it occurred to me that if, by some chance of genetics or fate, two halfbreeds managed to have a supposedly impossible child of all four peoples, that could have really interesting implications.

    I want the initial era to be a time where there is tension between traditions of matrilinial (blood) vs. patrilineal (seed) inheritance, and some traits will only be inheritable one way or another. I haven't dug into that concept a lot, but there is a shade of bright green hair called trollsblood that is only inherited through blood, said to be the heritage of a great troll (trolls in this world are beings born from the Chaos of nature, and are powerful minions of the Kythonic gods of Chaos) matriarch in ages lost to even myth. Which everyone knows is obviously nonsense but traditions are weird like that sometimes...
     
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  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >Is the story better with just elves and humans? Get rid of half elves.
    Sure, absolutely. It only came up because I somewhat thoughtlessly used a half-elf in a story. So she's part of Altearth now. I could retcon her away, but the story makes use of the fact that half-elf, half-human is socially either forbidden or at least embarassing. And it's that point that sparked the OP. Having created a cross breed between human and elf, I had to reckon with other crossbreedings, and to reckon with subsequent generations.

    Happily, the story says nothing about whether Talysse has any children, so I can choose the sterility angle as well. Or even a very low birth rate. Something that would make quarter elves and suchlike be extremely rare, or even legendary.

    Like ButlerianHeretic, I find the story telling possibilities intriguing. Not enough to get me to write a story about it (Talysse was unique; read the book <g>), but definitely interesting enough to think about it from time to time. I like what ButlerianHeretic does with mixing in-world beliefs to create story possibilities. I've got similar stuff cooking out back. After all, Altearth has orcs, trolls, elves, humans, dwarves, and gnomes (at the least), so breeding between all these, adding in *beliefs* about what does and doesn't happen, presents a wide range of possibilities.
     
  10. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    My setting has enough magic and tech that just about any grouping that wants a kid can have one. That's even ignoring the number of races descended from altered humans like Elves, Orcs or Gnomes.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So, is there anything like half-elf, half-gnome in your world? If so, then that person mates with an orc, then their descendant mates with a 3/4 dwarf, 1/8 human, 1/8 orc. How would that descendant be called? Are there social norms around such pairings?
     
  12. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Gnomes lack DNA so anything with them takes magic. The rest are descended from modified humans so they can breed without problems. Depending on how things fall out they'd just be considered one of Elf, Half Elf, Human, Half Orc, Orc, Dwarf or Gnome with their mixed blood represented by small cosmetic changes and altered magical affinities. Anyone that's a mix of a lot of different bloodlines or unknown bloodlines would be considered a Spirit Blooded Human/Elf/Whatever as a generic term.
     
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  13. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

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    My races—particularly the 'fairy' ones, i.e. elf, goblin, ogre—for the most part do not live in the same world as my humans but only visit through doors now and again. Or they (especially the goblin folk) live in very inaccessible areas, high mountains, etc. But goblins are more likely to eat you than to have sex. This puts contact of any sort on a very occasional basis. Sure, this could result in a child in one world or the other but it is rare and the genetic contribution would be tiny and soon absorbed into the population.

    The dwarf/troll lineage is admittedly a bit more open to mixture. I did put a population of 'troll-men' in one of my novels, but the mixing went back far enough they had become a people/tribe of their own, pretty much. Incidentally, my trolls and dwarfs go back to a Neanderthal heritage; though I've never stated it, one can assume the fairy lineage parted company with 'us' far back too—but not so far that interbreeding is impossible.

    I've not really explored the origins of my fourth major group, the merfolk. Maybe one of these days, if necessary.

    I have actually been semi-struggling (i.e. I pull it out and look at it from time to time) with a story about just this sort of thing with a couple guys who were captured by ogres and kept for breeding (the ogres are quite polite about it and consider them their guests). I've yet to work out just how magic is going to play out in any descendants as, supposedly, all ogres should have magical ability and I'm not sure how they would treat a child born without it. Or if its lack might show up a generation or two down the line. (Note: when I say ogres I pretty much mean what a lot of you call orcs.)
     
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  14. Maunus

    Maunus Dreamer

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    Tolkien half-elves have to choose what they want to be. If human mortality is chosen, then one's descendants are human and cannot choose immortality - regardless of Aragorn's elvish ancestry he is 100% human and mortal (though longer lived than most other humans). And Elrond chose to be counted among the elves, so Arwen has the right to choose as well.

    In my world half-elves are thought to either inherit elvish gifts or not. So you only find out what you are once you discover that you have a gift. That is indeed the basic premise of the story.
     
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  15. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    You could have it that the % of a race you have determines your chance of getting certain abilities / powers. If there is elven magic and you are a half elf, then you have a 50% chance of getting elven magic. If you're 1/8th elf, then you have a 12.5% chance of getting elven magic. It would add an interesting dynamic to lineages and might make certain groups of people pursue certain mariages. You could have noble families intermarry to get as high a chance as possible for someone to get certain powers because they have some elven (or trollish) ancestry somewhere.

    There is some precedent for this in the story of Castor and Pollux, where one ended up mortal and the other immortal (though in most stories they actually have a different father...).
     
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  16. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    For one of my worlds (the only one with races other than human), I went the "can't interbreed" route for all of the races that exist. From a physiological standpoint, the 'Irin (pronouned "e-reen") are similar enough to mate with Humans, Ruaka or Ahrak; given they are all bipedal humanoids with their various parts in relatively the same places. Genetically though, they are just too dissimilar for any of them to successfully interbreed.
     
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  17. Solusandra

    Solusandra Scribe

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    Maybe I've just read some odd ones, but I've seen a lot of books address this.

    The general attitude is simple. The brutish rapey races who like elves tend to be too rapey, as so the fragile elf rarely survives the encounter, letalone the entire pregnancy in captivity. And if they do, the elves consider it the height of dishonor and refuse to rescue them. So all, say, elf/orcs stay in orc-land and get beaten to death by an environment and training that typically kills 70% of much hardier orc children, and such.
    The civilized non-rapey races most of them tend to have some sort of problem with elves that prevents all but the rarest relationships. Dwarves and elves tend to have a system of grudges that only the most serious romeo and juliet overcome their mutual disgust for. Elves hate Gnomish technology and gnomes girls aren't particularly keen on carrying the gigantic babies of other races to term.
    Humans, like everything else they do in fantasy literature, hit the sweet spot between every other race in every given characteristic and are the closest to elves in size, looks, temperament, cultural values and abilities, so 95% of half elves are human/elf pairings, regardless whether it was one night stands, rapes, forbidden love or marriages. Other elf/___ pairs are mentioned, but are so rare outside of the Drow as to be considered a statistical error.
     
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  18. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    Maunus[​IMG] said -->
    NewTolkien half-elves have to choose what they want to be. If human mortality is chosen, then one's descendants are human and cannot choose immortality - regardless of Aragorn's elvish ancestry he is 100% human and mortal (though longer lived than most other humans). And Elrond chose to be counted among the elves, so Arwen has the right to choose as well.

    In my world half-elves are thought to either inherit elvish gifts or not. So you only find out what you are once you discover that you have a gift. That is indeed the basic premise of the story.

    --> not quite sure I 100% agree with this, my understanding is that when Elrond chose to be an elf, and married Celebrian, Galadriel's daughter, Arwen was therefore 100% elf, just like her brothers. After all, she was over a thousand years old when she met Aragorn... The whole business of Arwen choosing was simply cos she married a human - if she had married an elf the issue would not have arisen? Yes, it seems odd that ARWEN chooses, not her children, it isn't quite the same as Elrond and Elros getting to choose cos of what their parents etc had been - but what if Aragorn's son had chosen to be an elf after all? Would have seemed odd, Tolkien slipped an inconsistency past it because "story", and no one noticed? The gods do not seem to be 100% consistent on this one...?
     
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >I've seen a lot of books address this.
    Just out of curiosity, can you mention two or three? I'm not really doing any research, just curious.
     
  20. Solusandra

    Solusandra Scribe

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    the Dritzz series mentions it several times, and a number of litrpg's such as ascend online. I'd have to go back over my catalogue to get more specific. While fun for me, that might take a while.
     
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