• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Real life equivalents of fantastic and metaphysical concepts



Many famous people today are worshipped like they are gods. Ordinary people put famous people on a pedestal, sometimes forgetting that they are just people like you and me. Famous people from history who have done great deeds can also be perceived like gods.


Long hair? Check. No facial hair? Check. Often pretty? Check. Though, not immortal.
Tolkien made Elves tend toward feminine appearance while Dwarves tend toward masculine appearance. This is even more obvious when you compare them to each other.
It seems that elves of mythology often have a feminine quality. I wouldn't call nymphs, fairies and rusalkas of mythology outrightly elves, but they seem to share the same archetype. So I am not talking only about elves influenced or created by Tolkien but the elven archetype overall in mythology.


People with dwarfism are real life dwarfs. Dwarfs as in the sense of little people.


People with gigantism. This explains why people in the medieval and ancient past had tales about giants.


Humanity is very biologically diverse: Chinese, Aztecs, Native Americans, Mongols, ... Who needs Orcs, Elves or Dwarves when our world is already diverse. Its interesting how different human groups perceived each other through history. Take for example the movie Last of the Mohicans. The native americans are humans of course, but there are strong differences between Europeans and them, the native americans obviously look physically different from Europeans, they are pagans, they tattoo themselves, they speak a barbarian language and are less civilized. In the perception of Europeans, they are the "other" ones, so there is a certain xenophobia and otherness in perceiving them. Replacing Native Americans with Orcs in order to emphasize the differences between two conflicting groups would be unnecessary. I am not saying that fantasy races are useless or that shouldn't be completely used, I am just saying that the same effect of otherness can be achieved with Native Americans being humans.


If you gave modern technology to medieval people they might think it is magic. The reality we live in has "magic" in it. By that I don't mean that the devices we use cellphones, laptops, internet work by magical means, but rather its unbelievable that humans are able to manipulate the reality to our will and to that extent, just like magic. In the real world you call someone with a cellphone in another country and he responds. In Middle-earth you communicate on a distance through palantiri. To those of us without a physics or electrical engineering degree the reason why our modern devices work the way they work can seem magical because we don't understand it.


Keep in mind that I have a very open-minded definition of what a dragon is, and if you said to me that your giant wingless draconic serpent with two limbs is called a dragon in your story, which by the way can also be called a lindworm, I would have no problem with agreeing that it is a dragon, as long as there are no other conflicting dragon types that you also call a dragon. And as you are probably aware different cultures have different looking dragons. In Silmarillion there are wingless dragons as well as winged, those who cannot breathe fire such as cold-drakes and those who can, the fire-drakes. Dinosaurs are real life equivalents of dinosaurs but only in the sense of being huge reptiles. The origin behind the myth of dragons that appears in so many different cultures is that when people have found fossils of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, the bones that they found confirmed and formed their pre-modern belief in the existence of dragons, or at least that they existed but have gone extinct.
Last edited:


Elves, in Tolkien’s fiction, weren’t especially feminine. Legolas was described as very muscular (you have to be to use a bow well) with a tan complexion and stubble.
The elves, for Tolkien, were more or less a fantasified version of the indigenous people of the British isles while humans were mostly Anglo-Saxons.
The term elf actually just means “pale”. The term fairy has the same origin. Hence why fairies and elves tend to overlap in mythology.

I think nowadays elves are a stand-in for the great civilizations of the past or the dying races that currently exist. You see this ideas pop-up all the time like with Atlantis or the romantic accounts of civilizations like Rome or even Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. Depicting them as thin, intelligent and elegant emphasis the idea of them being more civilized than the hairy and muscular barbarians surrounding them.

Giants and dwarves throughout all mythologies, be they Norse jotunns or Hawaiian Menehune were always considered distinct species from humans rather than cursed or blessed humans. So I don’t think your analogy works. I think giants are big to represent physical power while Dwarves are small to represent a species focused on crafts rather than fighting.

Gods are, I think, meant to represent ideals or archetypes or an attempt to humanize nature or personify concepts as a means to better understand all that stuff. I think the human concept of gods may actually predate the human concept of fame or celebrity, in a way.

Likewise, I think dragons may have existed before the concept of extinct animals. The fact that dragons were often seen as either demonic or divine (and immortal) implies they don’t have much to do with extinct animals. Their appearance were likely based on existing reptiles as a means of showing inhumanity as humans are mammals. Birds, in mythology, were used similarly with avian features representing a kind of divine power (angels, griffons, phoenixes, etc.).

Also, magic being “advance technology”. By definition, magic is meant to be supernatural and metaphysical. Just because someone thinks something is magic, doesn’t make it magic. A magic object might serve the same use as a piece of technology but they work differently. I think magic in fiction may represent the idea that there is a sphere or limitation to what logic or human understand can really encompass - a greater metaphysical and mystical reality which we only scratch the fur face of. That realm is magic. Or something like that, I don’t know.
I’m not an expert in comparative mythology. Or anything else for that matter.
Last edited: