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Why use D&D races in our stories?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Dreamhand, May 19, 2012.

  1. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Actually, yes, and ideas like it. I love fantasy but there are many instances of ideas that lack explanation and I prefer something more definitive. If you say, "In this world, magic exists." I can take that at face value but saying, "All Orcs are evil." and then just moving on, especially in an epic work, doesn't do it for me. I'll even qualify per Mythopoet's assumption: "All Orcs that appear in this work are evil, and I will not discuss any other Orcs who may or may not be evil." That doesn't work for me either. This is just my taste, not the way things should be definitively. I want more conflict based on real emotion, from villains especially; even nameless villains without speaking roles are people.

    One could argue that the Orcs are closer to animals than men. I don't agree, but even if that were the case, have you ever met an evil dog? A bad dog, sure, but that's because of bad owners. How about an evil puppy? Probably not. Since I can't see Orc babies trying to kill as soon as they can crawl, it doesn't work for me. I just want better backstory/explanation.
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    In Tolkien, I think orcs were created by, and/or corrupted by, sorcery. So if you can accept magic exists, what's the problem in accepting that magic can be used to create a race of wholly evil creatures?
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I'm a little confused. Is it ever stated that orcs are evil?

    Evil requires some degree of conscious decision. But there are impulses that lead people to at least some propensity of anger and violence. Given the way orcs fight anything, even each other, I don't think "evil race" is an accurate description. Evil army? Sure, okay. But I think orcs are more about intense violence than about raw evil. And I don't find that in any way difficult to accept as a fantasy race.
     
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think it related to what's believable or not.

    As humans we have a whole lot of preconceived notions about how things are supposed to be. Logically, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to create a complete species where the natural alignment of the average member is evil. You just magic it up and that's it.
    It does feel a bit thin though; a bit weak.
    How would such a species survive on its own in the long run? What's to prevent them from crumbling under their own evil nature, or to give in to infighting or some other form of squabbles. What's keeping them from destroying themselves. You can explain this by magic as well, but I'm resisting the idea even more now.
    Why do I do that? Because in some way, I'm basing my image of what intelligent beings are like on my own experience of intelligent beings. It may not be right and it may not be fair, but subconsciously I'm still applying human values to the evil race and if they're behaving in a way that seems unnatural to me I'll react negatively to it when reading about it.

    Accepting that someone can shot fireballs from their hands or turn into a giant wolf or that there are dragons, is pretty easy.
    Accepting that someone will behave in an unnatural or illogical fashion is a lot more difficult.

    EDIT: I'm not on about Tolkien's orcs specifically, but about a hypothetical magically created purely evil race.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2014
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  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    It's nonsensical to apply human values to an obviously non-human race. Honestly, I would expect readers of fantasy and sci fi to be more open minded than that.
     
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  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Yes, ideally they would be, but I think there are limits for how open minded it's possible for people to be. These limits obviously vary from person to person and some are more open-minded than others. Overall though, I think it's very difficult for a majority of people to step completely outside of their regular frames of reference.
     
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  7. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I would accept that if it were definitively explained to be the case. Since it's not, the reasoning behind the Orcs is unclear. I don't want to do that in my own writing. It also turns me off of books with similar ideas that are not explained. I'd look past it in a book with many other qualities but I'd have to be in love with the work before it came up. It's just taste, not fact.

    You imply that the Orcs are closer to animals than humans (that's at least how I understand what you said) because there are plenty of humans with violent tendencies who choose not to act on them because of the ability to reason, and choose what they believe to be the right or moral course. The Orcs' instincts are violent and then they are used, somewhat like war dogs, by evil characters. If that is what Tolkien intended I think they should not have been able to speak because it implies a level of humanity that causes me to judge them on our level. I don't disagree with you, I think that Tolkien was not clear enough about Orcs for there to be a definitive answer.

    Throwing out words like 'nonsensical' isn't getting us anywhere. Svrtnsse was pretty clear that it may not be right or fair, simply that he feels that way and it effects him as a reader. I agree with him. You don't. And that's okay.
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    There are violent impulses that people choose not to act on. All the time, absolutely. But multiply those impulses, and build a culture that encourages violence, and you have Tolkein's orcs. That doesn't even mean that all of the orcs in Sauron's army are evil. They just appear that way from the outside.
     
  9. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    That is conjecture, though well-founded. Tolkien gave us very little cultural information on the Orcs, which is fine when there are no major questions. I think there are some major questions and I do not like the way they are portrayed because the explanation is lacking. All are free to disagree, my opinion only effects my own writing and reading habits.
     
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Fair enough.
     
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    It's part of the nature of the fantasy genre for there to be non-human sentient races. It is, in fact, one of the defining characteristics and major draws of the genre, that there CAN be non-human sentient races. Going into a fantasy book and measuring everything up by how much it conforms to human nature just doesn't make any sense. If I were you, I would try harder to take fantasy races as they are and not expect them to be like humans.

    Trick, we know quite enough about the Orcs to know that your analysis of them is wrong. The Silmarillion does in fact tell us that Orcs were once Elves and Humans twisted and corrupted by Morgoth and Sauron to do their bidding. We know that Orcs reproduce in the same way that Elves and Humans do. (All that nonsense in the FOTR movie about the Uruk Hai coming out of pods was just ridiculous.) We know that they are to a large extent under the control of Morgoth and then Sauron, they are thralls and do not have completely free will (and we know that binding the Orcs thus was the most evil thing that Morgoth ever did). We know that they ran in fear from the battle field when the Ring (and thus the power that bound them)was destroyed. We know that Orcs as a race are not constantly waging war against the other races, when there is not a power spurring them on to world conquest then have their own society and their own ways of doing things and sometimes they fight battles for their own reasons but mostly they don't.

    They are indeed a very violent race and they practice cannibalism. They obviously respect power and little else. They are, in fact, very animal like in some ways. But their nature, at its core, is still of the Children of Iluvatar. Tolkien said explicitly in his notes and essays that they are indeed redeemable so by definition they cannot be wholly evil. Really, they are victims. Possibly the most tragic victims in all the history of Middle-earth.

    Judging them based on what little interaction the heroes of LOTR have with them in the story is a shallow judgement indeed.
     
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  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    If that is how you're reading me, that I expect fantasy races to be more like humans, you're either misreading me, or I'm not making myself clear enough. Probably it's a combination of the two.

    I'm not intentionally going into a fantasy book measuring everything up to how much it conforms to human nature. As you say, that wouldn't make any sense.

    It is my belief that we judge everything we experience (including, but not limited to, the reading of fantasy books) by comparing it to other things we have experienced. How and why we judge things vary a lot, depending on a lot of things, like context.
    Let's say I'm watching a movie about life at a fancy English boarding school. If it's supposed to be a realistic drama documentary, I wouldn't expect anyone to have magical powers and I'd be disappointed if one of the students turned out to be a secret wizard. If it was one of the Harry Potter movies, I'd be disappointed if there weren't wizards all over the place.

    I've never been to an English boarding school so I don't actually know what one is like. I've read books and seen movies about them and I've got a fairly solid impression about what life there is like. It might not be a correct impression, but it's solid enough that if I see something that doesn't fit with that impression of how things should be, I'd notice it and it might be jarring.
    This is regardless of whether it's factually correct or not, but solely based on my previous impression of how things should be.

    The same goes with social interactions.
    When I interact with people I usually have certain expectations about how they will behave. When they don't behave that way, it gets confusing, but depending on how well I know the person in question, I have an easier time dealing with the confusion.
    If a friend of mine comes up to me and says something ridiculously stupid, I understand that he's just messing around and I probably find it quite funny, even if it wasn't what I'd expected.
    If a complete stranger comes up to me and says the same ridiculously stupid thing, that would be weird.

    So far I've tried to give examples of how I compare things I experience with things I've experience in the past. I hope it makes sense, even if you perhaps don't agree.

    Now, how does this relate to fantasy literature, or any literature?

    Basically, I think it works just like with everything else. When I read about something, it will get judged and measured against something else that relates to it in some way. If the story tells me that the mountain is high I will base my image of that on what I consider to be high when it comes to mountains. If the story tells me the sky is blue, I'll base that on my image of what the sky looks like when its blue.
    Everything gets compared and measured within my frames of reference. This isn't a conscious process, it just happens. It's not something that I have to think about actively.
    Where things get weird is if the sky is actually green with pink dots or if the high mountain is high because it's been doing drugs. I could probably come to accept that as the natural state of things if the author eased me into it and got me used to a world where that's how things works, but even then the same thing applies. My experience of that specific world grows and it becomes easier for me to accept that things are the way they are.

    The same goes with fantasy races in a fantasy world.
    If they straight off the bat appear with a moral code that I don't understand and life priorities that don't make sense to me, it's going to put me off on them. However, if I get to know them, and come to understand how they work, I'll have a much easier time accepting their quirks and weirdnesses.


    To try and sum things up nicely:
    I'm not saying there shouldn't be strange and mysterious things in fantasy stories. I'm saying that the things we experience are judged based on other things that we have experiences and that I believe that it will be beneficial to take this into account when writing fantasy stories.

    This isn't a fact I'm stating. It's my current belief and I'm not opposed to changing it. I'm also aware that there may very well be significant exceptions to the rule.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The word hobbit is trademarked, but I wonder if "holbytla" is also trademarked. Not that I would use the word, but I've considered something halblen or halbish for a similar race, deriving it from the German word for half (halb).
     
  14. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Personally I would just do what Wizards of the Coast did when they ran into the hobbit problem and just call them Halflings. Arguments could be made for more exotic alternatives and they would certainly have valid points to them, but those same arguments could be used to call Elves Alfs or something similar. In other words, certainly a valid view point, but not strictly necessary.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The trouble I have with races that are wholly evil is the same problem I have with races that are wholly good. What's the definition? I have no problem with a character or even a whole nation regarding some other people as being wholly evil. That's a perception of the characters within the story. But the notion that there's some objective standard of good and evil to which a race conforms is far more problematic to me. Even more is the unwarranted assumption that all my readers are going to share the same standard.

    Others have said more or less the same thing here. What matters is how I as the author portray what is good and what is evil within my story. How the reader reacts to that portrayal is a variable outside the parameters of the experiment.
     
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  16. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I've been toying with the idea of using the term holers or holebuilder/holediggers as a derogatory term for the anfylk. They do live in holes in the ground so it's a term that others could plausibly pick up on. Then again, holebuilders is probably a little too close to the original term for comfort.
     
  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    FTR, Svrtnsse, I think anfylk is a spiffy name. Holebuilder or holedigger don't carry much negative overtones, for me. Diggers, of course, has an entirely different context. Two, really. Maybe grubs? Grubbers? Something with the word "dirt" in it? Having some derogatory nicknames is a great idea, given the world you've built. Are building!
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think the problem occurs when people try to take a subjective preference and state it as an objective truth. Anyone is free to dislike good or evil races, but when you try to cast them as unrealistic or use similar descriptors, you're making an objective assessment of yourself and other readers. You're a discerning reader with appropriate standards for literature and others just don't rise to that level. It's pure bollocks, of course, but it must be human nature, because people do that sort of thing all the time. There is no objective basis for preferring one over the other in this case. It is purely preference.

    The "more realistic" argument is a particularly bad one in my view, because there are so many unrealistic things in fantasy novels. Many go without any explanation whatsoever. Many are more contrary to the real world than having good or evil races.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, fantasy fans, but most images of dragons you see on book covers or in movies would never be able to fly. They would never be able to hover in the air with only the occasional slow beat of their wings holding them aloft. They're a complete affront to aerodynamics and what we know of flying in the real world. How many fantasy novelists get into a detailed explanation of how they fly? Sure, they're magical creatures, but most of them aren't flying by magic. If they were, they wouldn't even need wings to begin with, they'd just flit around (some do; see Spirited Away). The author is silent on the matter. It is presumed they fly by purely mechanical means. They have wings. They flap them. They fly. Only, when you really look at them, it's just not possible. If that doesn't bother you, then you're really off base trying to paint evil races an an objective problem. Evil races are merely inconsistent with what we know of sentient races. Flying dragons are directly contradictory to the real world.

    And while we're speaking of what we know of sentient races...it's almost laughable to use the real world as a basis to mandate what is in the fantasy world. How many real world races do we know of? One. That's our sample size. N=1. I hope I don't have to get into an explanation of statistics, and how you can't know anything based on that sampling. So if you want to say an evil race is unrealistic, then what are you basing it on? In reality, we only know one race - humanity. That doesn't tell us a single thing about what characteristics other races might possess. We simply don't have a frame of reference.

    The point is, the "it's unrealistic" argument doesn't stand up to even mild scrutiny. Just say you don't like it, personally, as a reader, and leave it at that.

    As for the definition of good and evil, that's set by the context of the story. You pick it up from the characters and events in the story itself. It doesn't have to match the real world. The same conceptions don't have to be shared by the reader. That's what fiction does - it transports you to different places and into the minds of people who think differently than you do. If you can't read a story about characters, or even a world, that have different value systems than those that belong to you personally, then I think your approach to fiction is far too limiting.
     
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Strictly speaking we have two sentient races . . . . humanity and whatever race The Reaver is.

    *Ohh schnaps, total burn.* :cool:

    Where is he anyways?
     
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  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think part of the issue with this discussion is that the words realistic and believable get mixed up or confused or used interchangably.

    Realistic is when something is depicted like it is in the real world. - Dragons can't fly.
    Believable is when something is depicted in a way that makes sense within the world of the story. - Dragons can fly.
     
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