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Why use D&D races in our stories?

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

  1. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Steerpike, those are good points and you presented them wonderfully. However, I think we're straying away from the thread topic.

    Tolkien orcs were inherently "evil"/monstrous, though arguable capable of redemption apparently. Does that the fact Tolkien orcs are evil-to-a-degree mean that this is an official, indisputable part of the orc convention?
    And to answer this question, we'd have to decide if Tolkien is the definitive word on orcs.

    I say no. Even if he invented orcs (which I don't think he did but even if he did), the orcs have now become a part of the fantasy genre. They belong to any creator who wants to use them. The greater fantasy community have come to the agreement that orcs have colored skin (usually green), sharp teeth, a human-size-or-larger build and a war-loving attitude but the trait of "inherently evil" has been rejected too often by influential works (such as D&D) to be considered an "official" characteristic of orcs. Even Tolkien came to reject this trait. So, in the end, it doesn't matter if orcs were evil in Lord of the Rings.
    In the same way that ancient cultures agreed that Dwarves were short, we've agreed that orcs don't have to be evil.
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Haha. Good point. Though there is only one Reaver to judge from as well :)
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    That's a good point. But in my view, dragons being able to fly is no more or less believable than an evil race. Arguably, it should be less believable because it directly contradicts what we know of aerial mechanics, whereas an evil race just doesn't seem right based on our experience (i.e. one is inconsistent with our experience, the other is impossible from what we know of physics).
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes, I agree that orcs do not have to be inherently evil. An author can use them in whatever way she sees fit, and imbue them with whatever characteristics she likes. The can be good, evil, or anything in between, and be as varied a race as humanity. I'm just saying that if you want to use them, or create a separate sentient race, as a representation of a race that is truly, inherently evil, I don't think there is anything wrong with doing so (apart from the subjective preferences of some readers who won't like it).
     
  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Arguably, yes.
    I think our tendency as humans is to check our instincts and emotions before actual facts and logic though - and that's why we end up with weird situations like that.

    Let's take World of Warcraft. People are perfectly fine with giant two-legged cows that shoot lightning bolts, but when the lighting bolt hits them through a tree or a rock, that's outrageous.

    This is probably a bit off topic though as it's more about human perception than about fantasy races (even if it's discussed within a fantasy context).
     
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  6. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    You have an abrasive way of approaching an argument that is very off-putting. If I were you, I would try harder to take other people as they are and not expect them to be like you.

    If I had completed any 'analysis' of the Orcs I suspect I would have some factual information that I would have made very clear at some point in this post. This entire discussion was spurred by one sentence that I wrote: I simply don't like the idea of an entire sentient, humanoid race that is evil as a whole... it's simply too far from reality for me.

    "Wholly evil" does not mean the same thing as "evil as a whole." The entirety of the Orcs in The Hobbit and LOTR are on the side of "evil" (Tolkien's concept of evil need not be torn apart for this discussion). There are no 'good' Orcs ever presented. You say that Tolkien said they were "redeemable." That does imply that they are not "wholly evil" which is fine since I never said they were nor did I use the term irredeemable.

    I have an opinion which all are free to disagree with, as I always try to make clear because I tend to write with a literal tone.

    The last thing I'll try to make clear is this: You said, "Judging them based on what little interaction the heroes of LOTR have with them in the story is a shallow judgement indeed."

    And I am saying: Judging the Orcs based on what little interaction the heroes of LOTR have with them in the story provides only a shallow view indeed. Thus I will provide a more in depth view of my own villains and races employed by them whenever possible because I feel that villains require more explanation in-story than Tolkien provided for the Orcs.

    I think that should make it clear that I don't want anyone else to take my word as fact nor do I expect everyone to agree with my opinion. I don't like to be misinterpreted, especially by my own fault, so I am trying to be as clear as possible.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2014
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    This is true. And I think it illustrates a great point for fantasy writers. The reason people become irate when a lightning bolt goes through a rock to hit them is that it apparently violates the rules of the fantasy world. It is established that these cows exist, but not established that lightning passes through solid rock. So it seems like either a glitch, or that the game is just ignoring its own rules because the devs want the mob to hit you. Similarly, in writing fantasy I think you can do anything you want, so long as you set it up and are consistent within the logic of the world you created. If you've established a basis for some seemingly extraordinary event, you'll be OK. If it just happens with no supporting rationale or structure, the reader is going to say "What the heck was that about?"
     
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  8. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I think that I was talking through a broken translator (my own odd brain :)) which lent to this discussion branching off in this direction. As a reader I cannot help but base things off of my own feelings and my goal as an author is to make readers feel, not just think. I easily accept fantasy elements that oppose scientific facts, largely because I am unaware of many but also because I don't find it jarring unless it's done very poorly. If something goes against my existing feelings I can either adapt, which grows respect for the author, or get jarred out of the story. The Orcs are just one example of a jarring event for me. As you said, personal preference makes a difference for the individual and this is mine.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2014
  9. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I think there's more than a little wiggle room in fantasy for things that don't work as they do in real life. Heck, there's room in real life for things to work even though science says they shouldn't. I'm not talking miracles here, either. Bees are an example of a thing that should not, by all laws of physics, be able to fly -- their bodies are not the right shape for it at all. They ought to be the chickens of the insect kingdom, basically. Yet they're not. Pretty sure most of us have seen one in flight at some point.

    By that logic, why shouldn't dragons be able to fly?
     
  10. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    That's a great point. I read somewhere that for men to fly (with wings and not apparati) we would need wings so massive as to be impractical but I followed some bread crumbs and found an article on the way hummingbird wings work and how, if men had moderate to large hummingbird wings, we could fly very efficiently... until our hearts exploded from the strain, but that's a different thing entirely since simply saying that our physiology had adapted could explain that away. Hence, there will be men (fantasy improved, of course) who fly with hummingbird style wings in one of my WIPs.
     
  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    This is apparently incorrect. Aerodynamically however, it's right, as they don't really have the shape for it. It's not the shape though, but rather their movements that keep them off the ground: The Straight Dope: Is it aerodynamically impossible for bumblebees to fly?

    I didn't learn about this until just a few years ago, and before that I too was convinced bees couldn't actually fly.

    This ties into the discussion quite nicely though. It's a widely accepted "fact" that even though it's not correct still is part of people's view of the world. We don't question it because we've heard it before, from multiple sources, including some we probably consider reliable.
     
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  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Goodness, I'm sorry. I was just approaching the argument as if we were both rational, mature adults who mean what we say and say what we mean. I won't make that mistake again.

    Of course it doesn't. :rolleyes:

    Ah well, I'm just a die hard Tolkien fan who can't help jumping into a discussion when I think I see someone misunderstanding his writings. I'm not really interested in the rest of the discussion here. I'll just let myself out.
     
  13. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    With regards to the question of wholly evil orcs, I believe any humanoid race with the capacity to form large and formidable armies will need some capacity for cooperation in order to maintain cohesion within the ranks. Cooperation is a major foundational block for most moral codes. Therefore, even your stereotypical warlike fantasy orcs would need some form of morality or obligation to cooperate binding them together.

    I have an easier time imagining orcs as enemies of humanity, elves, or whatever due to inter-species competition. They could view non-orcs much the same way as lions, spotted hyenas, and other wild predators view each other: as competition that must be driven away. That wouldn't necessarily make them evil to the core, just ferociously xenophobic on the species level.

    That said, I personally prefer my orcs to be nobler and more sympathetic.
     
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  14. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Let's ensure we keep our comments on topic. Disagreements are fine. Personal attacks or insinuations are not.
     
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  15. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Defined on Google:
    whol·ly
    ˈhōl(l)ē/Submit
    adverb
    entirely; fully.
    "she found herself given over wholly to sensation"
    synonyms: completely, totally, absolutely, entirely, fully, thoroughly, utterly, quite, perfectly, downright, in every respect, in all respects;

    as a whole
    phrase of whole
    1.
    as a single unit and not as separate parts; in general.
    "a healthy economy is in the best interests of society as a whole"

    If the Orcs were "wholly evil" it would imply that each individual is evil to their very core; i.e. that their very nature is irrevocably evil.

    If the Orcs are evil "as a whole" it implies that the entire race is evil and makes no reference to the depth of evil per individual.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2014
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yeah, the thing about bees is a misconception, though not an uncommon one.

    The question I haven't seen anyone really answer yet is why a dragon flying purely by physical or mechanical means, which is patently impossible given the depiction of dragons in fantasy literature and runs directly contrary to what we know of aerodynamics, would be OK, whereas an evil sentient race, which is merely inconsistent with respect to our limited sample size of n=1, would not be OK.

    :)
     
  17. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I tried to answer that, but maybe it just wasn't a satisfactory answer, or I'm unclear again. I'm not too good at expressing myself on these philosophical matters it seems.

    I think the reason is that instinct and emotion kicks in before logic and, well, reason.

    If I read "The dragon flew over the forest," I'm not really thinking about how the dragon actually flies. I've seen loads of pictures and movies of dragons that fly. Most of them flap their wings slower than my grandma walks and they still fly just fine, I've seen it with my own eyes.

    If I read "The main characteristic of the bugbear race is that all bugbears are inherently evil," then that's something I'll react to negatively, because I have a hard time fitting it within my frames of reference.
    In my reading I may have encountered races where all members are inherently evil, but at this time none come to mind.


    ----
    Something else that may be interesting to bring up on this topic is the human tendency to find patterns where none are.
    Apophenia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    It may very well be that this applies in the case of the dragons and the evil bugbears as well. We want to find some meaning in what we see and because we have experience with unrealistic flight it's easier for us to accept that, than it is to accept unrealistic behaviour in other beings (even if non-human).
     
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  18. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    To try and get back on topic:

    I'm in favor of using stock fantasy races, like elves and dwarves and orcs etc.
     
  19. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

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    I think "stock" races are good for shorthand. I've seen elves, orcs, and dwarves, etc.... so they don't need a lot of explanation or background when introduced, but an author has to put in a little extra work to make them unique. Take the Elder Scrolls games for example. Their Orcs are master armorers, and weaponsmiths, and while they are still savages by most races standards they aren't the mindless hordes of most settings. or the Bosmer. Elves that respect wilderness, live in trees and are good with a bow. Standard. Then you come to realize that they respect the trees so much they are strict carnivores, refusing to eat or use ANY plant based material or byproduct, and dispose of their dead through ritual cannibalism so as not to defile the Earth. Not so standard.

    Besides most non-standard races I've encountered are still the stock races just dressed in different skins. Honestly if your description for your brand new, genre bending race begins "They're like [insert stock fantasy race here] but..." just use the stock, and put THAT twist on them.
     
  20. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    Yeah, I always a completely evil race would self-destruct before it could get very far. I think the orcs in Monster Hunter were cool as hell.
     
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