287: Second-Hand Elf

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What an unfair comparison. The mythologies you mention were created over hundreds of years, resulting in the combination of several oral stories, with perhaps a handful of genial, annonymous storytellers in the middle of them who stiched together different tales to create a world coherent with both reality and its flights of fancy. And of course they actually believed their tales, an unfair advantadge we'd be hard-pressed to reproduce.

It's be like complaining that a writer didn't create any works that matched the importance of the Bible.

Sometimes these repetitions are for a greater cause. Will you say Dwarf Fortress is a bad game? (Not to my face you won't.) It has stereotypes, but uses them to deliver a new take on them - a new take you enjoy exactly because it is a revisit of that old world. Likewise, the greatest infringer on Tolkien is D&D - and when it was created the idea of being able to actually control the heroes in such a setting was novel enough to earn a pass.

There are plenty of stories that create brand new worlds. But to work with a well-known world allows the narrator to focus on other things, things he could not focus on if he had to explain every little detail of his new world.

After all, doesn't the great majority of works of fiction take place in this same old boring world we refer to as 'real'?

You know now that I think of it why doesn't this happen with the Science fiction genre. I mean they all have humans and robots for the most part but really nothing else that really common.

I like elves as they are. I don't really feel a need to change them. If some designer wants to create a new race, go ahead. Just don't call some bizzare new race an elf.

Assuming we leave the elves in Middle Earth, then what? What are new storytellers going to replace them with?

The elves represent a stereotype as the article described, and that's a good thing in my opinion. Writers can go ahead and create an entirely new race but then they have to spend the majority of their time in describing it in full detail and creating a believable world for them, which takes not only a long time to explain but a long time for readers to understand as well. And if they do this, then chances are people will just reject the new concepts anyway since they still won't be as good as the old Tolkien ones.
If a character is an elf, then we already know the history of the race and the game can concentrate on the character themselves rather than explaining the history of all the others first and then bluntly stating why this particular character is different.

And besides, what else are writers going to create? Chances are no matter what you come up with it will end up being a similar personality stereotype and all that will end up changing is the name or appearance of the races.
If you want new races in every story then look at Avatar. They have blue skin, pointy ears, and are 10 feet tall; characteristics not found in Forgotten Realms. But look deeper at them and they are still the exact same stereotype as elves, because it works for the story.

If a new game came out with one of the races being short and stout like a dwarf, but nature loving and wise like an elf, then people would reject it anyway because it isn't what we've come to expect out of fantasy settings.

Old Tolkien stereotypes are firmly ingrained into our minds in ways that are very difficult for writers to break if they expect their games to be successful, because if they change too much then people will become either uncomfortable playing it or just frustrated or bored of trying to comprehend the new world. As such, games need to proceed like Dragon Age did by stretching the racial stereotypes quite a bit while retaining the basics of them (i.e. The dwarfs still live underground, but uniquely had a unstable political system and a caste based society)

I suppose I am half-agreeing with this article, as games do lack creativity once they involve standard fantasy characters. However most of my favorite games and books are in these settings and do a phenomenal job of storytelling. I think that the Forgotten Realms "standard fantasy setting" is just such a vast and perfect world that it's difficult to get tired of it.

EDIT: Also, I think that lacking creativity in making new settings is fine as long as it makes up for it by having an inspiring story that successfully uses the stereotypes. I didn't like the races in Oblivion because they were all treated the same way, and the lose their storytelling value because of it.

I think people forget how culture develops in all cultures.

"And besides, what else are writers going to create?". Anything. It doesn't matter. I'll refrain my earlier post in this topic just to make a point. The Longest Journey replaces your archetypical races with a bunch of new ideas that are easy to understand. A good writer creates a world that doesn't need every single detail told. It leaves many gaps that are filled in by the audience's imagination. That's how those ideas get a grip in your psyche, because you also had a part in making them come to life. You make them yours. By now Elves require so little input of your imagination to create, a thing you yourself acknowledge, that to me they feel rather distant and unengaging.

It seems a little on the lazy side to reject a new concept because it doesn't adhere to a previous context. You say we've gotten used to it and there's no way to change that. Rubbish. Smallish antropomorphic creature that digs but also has a love for nature and wisdom of the spirit? In TLJ you have the Banda, a race of prairy-dog like beings that mold the earth by singing to it and have spiritual visits of the ancients by a sort of meditation in a hut and are incredible adorable to boot. It's even suggested later on (in Dreamfall) that they are a very old race and may have even had some great society in ancient times and a huge struggle. The mysterious race with infinite knowledge and living in trees is supplied by another faction called the Dark People but they don't seem at all like elves, more like ghostly incorporeal beings that work a in hive-mind society and are simply documenting the passage of the world. We don't know every detail of these races or most of the ones in that world but it doesn't make that mythology any less compelling or able to create a setting to examine themes other than explanation of the races' details. I believe there's nothing more boring than knowing everything.

Of course, I do concede that it takes a lot of time to make all that world believable and you read and do a lot in TLJ to flesh it all out. I don't mind that. It makes it all the more memorable. I think it's better than booting up the game and knowing 90% of what's in store from the game, and that 10% of tweaks to common archetypes is all that distinguishes it from any other iteration (and that is in no way better than figuring out who made this power armor the marine is wearing and how it works, it's still a marine in a power armor exploding stuff).

Nice article. But I would rather we make new worlds in addition to keeping the old ones, rather than throwing one away for the other. It sounds like you are saying we should top reading and just play games. We should do both.

yeah but if anyone tried to create new lore, then people wouldnt embrace it because it isnt established

jez29:
With TES V Skyrim they have a real chance to create a unique world in the vein of Morrowind that will also be a commercial success.

How do you figure? Cyrodiil was among the strangest and most original provinces of Tamriel before TES IV raped it with the Gygax stick. Skyrim has always been Vikingland with certain additions.

So unless they're making the strange staid and the staid strange again, I'm not so optimistic.

And the Dunmer are the most vividly and completely realized culture in a videogame, rivaling the best novels of the fantasy genre in the depth of their religion, psyche and aesthetics.

maturin:

jez29:
With TES V Skyrim they have a real chance to create a unique world in the vein of Morrowind that will also be a commercial success.

How do you figure? Cyrodiil was among the strangest and most original provinces of Tamriel before TES IV raped it with the Gygax stick. Skyrim has always been Vikingland with certain additions.

So unless they're making the strange staid and the staid strange again, I'm not so optimistic.

And the Dunmer are the most vividly and completely realized culture in a videogame, rivaling the best novels of the fantasy genre in the depth of their religion, psyche and aesthetics.

My point wasn't so much about how rich the current lore is for Skyrim, since I really don't know much beyond the Vikingland that you mention, and I didn't know much about Cyrodiil before Oblivion. Given that its the home of the Imperials, the most recognisably 'western human' race in the Elder Scrolls, I almost expected it to be more trad fantasy than Morrowind (on which I agree with you, the Dunmer lands and traditions were so much more interesting than anything in Oblivion).

The point I was making was more a business one. When Morrowind came out, the Elder Scrolls was a big series, sure, but not nearly as big as it is now. With the success of Oblivion and Fallout, Bethesda are one of the biggest devs going right now. Thus, TES 5 Skyrim will sell regardless of its content. Bethesda won't have to make a trad fantasy or boring Viking-esque world just to give your average player (perhaps not a big fantasy fan but rather a big Bethesda fan) a setting they'll be comfortable with. They can be creative and still be sure of sales.

I really couldn't agree more. This is the main things that turns me off to the (triple-A) RPG genre in general (I've only played Mass Effect, Fallout New Vegas and Oblivion - only one of those is set in the standard fantasy setting).

It's not that I hate fantasy as whole. I read The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, and loved the Narnia series as a kid. But I just can't stomach the countless rehashs of the same tired old setting. The genre is called "fantasy" - its contents have the right to be imaginative and outlandish, and yet it consistently fails to hold my interest longer than works of "science fiction" - which, going by the genre name, should really be more uniform.

There's this neat little indie RPG, it's called Dubloon. It's set in a world of pirates, naval officers and one or two vikings, and it's really fun. Also it doesn't have elves. We have so much of human history to be inspired by, and yet we ignore so much of it when it comes to fantasy settings. Where are the games/novels/whatever set in magical 19th century Britain (steampunk is cool, right?), or the magical American revolution, or magical prehistory with cavemen and dinosaurs. Even magical the future would be cool, with roving parties of humans and space aliens casting freeze and electrocute on three-eyed, seven-legged, exoskeletoned abominations from the deep tunnels below the surfaces of one of Jupiter's moons?

And you don't even need to stop with "magical X"! There could be fantasy about people living in universes with screwed-up laws of physics, or any number of other bizarre perversions of the natural world the human mind can come up with.

Even if you don't be that crazy imaginative, there are those influences I talked about earlier. Humankind has been around for a while, and we've done some stuff. There's no limit to the amazing settings that can be invented by combining the cultural motifs of different civilizations at different times. Noir + South American/Mexican folklore = Grim Fandango. Pirates + Traditional RPG magic = Dubloon. Little-known folklore (psychopomps, black dog myths) + Gothic/steampunky architecture/atmosphere + British boarding school = Gunnerkrigg Court.

It's a real shame we don't see more of this in the mainstream. Endlessly copying Tolkein is not only lazy, it's also tragic - by choosing one boring setting, you lose the chance to create something wonderful and new.


Assuming you actually managed to battle your way through that, bravo!

Edit

F1ak3r:

And you don't even need to stop with "magical X"! There could be fantasy about people living in universes with screwed-up laws of physics, or any number of other bizarre perversions of the natural world the human mind can come up with.

Now we just need a Terry Pratchett game! Seriously.

I just of another big known work of fantasy that throws new things at you all the time. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (and the associated movies). In fact, it emphasizes the point of creating new things as one of the central themes running through.

Sorry, I just remembered it and thought I'd add another example of why Tolkien look-alikes are just soooooooo boring to me.

Elves and Dwarves are creations of Norse, Celtic and Germanic Myths. Tolkien only set in stone their modern form, since the originals were only passed down orally, and as such varied a lot.

...I like elves. Moreover, I like the spinoffs of the original elves you speak of. I like what Blizzard did with elves in the original Warcraft, and if people really overlook Richard Knaack's depiction of Night Elves as just a pale imitation, they need to do some serious reconsideration.

Simply put, Elves have their own lore in the constant iterations of the better fantasy novels out there, just like humans do. Where elves truly "came from" may be lost, or depicted in so many was it's hard to keep track, but that's no excuse to just brush off the pages and pages of lore each world has for its characters, elves included. Instead of saying that elves are shells of their former selves, lost by plagiarism and bad writing, look at them this way: elves were accepted by humanity, and unlike the other, less fortunate races to just die off in myth-lore, made themselves here to stay in tales of great writers for decades, perhaps even centuries to come. There's alot of bad writers out there, sure, but overall, elves have been refined to be something much better than a one dimensional race.

Maybe, just maybe, several hundreds of years from now, people will look back on our primitive society, and make cheap stories ripping off 20th century lore, elves included, much like people rip off Greek, Norse, and Egyptian lore to date.

Lastly, I'll leave you with this. Mythmaking is stronger than ever. It doesn't just happen over night, or even over the course of a couple decades. Mythmaking takes time, especially if you want a set of myths that will actually stay.

Absolutely heartwarming references to The Silmarillion and Gothic *sigh*

Lord_Kristof:
(I don't think his mentioning of Conan in this respect is a good idea, because he's more of a 'character concept' than a 'character'. Well, Conan is a character, but the idea of a great barbarian is a concept

How so? The character of Conan in popular culture is as different as the version in the original stories are Elves and Dwarves of pop culture are in Lord of the Rings. It's a perfectly apt comparison.

Taranaich:

Lord_Kristof:
(I don't think his mentioning of Conan in this respect is a good idea, because he's more of a 'character concept' than a 'character'. Well, Conan is a character, but the idea of a great barbarian is a concept

How so? The character of Conan in popular culture is as different as the version in the original stories are Elves and Dwarves of pop culture are in Lord of the Rings. It's a perfectly apt comparison.

Well, Conan is a character who, surely, was re-used by many authors under different names. In this light, the comparison is perfectly alright.

However, I think the difference is in scale. While 'racial stereotypes' with regards to Dwarves and Elves cover entire races, mythology, and sometimes even origins (not to mention connecting them in the same way all the time: elves = nature and usually magic, dwarves = earth), 'the barbarian' is a character concept, not a character. You can't really say that somebody copied the character of Conan because he introduced a barbarian to the story. In a way, that would be saying that all mages are Merlin-cutouts and every single doctor in a novel is a stereotypical doctor character.

What I'm saying is that stealing (or reusing)) a concept of a whole race is a thing of a bigger magnitude and it's more obvious than borrowing a character concept, which in itself is something much smaller and at the same time more general, if you catch my drift. Placing the two in the same argument works on the surface, but if you look into it more deeply, it's a somewhat different thing.

Again, minor gripe, the article still mostly echoes my thoughts and kicks ass.

SulfuricDonut:
Assuming we leave the elves in Middle Earth, then what? What are new storytellers going to replace them with?

snip the rest

Are we so narrow-minded that we can't even conceive of artistic creation? This isn't a problem in sci-fi, where we have many many races that represent almost as many concepts. Only in fantasy do you hear people say, "Why do we need new races? An elf by another name is still an elf". I've heard that unfounded argument so much. Let the creative people create! Bring in new ideas, or tweak them enough that the old is new again. Fantasy now is just too stagnant.

Petromir:
Everyone borrows from somewhere, even Tolkien. That doesnt excuse poor rehashes of existing ideas, but dismissing something because its reused an idea, while holding up a masterpiece that has done just that is foolish.

Theres pleanty of good things that borrow from other places, if its done well it can create some fine works, of which the Lord of The Rings demonstrates well.

Using and imitating are different matters, borrow by all means, but make it your own rather than attempting a homage or a faxcimile, as that will likley fail.

The other thing is to develope your charecters, races and other ideas, even if you don't intend on putting them in. So many IPs are poor because they just cut and copy races, without their own identites.

This. Also why I like the Wheel of Time. No elves, dwarves, or dragons. Just humans, Trollocs and Ogier.

DustyDrB:

SulfuricDonut:
Assuming we leave the elves in Middle Earth, then what? What are new storytellers going to replace them with?

snip the rest

Are we so narrow-minded that we can't even conceive of artistic creation? This isn't a problem in sci-fi, where we have many many races that represent almost as many concepts. Only in fantasy do you hear people say, "Why do we need new races? An elf by another name is still an elf". I've heard that unfounded argument so much. Let the creative people create! Bring in new ideas, or tweak them enough that the old is new again. Fantasy now is just too stagnant.

arrgh! Don't snip the rest! That's where the entire argument was. The rhetorical question was an introduction.
My point was that exactly, even if you make them look/sound/act differently, they will still end up as one of the stereotypes already mentioned in forgotten realms. The only way to make them not conform to those stereotypes is to make them more generic and colorless... i.e. human.
Consider Mass Effect for example, as it was one of the most original games in the Sci Fi genre. The asari are blue, have weird tentacle heads, and round ears but they are still the stereotype of elves. Krogan are like orcs, and volus are like gnomes. They look different but still all the same stereotypes, because those stereotypes represent the different extremes of personality and lifestyle, and it is key to include all of these personalities in order to create contrast between races/characters.

SulfuricDonut:

DustyDrB:

SulfuricDonut:
Assuming we leave the elves in Middle Earth, then what? What are new storytellers going to replace them with?

snip the rest

Are we so narrow-minded that we can't even conceive of artistic creation? This isn't a problem in sci-fi, where we have many many races that represent almost as many concepts. Only in fantasy do you hear people say, "Why do we need new races? An elf by another name is still an elf". I've heard that unfounded argument so much. Let the creative people create! Bring in new ideas, or tweak them enough that the old is new again. Fantasy now is just too stagnant.

arrgh! Don't snip the rest! That's where the entire argument was. The rhetorical question was an introduction.
My point was that exactly, even if you make them look/sound/act differently, they will still end up as one of the stereotypes already mentioned in forgotten realms. The only way to make them not conform to those stereotypes is to make them more generic and colorless... i.e. human.
Consider Mass Effect for example, as it was one of the most original games in the Sci Fi genre. The asari are blue, have weird tentacle heads, and round ears but they are still the stereotype of elves. Krogan are like orcs, and volus are like gnomes. They look different but still all the same stereotypes, because those stereotypes represent the different extremes of personality and lifestyle, and it is key to include all of these personalities in order to create contrast between races/characters.

I can see the Krogans as orcs, but the asari as elves or volus as gnomes unless you're being very general about your definitions. There may be some commonalities, but not enough to say they're just "space elves". Besides, theres also geth, turians, hanar, elcor, drell, and whatever else I'm forgetting.

When you use the same races again and again in the same way, you're eliminating the possibility of the player having a sense of discovery. If things feel as if I already know everything about a race, then what's the point in trying to learn.

Aside from that, it becomes visually dull to see the same races again and again. Fantasy is supposed to have at least some sense of wonder, but it has largely lost that and become full of the "generic fantasy settings" described in the article.

I totally agree with the above poster.
Fantasy is supposed to make you say "Wow" or "That's amazing/awesome", but using the same elements to create the same fantasy setting changes people's reactions to "Been there, done that"

One setting, however, which defenately succeeds in provoking a sense of wonder(and is therefore a good fantasy setting) is Eiichiro Oda's One Piece(Yes, it's an anime/manga, it doesn't matter). I mean, think about it, have you ever seen a setting quite like it? There are Pirates, Superpowers, Angels, Secret Agents, Giants, Sea Monsters and other such familiar elements of fiction, yet the wondrous thing about the setting is how they put new twists into as well as combine old concepts. For example, pirates and superpowers aren't mutually distinct, the pirates HAVE superpowers, and they get them from eating magical FRUIT rather then, say, lab accidents. Also, the angels aren't living in a heavenly utopia, they're living under the total rule of a madman who can kill with a thought, etc., etc.,

Oh, and don't forget the forget the island of transvestites, yep.

"Standard fantasy setting": Has there ever been a sadder oxymoron?

I fail to see contradiction here. :)

I'm currently in the making of turning and twisting the tropes on major generic fantasy races (elves/orks/dwarves/humans) for a personal setting, to varying degrees. While it's not my top priority, I have a couple of ideas.

If anyone seeks creative exchange on that matter, I'd love a PM!

Just be noted that I tend to explore the "Why?" quite a bit in some cases, so some changes may contain lengthy backstories. I'll generally try to withhold huge paragraphs until you show interest however.

Um... you know, when twilight came out it seemed that besides the general poor quality of the story the "vampires" were not vampires. If the Resident Evil games called the Los Palgos Elves wouldn't people have a similar reaction.

You made some good points, but ultimately you discarded most of them. Some of them that would have actually helped the article. The Elder Scrolls High, Dark, Wood thing was presented not briefly, but shallowly. Elder Scrolls is highly original with its elves. The dwarves are elves, the orcs are elves, heck even the Bretons are technically what happens with half elves.

Also, Dragon Age would have helped this article because their elves are about displacement you could have use that as a better meta example, or at least a decent thematic one.

I have no problem with the inclusion of elves, orcs, and dwarves and all that, but I think if you're going to do that, at the very least put a spin on it, or add a substantial amount of original creations to place with them and balance out what you already know will work with something new. It doesn't even need to be anything terribly thought out, like making golums or gem people a standard sentient race rather than an occasional monster.

maturin:
And the Dunmer are the most vividly and completely realized culture in a videogame, rivaling the best novels of the fantasy genre in the depth of their religion, psyche and aesthetics.

I can't agree more. The detail that went into crafting not only Vvardenfell but its people, their thoughts and beliefs still amazes me to this day. Playing through Morrowind and visiting its lands and people is like experiencing life in a long lost civilization firsthand.

Maybe I'm an ignoramus, but when I get a fantasy-setting without the "standard" human/elf/dwarf dynamic I get really turned off. Like the Argonians and Khajiit in TES? Yeah, they're kinda there, but I'd not shed a single tear if they weren't. It always seems to me like: "Yeah, we GOTTA do something original. Uhm, we have elves and dwarves. Let's, I dunno, make some cat and lizard people, I guess? Yeah!"

It's like making a sci-fi movie without lasers. Would you wanna see a movie were instead of lasers they had guns that shoot corrosive alien snot? Wouldn't that be totally original? But wouldn't it also be LAME? I want my lasers back.

In my opinion, it's better to be original within the established bounds, not go totally overboard. Like what was already mentioned, how TES made the dwarves an underground offshoot of the elves? That's brilliant. Now, if instead the Dwemer had been a race of underground mole scientists ... not so much.

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood.

I may get laughed out of here for posting this, but I'm kind of surprised that in this entire extensive thread, nobody has mentioned Zelda. Gorons, Zoras, Kokiri, Dekus, Sheikah, Rito, Picori, Kikwis, Twili...the list goes on, and they are all fairly original creations with few if any analogs in other works. Clearly it is possible to create entirely new races with unique traits which have little or no basis in Tolkien-esque "standards". Granted the Zelda series is known more for exploration and puzzle-solving than well fleshed out characters or dialogue, but those elements are still there to a degree, and I felt it worth mentioning.

I can't even read the article because the right hand margin is cut off. I thought it was all the script being blocked by my Firefox but I just opened it with IE and Chrome and right margin is still cut off. Anybody have a link to a printable view?

Anybody? I know I'm not the only one not being able to see all the text. Just sent the link to a friend and she couldn't read the right margin well either.

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