Monday, August 17, 2009

Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, etc.

Since beginning my own novel I have been reading quite a number of blogs and articles by other writers, agents, and publishers. One common theme seems to be that most of them are sick and tired of the 'standard' fantasy creatures, such as elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons, Orcs, goblins, etc.

I find this attitude dismaying. I must admit that while I read a broad spectrum of sci-fi, my tastes in fantasy are quite narrow. I love the traditional when it comes to fantasy. If someone wants to make up an entirely new fantasy creature, that is fine, but don't expect me to buy the book. I'm probably a minority, but I want my fantasy traditional. That's what I love. When I finished the Lord of the Rings, I wanted more. When I finished the Silmarillion, I dreamed that great authors might flesh out the brilliant story outlines into full-blown LOTR-type tales. It seems perfectly logical to me to love the traditional in fantasy. For me fantasy taps into something ancient and magical, the legends and lore of our all but forgotten past. When you make up completely new creatures you are abandoning this lore. That is what science fiction is for, in my opinion.

I wonder how it is that people are sick of reading about the traditional creatures of fantasy? It's not like I've seen many great tales incorporating these beasties. Other than LOTR, I can only think of The Sword of Shannara and the Iron Tower trilogy/Silver Call duology that did a good job with these fantasy standards. Who else has? The few Dungeons & Dragons novels I read were terrible. Clearly many people believe that these creatures have been overused, yet to me they have hardly been tapped at all, at least by good writers. I am starving for good stories using the old standards of fantasy.

Okay, so I wrote my novel based upon this very point. I incorporated all of my favorite traditional elements, and I didn't change the elves and dwarves and such to do things that they shouldn't be doing just to make them different. I made them act according to the way they should act. Yes, I set my baseline for how such creatures behave basically as Tolkien viewed them. Dwarves like mountains and mining; elves like forests, dragons like mounds of gold upon which to sleep, and so on.

Naturally I expect little but criticism from other writers. That is what I have had so far from those few who read my first chapter on Absolute Write. That's their choice, of course, but it seems to me that liking or not liking a story should be based upon how well it is written, not upon whether the story uses an element that you have arbitrarily decided you don't want to see again.

They say that one should write what one loves. I have tried to do that, but it seems to me that today's agents will simply ignore my writing for this very reason.

I guess I view this issue along the same lines as the old rant about Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven'. If a garage band dares to play the song, people whine and complain that it is so played out and overdone. How can that be though? I have never heard it played live. True, I wouldn't like to hear the song if done poorly, but I would LOVE to hear a band actually play the song well. The same thing with traditional fantasy creatures - I don't see how people can be sick of something that hasn't actually been done well very often.


  1. I feel I should tell you that Tokliens elves are not historically accurate, and do not reflect the actual myths from which he drew inspiration. Shannara elves do not, either. While I can appreciate your desire to read abou traditional mythology, Tolkien and Brooks are not exactly the best examples of it.

  2. You might be surprised. From what I recall (it was quite some time ago, so forgive me if my memory is vague) Tolkien did not simply create he version of elves himself, but did use some existing mythologies. Just because these are not commonly known does not make them real. Anyhow, I fully admit to not knowing those old stories myself and using Tolkien as one of my baselines.