Us and Them; I and We - by Sonny Van Kampen
As far as we know, we’re the most advanced form of life in the universe. Whether this is true or not is a debate that I will not tackle here. Instead, I want to put my focus on worlds where it is a fact that we’re not alone. I want to focus on a universe where humanity lives side-by-side with elves, orcs, fairies, dwarves, centaurs, giants, mermaids and all other kinds of fantasy races. Now, through the many jaunts I’ve made to these worlds, I’ve come to notice something…
No matter how much detail is put into each race, no matter how much time has been spent on world building, no matter how expansive the lore is, if there are humans in the narrative, they will always be the most diverse race in the story. And I am not just talking about skin-color; although it is quite rare to see a black elf or an Asian dwarf in fantasy stories, I am talking more about the differences in humanity’s vast array of personalities. What do you imagine when I ask you to picture a “human”? What do you see? Who do you see?
The term human is very specific when it merely describes our race. With this single word, you can already picture someone who walks on two feet, breathes air to survive, eats meat and/or vegetables by shoving said meat and/or vegetables straight into the hole of their face (called the “mouth”)... The word is perfect for association with the most basic aspects of us; our similarities. But when you think further about it, the term “human” suddenly becomes a whole lot more vague. The word human doesn’t fully describe the hair on your head, which at the top of your skull moves into opposite directions, which causes the rest to fall on the edges of your face. The word human doesn’t describe your contentedness with this look, nor does it define your hidden disappointment with it, because now you will never get them sick bangs like Zooey Deschanel.
What do you see, when you imagine a human? A worker, or a slacker? A fighter, or a lover? A goody-two shoes, or a ne'er do well? Who do you see? Your mom? Your dad? That one uncle that no one really likes to talk about? Yourself?
There is so much choice, because there are so many variables. For all the things that make us #relatable, there are just as many things that make us unique.
Now, what do you think when I ask you to picture an elf? You might think about the fact they’re taller than us, use magic, love nature, are philosophers and have pointy ears. Oh, and if they’re present in more cynical works, you might also imagine them being a little stuck up. But as you can see, these thoughts only focus on what elves are like on a societal scale. Now try and think on a personal level. Can you think of an elf that is distinct enough to be considered different? Take Lord of The Rings, for example; the godfather of the fantasy genre. This saga is famous for its strong and heavily detailed world building. In this saga, elves are different depending on the region they hail from.
This difference between certain groups of elves is already closer to the way my Dutch friends are different from my Indonesian relatives. But with that said, it still is hard to say how elves within one specific area differ from one another… Now why is this? Lazy writing? For some writers, maybe. After all, almost all the generic fantasy creatures (Elves, Orcs, Dwarfs etc.) borrow, in one way or another, elements that were established in the Lord of The Rings. And that is the whole ‘problem’, if you want to call it such:
There is only one true quintessential source where us writers can draw from when writing about the fantastical, and that is the world constructed by J.R.R. Tolkien. When a story revolves around us humans, this problem is non-existent, for our quintessential source doesn’t come from one man, but from all around us. We don’t have to come up with subcultures and detailed character descriptions. We simply have to look at each other, and you’ll see a literal world to draw inspiration from.
With all that being said, am I suggesting that no one will be able to take fantastical creatures and add a new and refreshing twist? Of course not! I am confident in our ability to make the ideas of old new again by adding our own personal touch.
Which brings me to the whole reason I wrote this piece:
I am a writer who is working on a piece of fiction. This book has “urban fantasy” as its genre, and is called “Abel & Obel”. In this world I constructed, the elves, orcs, dwarves, fairies and other fantastical creatures we all know and love, live as immigrants among us. But, I didn’t just applied copy-paste to these creatures and continued from there.
Matter of fact, I took all the knowledge I gained about these imaginary denizens, and promptly hauled them out the window. I am not interested in how fantasy creatures would be like if they simply lived among us. I am interested in how fantasy creatures can live with us, if they’re just like us. Flaws and all.
Sonny Van Kampen
My name is Sonny van Kampen, but most know me as Sonny Benjamin (my two first names). I am a writer, podcaster, occasional poet and fulltime English teacher in training. I love telling stories and use my voice and Microsoft Word as the medium through which I tell them.
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