Something that many consider a ‘staple’ of fantasy is conflict and tension between the various races. There’s this weird dislike that seems to appear among them, which is hateful globally and more mild bickering for those in the same party. Typically, it involves a pompous elf, a surly dwarf, or both. All of this makes me believe the ‘staple’ comes entirely from ‘Lord of the Rings’. It’s a constant attempt to replicate the Legolas/Gimli dislike to rivalry to friendship story arc. Never seems to work for me because of a few issues:
- There was something about how Tolkien did this that made it work. The specific situations and overall plot explains the unity. Enough history is given to explain the bad blood. Legolas and Gimli are also supporting characters, who are often defined by this bigotry. This is just personal opinion though because they were flushed out more in the movies. In the books, I only remember them for their rivalry and being representatives for their races.
- Many times, an author will be too heavy-handed with the hatred. It reaches a point where both races come off as jerks. Every opportunity for the bigotry is taken and it gets tiring. We don’t like dealing with racists in real life, so those in fiction won’t get a better reaction. If the hate becomes too much then we simply hate the character and feel that the inevitable ‘turn’ is an act of desperation on the author’s part.
- Yeah, the characters finding common ground and shedding their bigotry tends to be a given. Not doing this makes it feel like nothing was learned and that bigotry can never be defeated.
- Other times, an author might add it for the sake of adding it. This comes off as forced and uncomfortable. There’s not background and you might even see that the races aren’t consistent in their bigotry. This is a reason why it is easier to make characters that are bigots instead of going for an entire race. Still, you do need some reason for the hate beyond ‘they killed my family’. While that is understandable, it really only works for monster races.
Now, this is all my own thoughts on it because I know people who are thrilled with fantasy bigotry. They love seeing it because they feel like it’s mirroring the real world. It does get weird when you see real world racism in fantasy though. Humans hating on each other for different skin color in a world with elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, dragons, gnomes, goblins, and other races comes off as evil. It makes it seem like even in a world with multiple civilized species, humans will still quarrel amongst themselves. This is a reason why I don’t do this in Windemere. I can’t see the humans of this world falling into our type of racism since they have other targets. Might be more wishful thinking on my part here.
In regards to Windemere, I did have a lot of trouble doing interspecies bigotry. I attempted it in Beginning of a Hero and I didn’t like it. This became an odd nod to LOTR since it was dwarves teasing about elves. The issues didn’t carry over because I couldn’t see it working. The next dwarf you meet is working for a half-elf and admits that his best friend is an elf. I had two half-elves in the main cast for the first book and a third joined in the sequel. The only races that were disliked were chaos elves, giltris (lizard people), goblins, and orc bandits. These were all aggressive groups too, so they earned that reputation. I simply couldn’t find a way to justify the other races hating on each other when I demonstrated that they were all living together. So, I threw the ‘staple’ away unless it fit a specific character.
It took a few years for me to see why it didn’t work for Windemere. I had already designed a few big events in the world’s history. Massive threats that forced the species to unite for survival. So, why would they splinter after having to join forces so often? That’s just asking for the next global catastrophe to wipe them out. So, it’s almost like large scale racism in Windemere was eliminated out of necessity and fear of extinction. At least it is in my mind. There are plenty of people who have messaged me over the years and mentioned that the lack of bigotry makes the world unrealistic. Amazing how the absence of such hate is seen as a negative. Probably says a lot more about the humanity of Earth than the races of Windemere.
So, what do you think about bigotry in fantasy?