Random Things in Motion #20: Dear Generic Fantasy Books, Orcs/Dwarves/Elves Have Stories, Too!

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Fantasy is one of my most beloved genres. I love reading fantasy books because we’re oftentimes given a whole new world to immerse ourselves in, new creatures and races to meet, new magic systems to try out, and new problems and hurdles to overcome. The possibilities are endless. Your imagination knows no limitation. 

But, if you’re an avid fantasy reader, you may notice that there are… generic fantasy settings -an overdone and cliché world thinly disguised as new. You will have seen the same creatures in other books and even games, but instead of bringing something new to the plate, they will have the same roles as their predecessors.

generic

Maybe it’s just me and that I’ve only been reading bad fantasy books, but when I have a fantasy in my hand that has the generic setting (humans, dwarf, elf, orc), it almost always goes like this:

  • Human – the usual hero/heroine. They’re the good guys in the story. They have the most of the power and the resources and are the most dominant among the races.
  • Dwarf – human minions. They’re usually hesitant to join humans in their quest. Are usually very elusive and secretive of their “secrets when it comes to ironmaking” (<– lol).
  • Elf – human minions. Seen as always beautiful, agile, graceful, and sneaky. They live in forests. And have a beautiful kingdom. Of course.
  • Orc – ENEMIES. MUST KILL THEM. THEY CANNOT TALK. THEY ONLY GRUNT AND WAVE AND SNORT. ARGHHHHHHHHHHH!

And every time I see it this way, I go:

“Of course. Of-bloody-course.”

I know, I’m human. I should always root for the humans. I should sympathize more with their plight because we’re from the same race, yada yada yada yada.

But here’s the thing. Stories about humans in fantasy settings? For me, they’ve become PREDICTABLE. They’ve become BORING. 80% of the time.

ORC2

There are so many races out there that you could use to show a story! Like I’ve said before, fantasy has so many possibilities, so why are most of the heroes and heroines in generic fantasy books humans? Why are the others always used as sidekicks or minions or allies to be won over? Why are orcs always the grunting enemies?

For once, I want things to be a different in a generic fantasy setting. I want to read the story about a Dwarf wanting to be a cook but is forced to conscript to the army due to an impending war. I want to read the story of a poor, kind Orc who finds their home slaughtered by vengeful humans, and thus begins a journey of conquest and revenge. Elves are interesting, too, but they’re getting more spotlight recently as I’ve read books from the Elven perspective as well, so I’m personally more interested in the stories of dwarves and orcs. The book can have the same plot and formula as other books, but since it’s from all-new and refreshing point of views, we can bring even more intriguing stories on the table. There would be more diversity. More excitement.

Shrek-FriendsThis is the reason why Shrek has a special place in my heart. It’s a fantasy with all sorts of creatures, and the main character is funny, witty, amazing, and he’s not a human at all. Since he’s not human, we get to witness his frustrations and insecurities about his being himself and his not being a human (which is quite complex, let me tell you). If you think about it, if Shrek were human, it would have been really different and I doubt I would have enjoyed it more than Shrek’s normal Shrek POV. It was different and unique and just loads more interesting.

 

How about you? Do you agree with my sentiments? would you like to read a generic fantasy from a dwarf/orc/elf point of view? Do you think fantasy in general is lacking in diversity? if possible, what are the changes you’d like to be made in a generic fantasy setting?

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Faye

Faye

A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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  1. says

    I haven’t read much fantasy in the past but am slowly branching out. BUT I have heard the same complaint from other avid readers of fantasy. That it’s always the same characters and same cliches. I have to start reading this genre more so I can answer your question better. Hehe BTW I HEART Shrek and have ALL three movies on DVD. ♡♡♡♡♡
    Keionda@Keionda Hearts Books recently posted…Eh, Slightly Better Than The First ^^Review Running Home To YouMy Profile

  2. says

    And don’t forget that the humans have to find out they have some magical thing that makes them SUPER SPECIAL!

    I could not agree more with this post. (And also could not be more embarrassed that I’m writing a fantasy with a human MC.) I think it would definitely be cool to read from the point of view of a creature whose life and world is being destroyed by humans, since that’s pretty true to history and would just overall be so much more unique.
    Zoey recently posted…The Sunday Post {9}My Profile

  3. says

    Shrek is love, Shrek is life Haha, I’m sorry I had to.

    I’ll confess that I’m not much of a fantasy reader, but lately I’ve been trying to branch out a little. The fantasy I do read is usually either dystopian-like fantasy or mythology based. But, this being said, I can still completely see where you’re coming from. Tropes like these – in any genre – are always annoying as a reader; and it’s those authors who write books that defy those tropes that have special places in your heart. Thanks for sharing this Faye and wonderful post! ♥

  4. says

    I would definitely love to see more diverse fantasy! You’re right, it can get generic and boring and predictable. I also would adore seeing non-humans as the main characters. Shrek is AWESOME. More creatures who get better story-lines, please! :) Great post, Faye!
    Holly U recently posted…Review of The Sacred Lies of Minnow BlyMy Profile

  5. says

    I agree with all your sentiments. And how about the centaurs? Do all their lives encompass just looking out for the the future in stars? Have they not venture out on romance, wars and such? I know that they did a fair share of adventuring in Greek mythology but it would be great to find new books about centaurs as well. As always Faye, you are amazing for pointing out this sad plight of fantasy books.
    Jennilyn V. recently posted…Guest Post + Book Excerpt + Giveaway: In The Beginning There Was Us by Ingrid JonachMy Profile

  6. says

    Awwwww that’s true.

    I kinda miss Shrek now that you mentioned it! It was one of those films that were so unique and lovable and awww worthy. I do hope that books get diversity out of this, usually in fantasy book, the hero/heroine was a halfling of something, whether it be fairy, pixie, mermaid or other mythical creatures. But it would be awesome to read something from a different perspective.
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  7. says

    I think that’s why I fell in love with Stolen Songbird so much! It puts Trolls in a completely different daylight. I also would like to see more diversity. Why do we put certain type of characters always in the same role? It is so cliched like having the Cheerleader as the bitch and the Footballer as the hot guy, etc. It would be awesome to read a book where Humans are invading the country of Orc’s and they have to be heroes.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Review 228. Lori M. Lee – Gates of thread and stone.My Profile

  8. says

    It’s so funny — overdone tropes and premises don’t bother me in contemporary books, but I agree that a lot of fantasy books seem the same. I love when a series does a unique setting, like the Slavic one of the Shadow and Bone books. AndI’m always for more diverse characters. lol I’ve never even heard of an orc. I’m thinking: is that like a killer whale? Uh, apparently not.

    Thanks so much for stopping by! Jen at YA Romantics
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  9. says

    Oh interesting topic! I agree that orcs, dwarves and elves are less common as main characters, while with roleplayign games no one wants to eba normal human, in books every main characters always seems to be the human.
    I actually know of a few series whcih focus on underrated characters as my boyfriend has read those. Ther eis a series called dwarves, another called Elves and one called Orcs, all are by different authors. What they have in common is that the have main characters of those races. Beside that I know some books where side characters are other races, but can’t remember any now where the main characters is one of those races. A few of Terry Brooks her Shanara series have a few elf main characters in some books. Although most epic fantays books still have humans as characters, which I usually don’t mind, but it would be interesting to see more dwarves, orc’s and elves as well.

  10. says

    It’s funny, when I first started reading this post I thought of Shrek as the exception, and then I scrolled down. Great minds think alike. I hope you get more originality and diversity in your fantasy reads, Faye. Sometimes I have to switch genres when I feel a particular troupe is being used over and over, and when I go back it feels more fresh. Great post! :)
    Rachel recently posted…Review: A Thin Dark Line by Tami HoagMy Profile

  11. says

    I loved Shrek, mostly for Donkey. I always navigate towards a sassy pants.

    I don’t know if I’m qualified enough to answer this one actually. I haven’t read all that many fantasy novels and only really started getting into them in the last six months, and nothing high fantasy. I’d love to see different main characters though, but at the end of the day, I still need that human to relate to, or something akin to human. Some kind of human cross breed hybrid thingy, but mostly human. We need that point of reference still. I don’t know it would depend on whether these dwarves / elves / orcs speak our language and how human like they are really. Oh no, I can’t make an informed decision.

    Ohhh I need to lay down.
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  12. says

    YES TO THIS! Faye, this is a really splendid post. Good job!
    I was wondering why the orcs and creatures in fantasy worlds that are typically “ugly” are always evil- this came to me when I first watched The Hobbit and every character who was ugly was immediately evil. Without even knowing a character, without the other characters even knowing them, I could call it and I was really unhappy about that! I wanted to be surprised by the goblin king (or whatever), and was I? Not for a second. So I’m definitely with you in this. I think a fantasy where an orc was the protagonist and had a forbidden romance with an elf would be stunning. I want that book!
    xx
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  13. says

    Ooh yes you bring up excellent points, Faye! We need more diversity in fantasy books, because I’m only really seeing more diversity in contemporary novels at the moment. And yes to Shrek! It was pretty much my favourite childhood movie after Finding Nemo. Donkey <33

  14. says

    YES! I want inhuman MCs too! This is why I really loved Stolen Songbird, because it involved trolls, a species which has been seen as monsters and the bad guys in fantasy so far. I want some originality and uniqueness in the main characters. I hope there will be such characters created in YA fantasy soon!
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  15. says

    THANK YOU! That is something I love about the LotR universe. The Hobbits are the heroes, and everyone else just seems to fall right into line behind them.

    I would give my right ovary to see an awesome Elf book. I want that!
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  16. says

    I’d love to read more books with non-human main characters, especially in the fantasy genre. (Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books comes to mind. I loved that!) So many fascinating creatures populate fantasy worlds as only backdrops, and their lives must be so much more interesting and unique than the stupid boring humans trudging around. I would love it if more authors broke the cliches and either gave their orcs and dwarves and elves unique and different characteristics, or set the stories from their points of view. Like maybe a story from the elves or dwarves’ point of view of how humans are infiltrating, taking over their land! And stories from villain’s POVs always fascinate me. Let’s find out WHY the orcs are so angry and grunt-y all the time! Lots of good ideas here, great post!
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  17. says

    So true! I ADORE fantasy, but I’ve realized this recently as well. Now I want to write a story where humans are the sidekicks or the bad guys or maybe not even there… *brain runs off on story tangents*
    Anyways, great post!

    Alexa
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  18. says

    I really, REALLY love this post! I read a lot of fantasy, and this is so true. I know of maybe… two series where dwarves and orcs are the main characters? There are a couple with elves (mostly Terry Brooks) but there’s so much room for exploration when it doesn’t have to be a human lead!
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  19. says

    Yes! I so totally agree with you. They do seem to be getting a little better though. (If you want to read some horrible ‘orc/troll/ogre are always evil’ try the earlier Forgotten Realms book. They’re just sad.) I’d love to see less of the ‘always good’ & ‘always evil’ take on races. And just about the perfect book for me would be a diverse group (elf, dwarf, orc, human and anything else you want to throw in) adventuring together. It would be so awesome if they were friends and worked together. Heck, even throw in a few villages that don’t know what to make of them. (This makes me want to go back and re-read that book that had the elf and the half-orc dating. At least, I think that’s what they were.)
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  20. says

    Great post! What do you think about reinventing the races, Faye?
    After all, there is a reason why we love them, so I think it would be a pity to shy away from them. Right now I’m about to decide whether to include them or not in the next book. See what I have in mind please:
    I plan to have a human teenage girl as a main character, princess of a desert city but eleventh in line to the throne and finding out she has magic powers and was adopted and should be first in line. She is however physically weak and no one can teach her magic because it’s the forgotten stuff of legends.
    And an “Avengers”-like team forming around her in a South Asian setting: rivercity (after Ayuttaya), elephants, Silk Road, gunpowder and railway etc. Including some humans: (a kind of shaolin monk with beard, tattooes, criminal past, doesn’t like gunpowder weapons but uses them if he has to, in conflict with his faith and creed to stay abstinent by the time he gets famous);, a dwarf (they build pyramids and live in the desert, are also great seafarers), a dark-skinned Elf with dreadlocks (about to lose their sanity because of longevity and have a samurai-like secretive culture, wearing masks and probably living in the desert too. master of a multi-shot crossbow and using several gunpowder weapons). And an Ork who joins the team (their culture inspired by Maori and Mayas). In the European Equivalent of the world, would be a wild land reigned by Orks, where barbaric human tribes live and are enslaved by Orks. One of these humans rises however to become a God-King to the Orks and must be stopped by the band of heroes.
    What do you think, would you be interested in something like this? In “Red Axe, Black Sun” I used a very standard Medieval European setting with Dwarves, Elves and Orks acting as a mix of rebels fighting humans, but it was still very traditional. I’m looking forward to hear your opinion on this, Faye

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