Organic Growth

We’re currently having an interesting discussion on the Wesnoth forums. The basic question is – what makes for good fantasy?

Fantasy is, in my opinion, about taking what has come before and transforming it – not trying to make something completely and altogether new. I think it’s much more interesting to put a new twist on an old idea than to try to create something “new”. The former is what fantasy is all about. Hell, that’s what Tolkien originally did when he created elves as we know them today – he was drawing heavily from Celtic and Norse mythology. So I would much rather try to use elves in a way that is inspired by, but not limited by or merely imitative of, Tolkien’s elves than make up some random s*** in an attempt to be unique.

This is a good summary of what is happening in Orbivm. We have elves, dwarves, and orcs who are influenced by Tolkien’s vision of those races, but are also influenced by other mythology, other writers, and just our own ideas. Our elves are immortal and more skilled than men at pretty much everything, but also extremely dark, fatalistic, and, when it comes to non-elves, willing to do pretty much anything to defeat them… Our dwarves are really kind of like the Fair Folk in Chronicles of Prydain, but at the same time like Tolkien’s dwarves… Our orcs are supposed to be seen as not at all evil, but just a lower order of being than the other races – more brutish, less intelligent, less able to control their instincts. But still, no more corrupted than the other races – in Christian terms, they’re all fallen, and they fell roughly the same distance.

This is what I like to see in fantasy – people taking what’s come before and building on it. But it seems some people (specifically, in that thread, sam_was_here, but I suspect he’s not alone in this) would prefer to see completely new races invented out of whole-cloth – for example, “hyper-intelligent apes” was put forward as a serious suggestion. Sam_was_here said that

[…] elves already have their traits set in stone after so many appearances in all forms of media so any major departures would result in players come on line yelling: waz uup wit teh elvis?
This could be easily circumvented with a race that fills the same role but allows much more creative control […]

I find it fascinating how two people can hold such radically different views on what makes good fantasy literature…

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