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  1. #1

    Famous fictional races not "reinvented" by Tolkien?

    Claim: the only other fictional races that come close to being as deep and widespread in popular culture as Tolkien's Elf/Dwarf/Hobbit/Orc/Goblin/Troll/etc. reinventions in ALL of fiction (fantasy, science-fiction, horror, all of it)... are the "Halloween" races (vampires, werewolves, zombies/mummies/skeletons/frankenstein... and somewhat ghosts & witches, if you count them as separate races from "humans") and "Merfolk" (people of the seas like Mermaids). (Angels, Demons, Giants, and "Gods" were not "reinvented" by Tolkien but were included.) Agree/disagree?

    As everyone here especially knows, Tolkien truly remade the entire Fantasy genre. One obvious effect is how Tolkien's Dwarves & Tolkien's Elves (and to a lesser extent, the creation of Hobbits) not only made them the new "default" for all Dwarves and Elves in fantasy (unless otherwise noted), but these also became the "default" "fantasy races" period. Even when authors deliberately try to do something different, it's usually imagined like "think Tolkien's Hobbits, but they are seafaring, and have a different name!" or "think Tolkien's Dwarves, but they look like Cats!" or "think Tolkien's Elves, but they actually look Plant-like!".

    Even famous science-fiction species don't come close... how often do we see "the Hutts" or "Twileks" from Star Wars cross over into other franchises? Has it happened even once? There are the Vulcans from Star Trek... but the Vulcans themselves are basically "Tolkien's Elves... in Space!", pointy-ears and all. And there are the countless "Orcs... in Space!" as villains.

    Even fantasy races from Ancient Greek Mythology, the "mainstream" European mythology for around 3000 years, that was famous and widespread for far longer than the Norse/Germanic that Tolkien was loosely inspired by, into the Renaissance and modern times... just aren't that prevalent in fantasy fiction. They had centaurs, satyrs, and nymphs... basically overly-sexualized "elves" with animal features (or plant/water features, in the case of many nymphs). How often do fantasy books/shows/movies/games include "centaurs" or "satyrs" as main races, compared to how many times fantasy books/shows/movies/games include "dwarves" or "elves" or something like "hobbits"? Probably 10 to 1.

    Other pagan traditions, like Fairies, Tolkien already accounted for... it's his conception of Elves, the "Fair Folk", which he talks about in essays as from the land of "Faerie." His fairies are clearly the Elves. Leprachauns are also widespread... but they're easily another form of Dwarf (love of gold) or maybe Elf.

    Lovecraft's Cthullo mythos, while having made some some ground in popular culture, doesn't really have "set" races as much as it has "unimaginable horrors."

    George RR Martin doesn't really focus on sentient fantasy races at all, his focus in A Song of Ice and Fire are humans. And the ones that he does include and talk about, "Children of the Forest," are really just another variation of Tolkien's Elves. Giants are scarcely mentioned, not really explored, just like in Tolkien's works. There are the White Walkers... which are a mix between Zombies (see below) and Elves.

    JK Rowling did her own spin on Elves and Goblins, her Goblins are just as greedy just more "polite" as bankers now, her Elves as good and trusting and powerful (though ugly, and taken advantage of by becoming servants... perhaps different enough from Tolkien's, but by no means has this altered the popular culture's conception of "Elf" or become its own thing). She did give the stereotypical Tolkien-Elf traits to her Centaurs, though. Her Giants, like Tolkien's and Martin's, are scarcely mentioned and fit the same mold, always in the background, as in most stories. The rest are just a hodge-podge from existing lore, and not given enough detail to really stand-out as anything more than name-drops.

    The only "fictional" races, from ALL of fiction, that I think even come close to being as prevalent as Tolkien's reinventions, are the "Halloween" variety:vampires, werewolves, zombies/mummies/skeletons/frankenstein... and somewhat ghosts & witches. As well as Merfolk (ex: mermaids).

    (Maybe angels and demons, loosely based on the Bible, or Giants, or the Greek gods themselves... but Tolkien also includes them as well.)

    Really, the only other fictional races that come close to being as deep and widespread in popular culture are the mentioned "Halloween" races above, and Merfolk/Merlings.

    Would anyone care to agree/disagree with this claim?
    Last edited by Faethyn; Nov 24 2018 at 10:18 PM.

  2. #2
    Headcrabs and Barnacles in Half Life.

    Navigators in Dune.

    Eh, that's all I got

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Faethyn View Post

    JK Rowling did her own spin on Elves and Goblins, her Goblins are just as greedy just more "polite" as bankers now, her Elves as good and trusting and powerful (though ugly, and taken advantage of by becoming servants... perhaps different enough from Tolkien's, but by no means has this altered the popular culture's conception of "Elf" or become its own thing). She did give the stereotypical Tolkien-Elf traits to her Centaurs, though.
    Rowling's house elves have very little in common with Tolkien's elves. They are rather based on Brownies in British folklore (and similar beings from folklore in other countries). Her centaur's don't bear much resamblance on Tolkien's elves either. No, they come straight from Greek Mythology.

    The only "fictional" races, from ALL of fiction, that I think even come close to being as prevalent as Tolkien's reinventions, are the "Halloween" variety:vampires, werewolves, zombies/mummies/skeletons/frankenstein... and somewhat ghosts & witches. As well as Merfolk (ex: mermaids).
    From ALL of fiction? Then I think the many variants of "little green men" and "grays" so prevalent in science fiction are at least as commonplace as anything Tolkien came up with.
    And of course all sorts of intelligent robots, if one counts them as a "race", which I guess one must if Frankenstein's monster is counted.

    Note also that the "faeries"/"fair folk" from folklore and legend, which are used quite a bit in fiction, are mostly very different creatures from Tolkien's elves.

    Devils and demons are also quite common in fiction, and while Tolkien did include some creatures that could be considered demons (Balrogs) it is not his versions that are commonly used.

  4. #4
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    The Pride of Chanur.

    So are these cute dwarves or hairy elves ??

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by ertr View Post
    Rowling's house elves have very little in common with Tolkien's elves. They are rather based on Brownies in British folklore (and similar beings from folklore in other countries). Her centaur's don't bear much resamblance on Tolkien's elves either. No, they come straight from Greek Mythology.
    With the exception of Chiron, the centaurs of Greek mythology didn't care about nature or reading the stars, they were just sexually-active barbarians in the myths.



    From ALL of fiction? Then I think the many variants of "little green men" and "grays" so prevalent in science fiction are at least as commonplace as anything Tolkien came up with.
    And of course all sorts of intelligent robots, if one counts them as a "race", which I guess one must if Frankenstein's monster is counted.

    Note also that the "faeries"/"fair folk" from folklore and legend, which are used quite a bit in fiction, are mostly very different creatures from Tolkien's elves.

    Devils and demons are also quite common in fiction, and while Tolkien did include some creatures that could be considered demons (Balrogs) it is not his versions that are commonly used.
    Thanks!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Faethyn View Post
    Lovecraft's Cthullo mythos, while having made some some ground in popular culture, doesn't really have "set" races as much as it has "unimaginable horrors."
    A little nitpicking: Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos' most famous creatures are one-of-a-kind para-gods more than entire races (think of Azathoth, Nyarlathotep or Cthulhu himself), but the mythos did include fictional races, like the Night-Gaunts serving Nodens, the Mi-Go (alias the Fungi from Yuggoth) and the Elder Things (the aliens with star-shaped heads).

    About fictional races... Asian folklore is full of them, and they're often portrayed in comics and movies. I'm thinking of the Hindu naga or garuda, Japan's creatures like kappa, tengu, or tanuki, and the various creatures from Chinese folklore.

    If we stay in the field of European and American pop culture, though, I do agree it's hard to find a fictional race as widely known as Tolkien's are. Possible exceptions, apart the aforementioned centaurs and mermaids, might be the various kinds of doppelganger (in all the different interpretations: in a sense, Terminator 2's T1000 was one), the robot societies from science fiction works (including the Borg and Doctor Who's Cybermen), zombies (of the Romero kind) and mutants (both the post-apocalyptic monstrous ones and the supehero variety). We might also add the talking animals from fairy tales and the mythical creatures from medieval bestiaries - some of them gained widespread recognition as heraldry symbols, like gryphons, hyppogriffs or unicorns, though it might be a stretch to include them here.

  7. #7
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    "…Out poured an army the likes of which was never seen. Forth from the gate burst a hundred thousand rabid narcs swinging bicycle chains and tire irons, followed by drooling division of pop-eyed changelings, deranged zombies, and distempered werewolves. At their shoulders marched eight score heavily armored griffins, three thousand goose-stepping mummies, and a column of abominable snowmen on motorized bobsleds; at their flanks tramped six companies of slavering ghouls, eighty parched vampires in white tie, and the Phantom of the Opera. Above them the sky was blackened by the dark shapes of vicious pelicans, houseflies the size of two-car garages, and Rodan the Flying Monster. Through the portals streamed more foes of various forms and descriptions, including a six-legged diplodocus, the Loch Ness Monster, King Kong, Godzilla, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes, the Brain from Planet Arous, three different subphyla of giant insects, the Thing, It, She, Them, and the Blob . The great tumult of their charge could have waked the dead, were they not already bringing up the rear." -- Bored of the Rings

    Sorry. I couldn't stop myself.

 

 

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