The other day I was thinking about elves. Good elves, bad elves, light elves, dark elves, male elves, female elves, and suddenly something occurred to me. If we leave aside fairy tales and deal only with the many realms of fantasy, I could not think of a single world or author who had short elves. Not one. At worst, elves seem always to be at least of human size, those usually slimmer. Almost across the board, elves are tall. Why? Good question. Who says the elf has to be tall? Their almost seems to be an unwritten rule in modern fantasy that elves must be tall.
Then, something else occurred to me. How many times have we come across a race of evil dwarfs? Again, rarely. Dwarfs tend to have big beards, like axes, drink a lot, and speak with a scottish accent, but they are almost never evil. Independent, certainly, but not evil. And swordless. They wield swords about as often as they are evil. I used to theorize that dwarfs avoided swords because their height made handling a sword of any decent length too difficult. Yoda, however, seemed to have no trouble. Furthermore, after handling a battle axe a time or two, I am no longer sure that it is any less difficult than the sword, regardless of height. Here again, it appears that for no better reason than convention dwarfs are relegated to being hairy and Scottish and fierce fighters with the axe.
Speaking of evil, think about you average force-of-evil-minion. Tolkein named them orcs, Jordan calls them Trollocs, and there are a number of other names as well. The basics are fairly universal, however. The race is either nonnative to the world in which they are the force of evil, or they are a twisted form of one of the native races. They also love black. Black armor, black swords, black banners… evil minions love black. Why not yellow? Or a nice pale blue? Why must evil wear black? Are orcs really goths in disguise? I can see black as being a color representative of evil, but surely in one of the many fantasy worlds some general would realize that browns and greens will make his army much less visible on the march than jet black and would have reacted accordingly. Apparently not. No wonder the forces of evil always lose; the soldiers of evil will stick out like a sore thumb in any landscape save a very, very cloudy night.
And yet, despite these ridiculous consistencies among the various fantasy realms, I cannot think that a lack of creativity among the authors is the cause. Surely, somewhere, an author created a world with Portuguese dwarfs, short elves, and orcs that love to wear pale green. And no, satire worlds do not count. Why has no author of high fantasy tried to change the existing paradigm?
Or, perhaps, they have tried? Would we the readers accept a world with orange evil minions? More to the point, do the publishers think that we would accept such a world? I honestly wonder how many of the ?rules? of high fantasy are creations of the publishing companies. Then again, the publishers may have problem with miniature elves, but would the book reviewers be able to swallow them? If such a series did come out, and the New York Times insulted it badly in the review, I doubt too many people would bother to buy it.
For whatever reason, high fantasy seems to be stuck into a system of tall elves, drunken dwarfs, and orcs who like Marilyn Manson.
All of that led to one more thought, one that I think is very much related. What happened to the visionaries of science fiction? Where are the new writers of sci-fi who are predicting the world in 2100, or who start with good computers and the internet as a basic assumption and not as a point of prediction? Orson Scott Card is slowly stepping into that void, and few other established authors as well, but by and large, the imaginations of literature are turned towards finding new ways to make a drunken dwarf. The new authors seem to prefer fantasy to science fiction. I hope this is not the work of publishing houses or book reviewers. It would be a shame if the next Robert Heinline is trying to get published, and no company will give him a decent chance because he does not write about big ugly brutes in black armor. A very deep shame.
In the meantime, I expect the basic formula of high fantasy to continue chugging along. Who knows, though. Maybe this paradigm persists because it reflects reality, a hidden world that none but the writers have ever seen. Maybe one day twelve elves will step across the dimensional barrier and demand their own NBA team.
If we called them the Clippers, I bet no dwarf would ever show up at a game.
Disclaimer: Salem?s Fire was written by Luke Blaize during 2002-2004, and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.