How You Know Them: Orcs, Trollocs, Stormtroopers, Zerg, anything there's more than 1 million of.
As Seen In: Warcraft, The Wheel of Time, Star Wars, StarCraft, any fantasy series where the final battle involves a land war and many faceless villains dying, because who cares about faces?
Shake That Shit Up: Once you have more than 30 of anything, it starts becoming hard to give a shit about them. I have well over 50 hilarious T-shirts, and I'm pretty sure there's at least 10 that someone could steal at any given moment without me knowing about it. I'm ripe for victimization. Likewise, if you have an army of 10,000 orcs, literally no one cares about them. No one. Not even each other. That's kind of sad.
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The bastard child of John C. Reilly and Val Kilmer was always morose.
There's a reason Stormtroopers, Cobra operatives, and various thugs tend to wear masks in movies. First and foremost it's so the same actor can play 10 different guys in different scenes, but also it's to dehumanize them. You don't care about the enemy if you can't see them. But they're still people. If you want to make a really impressive battle scene in a movie or a book, don't just make us care about our side; make us care about both sides. Then it's twice as awful. If the audience understands the argument on both sides, understands the motivations of heroes on both sides and can see why they're going to war, it's that much worse to watch them kill each other. That's kind of how real war is, unless you're at war with North Korea, in which case you feel bad for the poor soldiers but understand that their leadership is bugfuck crazy.
So maybe the orcs need to be decent from the get go. They need little orc babies and adorable orc villages where one orc makes artisanal cheeses and crotchets dog sweaters. Maybe Stormtroopers go home after a long day serving the empire and work on their model trains. Make your irrelevant hordes relevant!
How You Know Them: There's an 80 percent chance you are one.
As Seen In: World of Warcraft, The Lord of the Rings, Starbucks
Shake That Shit Up: There's nothing worse than a human in a fantasy story. Look at them, all heroic and shit. How many heroic humans do you know? Nonetheless, in fantasy, the human must rise above and be literally better than every other living thing, because that's what humans do. They do it in sci-fi too -- it's the entire backbone of Star Trek. If only everyone in the universe were more human, we'd all be better off. In fantasy, it's just that we need to put our faith in humans, because otherwise we're all so immensely fucked that we may as well just suck on some deadly nightshade smoothies. Sure, Frodo can carry the Ring to Mount Doom, but who gives a fig? If Aragorn hadn't been there from day two, there'd be a couple of ringwraiths wearing Hobbit fur G-strings riding around Bag End.
"My name is Fildo Suggins. Wanna see my Bag End?"
Invariably, fantasy humans have to rise to the occasion. They always start out unable to handle the terrible task at hand, until of course they are able to handle it, which is at the very end of things when it counts. Humans never do their best until it counts. It's like a striptease. You may want those heroic boobies right at the beginning, but then why did you even come to the show? That being said, why can't humans suck?
I appreciate that it's anticlimactic and even disappointing to read a story without a happy ending, but more fantasy heroes should be a part of such a scenario. What if Aragorn raises his army of green CG ghosts to scour the battlefield, and as he runs screaming toward the orcish hordes, the ghosts are all "let's go get laid" and they take off because they're freed spirits and have the universe at their fingertips? And then Aragorn is one man running face first into a giant elephant monster and he gets stepped on. Then maybe Legolas has to save the day. Or maybe that whole army gets destroyed and then Frodo destroys the Ring and it's like no one won as he and Sam die in the lava and Legolas and Gimli get eaten by trolls and Gandalf has to be all "shit" and just ride away real fast.
Humans don't need to be the paradigm for awesome, because a lot of humans suck. Make them suck. Make your human suck, or make him really well intentioned but just not up to the task. Make him a human human. How hard is that?
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