5 Fantasy Characters That Need to Be Rebooted
So you've just finished your first novel that takes place in the fantastic world of Belbivdevoia, and it's a ripping yarn about a young man who finds out he's the Chosen One and is hunted by the Evil Forces of the dastardly villain Shaga'Cockdroop as he travels across the world with his sidekick and best friend, the unassuming Dingus McFatty, and a motley crew assembled by his protector, the great magus Porkins, including the lithe and mysterious elven archer Paulius Blarteveer, the gruff and stalwart dwarf warrior ButterFunk McChunk, and the valiant human hero (who is secretly a king) Areola Fellator. Awesome! Except this story had been written probably 1 million times already even before Tolkien made it popular and Terry Brooks ground it into the mud with his uncaring and uncreative heel.
The reason fantasy is often such a maligned genre, beyond what some authors like George R. R. Martin can produce, is that the bulk of it is the same rehashed pile of twice-pooped turds that we've all read and reread again. It's so bad that it's a cliche to point out the cliches now, but people keep doing it. Can anything stop the terrible no-brain trust over at Dragonlance from publishing the same 10 novels over and over again? Yes! You need to shake up convention! And with that in mind, here's how to fix the five most boring and unimaginative creatures that continue to appear in fantasy.
How you know them: Chiefly thanks to Tolkien, you know elves as Nordic-looking white people who may as well be extras from a lazy '80s porno. They are tall and elegant and fairly girly at all times, they live in forests and are experts at everything, but they still aren't good enough to be the hero because they have pointy ears, which makes them both different and, obviously, inferior.
As seen in: The Lord of the Rings, Sword of Shannara, Warcraft, Forgotten Realms, Warhammer
Shake That Shit Up: You don't need to go full Discworld with elves to make them nearly unrecognizable. That's the problem with most authors who try to break the Tolkien mold: They go so far in the other direction that they're only recognizable as elves because the author tells you they're elves. If we generally know elves as a race of near albinos, you don't need to make them 2-foot-tall proto-scrotums like Dobby. Instead, I would venture that having an elvish farmer in the mix who has a drinking problem could really shake up any fantasy story.
"I spunked in you Lembas bread flour, ya bastards."
War has come to the people of Fartasia. It is a human war, because of course it is. The elves don't want to get involved, because of course they don't. But they will pompously send one guy, because they're pricks like that. Sure, we have whole armies and the world is in jeopardy and all life may end, but maybe this one fucking guy who doesn't even have armor can help you save the day. Or not, we don't give a fig.
So rather than Legolas, you get Bertrand, the only guy the stuck-up shit elves could be arsed to send on your mythical journey. Bertrand the turnip farmer, who wastes all his money on dwarfish whores and elvish wine because his wife left him for a noble archer 400 years ago and he's held a grudge this entire time.
Chicks dig archers. Especially chick archers.
Bertrand isn't particularly tall for an elf, and he has a gut because he really doesn't do much all day, and he can't commune with nature for shit, because why should he? That's what his tramp of an ex-wife used to do, so the squirrels and the bees can all go fuck themselves with a honeysuckle. Bertrand fights with a kitchen knife, because who has time to learn swordplay exactly? That's like a really impressive skill, and he's spent his life farming turnips, like his dad did. Who the hell do you think grows all the food for the elves anyway -- Galadriel? Bitch don't even touch turnips.
Much like there is diversity in the human world, so too should there be diversity in the world of elves. They can't all be gallant and multitalented experts in all things, that would be weird and creepy.
How You Know Them: Midget Scotsmen. Perhaps the first fan of TLC before it was even a network, Tolkien really loved the idea of tiny, hirsute fellows from Glasgow running around with axes and hammers and no women. Never a woman to be seen.
As Seen In: Same shit I just listed above.
Shake That Shit Up: Dwarfs are the dickhead uncles of high fantasy. They're crotchety and stubborn, apparently as a result of genetics and poor grooming habits, and habitually live in mountains like some kind of goat tribe. It's likely their short stature has made them surly.
And my ax!
Like any good fantasy race, the issue with dwarfs is that they barely reach one dimension. Could you really have an entire race of guys with dumb beards who live in a mountain and mine together? That's the ultimate gay friendship beyond anything lumberjacks could ever dream of. Are there short dwarfs? Like one dwarf the other dwarfs make fun of for being ridiculously small? What if there was a dwarf who grew a beard the way I grow a beard and it's all patchy and makes him look like a sexual predator?
Your dwarf, in your groundbreaking fantasy novel, should be the one with brittle bone disease. Or Proteus syndrome, so he has two huge legs and then a regular dwarf body, and the other dwarfs shun him because he suffers massive claustrophobia and was never at home in caves or mines. Instead he became a minstrel and sings more like Robin Thicke and less like a belching bear. He is clean shaven and his weapon of choice is neither an ax nor a hammer. He wields a whip. Sassy.
How You Know Them: Ugly little freaks. Be they green or black or just off-white, they usually have issues that require severe rhinoplasty and tend to engage in nefarious hijinks and the sorts of rabble-rousing that requires them to scuttle more than run. They may also steal your baby.
As Seen In: The Lord of the Rings, Warcraft, Labyrinth, numerous fairy tales, Final Fantasy
Shake That Shit Up: A goblin is pretty much an elf that isn't good. I just heard the cloud consciousness of nerds everywhere choke on a Flaming Hot Cheeto, but bear with me here, because it's pretty much true. Now, we could go into the idea of "dark elves" or "poon goblins" or "more shit I'm going to make up" that I expect you to read while making air quotes, but it's not necessary. At their core, goblins are just bad, mischievous elves. Depending on the seriousness of the fiction in question, their uncouth behavior can range from stealing stuff while you sleep to roasting you in a pie and feasting on your bones. The chief thing to take away is that if you gave a goblin blonde hair and proper posture, it would look a hell of a lot like an elf, and basically that means goblins are racist.
Up yours, goblin fish!
No one likes a racist villain that isn't played by Leonardo DiCaprio these days, so you need to give your goblins more depth than David Bowie gave his. It was cool that they assisted him in jam sessions, you don't get that from a lot of mythical beasts, but maybe your goblins can be the victims of racism instead of just the result of it. (I'm completely sticking to this theory, by the way, sorry if you don't agree. Also sorry your heart is so black.) So maybe your goblins were as noble and benevolent as elves once, but the damn Aryan elves just repressed and oppressed the hell out of the ugly little farts until their whole race grew embittered and sour. And they're not inherently or pointlessly evil, because no one is; they've just grown up in a society that has, for eons, been under the callous heel of elves who felt themselves better, who used goblins as slave labor in generations past, and who put no value on their lives at all. So fuck yeah, the goblins want to kill you, you're running around with your effeminate archer friend whose great-grandfather used to hang goblins from trees and throw apples at them while they gasped their way to the great beyond.
Irrelevant Bestial Hordes
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.
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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