Friday, 12 April 2013

Humans in Fantasy

Out of the "standard", recurring species in Fantasy, humans are probably the most common. No matter whether it's a distant planet, an alternate Earth or some magical world without a clearly defined nature or location, most Fantasy universes feature humans. The usual reason provided is that the reader is meant to identify with them, but is there truth in that? Do readers require a human character to identify with? For millennia, stories have featured characters that may behave in familiar manners, yet clearly are not human (think Aesop's fables); in more recent times, this has become especially noticable in children's or otherwise family friendly fiction/media. Are characters like Donald Duck, Paddington Bear or the Muppets impossible to identify with because they are not human? Most would disagree, and that is where, in my opinion, the reasoning falls flat.

Why is it, then, that so many Fantasy universes include humans? Are writers too lazy to invent a new species? In some cases, possibly. But humans also tend to stand in for the average "Joe Bloggs" species that is juxtaposed with the more peculiar creatures, as they as a species/culture usually have few to no traits one would consider special or notable. But do fantastical creatures necessarily require something "normal" to be compared to within the same world in order to be perceived as fantastical? Readers are already familiar with humans; do they need an in-story reminder to compare these characters or creatures to what they know in real life? A lot of potential exists in non-human species and characters (and their viewpoints) that a lot of Fantasy sadly does not fully touch upon, even when some of the most commonly recognised great ancestors and paradigms of modern (epic) Fantasy J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion lead with a shining example in their (strong, though not exclusive) focus on Eä's "Hobbits", elves and other non-humans.

One of my major reasons for creating my Pelsatia world was to establish an extensive Fantasy world that does not rely on humans, and the absence of the latter is probably one of the things I like most about the universe I have created, as it emphasises the fantastical and non-mundane. In my opinion, more writers of Fantasy should dare to truly leave reality behind and shift the focus to a species not found in our everyday lives, encouraging imagination in the way a lot of children's media already does but too many works for older audiences do not have the courage to embrace.

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