In the fantasy of my youth non-human races were always part of the magical formula that took me from the mundane here, to the fantastical there. Talking animals, creatures from greek myth, folklore figures brought to life, all of them were part of that secret world just around the corner and over the hill that I kept on wanting to find, but never quite could.
The classic fantasy races of Tolkien soon came to dominate the landscape, followed by their fantasy role-playing equivalents and variants. It was expected, I thought, to write a fantasy with dwarves, and elves, and goblins/orcs. And humans of course. But not hobbits – I never wanted to write hobbits, perhaps because they were too familiar, or their story too well told by their creator, it was hard to imagine saying more about them. kender, on the other hand… nah, I couldn’t touch them either!
Funnily enough, the first books I wrote had none of the ‘classic’ fantasy races present. Nope, I tell a lie – goblins were there from the start, I even had a goblin character for a while – pretty ahead of my time in 1985! Maybe I was kicking against the expectation early, but I went out of my way to create different types of human, then two non-human races not derived from any other book or game I knew of, and then I weakened and threw a bunch of elves into the second one, haha! (I already had my Pern rip-off dragon, I’m ashamed to say!) I also had a thinly disguised balrog as potential hero in book two – things started to go decidedly into left field by that stage, and I was having fun throwing anything I wanted into the mix and seeing what stuck, as I had pantsed my way into a complete mess and couldn’t see a way to end book two, let alone fight my way to a coherent five book series, so I think I kind of let myself go nuts with the plot twists as I was hoping I’d somehow find a new driver for the story that would help me work my way to the end. That didn’t quite work out.
The book that I spent many years on did have the classic trio of dwarves and elves and goblins, but written to a particular thematic purpose that let them be familiar, yet different in nature from the Tolkien or D&D versions I was by then so used to. I was being arch and full of ideas, so they had in some way to be archetypes and carry my ideas around, proclaiming their ‘not-Tolkienness’ to the world. It was a phase, what can I say, and in a few years you may get to check them out as I do intend to revamp that book now – there’s plenty of good story in there, and I’m no longer precious about every syllable, and divorced enough from it to gut it as necessary when the time comes. I quite look forward to that, in fact! (And so should you, honest!)
In creating The World Belt I decided that I didn’t want the classic races there, this was not the world for them. But demons and the undead are a-ok, you understand! The stories of The World Belt explore magic, and the influence of magic upon humanity, and having other races I felt would dilute the focus of the stories. Dwarves and elves are cool, but they don’t need to show up in Aranvail, at least not until that portal starts reaching to other worlds…
When I do eventually write a story with those classic fantasy races in it I plan to go full Tolkien, and be unashamed in exploring the tropes around each, while at the same time providing a good ‘why’ for each race’s culture, philosophy, and actions in the world. It isn’t enough for fantasy races to just be anymore for me, they also need to have a reason, and a purpose (as Tolkien’s did), or they are just window dressing to make the world you have created different, and I think they deserve more, which is maybe why I’m holding fire on producing those stories, because when I do those, I’ll have to work hard to do them right.