What? You mean, like, where the genre will go next?
Okay, you mean where the genre came from, how we got from Tolkien to Martin?
Interesting. Maybe that’ll be a future post. But for now – negatory.
What I mean is, why do some of our favorite fantasy genre races look the way they do?
Bear with me.
If we toss aside any magical elements to fantasy creatures, we could apply the theories of natural selection and evolutionary pressure to them. (Don’t believe in evolution? Don’t flame. I mean, we’re talking hypothetical situations and make believe creatures here. Go with the flow.)
So, let’s start with something easy – dwarves. I think of dwarves in the Tolkien sense. Short, muscular. They’re extremely hairy, flesh and blood little earth borers. In order to get in a proper frame of mind we need to imagine where they live and how they live, factors that would influence whether they live or die.
A successful dwarf would be able to do three things well: fight, tunnel through earth, and find whatever in the ground that would get him the girl – rare ore, jewels, etc. Ever tried to make a tunnel in stone without heavy machines? Yeah, me either. But I can imagine how difficult it would be. So, a dwarf would need that heavy linebacker musculature to tunnel. And, since there’s no point making a tunnel six feet tall when you could make it only four feet tall, short would be a plus. To find the desired ores, you’d need a strong core of determination to want to get through all that stone to get to it. You’d need incredible night vision, otherwise you’d need so many torches to see by you’d die of smoke inhalation. And, since it’s cold down there so far from the sun, you’d need very warm clothes or a thick mat of hair. Course, thick hair would also save the dwarf from flying bits of stone and metal. I mean, we are talking about realms without antibiotics; a small cut that features could be life threatening.
Now, let’s talk about goblins. Same environmental pressures as the dwarves, yet so different in appearance. I think of them as short, with lean limbs, green skin, and long ears and noses. Even if we think of them as reptilian competitors in the same niche as the mammalian dwarves, there should be significant similarities.
Aside from height, there isn’t much alike. Lean limbed creatures? Not suited for tunneling. Long ears are good for echolocation, for gathering sound and telling what direction it came from. When you live in a tunnel, sound only comes from two possible directions – forward and back. Elves living in large forests need big ears, not goblins. Long noses could be beneficial if they were in dry tunnels. People developed long noses in arid environments to help with water conservation; the long nose enables the body to reclaim a higher percentage of exhaled humidity than a short one.
Goblins are mostly hairless, not helpful for warmth. I think of them as being drab shades of green. If you live in dim environments, there isn’t much point in having a tint to your flesh. It’s wasted resources and energy, which is why most animals living in the dark are very pale. And lastly, they have sharp pointed teeth, the teeth of a carnivore. Now, I haven’t been to too many caves, but I haven’t seen a lot of critters running around that would require a mouthful of teeth designed to tear.
I think that goblins are opportunists. They migrated under the earth’s surface from the forests. They’re traits are suited to an ambush predator of the deep forests, or even the tropics. They moved underground and haven’t been there long enough to adapt, I think. Which would then beg the question, are there still goblins in the forest?