Elves and Dwarves: Diversity in Fantasy Worlds – by Trent Mitchell

I am a huge fan of many different fantasy worlds and the stories told inside those worlds. From Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, fantasy storytelling is a very important aspect of my life. And as a fan, I’m also very active in the communities and partake in many of the hobbies that go along with these interests. The most involved hobby and most important to this article is that of tabletop roleplaying games. Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, all these fantasy games happening in the theater of the mind have been a massive part of my life for the last 5 years. But being so involved in this culture has brought up a massive consideration to my life that I never put any thought into before; what should be considered “normal” diversity in reference to a fantasy world?

I run multiple fantasy games with my friends that take place in non-existent worlds with magic and dragons. In these worlds there are the common races people are familiar with in these tropes, elves, orcs, dwarves, etc. And that diversity has had its problems and reclamations already, what I am most concerned with is where should I stand when it comes to portraying and including diversity we see in our modern world. Diversity exists in our world in despite of bigotry, racism, sexism, and hate against people who do not fit someone’s idealized world structure. But in a fantasy world where you make the rules and history, what is diversity? Why include racism? Why include sexism? Why include hate? Why include characters with these bigoted idealized world structures? But in the same vein as that, do I, as a white author, get to write a black character with the same authority in my world without having to make sure I am respectful or that I avoid any stereotypes? Or is this an erasure of culture when creating a fantasy world?

This whole conversation is very layered, and I believe I am not in a position to have much of an opinion on the matter. I do think it’s worth asking these questions however as when I sit at my table trying as hard as I can to be as inclusive as possible when I role play a character with a stutter, I can’t help but feel as if I am possibly taking the wrong route in this whole matter. Looking at representation in media already created in this genre, it’s clear to see a lack of this consideration for these matters. Stories that I’ve already previously mentioned have little to no diversity in cast and have already been criticized for this. But in moving forward I feel ill-equipped to fix these problems in whatever world I want to create. Is it fair to create characters with no relation to my gender, ethnicity, sexuality and still portray them as equals?

I am hoping this could be the start of some sort of respectful dialogue. These questions are not ones with simple answers and should not be answered by people who have no experience in fighting for diversity. These issues, while they might be small and menial, are issues that generally relate to escapism. We use these fantasy worlds to travel far away and leave our lives behind. These issues matter when you use these worlds to escape to a place you feel comfortable. And what better place for diversity then a place where everyone should feel comfortable. These stories include wizards fighting dragons, but should they also include fighting for equality? In what ways can a creator who hasn’t faced that hardship go about respectfully including these aspects to insure an inclusive and diverse world? Or should we just stick to worrying about Elves fighting Dwarves?

Trent Mitchell
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One thought on “Elves and Dwarves: Diversity in Fantasy Worlds – by Trent Mitchell”

  1. You sound like you might be agonizing over “Should I….” and “Can I…”

    In playing DND and the like, you are participating in a story, one in which the players guide the story through their choices. And the dice, of course. As the DM, you guide the story along. Would the story benefit from a lesbian half-breed orc? Then add them! Does one of your players want to be a transgender elf? Cool! Should you add a gender spectrum to your character generation sheets? Sure, try it for a few campaigns and see what happens.

    Do you possess “empathy?” Then you have what it takes to write these types of characters. You must have friends – talk with them about their perspectives and use that to inform your writing. Or DMing. Or whatever. Don’t worry about getting something wrong – as long as you are alive you can get it right.

    Best regards,

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