What if all the humanoids populating a typical fantasy setting were explicitly defined as different hominid species that managed to coexist? This theme has intrigued me for a couple years now.
Fantasy settings often include Dwarves, Elves, and other humanoids alongside Humans. For that matter a lot of science fiction is populated with aliens that look and act like people with a few prosthetics attached. These beings are enough like us to communicate but different enough to be exotic. I was raised on Tolkien (my middle name is from Lord of the Rings) and Star Trek, so I like this convention.
But I wanted to move beyond the standard fantasy and space opera tropes while paying homage to them. And human evolution is a fascinating topic. So, taking a slew of scientific liberties, I’ve come up with a list of suitable hominid candidates to replace the typical fantasy races, complete with associated names in the fantasy tradition.
NOTE: I really hate the way the term "race" gets substituted for species in fantasy literature. So I don't use it.
The Species So Far
I’ll elaborate more on each species in future posts, but the basic ideas follow.
Humans (Homo Sapiens) Not too complicated on the surface, but I've been thinking about how psychic abilities might tie into human brain structure. Specifically, what if the reason people don't demonstrate strong psychic abilities is that there is no place for the waste heat and associated pressure (caused by expanding blood vessels) generated by psychic power to go within the confines of a skull? Could explain the terrible headaches, nosebleeds, etc. often associated with such abilities. Also a reason for all the trepanation taking place in prehistoric skulls--venting the pressure and heat produced in the skull.
Trolls (Neanderthals) Neanderthals are the perfect Troll creatures in my view. They're powerful and people visualize them as brutish, but they had bigger brains than us.
Trolls hibernate during intense winter, which is why the Neanderthals were exterminated on our world. I got this idea after reading an essay the collection What I Believe But Cannot Prove, in which a scholar suggested that Neanderthals had fur because we don't have enough physical evidence of clothing and fire to explain how they could have survived in glacial conditions.
So I wondered if Neanderthals might have possessed the ability to hibernate in extremely cold conditions, say glacial winters. I have no scientific basis for this supposition, but I like it.
Elves (Homo Floresiensis) I know everyone is calling these the Hobbit people. Not me. Somehow Elves were transformed from little folk of the forest into these tall, slim, stately, elegant fashion models. Bah. Elves were the Kindly Ones because people were scared to call them "the terrifying little bastards."
Elves are congenitally dyslexic but gifted with remarkable talents for song, based on a very flexible voicebox and an innate gift for memorizing and copying sounds and musical notes. Basically I'm playing with the idea that certain birds, such as ravens and grey parrots, are very bright despite having tiny brains. So maybe an Elf brain just works differently from our own, but they are still very sharp-witted.
And oh yeah, they're tiny (that's an adult skull on the left). I'm thinking childlike sizes--an adult being about 3 feet tall and weighing 40 to 50 pounds, tops.
I've been playing with the idea of Elves as shapeshifters, and I like it. They can't change their mass, so they can only assume miniature forms of animals and people (so they could disguise themselves as children but not adult humans) or full-sized forms of smaller animals. (Which would still be scary--a 40 pound wolverine, bobcat, hawk, or snake could be tough--I've done some calculations and a hawk that weight would have about an 8-foot wingspan.) Other species would copy the Elven shapeshifting but the process gets too energy-intensive with greater levels of mass.
Goblins (Homo Habilis) An advanced variant, to be more precise. But lacking the power of speech. Goblins can't talk and must communicate solely through sign language. Their feet are also very primate-like, with long grasping toes that aid with climbing. I envision them living and moving about on the rooftops and upper floors of the cities they live in, adding a sort of third dimension.
Really they're kind of like classic ape-men. I'd compare them to the primates of Planet of the Apes, but these guys actually have longer arms than legs and they can climb well.
Oh, and they're not stupid just because they don't talk.
Ogres (Gigantopithecus) Note that Gigantopithecus is a primate, not a hominid. I've got no real notes for these guys yet. But how could I pass up a gigantic Sasquatch/Chewbacca species?