What are examples of fantasy races?
Fictional races have grown to be a fundamental part of the fantasy genre over the years. They add another lively component to the story, improving the creative world building aspect and innovative fictional atmosphere.
These mythical races can pose some problems for newcomers trying to crack into a fantasy novel. This article will provide a thorough rundown of prominent examples highlighting what fantasy races are all about.
Standard Fantasy Races
There is a diversity of fantasy races that have developed into fantasy archetypes over time. Authors have steadily added trademark attributes to these fantasy races.
Thus, the reader already has a general idea of what these fantasy races are when they are presented in the narrative.
These standard fantasy races add a bit of flavor to the world without completely alienating the reader. Overwhelming the reader with a deluge of unfamiliar fantasy lingo is a cardinal sin for writers.
Below are the most common fantasy races that remain a cornerstone of the fantasy genre to this day.
Angels are commonly portrayed as divine messengers of a higher celestial being. This fantasy race is typically associated with all that is good and virtuous in the fictional universe.
Angels are capable of taking on a humanoid form. Their facial and anatomical structure resembles that of a human.
There are a few primary differentiating factors between the appearance of angels and humans.
Angels have exquisitely crafted wings that permit them to take flight at will. Angels are also made out to be the pinnacle of human beauty, carrying no observable flaws in their physical figure.
These celestial beings are typically unable to reproduce.
Angels are an extremely subservient fantasy race, possessing no free will of their own. Their sole purpose is to do the bidding of the highest ethereal being.
Moreover, emotions and feelings are a rarity among angels. These internal ordeals are seen as exposed vulnerabilities rather than innate instincts.
In terms of their role in fantasy narratives, their immaculate appearance has a tremendous effect in drawing the attention of mortal characters. They often act as the mediators between mortals and immortals. Angels routinely deliver stunning directives that permanently alter the course of the storyline.
Demons are wicked spirits that have an appearance that can only be described as revolting.
This fantasy race is linked with extreme Christian undertones. For this reason, demons are meant to be perceived as spawns from the fiery depths of the hell.
The demon fantasy race is the most prominent villain cliche out there.
Demons are not regarded in the same respect as other mythical races such as dwarves and elves.
Demons are always made out to be the “bad guys.” They are a vile, wicked sort whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc in the existing world.
The biggest problem with this fantasy race is that they are extremely one dimensional. There is no element of redemption or development. Demons are extremely predictable in that their only desire is watch the world burn.
This fantasy race has fallen off as of late with writers beginning to stray away from superficial villains.
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Dwarves are another humanoid fantasy species. They are grisly, manlike beings that are short in stature. Dwarves are not known for their looks.
This gruff fantasy race dwells well beneath the ground, within dingy caves and even in the heart of mountains.
Their tunneling and mining operations coincide perfectly with their living arrangements.
As far as occupations go, dwarves are expert tradesmen. Despite their small stature, dwarves are also excellent warriors.
The amusing appearance and whimsical nature of dwarves make them more comical compared to other fantasy races. Authors regularly incorporate these beings into the fantasy narrative to introduce an element of humor.
The lineage of dwarves almost always stretches back to the dawn of time. Despite their long history, the dwarf race seems to always be on the downhill toward extinction.
This fantasy race is also renowned for their loyalty to one another. Dwarves prioritize their clan and people above everything else. For this reason, dwarves are exemplary companions on dangerous quests.
Elves are timeless beings that possess strange supernatural powers. Elves are yet another humanoid fantasy species.
J.R.R. Tolkien brought elves into the limelight with his work in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Now this mythical race is a signature piece of contemporary fantasy.
Elves are significantly older than humans, yet paradoxically they are more beautiful. Elves look noticeably younger despite being centuries old.
Their ears are conspicuously long and pointed. Furthermore, they are fit and slender in appearance lacking any body or facial hair. The outward appearance of elves charms humans time and time again.
In addition to their elegant looks, elves also trump humans in the mental sphere. This fantasy species is superior in the areas of foresight and awareness.
The mental fortitude and expansive magical repertoire of elves make them valuable assets on the battlefield.
Like dwarves, elves typically have an extensive history that dates back to early times.
There are multiple sub-species of elves outlined in numerous fantasy novels. The most prominent of these sub-species are outlined below:
- Aquatic Elves
- Dark Elves
- High Elves
- Moon Elves
- Snow Elves
- Valley Elves
- Wild Elves
- Wood Elves
Fairies are magical spirits that have a broad range of supernatural capabilities.
This fantasy race is certainly one of the more versatile races of the bunch. There are countless variations of fairies in fantasy, each suited toward an individualized purpose and having a distinct set of unique characteristics.
Although fairies fit a broadened scope of personalities, there are a few signature elements to fairies that are the same across the board.
For one, the general appearance of fairies hardly changes from story to story. Fairies are tiny, winged creatures that are mystically beautiful.
Fairies are commonly labeled as having a deep-seated connection with nature. They dwell within the core of the forest and integrate the environment into their daily clothing, such as leaves and vines.
Unlike demons and angels, fairies do not lie to one extrema of good versus bad. There are both virtuous fairies that assist protagonists along their journey and dark fairies that plague protagonists on their quests.
The flexible roles of fairies allow writers to utilize this fantasy race in whatever way that suits the narrative best.
The goblin race is no stranger to the fantasy genre either.
Goblins are notorious for their ugly appearance. Their skin has a green sheen, and is often wrinkled and hairless. They have a slumped, hunchback posture to complement their wilting body frame.
The goblin race are not necessarily always evil, but most of the time they are. There are a few prominent exceptions however, such as Harry Potter, where goblins are morally neutral.
This mythical race is occasionally credited with supernatural power. The extent of these powers vary from novel to novel, but it is important to note that these powers exist.
Goblins are beginning to shift away from their initial “villain” label and are expanding into the realm of moral ambiguity. This has helped catapult this fantasy race into greater utilization in contemporary fantasy.
Halflings are a humanoid fantasy race marked by their short physique. Halflings are so called because they are about half as tall as an average human being.
This fantasy race was made famous by J.R.R. Tolkien in his work with The Hobbit. In this work, halflings were named hobbits.
Hobbits became interchangeable with the term halflings over time. This is a direct result of Dungeons & Dragons. The game began to substitute the term halflings for hobbits to avoid any legal ramifications that would result from copying off of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Halflings resemble normal human beings in all aspects but height.
They embrace the call to nature, inhabiting grassy plains and wild prairies. Some novels describe halflings as nomadic whereas other novels describe them as home bodies.
The short stature of halflings supplements their mischievous undertakings flawlessly. This mythical race is renowned for their ability to sneak past guards undetected and steal valuables without a sound. In short, halflings are crafted to be thieves.
As you can probably guess, the human race is the most common race in fantasy by leaps and bounds.
Humans are comprised of every physical feature that applies in the real world.
Humans are not an everlasting race. They are mortal beings that occasionally possess magical power depending on the fantasy narrative.
Humans tend to be considered in the middle of the spectrum when considering the signature traits of fantasy races. They are neither utterly weak nor utterly strong, inherently smarter or dumber, or more or less sensibly perceptive than other fantasy races.
The human race is the ultimate tool for readers to immerse themselves into the story. Readers like relatability. This is why humans play such a predominant role in tales of fantasy.
Mermaids are essential to any seafaring fantasy voyage.
This mythical species dwells and lives underwater typically in immense seas. They possess the ability to traverse on land, but only for a short while. Mermaids are entirely dependent on water to live.
Mermaids are exclusively female. The male counterpart of a mermaid is widely considered to be a merman rather than a mermaid. The top half of the mermaid body is a woman and the lower half of the body is a fish tail.
Mermaids are typically an obscure race in fantasy narratives. Most sailors chalk up mermaids as mere folklore and deny their existence.
Mermaids have an otherworldly beauty about them. They are skilled in the art of seduction and make no secret of it. Their enticing appearance is notorious for both pleasing and deceiving sailors.
Mermaids can be good or bad depending on the novel. As aforementioned, their versatility to both please and deceive is too valuable tool for fantasy authors to pass up on.
The mythical race of mermaids stemmed from mythology. The Sirens are the first known mermaids to exist in literature. Thus, mermaids were actually forces of evil originally.
Trolls are renowned for their colossal body structure. These creatures tower over other fantasy beings, making them look like petty children.
Their skin is weathered and their features are rough. The hair on these creatures is lengthy and unkept. Everything about the physical features of trolls augments their imposing, intimidating nature.
They are certainly not the prettiest fantasy race. Nor are they the smartest. What they lack in looks and brains, they make up for in size and strength.
It is obvious that trolls are treasured commodities on the battlefield. Born to fight, all these creatures need are a club in hand and a couple of large boulders to deal irreversible damage.
Being so big, it is no surprise that trolls eat anything and everything in sight. From wood to rocks to people, these beasts have literally zero dietary restrictions.
Trolls are primal beings, preferring to live isolated in the wilderness rather than in the hub of society. These mammoth beings are more of a nuisance to society more than anything else because of their inclination toward ransacking villages.
This mythical race is not known for having any supernatural abilities. Trolls elect to heave rocks rather than wield magic.
Atypical Fantasy Races
There are also a few fantasy races that are not as popular as the aforementioned mythical species.
The subsequent fantasy races are lesser known because they are not nearly emphasized nearly as much in fantasy stories.
In the future, fantasy authors may opt to venture outside the box and incorporate these fantasy races more often.
Without further ado, let’s get into this list.
A cyclops is a hulking, one-eyed being that stems from Greek mythology. They have a single eye that lies in the middle of their forehead.
The cyclops is primarily known for its appearance in The Odyssey by Homer. The cyclops named Polyphemus nearly kills Odysseus on his journey back home.
Fantasy authors have adapted Polyphemus to suit their own fictional worlds. Thus, there are a few peculiarities about cyclopes that differ from story to story, but the same general characteristics remain.
The cyclops prefers to live alone in the far reaches of the wilderness, usually cooped up in some sort of natural hideout. Occasionally a band of cyclopes will live together, but this is far less common.
Other than their imposing mass and single eye, the cyclops has a relatively thick skin in the literal sense. Their thick outer covering is able to take a tremendous beating. It acts as a sort of bodily armor, making these creatures extremely difficult to kill.
Cyclopes also have a vigorous enthusiasm for violence. This mythical race has no respect for life. In essence, their philosophy is to take what they want by any means necessary.
Furthermore, the cyclops is a primordial creature and shows very little signs of complex intelligence. Other fantasy races take advantage of their brutish mentality, often using them as puppets on the frontlines of a war zone.
Centaurs are yet another fantasy race that emanates from mythology.
This fictional species is distinguished by their unique hybrid appearance. The upper half of the body is a human whereas the lower half of the body is a horse. Typically, centaurs rebuff any sort of apparel.
In mythology, centaurs are considered a rather untamed species. Centaurs have since shed this initial label and taken up other features steadily over time.
For instance, centaurs are now known for their proficient mastery over archery and training. There also many contemporary fantasy novels springing up where centaurs show signs of a higher intelligence, such as Chiron in Percy Jackson & The Olympians by Rick Riordan.
Whereas before centaurs were only seen as barbaric beings roaming the wilderness, fantasy authors are beginning to put their faith into this fantasy race and expand their role into something more.
The fantasy race of dryads are also referred to as tree nymphs. This mythical species is characterized by their uncommon looks.
A dryad is a proportional mix of human and tree blended into one single being. The tree that they blend with is typically oak, however, there are numerous exceptions to this trend.
In addition, dryads are invariably female. These females are spirits that hold an innate relation to the tree that they are bonded with. Certain fantasy narratives even designate these spirits as minor forms of divinity.
Dryads are extremely defensive about the tree they bond with, often willing to protect their tree to the death. When the linked tree dies, the dryad usually dies as well.
Dryads are instinctively timid, reluctant to socialize with any beings other than their own kin. A reclusive race, these creatures stick to the shadows of the forest rather than the light of civilization.
Gnomes are closely related to dwarves, however, they are different enough from one another to be labeled as separate humanoid fantasy races.
Most people confuse gnomes and dwarves as the same species because of their similar stature. Both fantasy races stand about three feet to three and a half feet tall.
Other than their short height, gnomes look much older than their actual age. Furthermore, they are much less burly and gruff compared to dwarves. The most prominent feature of gnomes is their peaked red cap that they wear atop their head.
Although gnomes and dwarves stand at an almost identical height, they have vastly different social behaviors and attitudes.
For one, gnomes are far more welcoming toward fantasy races other than their own. They are prone to tinkering and fiddling with things, which is what makes them such talented inventors.
Gnomes also love horseplay. They play tricks on one another and other fantasy species for sport. This mythical species certainly outshines other fantasy races in the jokes department.
Lizardfolk are much lesser known fantasy races compared to the other mythical creatures on this list.
Lizardfolk are reptilian creatures that are able to traverse on land environments as well as aquatic environments.
In terms of height, these creatures are a bit taller than the average human. The hue of their scaly skin ranges from a dark green to a rusty brown. Furthermore, they have a lengthy tail that trails behind them that is typically at least a couple of feet in length.
This mythical species resides on the humid terrain between land and water. Examples of these locations include jungles, swamps, and marshes.
Relative to other races on this list, lizardfolk are not a highly intelligible species. Their lifestyle is largely dictated by whether or not the task will reward them with a delicious meal.
Being primal in nature, lizardfolk rarely participate in aspects of civilized life. If there is a societal structure present, its organization is usually modeled after a tribal system.
Combat is not a strong suit of lizardfolk.
The nymph fantasy race is comprised of female spirits that associate with some element of nature. Dryads, the fantasy race we analyzed earlier, is a type of a nymph.
The elements of nature that nymphs associate with include, but are not limited to the following:
Nymphs are classified by the different elements of nature that they associate with. River nymphs, tree nymphs, and lake nymphs are various subcategories of the broader race of nymphs.
Nymphs are commonly linked with divinity, with certain nymphs even claiming the title of goddess. The divine nature of these beings allow them to live for centuries.
This mythical species is distinguished by their physical attractiveness and irresistible charisma. Nymphs are commonly confused with fairies because of this fact. Contrary to popular opinion, nymphs and fairies are not the same thing.
Nymphs are typically utilized in fantasy to lull characters into a state of bliss and turn them off to their senses. Thus, nymphs can serve as either a catalyst or setback to the main characters.
Like many other fantasy races on this list, nymphs are also derived from greek mythology.
Similar to centaurs, satyrs are another male hybrid fantasy race. Satyrs are half man and half donkey.
Like centaurs, satyrs originate from mythology. Unlike centaurs, satyrs behave a bit more rambunctiously and are notorious for their aggressive partying nature.
These creatures were designed with the intent to humor. Thus, satyrs are comically ugly and have larger than life personalities.
Satyrs are equipped with thick, curly beards, unbelievably hairy chests, loose tails hanging from their back end, and paltry horns that jut from their heads.
This mythical species has a deep thirst for drink and women. Satyrs are no threat on the battlefield, but they are a dangerous threat to women. A deadly combination of drunken fervor and a lack of restraint cause these creatures to commit atrocious, unforgivable acts.
On a happier note, satyrs are talented musicians. They are capable of playing a diverse repertoire of musical instruments, such as the tamborine, pipes and flute among others.
Moreover, satyrs are also extremely skilled dancers. After all, it is difficult to be the life of the party if you cannot dance.
Shades are another dark fantastical race that possess supernatural powers.
Shades are unique in that they are reanimated life forms possessed by evil spirits. Thus, shades likely were humans, elves, dwarves or some other fantasy race in a former lifetime.
The reincarnation process is done by a dark magician, wizard or sorcerer. When a shade is fully reincarnated, they leave their old self behind and become something entirely different. Nothing of the original spirit remains when a shade is reanimated.
For one, their physical appearance changes immensely. No longer does their outward appearance resemble that of a living being. Their physical figure becomes thin and sickly with bloodshot eyes to complete the look.
Although shades are undead creatures, they definitely do not look alive.
The spirits that possess the bodies of their hosts are wicked and vile. For this reason, shades are inherently evil. In fantasy, there are no stories of redemption when it comes to this mythical race.
Shades are infamous for terrorizing civilization, wreaking havoc wherever they can to avenge some past misdeed. This fantasy race is villainous through and through and often act as henchmen to the main antagonist.
This fantasy race is exactly as it sounds… reincarnated, animated skeletons that walk the fictional universe.
Skeletons resemble demons in that they are one dimensional evildoers. This fantasy race is intentionally designed to cause chaos and tear down the existing way of life by any means necessary.
This mythical race regularly serves as warriors to overarching villain looking to violently restructure the world. Skeletons experience no thoughts or emotions other than hatred for the living.
They are brittle with no flesh covering their bony surface. Skeletons are as ugly as they sound, resembling undead horrors meant to intimidate humanity.
The supernatural is commonly at work when skeletons are brought into the fold. Some magical spell or supernatural curse is utilized to reanimate these skeletons.
Authors tend to shy away from incorporating skeletons into their work simply because these beings are only able to suit the purpose of evil.
Yetis are primitive fantasy creatures that inhabit cold, snowy terrains.
Yetis are isolated creatures that live in dark caves and mountain crevasses. They are defensive creatures that will attack when provoked.
The main driving force that decides the day to day life of a yeti is hunger. A yeti will eat almost anything they can get their hands on, including humans.
In fantasy, yetis are a common stumbling block for protagonists when passing through icy, mountain passes. Other than that, the role of yetis in fantasy is rather limited.
Are There More Fantasy Races Out There?
Yes, there are certainly more fantasy races out there than the ones listed.
The list provided only describes the fundamental fantasy races that are scattered throughout the fictional genre. New, original fantasy races are perpetually evolving with every published fictional work.
It is for this reason that is impossible to pin down every fantasy race known to literature. The fantasy races described above are a mere springboard for contemporary writers to draw inspiration from.
World building is continually shifting and catering to the needs of the audience. The unparalleled creative opportunities that fantasy races offer helps the fantasy genre to distinguish itself from the norm.
Therefore, having an infinite list of possible fantasy races is an advantage for the fantasy genre, not a detriment.