A Tiger Fighting a Centaur (Hendrik Honduis I, 1610)
Humans tend to be central to fantasy stories. It is unusual for the point of view character to be of a different race. There are notable exceptions, such as The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954) and The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937) the movie The Dark Crystal (Universal Pictures, 1982), and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien, 1971). There are others I am sure also fill this void.
Part of this, I suspect, stems from the difficulty humans have viewing things from anything besides their point of view. The more alien the viewpoint is, the less connected the reader or view will be. Frodo, Bilbo, Jen, and Mrs. Frisby work as characters because they don’t stray far from what people expect them to think like. On the other hand, the elves of Rivendell have an outlook that is partially alien and makes them difficult to connect with.
The further we get from human standards of outlook and morality, the less able to connect the reader becomes with the characters. This can make it easy to give demi and non-human races simple, single-sided morality or outlooks. All ogres are brash and stupid. All orcs are evil and vicious. Elves are aloof and unconnected to human time.
This has allowed authors to create black-and-white morality plays in which the good characters can be portrayed as absolutely as good as the evil is completely evil. The more nuanced the moral outlook of the non-humans is, the easier it can be for the reader to understand them since we ourselves aren’t black-and-white. On the other hand, they become much harder to write.
Some authors have embraced this sort of back-and-forth. David Weber used this kind of alien but not alien outlook in the War God series with Bahzell Bahnakson, a hradani who finds unexpectedly himself a paladin. The hradani’s fury is very different from the way human anger usually is exhibited, allowing Weber to explore the nature of extreme feelings. It also gives him a chance to explore the nature of racism and stereotyping without treading on grounds many feel uncomfortable with.
This is another reason demi- and non-human races are used in fantasy. Since they have never existed in our known history, everything about them is fiction. There are no uncomfortable truths or hidden landmines to run over. This means the reader doesn’t find themselves torn out of a story by their own views, historical perspectives, or prejudices. It also gives the author rein to explore subjects or ideas that wouldn’t be easily discussed if the characters were human. The fact that the Tin Man doesn’t have a heart but still lives makes perfect sense from his design, but could only work metaphorically if he were human. The same with Bilbo’s long life. He’s a hobbit, so of course he lives over a hundred years.
The human centric main character is easier to understand, but fantasy gives us the ability and lens through which to explore a whole host of other viewpoints. Morality and honor systems which are unheard of in our world exist and work in these fantastic worlds. The flexibility of truly walking in another’s head is one of the most, if not the most, important part fantasy stories allow us to experience.
THE DESCENT OF THE ROLY-ROGUES
King Bud and Princess Fluff were leading very happy and peaceful lives in their beautiful palace. All wars and dangers seemed at an end, and there was nothing to disturb their content.
All the gold that was needed the royal purse-bearer was able to supply from his overflowing purse. The gigantic General Tollydob became famous throughout the world, and no nation dared attack the army of Noland. The talking dog of old Tallydab made every one wonder, and people came many miles to see Ruffles and hear him speak. It was said that all this good fortune had been brought to Noland by the pretty Princess Fluff, who was a favorite of the fairies; and the people loved her on this account as well as for her bright and sunny disposition.
King Bud caused his subjects some little anxiety, to be sure; for they never could tell what he was liable to do next, except that he was sure to do something unexpected. But much is forgiven a king; and if Bud made some pompous old nobleman stand on his head, to amuse a mob of people, he would give him a good dinner afterward and fill his purse with gold to make up for the indignity. Fluff often reproved her brother for such pranks, but Bud’s soul was flooded with mischief, and it was hard for him to resist letting a little of the surplus escape now and then.
After all, the people were fairly content and prosperous, and no one was at all prepared for the disasters soon to overtake them.
One day, while King Bud was playing at ball with some of his courtiers on a field outside the city gates, the first warning of trouble reached him. Bud had batted a ball high into the air, and while looking upward for it to descend he saw another ball bound from the plain at the top of the North Mountains, fly into the air, and then sink gradually toward him. As it approached, it grew bigger and bigger, until it assumed mammoth proportions; and then, while the courtiers screamed in terror, the great ball struck the field near them, bounced high into the air, and came down directly upon the sharp point of one of the palace towers, where it stuck fast with a yell that sounded almost human.
For some moments Bud and his companions were motionless through surprise and fear; then they rushed into the city and stood among the crowd of people which had congregated at the foot of the tower to stare at the big ball impaled upon its point. Once in a while, two arms, two short legs, and a head would dart out from the ball and wiggle frantically, and then the yell would be repeated and the head and limbs withdrawn swiftly into the ball.
It was all so curious that the people were justified in staring at it in amazement; for certainly no one had ever seen or heard of a Roly-Rogue before, or even known such a creature existed.
Finally, as no one else could reach the steeple-top, Aunt Rivette flew into the air and circled slowly around the ball. When next its head was thrust out, she called:
“Are you a mud-turtle or a man?”
“I’ll show you which, if I get hold of you,” answered the Roly-Rogue, fiercely.
“Where did you come from?” asked Aunt Rivette, taking care the wiggling arms did not grab her.
“That is none of your business,” said the RolyRogue. “But I didn’t intend to come, that you may depend upon.”
“Are you hurt?” she inquired, seeing that the struggles of the creature made him spin around upon the steeple-point like a windmill.
“No, I’m not hurt at all,” declared the Roly-Rogue; “but I’d like to know how to get down.”
“What would you do if we helped you to get free?” asked Aunt Rivette.
“I’d fight every one of those idiots who are laughing at me down there!” said the creature, its eyes flashing wickedly.
“Then you’d best stay where you are,” returned old Rivette, who flew back to earth again to tell Bud what the Roly-Rogue had said.
“I believe that is the best place for him,” said Bud; “so we’ll let him stay where he is. He’s not very ornamental, I must say, but he’s very safe up there on top of the steeple.”
“We might have him gilded,” proposed the old woman, “and then he’d look better.”
“I’ll think it over,” said the king, and he went away to finish his ball game.
The people talked and wondered about the queer creature on the steeple, but no one could say where it came from or what it was; they were naturally much puzzled.
The next day was bright with sunshine; so, early in the forenoon, Bud and Fluff had the royal cook fill their baskets with good things to eat, and set out to picnic on the bank of the river that separated Noland from the kingdom of Ix. They rode ponies, to reach the river sooner than by walking; and their only companions were Tallydab, the lord high steward, and his talking dog, Ruffles.
It was after this picnic party had passed over the mountain, and were securely hidden from any one in the city of Nole, that the ruler of the Roly-Rogues and his thousands of followers hurled themselves down from their land above the clouds and began bounding toward the plain below.
The people first heard a roar that sounded like distant thunder; and when they looked toward the North Mountains they saw the air black with tiny bouncing balls that seemed to drop from the drifting clouds which always had obscured the highest peak.
But, although appearing small when first seen, these balls grew rapidly larger as they came nearer; and then, with sharp reports like pistol-shots, they began dropping upon the plain by dozens and hundreds and then thousands.
As soon as they touched the ground they bounded upward again, like rubber balls the children throw upon the floor; but each bound was less violent than the one preceding it, until finally within the streets of the city and upon all the fields surrounding it lay the thousands of Roly-Rogues that had fallen from the mountain-peak.
At first they lay still, as if stunned by their swift journey and collision with the hard earth; but after a few seconds they recovered, thrust out their heads and limbs, and scrambled upon their flat feet.
Then the savage Roly-Rogues uttered hoarse shouts of joy, for they were safely arrived at the city they had seen from afar, and the audacious adventure was a success.
THE CONQUEST OF NOLAND
It would be impossible to describe the amazement of the people of Nole when the Roly-Rogues came upon them.
Not only was the descent wholly unexpected, but the appearance of the invaders was queer enough to strike terror to the stoutest heart.
Their round bodies were supported by short, strong legs having broad, flattened feet to keep them steady. Their arms were short, and the fingers of their hands, while not long, were very powerful.
But the heads were the most startling portions of these strange creatures. They were flat and thick on the top, with leathery rolls around their necks; so that, when the head was drawn in, its upper part rounded out the surface of the ball. In this peculiar head the Roly-Rogue had two big eyes as shiny as porcelain, a small stubby nose, and a huge mouth. Their strange leather-like clothing fitted their bodies closely and was of different colors—green, yellow, red, and brown.
Taken altogether, the Roly-Rogues were not pretty to look at; and although their big eyes gave them a startled or astonished expression, nothing seemed ever to startle or astonish them in the least.
When they arrived in the valley of Nole, after their wonderful journey down the mountains, they scrambled to their feet, extended their long arms with the thorns clasped tight in their talon-like fingers, and rushed in a furious crowd and with loud cries upon the terror-stricken people.
The soldiers of Tollydob’s brave army had not even time to seize their weapons; for such a foe, coming upon them through the air, had never been dreamed of.
And the men of Nole, who might have resisted the enemy, were too much frightened to do more than tremble violently and gasp with open mouths. As for the women and children, they fled screaming into the houses and bolted or locked the doors, which was doubtless the wisest thing they could have done.
General Tollydob was asleep when the calamity of this invasion occurred; but hearing the shouts, he ran out of his mansion and met several of the Roly-Rogues face to face. Without hesitation the brave general rushed upon them; but two of the creatures promptly rolled themselves against him from opposite directions, so that the ten-foot giant was crushed between them until there was not a particle of breath left in his body. No sooner did these release him than two other Roly-Rogues rolled toward him; but Tollydob was not to be caught twice, so he gave a mighty jump and jumped right over their heads, with the result that the balls crashed against each other.
This made the two Roly-Rogues so angry that they began to fight each other savagely, and the general started to run away. But other foes rolled after him, knocked him down, and stuck their thorns into him until he yelled for mercy and promised to become their slave.
Tullydub, the chief counselor, watched all this from his window, and it frightened him so greatly that he crawled under his bed and hid, hoping the creatures would not find him. But their big round eyes were sharp at discovering things; so the Roly-Rogues had not been in Tullydub’s room two minutes before he was dragged from beneath his bed, and prodded with thorns until he promised obedience to the conquerors.
The lord high purse-bearer, at the first alarm, dug a hole in the garden of the royal palace and buried his purse so no one could find it but himself. But he might have saved himself this trouble, for the Roly-Rogues knew nothing of money or its uses, being accustomed to seizing whatever they desired without a thought of rendering payment for it.
Having buried his purse, old Tillydib gave himself up to the invaders as their prisoner; and this saved him the indignity of being conquered.
The lord high executioner may really be credited with making the only serious fight of the day; for when the Roly-Rogues came upon him, Tellydeb seized his ax, and, before the enemy could come near, he reached out his long arm and cleverly sliced the heads off several of their round bodies.
The others paused for a moment, being unused to such warfare and not understanding how an arm could reach so far.
But, seeing their heads were in danger, about a hundred of the creatures formed themselves into balls and rolled upon the executioner in a straight line, hoping to crush him.
They could not see what happened after they began to roll, their heads being withdrawn; but Tellydeb watched them speed toward him, and, stepping aside, he aimed a strong blow with his ax at the body of the first Roly-Rogue that passed him. Instead of cutting the rubber-like body, the ax bounced back and flew from Tellydeb’s hand into the air, falling farther away than the long arm of the executioner could reach. Therefore he was left helpless, and was wise enough to surrender without further resistance.
Finding no one else to resist them, the Roly-Rogues contented themselves with bounding against the terrorized people, great and humble alike, and knocking them over, laughing boisterously at the figures sprawling in the mud of the streets.
And then they would prick the bodies of the men with their sharp thorns, making them spring to their feet again with shrieks of fear, only to be bowled over again the next minute.
But the monsters soon grew weary of this amusement, for they were anxious to explore the city they had so successfully invaded. They flocked into the palace and public buildings, and gazed eagerly at the many beautiful and, to them, novel things that were found. The mirrors delighted them, and they fought one another for the privilege of standing before the glasses to admire the reflection of their horrid bodies.
They could not sit in the chairs, for the round bodies would not fit them; neither could the Roly-Rogues understand the use of beds. For when they rested or slept the creatures merely withdrew their limbs and heads, rolled over upon their backs, and slept soundly—no matter where they might be.
The shops were all entered and robbed of their wares, the Roly-Rogues wantonly destroying all that they could not use. They were like ostriches in eating anything that looked attractive to them; one of the monsters swallowed several pretty glass beads, and some of the more inquisitive of them invaded the grocery-shops and satisfied their curiosity by tasting of nearly everything in sight. It was funny to see their wry faces when they sampled the salt and vinegar
Presently the entire city was under the dominion of the Roly-Rogues, who forced the unhappy people to wait upon them and amuse them; and if any hesitated to obey their commands, the monsters would bump against them, pull their hair, and make them suffer most miserably.
Aunt Rivette was in her room at the top of the palace when the Roly-Rogues invaded the city of Nole. At first she was as much frightened as the others; but she soon remembered she could escape the creatures by flying; so she quietly watched them from the windows. By and by, as they explored the palace, they came to Aunt Rivette’s room and broke in the door; but the old woman calmly stepped out of her window upon a little iron balcony, spread her great wings, and flew away before the Roly-Rogues could catch her.
Then she soared calmly through the air, and having remembered that Bud and Fluff had gone to the river on a picnic, she flew swiftly in that direction and before long came to where the children and old Tallydab were eating their luncheon, while the dog Ruffles, who was in good spirits, sang a comic song to amuse them.
They were much surprised to see Aunt Rivette flying toward them; but when she alighted and told Bud that his kingdom had been conquered by the Roly-Rogues and all his people enslaved, the little party was so astonished that they stared at one another in speechless amazement.
“Oh, Bud, what shall we do?” finally asked Fluff, in distress.
“Don’t know,” said Bud, struggling to swallow a large piece of sandwich that in his excitement had stuck fast in his throat.
“One thing is certain,” remarked Aunt Rivette, helping herself to a slice of cake, “our happy lives are now ruined forever. We should be foolish to remain here; and the sooner we escape to some other country where the Roly-Rogues cannot find us, the safer we shall be.”
“But why run away?” asked Bud. “Can’t something else be done? Here, Tallydab, you’re one of my counselors. What do you say about this affair?”
Now the lord high steward was a deliberate old fellow, and before he replied he dusted the crumbs from his lap, filled and lighted his long pipe, and smoked several whiffs in a thoughtful manner.
“It strikes me,” said he at last, “that by means of the Princess Fluff’s magic cloak we can either destroy or scatter these rascally invaders and restore the kingdom to peace and prosperity.”
“Sure enough!” replied Bud. “Why didn’t we think of that before?”
“You will have to make the wish, Bud,” said Fluff, “for all the rest of us have wished, and you have not made yours yet.”
“All right,” answered the king. “If I must, I must. But I’m sorry I have to do it now, for I was saving my wish for something else.”
“But where’s the cloak?” asked the dog, rudely breaking into the conversation. “You can’t wish without the cloak.”
“The cloak is locked up in a drawer in my room at the palace,” said Fluff.
“And our enemies have possession of the palace,” continued Tallydab, gloomily. “Was there ever such ill luck!”
“Never mind,” said Aunt Rivette, “I’ll fly back and get it—that is, if the Roly-Rogues haven’t already broken open the drawer and discovered the cloak.”
“Please go at once, then!” exclaimed Fluff. “Here is the key,” and she unfastened it from the chain at her neck and handed it to her aunt. “But be careful, whatever you do, that those horrible creatures do not catch you.”
“I’m not afraid,” said Aunt Rivette, confidently. And taking the key, the old lady at once flew away in the direction of the city of Nole, promising to return very soon.