Fantasy media

Genre studies


Many fantasy stories and worlds call their main sentient humanoid species "races" rather than species. In most such worlds, these races are related, typically having derived from one root species (most often either elves or humans) by magical or divine influence. The usage of the term in this context was popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien[citation needed] and was further adapted and spread by the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Nowadays, many imaginary universes use the terms "race" and "species" interchangeably.

In role-playing games, "race" typically refers to any species that can be played as a player character. In older editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the primary non-human player races (dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling and half-elf) were called "demi-humans."

See List of species in fantasy fiction for a listing of fictional fantastic races and species.

On the race vs. species issue, one might note that the most commonly used definition of a species is that creatures of the same species are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring, whereas creatures of different species are not. This is not always true in practice, however. For example there are reports of fertile mules. But fantasy literature, from Tolkien to the present day, is full of half-breeds between races, of which the half-elf (human/elf hybrid) is probably the most common. Half-orcs (human/orc hybrid) are also common. On this grounds, one might argue that the two terms are not interchangeable at all, but that the races of elves, orcs and humans should be considered races or subspecies of the same species. For example, in the Dark Sun campaign setting, Dwarves and humans are separate but closely-related species, as dwarves and humans can interbreed, resulting in infertile offspring called muls.

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