Writers tend to rely on research and imagination to write their stories. Some research does have factual truth behind it, no matter how obscure the field of research may be. So, could all of these stories of Faerie have some basis in reality?
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” he explains what his definition of high fantasy is through a deconstructionalist approach of explaining what fantasy is not. Using the word “Faerie” to describe all things magical, whimsical, and fantasy, Tolkien precisely expresses various elements and definitions he uses to somewhat give form and function to the fantasy genre.
As a fan of fantasy stories and as a writer, Tolkien wrote this essay while he was writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy in order to give himself a roadmap of what should and should not be included in such fantastical tales. To write this essay, amongst other essays, he researched fairy-stories throughout history and various cultures. From all his research, and even in his own essays and novels, Tolkien has captured this fantasy world for us, the audience, to participate in and acknowledge as nothing more than a work of fancy and fiction. However, what if there is something more to all of these crafted worlds?
Researching stories from all cultures throughout history initially comes back to the oral tradition of storytelling. In other words, before the stories were either written down, changed for societal views, or simply rehashed, they all started as stories that were verbally told to other people. Granted the stories may have been conceived out of pure imagination, but many of them were told from eyewitness accounts. Could these eyewitness accounts, taken apart from their exaggerations and embellishments, be a history of humanoid creatures we associate with mythical beings and races?
If during one point in history there were creatures like elves, dwarves, fairies, gnomes, trolls, etc., then what happened to them? Why aren’t there any remains of their existence beyond the stories? Perhaps we are looking for remains that could identify the myths we currently believe in rather than the actuality of the creatures in question.
If we step away from the “magical” elements of these other species, most of them are described to be very similar to humans. Their most notable differences tend to be in their size and attitudes toward others, and both can be easily explained with a multitude of factors, such as different cultural backgrounds, environmental influences, stagnation in gene flow, etc.. Ancient human races dealing with these humanoids would immediately emphasize the differences between them, and enter an “us vs. them” mentality, as is a common defense mechanism for social species like humans.
Noticing the differences and separating themselves from the other humanoid species, ancient humans would have made stories about these other races based upon their dealings with them. Such stories could have been used to pass the time, create propaganda, and in many cases could have also been used as social training tools. For example, if a group of adults know that the woods are dangerous for young children, then they will tell their children horrible stories about what happens to those who enter the woods. Social training through expressions of cultural norms has been used throughout history and is still in use today, so it is not difficult to presume that such stories were used to train humans of all ages about how the humanoid races are culturally accepted or rejected by humans.
Humanoid races like elves, dwarves, and fairies, could be our genetic cousins. Other humanoid species, such as Australopithecus and Neanderthals, have been linked to the ancestry of Homo sapiens, so tying other humanoid creatures, or hominids, to this chain would not be a huge leap. It’s even possible that elves, dwarves, and fairies were so close to our genetic makeup that if we existed at the same time in history, and in the same geographic regions, then we may have been able to breed with them and create viable hybrid offspring. Such hybrids could explain some physical traits we associate with these humanoid cousins. In fact, some scientist believe that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens existed at the same time and were inner breeding prior to the extinction of Neanderthals, which could explain why some individuals have protruding Neanderthal features. With that in mind, perhaps such interbreeding between Homo sapiens and races like fairies, elves, and dwarves could explain the range of heights and body frames within current Homo sapiens, as well as other traits associated with these humanoid species.
Separating the fantasy from the reality might be considered blasphemy by some people; however, questioning how fantastical ideas came about could lead to new ways of thinking. Fantasy and the world of Faerie should be used to stimulate our senses and help us recapture a part of our own dreams. Nevertheless, no one ever said our dreams couldn’t become our reality.