Wildlife in fantasy

Today, I’ll share a bit different point of view on wildlife in fantasy and the differences compared to our life.

Fantasy worlds tend to be home to several creatures – some are pretty much the same as Earth’s wildlife, some are based on them with some details changed or taken from extinct animals, some are based on various mythology, and some are created by the authors from scratch.

Before I go on, how I got to this topic: in one of the early chapters in my WIP Eternal Defenders, a two characters encounter a wild bear. And one of my betas commented: “He seems awfully calm given that a BEAR is right in front of them!”

Real world vs. Fantasy

Let’s be honest. If I ‘met’ a wild bear while hiking, I would be scared. Almost anyone would be, given the difference in body mass. But there’s one major difference between our reality and fantasy: wildlife in potentially life-threatening forms (such as bears) became endangered species.

I don’t think that would be the case in the typical fantasy setting. Of course, it’d depend on my aspects – including location. Still, it’s very likely that wild aminals – whether ‘common’ or ‘fantastic’ – would be way more frequent. And people living in such a world would know better than we do how to react to such a situation.

Brown bear (photo source: Malene, Wikipedia)

So, to use the commented scene for perspective. The two characters were on the verge of a vast forest, one of them an experienced guard, the other a 20-years-old with a combat training, and both armed and armored. That already makes their odds better.

What I wanted to focus on, though, is that fantasy worlds tend to be way less touched by the sentient inhabitants (whether they’re humans, elves, dwarves, whatever) – which means wild animals will be more frequent, especially in their natural habitats.

And people living near those places would be less surprised by seeing (or even meeting) a wild animal.

Create your own beast

Extinct sabre-tooth cat art (Encyclopaedia Brittanica)

Fantasy allows authors to create many fantastic creatures – but all those creatures need somewhere to live. This leads into what I said before – let’s assume a creature that prefers open plains. It would be less surprising to see one in such a habitat than to see it in the forest, where its anatomy would be less suitable for both hunting and survival.

When it comes to creating those creatures, there are mostly three ways:

  • Use an real (even if extinct) creature – either whole or as a base.
  • Use a mythological creature (such as a gryphon or a dragon)
  • Create something new

The first two have a major advantage that you already something to go on when it comes to size, habitat, and diet of those creatures – small things they might seem to be but obvious inconsistencies will be noticed by more thorough readers. To use my WIP as example, I combined existing felines with the extinct sabertooth felines to create a marshfang, a feline living in a rainforest-like jungle. This not only means there needs to be something for those cats to eat (mostly large rodents, such as a capybara) but also the need for their coat to be water-resistant. The dense canopy of the jungle means less light, which favors a darker coat color to better hide in the shadows – and thus, a marshfang is black-skinned.

A villager’s advantage

In fantasy, only a few live in cities. Those living in the villages are often more resilient in several aspects – stronger by the physical labor needed for their everyday lives, and more likely accustomed to the dangers that could lurk in the surrounding landscape. Thus, they’re more likely to know how to defend themselves.

A town-dweller might struggle to come up with any reaction at all when encountering a wild animal. A villager is more likely to at least escape (mostly) unharmed because they live closer to the wilds and they know the place. If they’re armed – or even trained to fight – their odds are better in combat. Not to mention they’d probably know the hunting habits (such as time of day) of the common beasts and try to avoid going into the wilds during that time.

And the more thriving the wildlife would be, the more prepared would the populace be to defend themselves.

In other words, the world would shape it inhabitants to adjust.

I’ll wrap it up here. Do you have a favorite fantasy beast? How common or threatening they are? Are you a writer? What’s your approach to wild creatures in fantasy? Feel free to share your opinion, I’ll be glad to read it.

2 thoughts on “Wildlife in fantasy

  1. I don’t read a ton of fantasy, but I did like those mean little fairies from Harry Potter 🙂 LoL I don’t remember what they’re called or if they were animals.

    I also don’t write fantasy, but if I did, I wouldn’t make my characters indifferent to the creatures, like the new Jurassic Park. “Uh, dinosaurs. Boring!” Meanwhile, I’m delighted every time I see a squirrel in my backyard, and my neighbor says they’re annoying. People have feelings/opinions on the wildlife around them, no matter how common they are. IMHO.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂 This was a very interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Eat a deer, save the woods | Tomas, the wandering dreamer

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