Darrell is one of those authors who really considers the world-building side of their work, so I've long found their blog fascinating. Recently, they've released a series of posts on the background of individual "kindreds" from their world of Saynim (kindred here replacing the problematic use of "race" across a lot of fantasy works), each of which is worth reading, but combined form a series of ideas, mythological tidbits, and even anthropological theories that I wanted to capture. I'll create a list of relevant links at the end. I've skipped taking notes on humans, though I do really like Darrell's take on them as a minority underclass renowned for "outside the box" thinking.
- I had always believed that "human-like" elves were very much a Tolkien invention, but apparently the earliest references in Germanic folklore have them as human-sized, fair creatures that were more often allies than enemies of humans. Also, in Old English, the word for "elf" was a generic used for classical myths of nymphs, fauns, satyrs etc. so intelligent, humanoid nature spirits.
- Cherokee folklore contains the Nunnehi, elf-like beings that live high in the mountains of human features and enhanced beauty, with a love of dancing. Considered "defenders of the people" and actually tied to accounts of "vanishing" peoples/towns during European invasion, being saved from the invaders and taken to a realm of magic (there are parallels here with the first folk of Irish myth).
- Interesting to see that "elves" in Western folklore have slipped from beautiful allies to monstrous enemies by the time of Beowulf, and then further still to the pixie-like fairies of mischief and comedy in the 1600s. Why the change in status? Christianity is certainly partially to blame (though I find it interesting that elves of more traditional folklore seem almost more akin to angels, and wonder what might have been had their appropriation and explanation gone in that direction instead).
- Not sure I like the link to Neanderthals for dwarves, particularly as Neanderthals were typically pretty tall, but it's certainly a neat idea and I'm also fond of the (totally nuts) theory that fae folklore is vestigial memories of Neanderthal culture and interactions. The inclusion of late erectus for more animalistic species like giants and ogres is a fun concept too.
- I hadn't realised that there is no evidence for Neanderthal-born hybrids (i.e. the mother was Neanderthal), only human-born hybrids. As Darrell points out, that either infers that hybridisation in that format was problematic (infertility or possibly other complications) or (more interestingly) that those hybrids were more commonly raised within Neanderthal society, therefore the lineage was lost with their species' extinction.
- Trolls are apparently very hard to define, being a catch-all term in European folklore for humanoid creatures with supernatural powers and at least some visually distinct difference to humans. I like the idea of them therefore being a highly variable kindred, with variation in horns, fangs, eyes, pigmentation etc., as well as being cunning tricksters.
- I'm aware of the Tuatha Dé Danaan of Irish folklore, but not of the Fomori, who are apparently at least a little trollish (and occasionally intermarry).
- The term "pygmy" originally derives from the Greek for "cubit", or 18 inches; hence Darrell's use of "Ell" to collectively describe the little fae folk (brownies, leprechauns etc.), coming from the Old English ell, a measurement roughly the length of a man's forearm.
- I'm also a big fan of the use of "goblin" to describe the hybridisation of the various "Neanderthal" subspecies (Ells, Dwarves, Trolls). What a neat world building fix!