People of Hair Color


(permanent link) added: 2008-12-02 14:26:02 sponsor: Goldfritha (last reply: 2008-12-04 05:51:07)

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A Heroic Fantasy trope. Also found in Hollywood History.

As in many historical eras, many fantasy writers divide their humans up into finer racial categorizations than are common nowadays. One of the commonest is races that would be called white nowadays but in the work are categorized by their hair color -- of which blond and dark are the commonest. These hair colors are often depicted as remarkable uniform throughout the different populations.

There is a certain amount of Truth in Television here. Before widespread genetic diversity, with people meeting and mixing between different countries or continents, the traits of a single tribe or village or other group of people were often common across the entire population. One group of people, who haven't been mixing with outsiders, will generally share the same general appearance. It's part of why, for instance, there are two main stereotypical depictions of Irish people, the 'black' irish, like Colin Farrell, and the 'red' irish, like Colm Meaney (Miles O'Brien from TNG and DS 9), or how northern-europeans like those from Sweden, Norway, etc, are tall with blond hair.

And in the better fantasy writers, this predisposition is all there is.

In all too many works, however, the races are absolutely uniform, living in a racial Patchwork Map. Even at the borders, half-breeds are unusual and physical distinctive. Furthermore, the physical appearances are also used as a short hand for Planet of Hats traits.

The prevalence of Medieval European Fantasy makes the subdivisions of whites plausible, but other races subdivisions are known, and sometimes a blond race will contrast with a dark-haired race that is clearly not white. Often, the mere presence of whites and blacks in the same area will not preclude their regarding themselves as more finely divided than that -- which is also Truth in Television.

Needs a Better Title Up for Grabs

Examples

Myths & Legends
  • Long after the fact depictions of the Saxons and the Normans after the conquest make the Saxons blond and the Normans dark-haired. Robin Hood is typically blond; when Maid Marian is a Norman, as in The Adventures of Robin Hood, she is dark-haired.
Literature
  • J. R. R. Tolkien used it repeatedly. Elves come in blond and dark-haired races, as did the Houses of Elf-Friends in the First Age. In Lord of the Rings, the Riders of Rohan tend to be blond, while people of Gondor were chiefly dark-haired.
  • In Andre Norton's Witch World, the witches and others of Estcarp are uniformly dark-haired; their allies, the sea-going Sulcar, are blond.
  • In Joy Chant's Red Moon Black Mountain, the races are divided by appearance, including an entire race of DumbBlondes.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea has the race contrast by skin color as well as by hair, but the white race is also chiefly blond.
  • Jennifer Robertson's "Sword Dancer" books have the sun-baked, semi-nomadic Southron race who live in the desert and the blonde, fair-skinned Northerners who live in the mountains. Later she expanded it to include a sort of dark-caucasian islander race.
  • In the Chronicles of Narnia, the Calormens are bronze of skin and the Narnians are caucasian, some blonde.
  • In the Conan the Barbarian universe, the barbarians of the north are divided into the Aesir, who are blonde, the Vanir, who have red hair, and the Cimmerians, who have dark hair. Howard had a whole essay on the various human races of Hyboria and how they got to be where they are in the story in question.
  • Robert Jordan's Wheel of time is full of these, notably the tall strawberry blond Aeil and the short dark haired Cairheinians. Jordan was effective in differentiating people based on geographical region through appearance as well as speech patterns, dress, and customs.
RPG
  • Dungeons and Dragons seems to take yet another cue from Tolkien here. The various elf "subraces" (including the distinct Drow) have hair color and skin tone determined by their elven ethnicity. Conversely, humans in the D&D universe seem much more integrated and less ethnically homogenized.
Misc
  • Ishballans from Full Metal Alchemist appear to have darker skin and that two toned hair missing from the relatively European looking denizens of the "Empire".
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