The roving Scot and buccaneering Dane,
Whose red hair offspring anywhere remain
A Heroic Fantasy
trope. Also found in Hollywood History
As in many historical eras, many fantasy writers divide their humans up into finer ethnic categories than are common nowadays. One of the most common is races that would all be called white
nowadays but, in the work, are categorized by their hair color, of which blond and dark are the most common. These hair colors are often depicted as remarkably 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 Star Trek
), or how people from countries such as China, Japan, and Korea have black hair and dark eyes.
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 an ethnic Patchwork Map
. Even at the borders, half-breeds
are unusual and physically distinctive. Phenotype Stereotype
usually prevails: blue eyes for blonds, green eyes for redheads, gray eyes or brown eyes for dark-haired people. Furthermore, the physical appearances are also used as a short hand for Planet of Hats
The prevalence of Medieval European Fantasy
makes the subdivisions of whites plausible, but other ethnic 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
And, of course, racism follows the racial divides the cultures use. Compare Fantastic Racism
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Anime and Manga
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Ishvalans have grey hair and red eyes, as well as dark skin. Other races in the series tend also to have a common hair and/or eye colour, but not quite to the same extent as the Ishvalans.
- Xingese are all shown to have black hair and black/grey eyes, while those with Xerxes blood have golden hairnote and gold eyes.
- Played with in Kemono no Souja Erin. There is a tribe called the Mist People, with green eyes and green hair. Unfortunately, they are associated with black magic. Interestingly, their unusual hair color is actually never brought up and it is their eyes that function as a stigma. Also Je, the First Shin Oh of Ryoza, and her people were known for their golden eyes and blond hair.
- In Naruto members of the Uzumaki clan are said to have red hair, including Naruto's mother Kushina, Nagato and Karin, and in the latter's case the red hair was actually an early clue to this. Naruto is the only known Uzumaki with blond hair and blue eyes, which he inherited from his father, Minato.
- In the Macross franchise, humans have hair colors that exist in the real world. Most characters with green/blue/pink/etc hair are at least part-alien (with the exception of one or two blue haired humans).
- In Magi - Labyrinth of Magic, members of the Fanalis tribe are immediately recognizable by their reddish pink hair and eyes.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, there are often a set of common hair-colours among various peoples, although averted as they are not uniform and not without exceptions. Of both Men and Elves, there are tribes who are dark-haired and those who are blond; Hobbits are generally brown-haired, while blond is rare.
- In The Lord of the Rings, the Riders of Rohan from the North tend to be blond, while the people of Gondor were chiefly dark-haired. Given the hierarchy he describes, this peculiarly puts blondness at the top and the bottom, among the good peoples at least (the blond Vanyarin Elves are almost sickeningly angelic, while the Rohirrim are supposedly lesser) and dark-haired peoples in the middle (the Noldor are troubled and rebellious, but still Elves and therefore more awesome than any human, while the Númenóreans of Gondor and Arnor are "superior"—whatever that means—to the Rohirrim).
- In this case, "superior" means "being friends with the Elves". Benefits included long lifespan and some ability to do things we'd call magic.
- The Silmarillion and Appendices explains that the Númenóreans are actually descendents of elves, which is the reason for their lifespan and so on and why their color is more like elven, whereas the Rohirrim are a later wave of humans that came after the majority of the Elves left Middle-Earth.
- Tolkien went further. The "swarthy" Eastern and Southron races were generally enemies of the "fair" races.
- Except when they weren't, such as the men of Bree, some non-Dúnedain Gondorians, some hobbits, the Woses, even the Wild Men of Dunland (who were antagonists, but weren't portrayed as evil). And some of the most evil villains were white- namely, the Black Númenóreans, who were pretty much Nazis IN ANCIENT EUROPE, wore the Hat of being a bunch of Evil Sorcerers, and produced such notables as the Witch-King and the Mouth of Sauron. Tolkien did use racial stereotyping broadly, but it tended to break down the closer into things you actually looked.
- Helps that Tolkien was totally in love with such tropes as Fallen Hero, Fallen Angel, and The Paragon Always Rebels. Any generally good group, including ethnic groups, have at least one guy who went evil. LotR is the struggle to finally defeat one such rebel/Fallen Angel type, Sauron. And Saruman was pretty much the Paragon of the wizards...
- Tolkien's Orcs are black, twisted, corrupted versions of Elves, according to the Silmarillion.
- In Andre Norton's Witch World, the Old Race of Estcarp (and formerly also of Karsten) are uniformly black-haired and pale skinned; their allies, the sea-going Sulcar, are blond. The people of High Hallack across the sea, whose ancestors came through a Cool Gate, are pale-skinned but usually have brown or blond hair, occasionally with a reddish tint.
- In Joy Chant's Red Moon Black Mountain, the races are divided by appearance, including an entire race of Dumb Blondes.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy 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 blond, fair-skinned Northerners who live in the mountains. Later, she expanded it to include a sort of dark-Caucasian islander race.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian universe, the barbarians of the north are divided into the Aesir, who are blond, 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, "The Hyborian Age". The racial descriptions given there are characterized by the very best racial science of his day.
- Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is full of these - notably, the tall strawberry blond Aiel and the short dark haired Cairhirenin. Jordan was effective in differentiating people based on geographical region, through appearance as well as speech patterns, dress, and customs.
- Harry Turtledove's War Between The Provinces is a fantasy retelling of the American Civil War in which the original inhabitants of the kingdom, who are blond, play the part of slaves to their dark-haired rulers.
- In the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, there are three types of white-skinned Martians, blond haired, bald, and red haired. Justified in that each of them comes from obscure, introverted, and somewhat inbred city states on remote areas of Mars.
- Aaron Allston's Doc Sidhe has three divisions of people on the Fair World: light (blond whites), dark (dark-haired whites), and dusky (blacks, Asians, Native Americans, etc.). That's right; the difference in hair color among whites is considered more significant than the differences in skin color among the duskies.
- David Eddings uses this a lot. The Belgariad and the Elenium have descriptions of people from specific lands who, though of the same race as their neighbors, tend to have characteristics specific to their own nationality.
- Justified in the Belgariad: The gods each picked out the people they liked and (effectively) inbred them. The places where the races mixed (Sendar, Mallorea) have the most sensible people.
- In Oscar Wilde's The Star Child, the eponymous child stands out among his adopted family and village because he is blond while they all have dark hair and eyes. Naturally, he turns out to be royalty.
- The Isles of Glory by Glenda Larke has this. Justified, because the people live on an archipelago with very strict citizenship rules and laws against interbreeding between islands. The main character is discriminated against because, not only does she not have a citizenship tattoo, her colouring makes it very obvious she's of Mixed Ancestry. Green eyes are found exclusively on one island, and they don't go with dark hair and skin.
- The Germanic tribes in Atilla are described as predominantly blonde, in contrast to the dark-haired Romans.
- In Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy, the races are often very distinct. For example, all people from Glacia have blond hair and blue eyes. All of the long lived races have brown skin, gold eyes, and black hair, with all Eyrien's having straight hair (it's mentioned when an Eyrien child is noticed to have a slight curl to her hair.) Children of half short-lived and half long-lived descent are easy to pick out; ie, Surreal, being half Hayllian half Dea al Mon, has lighter skin than a Hayllian, green-gold eyes, and pointed ears. The Dea al Mon are considered "short lived" with a lifespan of a hundred years or so, and they all have silver hair, light skin, forest blue eyes, and pointed ears (so they're basically elves) and so Surreal's coloring is believable; her hair is black while her skin is a bit of a mix, which is usually how genetics work, and eye colors do sometimes combine. Lucivar, being half Hayllian and half Eyrien, looks pure Eyrien because the only difference between the races is that Eyriens have wings. In fact, until he was born, no one knew his mother was Eyrien, as she was born with no wings (because her bloodline wasn't pure Eyrien in the first place) and passed as either Hayllian or as a Dehmlan witch.
- In the Ravenloft novel Carnival of Fear, the circus freak protagonists eventually flee the city of l'Morai, leaving it to stew in its own Fantastic Racism. Denied genuine human oddities to play All of the Other Reindeer Games with, the inhabitants are implied to have turned on one another: in the epilogue, a boy with black hair is shown being chased and taunted by a gang of blond youths, as if his hair color were a grotesque deformity.
- In Swedish fantasy writer Anders Blixt's novel Spiran och staven (The Quarterstaff and the Sceptre), the Termali of the sophisticated Vidonia region have a Mediterranean look, i.e. tanned skin and brown eyes, whereas the Wealdings (forest barbarians) are pale-skinned and grey-eyed. The Wealdings even use the word "brown-eye-ing" when referring to a Termali person. The protagonist Fox, who is of mixed origins, has brown eyes, pale skin, and reddish hair, hence the nickname.
- In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, the Irish characters are all red-haired.
- In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Blondies. Indeed, when Menelaus is viewing an old SF series and realizing it depicts the future (which didn't happen) as racism-free, a white man kissing a black woman is described as a Blondie kissing a Swarthy — the hair color trumps the skin color for the man.
- In Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl, Princess Anidori is recognised as from the country of Kildenree because of her yellow hair, and is called "the Yellow Lady" by her friends. The country of Bayern, where she was hiding, apparently has no blonde people.
- Most people in The Hunger Games District 12 look like Katniss and Gale, black hair, olive skin, and gray eyes. Mrs Everdeen is from the merchant class so she has blonde hair and blue eyes. Her daughter, Prim, takes after her. Peeta, the baker's son, and Madge, the mayor's daughter, also have blonde hair.
- A major plot point more than once in A Song of Ice and Fire. Several of the Great Houses are distinguished by their hair colour; Baratheons are jet black, Lannisters blonde, Tullys redheaded, Tyrells brunettes and Targaryens, the deposed royal house, a very distinctive platinum-white. These traits are reliable enough that Ned Stark becomes convinced that the Baratheon king's blonde children are not his own, which sets off the entire plot. This has also led to forests of Epileptic Trees that any character with white, light-blonde, or even dyed or shaved hair, is a Hidden Backup Prince poised to retake the throne for the Targaryens.
- On the other hand, there are plenty of people with these hair colors who AREN'T members of any of these families. It's particularly amusing to look at how much emphasis the Targaryens put on their distinctive looks (going so far as to marry their siblings to keep the look "pure"), only to realize that that appearance is only rare *in Westeros*. In Essos, silver-blondes are everywhere, and even in Westeros you have a bunch of other families (like the Daynes) who share the look but just don't make such a big deal about it.
- In Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island all of the wives on Rollrock Island are selkies, or seal women, who have have black hair and dark eyes. Meanwhile, the natives of the island and the mainlanders have red hair. Generations of breeding only with selkies has led to everyone on the island having black hair, thus making it easy to tell who is not from the island.
- In Poul Anderson's "Time Lag", he plays with it, by making the inhabitants of Vaynamo blond, with blue eyes — that are also slanted.
Live Action TV
- In Doctor Who, the two races on Skaro seem to be defined by hair colour - the warrior-race, Thals, are uniformly blond (mostly straight), and the scientific Kaleds have brown hair (mostly curly).
- In Angel, Lorne's species (technically known as Pyleans) all have long red hair to go along with their green scaly skin. Lorne's hairstyle is comparatively shorter than his kinsmen, giving the impression of highlighting his brown roots; it's all-natural, though.
- In Star Trek: The Original Series this happened so often it would be difficult to point out individual examples.
- A Vocaloid song series titled The Story of Evil makes several mentions of the Green Country, the people's defining aspect being thick green hair. Became a point of Fantastic Racism in "Daughter of White": the singer is a social outcast due to having white hair instead of green, and survives the Green Country's massacre because the Princess of Evil ordered that everyone with green hair be executed.
- 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.
- In Prose Edda, all members of the Niflung clan have "hair as black as ravens".
- Dungeons & 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 (with a wider range of pigments than humans). Conversely, humans in the D&D universe seem much more integrated and ethnically homogenized.
- The Kingdoms of Kalamar setting had several distinct ethnicities, not all of which looked European.
- The Mystara setting's Dawn of the Empires boxed set explored this trope a good deal, with humans from different regions of imperial Thyatis and Alphatia having distinctive ethnic phenotypes, as well as cultural quirks. Those ancient Alphatians who immigrated from another world included both pale-skinned and copper-skinned ethnic stock, with intolerant subgoups within each of these choosing to remain "pure" and not marry the other; the majority of Alphatians, however, consider ethnic bigotry secondary to anti-Muggle Fantastic Racism.
- Thyatis, and its former territory of Karameikos, subvert this trope by being host to many ethnically-mixed families.
- In the Hollow World, the Spell of Preservation tends to maintain populations' distinct physical traits across the generations. Even though intermarriage goes on, it's implied that descendents of such mixed pairings eventually breed their way back into one or the other parent ethnicity, eventually causing all "foreign" traits to vanish over time.
- Warhammer's Elves fit this trope to a significant extent. All three of the elven "races" are uniformly tall and pale-skinned, but most High Elves tend to have light blond hair, almost all Dark Elves have pure black hair and the Wood Elves have a mixture of blonds, blacks, browns and quite a lot of auburn. These colourations most likely reflect something of the moral characters of the kindreds - the High Elves being noble and good, the Dark Elves vicious and evil, and the Wood Elves capricious and mercurial, tending at times to embody both extremes. It is, of course, possible to paint elf miniatures with whatever hair colours one likes however. In contrast to the Elves, Warhammer's humans tend to be just as varied as their real-world counterparts, and no specific hair colouring predominates.
- In the NES version of Final Fantasy I, each town had its own uniform hair color and clothing color, due to graphical limitations.
- In Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers, about half of the members of the Selkie tribe, including all four major characters from that tribe, have red hair. Most of the other Selkies have blond hair. No non-Selkie with red hair exists in the game, so red hair is pretty much a "red flag" alerting you that a character is a Selkie. Blond hair, however, leaves an individual's tribe ambiguous; the protagonist has blond hair and is not a Selkie.
- Similar to Final Fantasy I, this occurred in the first-generation Pokémon games to some extent. Yellow had it so that each town was the color of its name (as all of the towns were named after colors). This also happened to the black-and-white Red and Blue, but only when played on the Super Game Boy and Pokemon Stadium; on colorized handhelds, the entire game was made either red or blue, depending on the version.
- Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword has redheaded Pheraeans, blonde Etrurians, and green-haired nomadic Sacaens. The former is notable since the the Heroine, Lyndis has bluish-green hair due to her Caelin mother and Sacaen father. May also count as Phenotype Stereotype
- In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, there is a more realistic version of this: you can tell where most people are from due to their hair color; most people from Jehanna are redheads, and a number of former Grado residents are blonde. However, just as many people are black/blue/green-haired, with varying countries of origin.
- While black hair is not unique to them, the Darcen Space Jews of Valkyria Chronicles all share it and are most commonly identified by that (given the games simple manga style).
- Depending on your interpretation of canon within the Chrono Trigger series, the people of the flying Kingdom of Zeal could qualify. They all have blue/purple hair, while the Earthbound Ones of the same era all have earth tones as their hair colors.
- In OgreBattle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, the two people. Indigans and Aurics, are differentiated by hair colors. Aurics are primarily blond, while Indigans have Blue, Purple and Black hair.
- The Serendipity ethnicity generator works on a similar principle, where the generated ethnicity has one hair color (or a narrow range) and one (or at most two) eye colors, in addition to skin tone and quirks of physique. A milder version of this trope.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars retcons the Mandalorians as an aryan race, always blonde with blue eyes. Later episodes show a few dark haired people, but in groupshots of the populace everyone is blonde.