So I think I'll stay where I am
Civilization! I'll stay right here!
A character who is, due to their race or ethnicity, a member of a barbaric or savage tribe (or a group simply perceived as such by others), and because of it portrayed as nobler or of higher moral fibre than the norm. (Often regarded as living the Good Old Ways). In American works, the savages in question are quite often American Indians. In European works, native African people tend to be more common. Rare nowadays, except as a Sci-Fi alien- though it has made something of a comeback with the idea of Magical Native American people being more in tune with nature than the greedy white people.
Older Than Feudalism — Tacitus wrote of the noble Germanic and Caledonian tribes to contrast with his view of Roman society as decadent and corrupt, and even wrote eloquent Roman-style speeches about liberty and honor for "his versions" of Calgacus and Arminius. The trope has gone in and out of fashion over time, usually contrasting a decadent distrustful "city life" that a thinker feels has tarnished the essentially good nature of humanity. At different times, and in different hands, it has appeared in two main forms. One is that the life is strenuous and therefore the savage is nobly brave, hard-working, and honorable, though not by any means perfect. The other is that the savage is not greedy and does not have a taste for luxury and is content when he has what he actually needs, and so the life is ultimately easy and pleasant, without all the striving after more. (Still, do not get on their bad side.) In the USA, the Noble Savage came into style in the mid-1800s, about the time a lot of Western states/territories got their names. This left many geographical features with names of Indian (or at least Indian-sounding) extraction.
Frequently overlaps with the Proud Warrior Race Guy. Easily leads to Unfortunate Implications, a major one being that any problems a Noble Savage faces is a problem of not living up to an idealized character rather than the simple social implications of the world they live in. Another is that taking this view also tends to distort the actual reality of the Noble Savage in favor of the idealized image.
Arcadia brings in the same contrast, with a pastoral (or agricultural) society. The Noble Savage is usually of a different race than the city folks, where the Arcadians are of the same — by whatever definition of "race" is current for them.
Compare with Magic Negro and Ludd Was Right. Contrast with the Hollywood Natives, Corrupt Hick, Mighty Whitey (although the modern form of Mighty Whitey often co-exists with this trope) and Low Culture, High Tech. Occasionally refers to being "Of the People".
See also: Closer to Earth, Barbarian Hero, Nature Hero, and Going Native. Overlaps with Nubile Savage (the character's natural ways living by wits and strength have developed his/her body in a way that a softened city dweller never can).
- Iron Eyes Cody, the famous Crying Indian in the "People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It" public service announcements of the early '70's. Ironically, he wasn't actually Cherokee — he was Sicilian. And from New Jersey, to boot.
- In Tales of the Jedi, the Beast-Riders of Onderon are much more decent and honorable than the citizens of Iziz, whose rulers are part of a dark side cult. (They are also drawn as noticeably darker-skinned than Iziz's citizens, despite the fact that the Beast-Riders are direct descendants of people from Iziz who were exiled to the jungle. Presumably their skin darkened from more sun exposure.)
- Double subverted in the French comics De cape et de crocs: the members of the savage tribe are primitive white-skinned people, led by the only black-skinned member of their village, who is actually very educated.
- Eagle Free, the Native American Nature Hero sidekick of Prez. Even though Prez makes him head of the FBI he still lives in a tepee on the Potomac to better commune with his animal friends.
- In the Fan Fic of Avatar: The Last Airbender called Kataang Island Adventure, Aang and Katara come across an island tribe who live in the nude and developed a traditional way of life on their own. Their leader named Aratak is a hermaphrodite who accepts them as members of the tribe... and acts rather friendlier to them than the others do.
- Disney's Pocahontas. Historically, Chief Powhatan was very much like the Native American version of Napoleon before the English arrived.
- He is introduced as returning from a triumphant conquest, which ends up seeming out of character.
- Heck, you can still hear about "the spirit of Pocahontas" as you pass through the remains of the Indian village at Disneyland.
- Pioneering documentary Nanook of the North portray Nanook and the Inuk of northern Quebec as this, brave and noble, and expert hunters. This also comes with not a little condescension, like when they're described as "simple" and "happy-go-lucky". The film also deliberately played up the Inuits' traditional ways, since by then they mostly wore Western clothing, used rifles to hunt, etc. In the same vein Nanook is portrayed as comically unfamiliar with modern technology such as a phonograph, while the Inuit actor playing him knew very well what they were.
- First straight but then subverted in The Thin Red Line. The first Melanesian village welcomes the AWOL private Witt with open arms, and there he realizes that the villagers know the true meaning of "love thy neighbor". However, when he's forced back into the army, he visits another village, which unlike the first village had been traumatized by the war and the villagers avoid him with disdain while arguing with each other for petty reasons, not caring about the sick and older villagers. Realizing that the closest thing to a paradise on Earth has been corrupted by the hell of wars, Witt leaves.
- Avatar. The Na'vi are pure exemplars of the Noble Savage. Their way of life is depicted in the film as far nobler than anything on Earth.
- In Dead Lands Lawrence Makaore's character is a combination of this trope, and the Magical Native American.
- Just about every Lakota in Dances with Wolves.
- Averted with the Pawnee tribes, which are depicted as truly savage killers.
- A variant appears in Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai; the general theme is in place in regards to the Japanese, but the film presents them as sophisticated and civilized, rather than "savage". Colonel Bagley explicitly refers to the samurai as "savages with bows and arrows". In a bit of an inversion, the Japanese characters also consider the Americans savage brutes.
- Pretty much every main character in Jeremiah Johnson.
- The Aboriginal boy in Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout.
- Xi from The Gods Must Be Crazy (along with his whole tribe).
- Mani from Brotherhood of the Wolf.
- Totally subverted in Last of the Mohicans (1992) with Magua. Played horribly straight in every other adaptation.
- Richard and Emmeline of The Blue Lagoon, and Richard (son of the couple from the first movie) and Lilli in the sequel.
- Although the original inhabitants of the island practice human sacrifice.
- In the books, a savage state is portrayed as better in many ways, and the author shows the locals from neighboring islands as human, not better or worse.
- Sent up in Carry On Cowboy where Chief Big Heap is not only cleverer than most of the settlers (he clears out a saloon by yelling about a gold strike, and everyone charges out despite not knowing where they're going), but speaks using a posh British accent.
- The Marx Brothers film Go West, being a send-up of Westerns, features an inevitable Native American village complete with a medicine man, but more or less avoids this trope. When Groucho tries to impress a comely girl with a necklace, she tells him she wants a Cadillac sedan instead. Meanwhile the Chief and Harpo end up performing a musical number.
- Averted in Maverick by Joseph, who, although he's one of the more decent characters in the film, is still a talented con artist who's just playing up the Noble Savage idea to bilk money out of a wealthy Russian hunter.
- The Togrutas from Star Wars. Some of them even become Jedi.
- Skewered in The Rough Riders by the Apache drill instructor who assists in training the recruits. He turns out to be a Gentleman and a Scholar, who bids the recruits farewell with a speech that is both touching, badass and heartbreaking.
- "Lo, the poor Indian, whose untutor'd mind/Sees God in clouds..." wrote Alexander Pope in his Essay on Man (1733). This poem became so iconic and so lampooned for its vision of the Noble Savage that in the 19th century American West, "Lo" was a slang name for any Indian.
- The Osu in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series
- German writer Johann Gottfried Seume (1763-1810) was press-ganged into the army of Hesse-Kassel and shipped to Nova Scotia for the final year of the War of American Independence. Meeting the natives there inspired him to write a well-known poem, Der Wilde ("The Savage") in which a Huron is refused shelter during a storm by a white settler but when the situation is reversed does not hesitate to grant shelter to the white guy. Though not without telling him "We 'savages' are the better humans".
- The poem Totenklage by Friedrich Schiller, an attempt at creating a eulogy for an Indian warrior.
- The Leatherstocking Tales and The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish by James Fenimore Cooper.
- The poem Die drei Indianer ("The Three Indians", 1832) by Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau: An old Indian and his two sons curse the white invaders before committing suicide by riding a canoe down a cataract.
- Winnetou by Karl May is the most widely known example in many European countries (that is, all those where the films with Pierre Brice are regularly seen on TV). In the DEFA Westerns, Gojko Mitic played that role for Eastern European viewers. Both even gave rise to a Native American Reenactment Movement (so called "Indianervereine") on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
- Conan the Barbarian, who might be a thief and occasionally a murderer, but who was at least honest about it. However, compared to what some of the civilized people around him did, he could come off as a saint.
Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
- Parodied with Cohen (yes, inspired by Conan, but rather more elderly) and most of the barbarians we meet in Discworld. The approved method of 'assassination' used by barbarians is to gather all their enemies together for a feast, and then slaughter them while they're drunk (something really done by some "barbarian" tribes), and if anyone survives there's no hard feelings (Cohen actually went bounty hunting for one of his fellow horde members once). They consider "civilized" behaviors such as poisoning, mutilation and politics to be highly dishonorable.
- The Illuminatus!! Trilogy is highly cynical about almost every human organization in existence... except American Indian tribes.
- The Dragonlance novels (and corresponding Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting) are in love with this trope. They give us, to name a few, plains barbarians (represented by Riverwind and Goldmoon in the original trilogy), mountain barbarians, ice barbarians, and Kagonesti (Noble Savage elves), all of whom are extremely noble and Closer to Earth than the "civilized" races. Even the sea barbarians, who have mostly degenerated into a culture of piracy, are portrayed as noble Lovable Rogues.
- While this is largely true, the very first barbarians we meet in the series (Riverwind and Goldmoon themselves) are exiles from their tribe because they questioned their tribe's taboos, and Riverwind was only not stoned to death because Goldmoon intervened. Not entirely a rose-tinted view then, though arguably the barbarians were eventually Flanderized into this trope.
- Friday in Robinson Crusoe.
- Queequeg in Moby-Dick, although he's also somewhat sinister in his exoticness.
- In Lee Lightner's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Sons of Fenris, after Ragnor expresses a blunt opinion, Torin says one day he will teach him not to act like a barbarian. Ragnor retorts that you can trust a barbarian.
- John the savage in Brave New World. He gets shunned by the others in his village for being the son of an outsider, and takes refuge from his loneliness by reading an aging collection of the works of Shakespeare, which he quotes throughout the book. In the end, instead of indulging in a life of stimulation and ecstasy he opts for the life of a hermit, living out his days in an old abandoned lighthouse. And then he (apparently) kills himself.
- Alessandro in the novel Ramona. He is a young California Indian who is more noble, more faithful, and more honest than pretty much any white person around him. Not surprisingly, he winds up being Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
- Dune subverts this. The Fremen are a nasty lot. They leave their enemies wishing they were dead. They just suck them dry of their water. And by the time of the second book, they've become the shock troops of Paul's new empire and have carried out the worst slaughter in the history of The Empire's existence.
- Nation: To an extent, Mau, as contrasted to the "trousermen". But the book makes it clear that being a noble savage is a dirty job.
- Referenced in The Last Continent, in which the Dean thinks a book written in Ye Olde Butcherede Moreporkiane calls the Ecksian Aborigines "knobbly savages". There's then a discussion as to what "noble" actually means, concluding that behaving like nobility means "not paying your tailor", at which Ridcully takes another look at the illustration and comments "I shouldn't think that chap owes his tailor much."
- S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time plays this fairly straight with the Firnan Boholugi, subverts it with their enemies the Sun People and subverts it with the Olmec (much to the shock of some of the more naive characters).
- Also by S. M. Stirling, the Emberverse features plenty of Native American Characters, but most Native Americans appear just to be trying to survive in a post apocalyptic world.
- The Drúedain in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth works are depicted as a primitive but crafty human race with mysterious magic who are nonetheless staunchly opposed to evil. However, their "unlovely" appearance led many outsiders to mistake them for mere beasts, and their relationship with the other peoples tends to be difficult at best, with only the Haladin-affiliated Drúedain being accorded the respect they deserved. Even the relatively heroic Rohirrim used to hunt them like animals, and they responded by shooting anyone entering their woods with poisoned arrows. It's not until after the remaining Drúedain help the good guys defeat Sauron in The Lord of the Rings that they finally win some peace.
- Shockingly, mockingly subverted in State of Fear. Flying to a third world country, a vapid actor talks of how these people are so in touch with nature and how it's horrible modern men are intruding when it's obvious these natives are truly smart and cultured. His companions warn him how dangerous it is but he ignores them...and ends up being beaten to death, skinned and eaten by these "noble natives."
- A Swiftly Tilting Planet: The People of the Wind in L'Engle's novel; they are close to nature and pacifistic. They are contrasted with greedy and corrupt whites.
- Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus: Toyed with, then averted in the Orson Scott Card novel. One of the characters monitoring the past watches in despair as European explorers rape, murder, and plunder their way through a tribe of "gentle" natives in the Caribbean, and resolves to intervene. It is then discovered that Columbus' voyage to America was the result of an earlier intervention from a different future people, because without European influence, the Americas (and then the rest of the world) would have been subjected to an even greater atrocity, the complete subjugation by a local culture fanatically dedicated to human sacrifice. There is even an in-universe aversion: a man of pure Native American blood has to work very hard to convince the more European characters that his ancestors, left to themselves, really would have been that bad.
- There's also the issue of slavery. The watcher mentioned above who despairs is of African descent and wishes above all else to find a way to eliminate slavery from history. Then along comes a Turkish meteorologist claiming that slavery was a good thing, considering that it replaced human sacrifice. According to him, it was Noah himself who advocated slavery, along with a nomadic lifestyle, after his homeland of Atlantis (It Makes Sense in Context) was destroyed by a flood at the end of the last Ice Age. He points to the Americas as an example of societies where human sacrifice was common due to the lack of this transition from human sacrifice to slavery. This is a case of Critical Research Failure, though, as Pre-Columbian civilizations did practice slavery, although the slaves were more like indentured servants rather than property and earned their freedom after paying of their debts. Prisoners of war (those who weren't sacrificed) were also treated as slaves.
- The whole point of the novel is for the protagonists to somehow figure out a way of keeping the greedy Europeans from imposing their rule and worldviews on the Americas, while also removing the "savage" part from this trope among the American civilizations. To this end, they start unifying the various tribes under two banners with the goal of eventually joining the two resulting empires, while also teaching them a version of Christianity, modified to be a lot more tolerant and inclusive. The end result is Columbus personally leading an armada of 1000 heavily-armed ships to European shores as a show of force to get the Europeans to understand that Native Americans are not to be fucked with, while also offering them a chance at equal trade relations.
- In the Hoka series, the eponymous LARPing teddy bear people used to share a planet with a group of sapient carnivorous Lizard Folk, who the Hokas managed to overcome by setting up their civilization to resemble the Wild West, right down to referring to the Lizard Folk as "injuns". Once they realized they were beaten martially, the "injuns" began intentionally invoking this trope with gusto, writing bestsellers about the decline of their civilization and noble culture, and snagged the planet's best oil lands as reservations. They promptly used all the funding to bribe their way offworld, at which point they dropped the noble pretenses and were last seen on a casino planet, partying.
- In Dinotopia, large carnivorous dinosaurs in the Rainy Basin are depicted as sentient but uncivilized barbarians, though they have some form of culture and don't leave the Basin to hunt. There is, however, one Giganatosaurus named Stinktooth who clearly has a concept of honor and helps the protagonist after the protagonist rescues his son.
- During Galaxy of Fear: Clones, Tash Arranda is on good terms with most of the Dantari tribesfolk, but doesn't get along with their garoo, sort of their shaman or loremaster. Still...
For the second time, Tash saw past the anger that had built up between them. This time she saw why he had been chosen as garoo. She could see his mind at work, judging her words, judging her expression, reaching an intelligent decision. He wasn't using the Force or any other power, but he was probing her just the same, using only his wits. She realized that she had to stop thinking of him as less intelligent just because his people wore skins and hunted with primitive weapons.
- In The Incredible Journey, a Native tribe takes a half-starved bull terrier and Siamese to be spirits giving them a test, and are nice to them in order to bring good fortune.
- Notably averted in the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Police Procedural series by Tony Hillerman, which centers on the Navajo and other Southwestern tribes. Native Americans are portrayed as regular people who deal with stuff like politics and bureaucracy.
- A huge part of the appeal for Warrior Cats. You'd think people wouldn't want to live in the forest, only eating when they manage to catch small animals, having no medical care beyond the use of herbs, and constantly being at war with other groups virtually indistinguishable from their own. But ask the average Warriors fan if they'd trade their life for the life of a Clan cat and you'd probably get an unqualified yes. Being a warrior is often portrayed as a more noble and free lifestyle than the 'soft' life of a kittypet (house cat owned by humans).
- Both played straight and averted in Joseph Altsheler's "Young Trailers" series of books, set in and around Kentucky in the late 1700s. Some Indians want nothing more than to kill the white trespassers and take their scalps, while others are honorable and respectful, even of enemies.
- The Bazhir in Song of the Lioness, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Bedouin tribes. They're considered to be uncivilized and savage by most Tortallans and not all of them recognize the King, but they're also big into honor and ritual. Alanna winds up becoming shaman of one tribe and finds it a refreshing experience after the intrigues and complications of life in the palace, and the third and fourth books have them as flawed but definitely good guys, far more reliable than Tortallan nobles. (Pierce, who wrote this one in The '80s, has said she regrets playing so heavily into this trope.)
- Mercedes Lackey plays this trope very straight with the Hawkbrothers in her Heralds of Valdemar setting. Closer to nature than all the other countries depicted? Check. Superior knowledge of magic to everyone else? Check. Lack of taboos against things like homosexuality and premarital sex? Check. Utopian society that lacks poverty or other social ills? Check.
- Used in Zane Grey's ''The Rainbow Trail'' where the Navajo play a large role throughout the story. After spending time with them, the white protagonist, Shefford, comes to view them with awe and reverence, finding in their ways the spiritual fulfillment he's been seeking. He eventually comes to the conclusion that the White Man's influence does more harm than good and that said White Man should just leave the Indians alone. Averted in some places with mentions of more hostile tribes and with antagonist Shadd, described as a "half-breed" (We later find out he's not.).
- Magawisca in Hope Leslie, being one of the most morally exemplary characters in the novel as well as a Native American.
- Game of Thrones: While initially a wildling, Osha later tidies up a bit and settles down, though she's just as badass as ever.
- The Lone Ranger: Classic example: Tonto, faithful sidekick of the Lone Ranger.
- Two Rivers in The Forest Rangers.
- Stargate SG-1: Subverted with the Nox: they are actually a technologically advanced culture pretending to be Noble Savages.
- Davy Crockett: This is how Indians were portrayed in Disney's mini-series.
- HBO's Rome series portrayed Gallic (and therefore, savage to the Romans) leader Vercingetorix as some sort of noble victim.
- Leela from Doctor Who.
- Discussed on Star Trek: Voyager when the crew is stranded on a planet populated by alien Neanderthals.
Tuvok: (to Chakotay) You may find nobility in the savage, Commander, but he is only interested in killing you.
- The Stargate franchise is absolutely huge on the Noble Space Savage, almost too many examples to count. The Stargate galaxy is chocked full of neo-primitive human tribes, many of which — though not all — live in some way harmoniously with nature, and some of whom have experience with or even utilize technology without losing their "natural" wisdom.
- Star Trek has a long history of using the Space Savage, although typically in a cautionary role that makes a statement about people with power abusing those who are less fortunate or advanced than themselves.
- RunningWild's song "Uaschitschun" from Port Royal.
- Adam and Eve are noble savages of a sort. They live in uncorrupted innocence and harmony with nature until they partake of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, i.e. became "civilized". Since God's punishment includes the fact that man will now have to grow his own food, the story is often read as a metaphor for the dawn of agriculture, with the Garden of Eden representing a nostalgic take on the prior hunter-gatherer age. Some Europeans later viewed hunter-gatherers in the Americas as akin to living in Eden too. Even today, idealistic descriptions of hunter-gatherer societies will often make some comparison to Eden.
- In Deadlands: Hell on Earth, one of the few groups to weather Judgement Day were the Sioux Nations assembled in the Dakotas. They had sensed mankind's technology would be its undoing, and so had sworn it off. No one thought saturation-bombing the Indian lands was a worthwhile use of nukes. It doesn't change the fact that "Old Wayers" have a bad rep in the setting, though: general sentiment is they sit around gloating about how they were right.
- Warhammer 40,000: A non-playable faction of the Eldar called the Exodites has this as their hat: after The Fall of the Eldar, rather than taking the path of the Monk or the Hedonist, they chose to abandon all but the most essential of advanced technologies. It's their hope that they can be the noblest of Noble Savages, thus escaping the ravages of Slaneesh.
- Averted they're only this by Eldar Standards, they're still far higher tech than a number of human worlds. It's more "low enough that we have to actually work for a living" than hunter-gatherer.
- Also from Warhammer 40000, Tau propaganda depicts Kroot auxiliaries as this, and there's more than a little truth to the propaganda, too (though more savage than noble).
- Some Feral World tribes are this, as are the Fenrisians (Space Vikings), the best of which are allowed to join the Space Wolves (Viking-ier Space Vikings), and the White Scars (Space Mongols).
- Initially played straight in the Shadowrun products, then subverted with the addition of Native nations that abuse the land as terribly as any Mega Corp., and the revelation that their "noble" use of blood magic to re-take their land helped draw the Horrors to Earth centuries ahead of schedule. Also appears in-universe, both in NAN propaganda and in how some metahuman neo-tribal groups emulate pop-culture Native American motifs.
- While the Gruul Tribes from Magic: The Gathering as a whole are violent and are set on destroying the city of Ravnica out of revenge for treating them as slaves, there are members, usually shamans, who go for this.
- Hollow Earth Expedition, supplement Mysteries of the Hollow Earth. There are entire tribes of this character type in the Hollow Earth. They are regal and wise, respecting nature and trying to maintain the ecological balance of the area where they live.
- Venusians from Rocket Age fit this trope, being a tribal society run around socialism, democracy, honour and the hunt. Ganymedians are another example, seeing themselves as the protectors of the natural order. The hunt is also a central part of their culture and they write poetry about the nature around them by sitting down and 'wind watching'.
- Warcraft :
- The Tauren fit the Noble Savage trope well. Despite their fearsome appearance, they are no lovers of bloodshed, in fact they are immensely spiritual, and taking another life, be it man or beast, is an act of great significance and responsibility in their shamanistic hunter-gatherer culture. They're also a good candidate for the noblest race in the entire setting, as they have the honour of being one of the few factions who to date have not committed a war-crime against an opposing faction (something even the new Pandaren factions aren't free of), and Tauren villains are very rare, Magatha Grimtotem aside, and she's just a traitor amongst the Tauren, not the Horde itself.
- Furbolgs would qualify, especially the Timbermaw (one of the few tribes which isn't being driven mad by demonic influence).
- The Tuskarr, humanoid walruses based on Inuit and Pacific Islander cultures; and to a lesser extent, the Oracle tribe of Gorlocs (who are more a group of innocent Wide Eyed Idealists, except for one Deadpan Snarker). Although one of their quests has you steal wolven babies away from the tribe, and most likely incidentally killing their mothers. Ostensibly they're going to raised by the Tuskarr so that the Wolvar tribe doesn't get totally wiped out in the fighting, but there is no Wolvar orphanage to be seen only fat walrus men.
- For that matter, the Orcs qualify too, as long as they are not under demonic sway. This is exactly why the Orcs and Tauren got along so well from the beginning of the Orc campaign in Warcraft III.
- The Trolls are straight-up savages, though. The tribe that joined the Horde being the one exception. They're still savages, just not as evil as the other ones. While the Tauren are based on native Americans, and the Tuskarr are based on the Inuit, the Trolls are based on native African tribes. (Don't let the Jamaican accent fool you.) The tribal music, the masks, the shamanism, and the predilection for cannibalism all come from "deepest darkest Africa" savage stereotypes.
- The Serenwilde Commune of Lusternia. It was Seren druids who helped heal the ruined earth after the Vernal Wars, Seren wiccans who travelled to the Ethereal Realm to heal the fae... and years later, when Celest was on the brink of releasing The Taint, it was Serenwilde (and the other communes, who did not survive the resultant cataclysm) who advised against it. In the modern era they're more flawed, nuanced and interesting, but in the histories they were practically a Mary Suetopia.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- In the series in general, more often than not Averted with the Bosmer (Wood Elves), or at least the majority of ones who live outside Valenwood. Most Bosmer in Tamriel live in cities and work everyday jobs. The ones who do live in Valenwood, on the other hand, live according to the Green Pact, a deal their ancestors struck with the forest's patron deity which prevents them from harming any of the forest's plant life, leading to some... unconventional dietary choices, or forming any kind of industry as we know it - they can't cut down trees to build houses, so they use magic to reshape the trees into homes, and they can't mine iron or steel so they fashion their bows and blades out of bone and horn, and their armor out of leather or fur (when they bother to wear it at all). Despite this, most Valenwood Bosmer are rather light-hearted and approachable, and more likely to invite you to dinner than make you dinner.
- The series' backstory mentions the Lilmothiit, a race of "Fox Folk" native to Black Marsh as being primitive, tribal, and nomadic. Unfortunately, they were rendered extinct in the 2nd Era in a combination of conflicts with the Argonians and the Knahaten Flu. Exactly where they fall on the scale between "noble" and "savage" is thus unknown.
- Likewise, the Kothringi, a race of silver-skinned menfolk also native to the Black Marsh, were known to have a tribal and primitive society. If they were more "noble" or more "savage" remains unknown, however. It is known that they served in the legions of the 2nd Empire, which would make them seem more "noble" to human historians at least. Like the Lilmothiit, they were presumed to be rendered extinct by the Knahaten Flu.
- The series' Giants are a moderately intelligent and nomadic race, viewed as primitive by the other races of Tamriel. However, they tend to mammoth herds, generally do not attack others unless provoked, are capable of learning some basic Tamriellic speech, and will carry deceased Giants to sacred burial grounds.
- Played with significantly between the various Ashlander tribes. The Ashlanders chose to live nomadic, traditional lives in the barren Ashlands thousands of years ago when the "more civilized" Dunmer chose to adopt the Tribunal as their gods. The Ashlanders proudly keep the oldest Dunmer traditions alive, including their belief in the return of The Nerevarine. And it turns out they are totally right about that. To note:
- Played straight for the most part by the more peaceful tribes like the Urshilaku, Ahemmusa, and Zainab. During the time of the game, the Ahemmusa don't even have an Ashkhan, instead, giving war powers to their Wise Woman. (They are also, however, considered the weakest of the tribes as a result.) The Urshilaku are generally peaceful, and are the tribe most responsible for keeping the prophesies of the Nerevarine alive. The Zainab are the least 'savage', having developed a Settled Dunmer-like understanding of trade (and the fact that it can have political implications) and even going so far as to run an ebony mine of their own, for sale of the mined ebony to others. Each of these tribes, however, can still be prone to xenophobia against non-Ashlander Dunmer and especially toward any outlanders.
- The Erabenimsun avert it with their current leadership, which consists of mostly war-like and highly aggressive elders. They're known to raid nearby settlements and kidnap or kill most outlanders on sight. To complete the main quest, you'll need to get them to name you Nerevarine, but the current leadership won't do it. The Wise Woman concocts a plan to have you kill the warlike leaders and convince the peace-loving son of the former Ashkhan to take up the title.
- Rogue Ashlanders absolutely avert it. They attack travelers on sight and generally behave no better than standard bandits.
- From Bloodmoon and Skyrim: Played straight again with the Skaal of Solstheim, who are a nature-worshiping Nord tribe. They generally prefer to be left alone, but if a respectful outsider comes along, they are willing to communicate and barter.
- The Sacae in Fire Emblem Elibe comes across to be this at times. They are tribal nomadic people who are more honest and honorable than everyone else.
- The witch-doctor and the barbarian in Diablo III both fit this. The templar almost quotes the trope name in a bit of dialogue towards the end of the game.
- In the Metroid saga, the Chozo as a species are more Precursors than anything else, but one sect holes up on Tallon IV and eschews most of the trappings of the civilization, living as one with the local flora and fauna and gaining great insights along the way.
- The Clan of the Hawk from Wandering Ones fits this one to a T. They attempted to invoke this with William Ghostraven, but before the plague, he was a casino worker.
- A Discussed Trope in Schlock Mercenary. According to Petey, "The noble savage dies young, and all he has to teach you is that when the food runs out it's okay to eat the babies."
- In his review of Avatar, Mr. Plinkett calls the movie out on its rosy portrayal of the Na'vi (an Anvilicious stand-in for Native Americans) as utterly perfect, peace-loving space hippies in harmony with nature:
Plinkett: Let me let you in on a little secret: savage races without technology or money can be just as fucking brutal to each other as we can. Plus, they don't got things like antibiotics, indoor plumbing, or Taco Bell.
- The Dorkly article, “These Eight Characters are Definitely Going to Die”, includes in the list, "Honorable Warrior Guy".
How They’re Going to Die: Saying something about “ancestors”.Why: Definitely not because these characters are a mish-mosh of racist caricatures from the colonial era.
- Futurama: Subverted with the native Martians — they talk a good game about loving nature and respecting their native lands and all, but, once they discover that the "bead" their ancestors traded away their land for is actually a giant diamond, they have no problem at all leaving their "sacred lands" behind.
Martian chief: We'll buy new planet, and pretend it's sacred. With cash like this, who's going to argue? No one, that's who.
- There was actually a character named Noble/Savage in the Beast Machines Transformers series.
- Many of the less advanced tribes from Avatar: The Last Airbender fall under this trope. The Water Tribes (the home of the hero's best friends) and the Sun Warriors come to mind.
- The Foggy Swamp Water Tribe are a bit of an aversion, as they're played for humor as the embarrassing redneck cousins, but the 'live in harmony with nature' thing comes up here, albeit from a shaman who specializes in controlling plants by bending the contents of their vascular systems. In addition to some wise zen-like advice about the interconnected nature of all life, he also mentions that "Pants are an illusion"
- Also Averted with the Northern Water Tribe who are a massive city state on par with most Earth Kingdom cities.
- In "The Burns and the Bees", an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa assumes Muck Mu is a Noble Savage, but he actually enjoys killing whales for fun.
- Ultimate Spiderman has an example in the form of Ka-zar. He is a resident of Savage Land who speaks in broken English considers himself brothers with a sabertooth tiger and is pretty much the only thing in the setting that won't outright try to kill you. Bonus points for fitting the Mighty Whitey trope as well...
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated gives us Rick Spartan who spends his time exploring jungles alongside his wife and "Kachinga" In reality, Kachinga is an Oxford Student named Charles Wheatlesby but Rick pays him handsomely to feed his ridiculous fantasy and speaks to him in altered English as well as makes him carry a spear at all times. Despite this, Charles stopped short of wearing stereotypical "Savage" attire and the two argue about it.
- The Noble Savage trope is in part based on generalizations about Native Americans. There is a kernel of truth to the idea that they lived within nature, were not as commerce oriented, and had matriarchal input, but the problems of the trope come when this is idealized, and anything too "Western" is automatically bad, even in the face of all logic (for example, modern technology). People have been to known to demand that Aztecs be depicted as less sophisticated than they really were in order to fit in closer with this trope, complaining that terms like “provincial” and “months” ought to be avoided in favor of "country" and "moons" (never mind that the Aztecs had a solar calendar and an empire spanning central America). There are noble values in Western culture, too. There are noble values in any culture — and, because all human cultures are made up of real live human beings, some of the members of each one live up to their values and some don't. The reason that this trope has Unfortunate Implications is because it implies that this fact, which is true about all human beings, is not true about Native Americans — which, in turn, implies that Native Americans aren't fully human. In general, a common criticism of most post-colonial scholarship is that it tends to over indulge in this trope - unquestioningly praising "native" people and cultures while glossing over some of the less pleasant aspects. For example, Marshall Sahlins, who theorized that hunter-gatherer societies actually enjoyed higher standards of living and greater social equality than "civilized" humans, and dismissed those things that hunter-gatherer societies lack as not really worth having to begin with. Other scholars and researchers have also deconstructed this argument by pointing out the biases, selective lenses and idealized framing that tends to come along with this trope, as well as the tendencies for double standards and condescending attitudes. Sahlins is the source of the "original affluent society" idea for instance, claiming hunter-gatherer groups only needed to work about fifteen to twenty hours a week and could spent the rest how they pleased. However, he defined "work" as solely food gathering, excluding food preparation entirely. When this was added, it averaged around 40-45 hours of work per week-that is, around the same as most modern people in the West have.
- The trope also tends to vastly underplay the actual difficulties hunter-gatherer societies face, such as the commonness and sheer brutality of tribal warfare, famine, disease and personal and gender roles defined by necessity and mysticism, not to mention sky-high child mortality, all in a further attempt to portray civilized life as more decadent and less optimized in comparison.
- Additionally, most of what we know about Native Americans comes from the time when 90% of their entire population was wiped out by European diseases, likely spread by Cortes's contact with the Aztecs earlier. Before that, the natives had cities and actually cut down so many trees that some historians think that the resultant sudden rise in CO 2 helped stop the Little Ice Age in Europe (i.e. on the other side of the world). Monk's Mound is an example of Native American engineering, with earth for the mound being carried for many miles without the benefit of horses. The book 1491 goes into great detail, such as how the Amazon Forest resulted when the agriculture of native societies collapsed during these disease epidemics and plants essentially went wild (thus the lost cities in the jungle). So the image of Native Americans as almost entirely disparate tribal hunter-gatherers is because they were largely what remained afterward (due to being more isolated and thus escaping disease at the time).
- As for the whole "one with nature" thing its often not mentioned that primitive tribes are almost always responsible for the extinction of several species before complex civilization develops. The most grand example might be the extinction of North American mega-fauna (including the famed woolly mammoth) due to over hunting. When Europeans arrived the natives only appeared to be so in tuned with nature simply because of a combination of necessity and the fact the Europeans had no idea how far the environment had already been modified.