Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Elder Races

Races which have been in the world – or the Secondary World – for so much longer than contemporary folk that their still-living representatives, in their very persons, constitute a Time Abyss. ERs usually date back to the period when the basic underlying Story which secretly or openly governs the present world was first told; and they have normally played a significant role in that basic Story (unlike some of the more frivolous denizens of Faerie). An ER is not, therefore, simply a race older than other races; it is normally one that has helped shape the races which follow. Contemporary folk may be able to trace their descent from ERs; on the other hand, ERs may be of different stock entirely, like the Elves and dwarves (see Dwarfs) who feature in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955). The continued existence of an ER may be unknown or known. It may take the shape of a Pariah Elite or inhabit a secret Polder; it may dwell openly in the new world or in Wainscot fashion, or inhabit an Otherworld, visiting the current one only on occasion. An individual member may be recognized or unrecognized, and may be introduced into the text as a Fool, a strangely wise Companion, a God, a Magus, a Trickster, or any other figure whose gifts and/or presence is not fully explained by his or her ostensible role or Talents. But whatever the contemporary role of an ER, there will be an underlying tendency for that role to knit together the present and the past, so that present events ultimately affirm the true nature of the underlying Story that shapes the contemporary world.

ERs are also commonly found in tales of cosmic Horror by writers like H P Lovecraft, whose Cthulhu Mythos elaboratedly describes members of an ER who awaken from Malign-Sleeper repose and terrify unto death contemporary humans. In Lovecraft, and in his imitators and admirers, ERs are normally presented in terms of a time abyss whose effect is infinitely to disparage contemporary humans, in direct contrast to the effect in fantasy. In Supernatural Fiction, ERs may be nonhuman (Vampires and Werewolves are often relics of ERs) or may have some ancestral relationship to humans (as in most tales which make use of Theosophy or other confabulations). ERs may appear in Fantasies of History, but in a fashion which affirms a sense that their Story unveils the Matter of the world. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.