Now here’s a staple of a lot of fantasy and, on rarer occasions, science fiction. Even such a puritanical writer as Tolkien, who once wrote of Morgoth’s lust for Luthien as his darkest, most evil desire (this about a guy who destroyed the first home of the Valar, poisoned the Two Trees and plunged the world into darkness, corrupted elves into orcs, and routinely enslaved, tortured, and slaughtered people with no more conscience than a shark — priorities, professor, really!), still had her getting it on with a human, and she wasn’t the only Elf to do so.
An awful lot of fantasy includes the kinky story element of mating between human and quasi-human, usually fertile mating productive of half-breed offspring. Very occasionally the same happens in science fiction between humans and aliens, for example the heavy petting between a human and a Tymbrimi in The Uplift War by David Brin, and the passion between a human and a Kreelan in Michael R. Hicks’ In Her Name: Empire. What’s this all about?
In a simplistic sense, sex between humans and non-humans falls under the rubric of “bestiality,” but wait — that’s not quite right. An animal is not just a living thing of another species, but also one of sub-human intelligence, incapable of speech, and in ordinary understanding not a full person. That’s not true of a quasi-human, whether fantasy creature or alien; such a being is of another species, but of human (or sometimes super-human) intelligence — definitely a person, an equal. So really, this isn’t bestiality. It’s more like souped-up, exaggerated interracial sex: mating with somebody different. The drive for genetic diversity and for widening the gene-pool.
Remembering that fantasy tends to have religious or spiritual themes and sub-themes, and that the fantasy elements of fantasy fiction can and should be understood mythically, as metaphor, what can we say about mating between humans and quasi-humans? This exists, of course, as a story in itself, probably a romantic sub-plot, but it may also incorporate any of the following:
- Challenge to or breaking of a taboo, thus touching upon similar taboos in human society, including racial mixing and homosexuality
Modern society is undergoing major transitions in sexual morality and has been since the dawn of modern times in the 15th century or roughly then. It’s easy to focus on the current controversy in micro (at the moment the main issue is same-sex marriage) and miss the big picture of how things have changed over the past few centuries. We have gone from a male-dominated society in which women were the property of men, with a subordinate and inferior status defined by law and custom (although usually with some established rights as well), to one in which women and men occupy equal status under the law and increasingly in custom as well. That’s an enormous change with implications far beyond things like non-discrimination in the workplace; since we’re talking here about relations between the genders, we are talking, among other things, about sex, and a change to the relative status of men and women implies a change in the rules regarding sex. In essence, we are in the final stages of a transition from a moral code aimed at protecting a man’s ownership of his female property to one based upon mutual respect and the right of consent. As such, many old taboos are being (or have already been) successfully challenged, at the same time as new taboos (marital rape, sexual harassment, gay-bashing) have arisen to condemn behavior that was once acceptable.
Along the way and at the same time, we are also dissolving the concepts of race, racial purity, and racial distinctions, so that taboos against interracial sex are also disappearing. The connection between this idea and sex between humans and quasi-humans is obvious and implicit. The connection with other taboos is not so obvious or explicit, but may be drawn by the author and sometimes is.
- Expansion of the concept of self, or of “us,” to include a quasi-human being or other races (or to include humans, taken from the other direction), through the medium of romantic love
There are many thematic possibilities here arising from inter-species sex. In a way, all mating does this, as any other person is, well, “other,” and physical joining makes one out of two, connecting two people on an emotional level and blurring the boundaries between the two. When the mating is heterosexual, which is of course the case the majority of the time, this bridges the implicit gap between the genders as well as from individual to individual.
Sex between human and quasi-human takes this same theme to a new level, as the lovers have a difference to bridge created by their different cultures. When this theme is developed by the writer through the image of inter-species mating, the character development aspect and the romantic relationship itself become more significant than the implications writ large.
- Bridging of hostility or reconciliation of conflict between two implacable enemies
When the species are hostile to one another, a third thematic element of peacemaking and reconciliation comes into play as well. A whole host of plot difficulties can be introduced as the conflict between the cultures works either to keep the lovers apart or to swing one of them to join the other side and betray his/her own people. But if we think of our current situation in human society as one in which stepping back from the brink of conflict is necessary for the survival of civilization (which it is), the potential for developing this theme in a fantasy context is quite large, provided a conflict exists between the species the lovers belong to.
In all cases, it’s important not to make the moral lessons or the metaphorical connection to today’s society too explicit. Not only does that make for better storytelling (remember that one of the cardinal sins of bad fantasy is to become preachy), it’s also more effective in communicating the necessary attitude change if the story impacts the mind on a subliminal level of feeling more than on a surface level of thought.