For today's installment of the "Meet" series we are going to look at the first non-elf friend that Riorik made along his journey, Wuffred "Hugh" Klienhart.
When I set out to write The Ascension Legacy, I knew from the beginning that it would include a variety of typical races found in fantasy books, shows, movies, and games. I wanted to show these different races interacting with one another in ways similar to how we interact with people of differing ethnicity, cultures, religions, beliefs, etc. I wanted to incorporate the inherent divide that comes from having groups of people with different backgrounds, appearances, experiences, and capabilities but at the same time show that people from these different groups could look beyond those superficial differences to connect at a deeper level and become friends where others might see them as enemies.
It's no secret that art often imitates life and when we look at the historical descriptions of fantasy races and their distrust of other certain groups we can see that the stigma of our own social biases of the past influenced those designs. Rather than abandon the status quo, I wanted to show these races evolve and learn that the biases of the past do not necessarily define the future or inherently apply to everyone. We in the real world hope to learn from the mistakes of the past to create a better tomorrow so why not incorporate some of that in my story too? The book isn't a veil for some social commentary about racism or any other forms of discrimination but rather draws inspiration from the real world as a means of making the story and the world in it more relatable to the reader.
Enough of the general introduction and overarching racial themes applied throughout the book. This post isn't about that. This post is about Riorik's human friend and fellow Ranger Wuffred "Hugh" Klienhart.
Truth be told, when I first decided to make "Hugh" a key character in the story, I hadn't given him a name. My storytelling process is very organic and fluid so Hugh was not an original character that I knew would exist when I first sat down to start writing this epic adventure. He was a character that was born from a need to introduce another layer of conflict and complexity to the story. I knew what the adventure's end game was but that left a lot of stuff in between that had to be developed. As my plans for the story evolved and changed, I felt the story needed another character that would be the impetus for Riorik and Nordahs to leave home and become the catalyst for their grand adventure.
With Riorik's personality in mind, I wanted to create a character that was in an equal or worse social state than Riorik. I wanted to show that Riorik would rather befriend another social pariah than look to inflict the same emotional damage on another that others had projected upon him to be accepted by his peers. Also wanting to show that race does not have to be a consideration for friendship, I wanted whatever character Riorik would befriend to be of a different race. This led to Hugh's creation as a human outcast living among elves who didn't like him. When it came time to name him, my initial thought was to name him using a play on words, Hugh Man for the human character. As the story evolved, I chose to make that name one that was forced upon him by oppressive elves that he then depended on for his survival. When it came time to explore Hugh's background and origins I knew that he needed a "real" name.
The surname Klienhart is just a name I came up with that seemed consistent with the surnames of humans in similar fantasy settings. To name him Wuffred Smith just wouldn't sound right in that setting and I wanted something more authentic to the fantasy world in which he exists. Wuffred, however, has its roots in a name that is connected to my wife's family. My wife's late grandmother's last husband was named Walfred but everyone referred to him as Waff. Walfred sounded like something you might expect to find in lists of names from people in the Middle Ages, an era commonly associated with the armaments and environment of classic fantasy settings. Not wanting to blatantly name the character after my wife's real-life relative, I tweaked the name from Walfred to Wuffred. It still held that kind of old-school sound while still being something that might be considered plausible for a character in a fantasy setting.
When it came to defining Wuffred's physical attributes, again, I associated some of his appearance with my own. I'm a white male. When I was younger, I was thin but had some muscle. I wanted Wuffred to appear to be around the same age as Riorik and Nordahs, even though humans and elves have drastically different lifespans and age at wildly different rates. Wuffred, as someone in his late teens or early twenties, looked to be of similar age as his elven friends but in reality, they were decades, perhaps even centuries, older than him. The blonde hair I sported as a child has since turned brown and so Hugh got brown hair. I made him look like a generic human with a few minor characteristics that he would share with me.
Some might question my desire to make Hugh a white male and make an argument that my being white, making my character white was either an intentional or unintentional attempt at not including humans of other colors in my story. Or "whitewashing" my story to exclude others of another ethnicity. Well, the truth is the opposite of that. While I recognize and appreciate the fact that humans come in a variety of skin tones, I made a very conscious decision to make Hugh white to demonstrate that any animosity aimed toward him by the elves had nothing to do with his skin tone but entirely just about the fact that he was not one of them. With Riorik, Nordahs, and most of the other elves having been described as being light-skinned, I wanted Hugh to have a similar skin tone but still be ostracized by the society around him. I wanted the conflict around him to transcend the simple argument of color. I wanted to demonstrate that social biases can be about more than just skin tone. How Riorik was shunned by his people because of a negative social stigma projected upon him because of the actions of a family member.
When it came time to develop Hugh's personality, I based a lot of his initial emotions and reactions on what I would anticipate someone lonely and desperate for friendship to be like. He was hesitant to engage anyone but once he, Riorik, and Nordahs had gotten over that awkward hump on their path to friendship that he was entirely devoted to his new friends and would voraciously defend the integrity and safety of the few people who accepted him despite their differences. Race was not a condition or consideration in his friendship with Riorik and Nordahs. Hugh looked beyond the racial differences to trust and love his elven friends. The trio shared a mutual respect for one another.
As the story progressed, it was revealed that Hugh was a berserker, a being capable of extreme strength when angry like The Hulk. Berserkers are a somewhat common type of person in many fantasy settings and one that I particularly enjoyed in a classic anime called The Record of Lodoss War. The unbridled fury and ever-present danger to those around a berserker made the idea of including a berserker tantalizing. Hugh's uncontrollable rage would open the door to a wealth of possibilities in the story and would eventually be the foundation of the group's departure from the ranger's guild.
Later parts of the story explore Hugh's desire for love and his connection to a special someone. But even that relationship is based on a meshing of races that are canonically at odds. If friendship is not limited by something so base as race then why should love be any different?
Character art by Josie Hanna
Previous entries in this series: