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If you're upvoting this question and are capable of also voting to reopen it, please consider doing so. It has received four votes to reopen before edits, as well as multiple upvotes since it was put on hold, which tells me that not everyone agrees with the decision.

The reason I believe the question should be reopened is because the reason for putting it on hold, that responses would be "primarily opinion-based," shifts responsibility for the responses to the OP in a way that the OP can neither anticipate nor do anything about.

The trope that I'm asking about is not new and it appears in multiple cultures and media; but while literary traditions exist for responders to cite, there is nothing I can do to compel responders to do so. Responses can be extrapolated from the social sciences regarding how different people and different societies and cultures relate to gifted children, both currently and historically; again, I can't compel anyone to cite that research.

Finally, it seems any question that's not about physical geography is open to opinion. Several recent examples could be

Plausible reason for women not to be allowed outside settlements?

Subverting 'evil humanoid' (orcs, goblins, etc.) tropes

What would the psychological effects be on a child who grew up knowing they could never really get hurt?

To paraphrase TCAT117 in the last question, these types of questions are not about hard sciences. Any of them could be answered solely with opinions. But beyond asking for citations, there's nothing the OP's can do about it.

While I tried to ask my question in a fun, lighthearted manner, I know there are literary, historical, and cultural sides to it that I would never find on my own. The areas involved are too broad for that.

Two more votes are needed. I would appreciate seeing the responses those votes would enable. Thank you.


So, a little backstory:

I'm working on a world with similar elemental races similar to the Genasi in D&D, or the Oreads/Ifrits/Sylphs/Undines of Pathfinder. There are several "rules" that I've made for the race, since they're inherently magic.

  1. They're not just people with an "affinity" for one element or another. They're basically element-based sorcerers.

  2. Although they can be of any race, their elemental powers are "recessive" - it's not always genetically determined, but it takes the right combination of parents' genes, or just the right magical circumstances in combination with one parent's recessive gene, for the Elemental to have powers. This makes Elemental infants relatively rare. Averaged over a century, you would expect no more than 2%, and no less than 1%, of children born in a given year to be Elementals.

  3. Since they're magic, like Elves, Elementals' lifespans are more like Elves' lifespans - say 500 years at least.

Now, something that's always bothered me about Elves is that they usually age at the same rate as Humans until they hit twenty, and then they just seem to stop aging. Or just never get older than Hugo Weaving playing Elrond at 40. So I started to toy around with that, and Elves in this setting do age linearly...

  1. ...but I thought that because they could come from any race, "the Elementals age at the same rate as humans (or other baseline race) until age twenty" would make more sense for them.

Then I began thinking about the fact that elementals really don't have Elemental parents to look after them. So that reminded me of an old wives' tale about snakes:

The legend goes that young snakes have not yet learned how to control the amount of venom they inject. They are therefore more dangerous than adult snakes, which will restrict the amount of venom that accompanies a bite.

http://www.livingalongsidewildlife.com/2009/10/are-bites-from-baby-venomous-snakes.html

  1. So to protect themselves, the Elementals have access to all their powers as soon as they're born - but don't understand this or know exactly how to control them. Please note, this includes not needing food or water to survive and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures. So it's unlikely that an Elemental infant would die of exposure. And, not to be redundant, but if anything tried to hurt them their reflexes would kill it, too. This might create evolutionary pressure for other predatory species not to go anywhere near an Elemental infant, but given how rare these infants are, I don't know if there would be enough of them to create that pressure.

So basically, you have toddlers who can create tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or firestorms while throwing tantrums... with no understanding of what they're doing.

How would different societies react to this?

Responses that cite references - literary, theological, or from the social sciences - are preferred.

I don't know if this might affect responses or not, but given that they outlive humans by several centuries, as adults Elementals comprise 5% - 10% of the global population.


More references for the snake-y baby myth, if anyone's interested -

http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Snake-Myths-and-Facts/

https://viper.arizona.edu/faq/baby-snakes-are-more-dangerous-adults-right

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Mołot, L.Dutch, Aify, SPavel, HopelessN00b Apr 12 '18 at 14:37

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ So have elementals bred with all the major races in the past? i.e. is there a 2-4% for children of any race to be elemental? $\endgroup$ – frodoskywalker Apr 12 '18 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ @frodoskywalker - Yes, that's the short version. The long story is that 1. all the different races (orcs, elves, humans, etc) are all descendants of the same progenitor race that differentiated when they were exposed to different types of magic - arcane, fey, whatever. (It always bothered me that you could get both half-orcs and half-elves in D&D with no explanation of how two completely different species could have viable offspring.) And 2. the Elementals had kids with that progenitor race. So the recessive genes are in every racial variety. $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Apr 12 '18 at 6:54
  • $\begingroup$ If the elementals don't need food, water and live a very long time, how would there be any society(except an elemental one) left? Considering a baby could create a tsunami which would wipe everything except himself and other elementals in a wide area it doesn't seem likely that there would be anything but elementals left on earth no? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Robert Apr 12 '18 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ Since humans age rapidly from birth until about 21 years old, then 'slow down' for a while, it might just be that this "slowing down" is more drastic in your elves & elementals. So, if a 'typical' elf lives for 400 years, and a 'typical' human lives for 100, then an over-20 (post-puberty) elf looks roughly like a [20+4*(age-20)/19] yr-old human. (Adjust ratios as necessary for typical elf-lifespan) They might also have a rapid-aging drop-off at the end when their magic can't help keep them youthful any more? $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Apr 12 '18 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ most realistic ... killer infants with elemental powers Ow, my brain. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Apr 12 '18 at 14:37
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The question is how do adult elementals feel about the issue?

If they want there to be more elementals who haven't been raised by wild dogs, then they might adopt these babies. This could become an established tradition that if a normal couple has an elemental child, they will put it up to adoption (they might not even have a choice about it, depending on governmental regulations).

If adult elementals would rather get rid of their future competitors then they would go and kill these babies, or at least cull the most dangerous ones.

If the adult elementals are largely indifferent to the problem, then normal people will have to deal with it. Normal people would definitely not want to live near a family with such a baby in it and might run them off their land, or force them to get rid of the baby.

But they would know that just taking it out into the forest would only cumulate the problem because then the dangerous baby would grow up to a dangerous adult who can't even be reasoned with and has no emotional attachment to humans. It wouldn't think anything of killing a few just because they are bothering it, so they would find a way to get rid of the baby safely. Probably by giving it to the government (who has the resources) to train them into soldiers loyal to the crown/state.

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    $\begingroup$ Right, how do the adults feel about it? "tsunamis, or firestorms". Normal humans would probably just try to kill them, and any potential mother, off, if possible (X-Men anyone?). Such babies would be a blight to the region they inhabit, potentially killing people in the thousands over the first years of their life. I'd say that if adult Elementals care about such babies, there would be constant wars, which normal humans would most probably quickly lose. $\endgroup$ – r41n Apr 12 '18 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ @r41n an important question is, "how would elemental parents control elemental baby tantrums?" $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 13 '18 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn, right, or even "can they?". There's no "off-switch" for tantrums of normal babies, you sure would need an army of nannies to keep those bad-moods in check :) $\endgroup$ – r41n Apr 13 '18 at 7:00
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Assuming a reasonably large population of people could survive being regularly bombarded with floods, earthquakes, and forest fires, my guess is that the act of giving birth to a baby is itself dangerous. Likely pregnant women are banished from the village for a period of time until they give birth, and only until for a period of time deemed necessary for awaiting potential indications that the baby is elemental.

The mother may die, either through childbirth or from the child being an elemental and unwittingly killing the mother. Of course the mother could not birth the baby on her own, but given the danger of the act, it would be too dangerous for a mere midwife. The odds would tend to suggest that 1 in 20 babies born have a strong possibility of killing a midwife, so logically the task would probably be given to someone in the family, perhaps the mother of the pregnant woman. Midwives, having more experience, would obviously be better suited to help deliver the baby, but since this isn't possible, the possibility of children dying at birth would be higher still.

Only after a grueling period of banishment would the woman and her new child be welcomed back into the village. If the child were an elemental and somehow the mother survives childbirth, they'd have to remain banished more than likely. The mother may be given the choice of abandoning her child so that she may return to the village also. Many mothers may do so in fact, meaning the number of mothers who prefer to be banished and tend an elemental child would be rare indeed. I would argue so rare that nobody would assume that their abilities are something which could be one day controlled.

Very few elemental babies would grow up to be adults, and the first thing they'd learn no doubt would be to keep their abilities to themselves. Therefore more likely than not, elementals would be hidden amongst society because they choose not to use it. They'd also probably prefer to hermit themselves away from society, not being raised in an environment conducive of being social or understanding social norms.

The ones who use their abilities would likely be lynched by people who condemn the use of this strange magic, even if the abilities are used for the good of others. There may be a religious movement behind such a phenomenon, but those with this ability would likely be deemed demons, not saviors.

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So basically, you have toddlers who can create tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or firestorms while throwing tantrums... with no understanding of what they're doing.

How would different societies react to this?

Show no mercy, and kill them as soon as they are discovered. Sure, you think it's heartless, but the needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few.

In addition, there might be mandatory genealogies, and "The Church" approving all marriages. Girls who get pregnant out of wedlock have forced abortions if they don't cough up the father's name.

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You're maybe missing a point here: an elemental baby who cannot control their powers quickly kills their parents in an accidental flood/fire/etc. And then the baby dies itself, of starvation at the very least.

So you either have even fewer elemental people being raised, perhaps lucky enough to get to an age where they can fend for themselves, and end up running wild - thus elemental adults are loners, or outcast from society they were never part of in the first place; or you have to change the scenario so that these babies don't develop their powers until they're older (usually puberty is common).

Of course this also allows for the idea that elemental adults might try to find and adopt these destructive babies (assuming that an elemental adult can avoid being killed by the same elements they can handle) to build a form of society for themselves or to protect the society of the everyday folk.

Interesting stories to consider: The film Looper has a child in it that has powers. Also A World of Ptavvs that concerns itself with a society of entities with powers that could provoke more thought on how society would develop.

PS. In Runequest (IIRC) Elves stop ageing (past puberty) whilst they live in their forest, which gives a reason for both immortality and why they mostly stay put and don't venture out too often, and why you can have both old and young elf people.

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your first paragraph, see this sentence in the 5th numbered point in the question: "Please note, this includes not needing food or water to survive and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures. So it's unlikely that an Elemental infant would die of exposure." $\endgroup$ – dwizum Apr 12 '18 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ @dwizum if you don't need food and water to survive, then you are -- at best -- in a state of suspended animation, like tardigrades. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 15 '18 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ @dwizum well, apart from being a bit unusual to have a baby that doesn't need to eat, uncared for babies can die from all manner of other factors that parents protect them from. That's why we're instinctively wired to protect them! $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Apr 15 '18 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not agreeing or disagreeing. Just wanted to point out that the OP had mentioned that the babies wouldn't need food, water, or protection from exposure - while your answer is built on the premise that babies would die of starvation, which made me wonder if you'd missed that part of the question: I figured you might want to edit your answer to reflect this if you had in fact not considered it. $\endgroup$ – dwizum Apr 16 '18 at 12:52
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So basically, you have toddlers who can create tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or firestorms while throwing tantrums... with no understanding of what they're doing.

How would different societies react to this?

They would react just the same way that the highly advanced civilization of Atlantis dealt with overwhelming forces of nature: they would collapse and disappear from the world.

Alternatively the material plane races would collectively introduce tax-funded adoption, planned parenthood, child support and whatever the elemental equivalent to abortion is to the elemental planes. This just might keep those baby nukes to a low in the material plane.

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by child support? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 12 '18 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn let.them elementals.raise the kids where they will not level the material plane. Teach elementals do adopt and stuff. $\endgroup$ – Renan Apr 12 '18 at 6:55

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