Here's the set up. You're reading a traditional fantasy. Something is attacking the land of the elves. At long last the invaders are discovered, and they are... intelligent rabbits.

My idea isn't quite that far out, but it is similar in nature. Assuming you aren't writing a comedy, how could you pull something like that off while still maintaining the serious, epic, LotR feel you're going for? More importantly, how can you introduce something potentially laughable, and have the reader accept it as part of the story?

My ideas:

At first I thought you should do it bit by bit. Find signs, tracks, rumors, that sort of thing. That would lessen the shock. The problem I see here is that doing so would increase the suspense, which could then result in a big let-down for the reader when the invaders aren't what he expected.

  • Why would you want to? Killer rabbits are funny. There is no way around it. Taking them seriously just makes it funnier. Or odder, which is just as bad, unless it is what you are going for. So what's the point? Is it about trying to find new ground in the post LoTR landscape, because I doubt there is any left. It's the most densely populated landscape in all of literature. If you want to succeed in a landscape like that, you do it be being better, not by being odder. I don't think it is possible to suggest a how without understanding the why. – Mark Baker Sep 2 '16 at 3:08
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    @Numi I'd imagine so, yes. I mean theoretically they could react as the readers would, and then quickly take things more seriously, but... what if the invaders' appearance is just really strange? Would it still be hard to get over? – Thomas Myron Sep 2 '16 at 4:20
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    Maybe you should look more at Lewis than Tolkien. Tolkien was very keen on creating a consistent mythos and really drew everything he used from a single source: norse/germanic mythology. Lewis, on the other hand, threw all the world's mythologies into a blender (which apparently infuriated Tolkien). Lewis's stories are much more intimate, of course. He cared more about the fate of souls than the fate of races. But he could also put Father Christmas and a faun in the same scene and not have anyone bat an eye, so there is your exemplar. – Mark Baker Sep 2 '16 at 12:35
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    If the core problem is that you're writing a LOTR ripoff, then I'm not sure just changing up the appearance of the bad guys is going to freshen things up all that much. Unless that's just the entry point for exploring some radically different territory. Otherwise, the problem isn't so much that you've introduced killer bunnies, it's that you've introduced killer bunnies into Tolkien's world (see: The Magicians). – Chris Sunami Sep 2 '16 at 16:20
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    @ThomasMyron - "Rip-off" was probably too accusatory a term. But keep in mind, all I know of your book is what you've told us. In my view, fantasy is open-ended by default. If you're working in a setting that's already so well-defined that the readers will consistently be able to tell you, the author, what is native and what is foreign, then you're writing in another writer's world. It's not as if you were writing a story set in Manhattan, and the bunnies invaded. This is a setting that you're putatively forging yourself. – Chris Sunami Sep 2 '16 at 17:47

Sure, if you say 'killer bunnies' it sounds funny, but everything can be creepy and be taken seriously, you just have to describe it right. I don't think it makes any difference whether you introduce them slowly or quickly, it just matters how you describe them and how you create the atmosphere.

Interestingly, creepy rabbit type creatures already have a precedent, so a little research into existing myths and legends might give you ideas on how to make them more threatening.

There is a very unsettling rabbit type figure in Donnie Darko, and the Yoruba people in Nigeria have a Hare god (we have a very creepy artwork of it on our wall which isn't cute in the slightest). I would also recommend looking up Nanabozho (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanabozho)

Personally I would avoid using the word rabbit, and don't even think about using the word bunny. Hare is better if you must use anything, but if it's a fantasy you could misspell it slightly so people know what you're on about but it feels kooky and wrong.

In summary I would introduce it the way you would introduce anything else scary, and focus on atmosphere.

The classic, critically acclaimed novel Watership Down is all about intelligent rabbits, and I don't recall it being a laugh riot.

The point being, it isn't the premise, it's how you approach it. What you haven't told us is why you, the author, are making a choice that you're personally having trouble taking seriously. To continue with the rabbits example, is it because you want to explore rabbit social structure as extrapolated to intelligent entities? Or because you want to evoke rabbit-like traits? Or because you want them to be underestimated, or their enemies (or the reader) to be astounded? If you have a valid reason for your approach, and you explore it in the story, initial resistance on the part of the reader should diminish --for most people.

You have to remember that any time you do speculative fiction, you're inevitably taking on concepts that a great many people find laughable. There are people out there you would lose the moment you said "land of the elves." I, myself, have never been able to get past the fact that nearly everyone in the superhero genre is some overpowered lunk traipsing around in his underwear. That hasn't, however, stopped people from writing any number of successful and (and often deadly serious) books, comics and movies based around that same core conceit. (Nor do they seem to have missed me from their audiences.)

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    The difference with Watership Down is that intelligent rabbits is the story. That's the setting, so there's nothing wrong with it. What I'm talking about is introducing something foreign to the setting. Readers aren't expecting killer rabbits, green men from mars, fifty foot lemons, or anything else like that in a novel that up to that point has been a traditional fantasy. – Thomas Myron Sep 2 '16 at 17:02
  • Incidentally, I would recommend you watch Unbreakable. Best and most plausible superhero movie I've ever seen, and no underwear to be found. – Thomas Myron Sep 2 '16 at 17:02
  • Putting your different comments together, it sounds like you're deliberately adding something foreign to the setting, just for the sake of it being different. That's inevitably going to be jarring. If your setting was more original, or if you had a more organic reason for the reason your invaders are the way they are, that would be a different situation. I did like Unbreakable, BTW. – Chris Sunami Sep 2 '16 at 17:41
  • @ThomasMyron Now I want to read a fantasy novel with attacking fifty-foot lemons. Just imagine the lemonade that's going to produce. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 2 '16 at 19:53

If you're not telling a humorous story, and your protagonists come across something which looks like it should be funny but ends up being deadly, then you have a Killer Rabbit situation.

Bear with me: In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the knights come across the Killer Rabbit in the cave. They protest: "It's just a harmless little bunny!" But the rabbit flies out of the cave and attacks them savagely. Being Monty Python, of course, it's taken for laughs ("Run away! Run away!"), but three armored, armed knights are killed in the charge.

So play it as if it were real: your protagonists see the intelligent rabbits and snicker amongst themselves about Oh look, the widdle bunnies, let's go talk to Mister Cottontail Fluffypants, and then the six-foot jackrabbit pulls out a pair of swords and lops the arms off the two guards sent to talk to her, and nobody's giggling any more.

Take your readers and your protagonists on the same journey. The MCs may or may not be tracking footprints, finding clues, whatever you'd normally do to set up an opponent. They come to the warren/camp/city and see huge angry-looking soldiers walking around wearing armor and looking irritated. Maybe you do the reveal from behind, so first we only see warriors, and weapons, and then one of the soldiers turns around... and it's a bunny.

The readers will be laughing at the enormous bunnies, right up until they moment everyone realizes they aren't funny because they're genuinely dangerous. Your killer rabbit characters are accustomed to being underestimated, and they use that to their advantage.

Make it believable.

If the fairies are small, they might well be threatened by animals harmless to humans. For example, mice do not find cats adorable, and thumbsized fairies probably wouldn't either.

But then cats are predators and would indeed eat small fairies, while rabbits (as far as I know) nibble on grass, so how could they threaten the life or stuff of fairies? Maybe they eat the grass-made houses?

To make the threat by rabbits (or whatever you have in your story) believable, take in the perspective of those threatened by it. If you write about rabbits from your human perspective, the rabbits munching the fairy huts will be laughable. But if you get yourself into the fairies and write how they experience this threat, the humor will be gone.

Think of pigeons. Many people love pigeons on the cities. They find them adorable and feed them. Now think about them from the perspective of city officials, who have to battle the effect of pigeon droppings on buildings and monuments, and the public health office, trying to contain the potential of human infection from pigeon droppings. You can tell that story in two ways: either you start with the parents-and-kids view and slowly shift to the view of the officials, taking your readers, who presumably start on the pigeons-are-adorable side, with you to the pigeons-as-problem side; or you start with the problem-battling mindset, focussed on the problem and leaving no room for the naive adoration.

In a more adult, action, mystery and suspense focussed rabbit-battling fairy story I would probably choose the latter; in a children's tale focussed on the wonder and strangeness, the shift from our world and views to the fantastic is common and I would probably employ that.


As to your musings in the comments:

If you conceive of fairies as human-like beings living basically human-like lives, then it is very plausible that they do not only have to deal with supernatural enemies. In fact they are no longer supernatural at all, but just a different species, and they will of course have to deal with all the everyday problems that all other species have to deal with as well, including their small grass huts getting eaten by rabbits.

But if you coneive of fairies as supernatural beings, then humanizing them in that way is indeed breaking believability. Supernatural beings are not part of any biome. Trolls do not get bitten by insects, even though they live in the gnat infested forests of Scandinavia; selkies do not get eaten by orcas; and faries do not have bad hair days. These beings exist only in relation to human thoughts and emotions, not to the physical world, and any problems they might have are derived from this relationship. They may have to deal with sin or feel bothered by humans sleeping on their fairy hills, but there is (to my knowledge) not one single traditional tale where a mole digs up such a hill.

So be careful what you want your faries to be. Do you want to humanize them, as has been the fashion in recent fantasy? Or do you want to tell of them as the powerful mystery that they were once believed to be? You cannot have both.

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