Leftover People in Fiction

I wasn’t able to track down the 19th century book that inspired this post, but I suspect the book itself was the work of a theosophist (perhaps intentionally) over-applying the hindu concept of yugas and turning it into something more like Western concepts of magic.  Whatever, I’ll just lay out some of the things that are on my mind:

In that book, it was asserted that there is a Middle Eastern concept of cyclical creation and destruction (there isn’t as far as I can tell) wherein man’s world is god’s seventh iteration of the idea (maybe more, maybe less? don’t remember).  Holdovers from previous versions of creation include djinni, who iirc were kinda sassy about the situation.

In the TTRPG Feng Shui, which is similarly Orientalist but in a 1980s ninja ultimate power sense, there were sites in the world with cool mystical power, and whatever faction grabs the most of them gains some control over reality.  The previous owners of reality can skulk off to a netherworld outside of time to scheme a return to power.  So, like the djinni aforementioned, these guys are misfit leftovers from an earlier version of reality.

In the TTRPG Kult, something like judaeo-christian cosmology is sort-of true, but much nastier.  God, there called The Demiurge, has vanished into a hole, leaving his Archons in charge of maintaining humanity’s prison – an illusory reality called Elysium which prevents us from realizing our godhood.  There’s a lot more to the game that I won’t get into here, but central is the idea humans used to be god-like beings, running reality from an ur-city called Metropolis.  In that capacity, we were nasty ourselves, conquering other races and destroying their worlds.  The leftovers of those realities ended up – again – in some kind of netherworld slowly crumbling into an engine of oblivion called Achlys.  Reality leftovers.

It’s just an interesting idea to me – people who don’t belong in the world, persisting, watching other people prosper in their stead.  Envious?  Miserable?  Free, in a sense, but dying out.  Can you think of more examples?


  1. says

    u might be thinking of relating this to some real life peoples’ real struggles. that might be best avoided, even if the echo of it may be responsible for some of the emotional impact of this theme in fiction.

  2. suttkus says

    Galactus from Marvel Comics is the last survivor of the previous incarnation of the universe. His mother apparently also survived, but I am not familiar with her character.

  3. says

    i feel like i’ve read that. marvel’s got a lot of rejects and netherworld / basement dwellers, of whom many are villains. not planet monchers but still naughty.

    the human race had their homeworld wiped out by the cylons in battlestar galactica, right? and doctor whom’s peeps. bet we can come up with a lot more.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    At the end (spoiler!!1!) of Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, a Terran spaceship – having reached almost the speed of light, with accompanying time-dilation effect – zips through a Big Crunch and subsequent Big Bang, and the crew makes plans to get a head start on, and permanent domination of, all life in their new universe. Great starting point for a series of rebellion novels…

  5. JM says

    Tolkien has some bits that play on this in the Lord of the Rings. This world was made for humans. The elves are really the construction crew and destined to leave. The dwarves a side project by one of the gods but the creator god carved out some space for them. All of the non-human races eventually must leave or die out. There is a certain amount of envy among the elves but the elves recognize they get immortality and physical superiority.
    It’s largely one of those things that just gets a bit of passing mention in the story. You have to look into the background notes of the world’s history to get a sense of it.

  6. lochaber says

    I haven’t read much since the 90s, so I don’t know how well it holds up to my current views/standards/etc., but if you are ok with fantasy, some of Michael Moorcock’s series has a protagonist from a dying race, or displaced, etc. Elric is probably his most famous/popular. I forget the name off hand, but there was another with a lot based on Celtic mythology/etc.

    I feel like a lot more of the sf/fantasy stuff I’ve read involves the protagonists encountering remnants of elder civilizations/etc.

    I think there is a touch of both in Iain M. Bank’s culture series. The first one (Consider Phlebas?) focuses around a character fighting against The Culture, which is pretty much indomitable/overpowering. In a later book (Excession?), they encounter something older than the universe, and if I remember correctly, there is a model speculated that multiple universes form concentrically, expand, age, and die, and this something has the ability to drop down into younger universes from older ones? I dunno, it was a while ago when I read it, I may have gotten that all wrong. Any ways, not terribly applicable, but I think Bank’s stuff is worth a read if you haven’t already. Some of his earlier stuff is pretty… fucked up? but I think his writing kinda mellowed over time.

    I can’t think of anything else off-hand, but maybe something will pop up during my commute tomorrow or whatever.

  7. says

    pierce – dirty terrans!
    jm – i distinctly remember some hogwash from a tolkien adaptation about how hobbits were evolving into just more humans. ancient memory tho, can’t pinpoint it.
    loch – elric casts a long shadow over the entirety of dark fantasy, so i hear. leftover people, despite the scifi examples, has big dark fantasy energy. thx for the reading recs.

  8. jenorafeuer says

    I think the ‘hobbits evolving into just more humans’ bit was from the Rankin-Bass animated ‘Return of the King’ adaptation, which was probably better known for the infamous singing orcs (‘Where there’s a whip, there’s a way.’) It was an adaptation created because Rankin-Bass had previously done ‘The Hobbit’, and Bakshi’s attempt at an animated Lord of the Rings adaptation was over-budget and under-performing and so he wasn’t allowed to make another movie after the first one.

    They took the whole ‘Merry and Pippin are unusually tall after drinking with the Ents’ plot point and ran with it off the edge of the cliff.

  9. flex says

    Okay, I might as well put this here rather than the previous post.

    I had a chance this afternoon to look the question up in Stith Thompson’s Motif Index of Folk Literature. This is covered by section A630. Series of Creations.

    Three mythologies refer to the present universe being the last of a succession of creations:
    Etruscan – Per William S. Fox’s 1916 volume of Greek and Roman Mythology,
    Navaho – Per H.B. Alexander’s 1916 volume called North America Mythology,
    Aztec – Per H.B. Alexander’s 1920 volume called Latin American Mythology,

    And three mythologies refer to a succession of creations and cataclysms of the universe:
    Jewish – Per Dov Neuman’s Motif Index to the Talmudic-Midrashic Literature (Phd Thesis), 1954
    Inca – Per H.B. Alexander’s 1920 volume called Latin American Mythology,
    Hawaiian – Per Roland B. Dixon’s 1916 volume called Oceanic Mythology.

    Now Stith Thompson isn’t the only only possible reference, but if it was a common belief in pre-modern culture it would have probably shown up there. If any of the above gives some hints on what to look for next, go ahead. I’m just glad I had an excuse to pull Stith Thompson off my shelf again, it’s been quite awhile since I reacquainted myself with his work.

  10. dangerousbeans says

    Wasn’t there a bit of this in the Matrix sequels, with some of them being things left over from earlier versions?

    This is also part of the setting of Shadows Fall by Simon Green, which is one of his less pulpy book. Stories and ideas that are not ready to move on, so live in a town that’s not really part of the world

  11. says

    thanks for the contribution dangerbeans. also neil gaiman’s neverwhere had people who become forgotten or intentionally ignored by normies fall into a gothical underworld of adventure, as i recall.

  12. VolcanoMan says

    @JM #5

    Actually, the Elves were not all that thrilled with being immortal either. They accepted their role in things, of course, but couldn’t help but envy the “gift of death” given to Men by Ilúvatar.

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