Saturday, May 3, 2014

Teeth in fantasy

Teeth are an easy way to distinguish and learn about different species, but how to use them in fantasy?

Types of teeth

Grazers have flat-topped teeth to grind down the tough parts of plants. Carnivores have sharp incisors and canines to slice through flesh. Gnawers, like rodents, have teeth that constantly grow. The crocodile’s teeth and jaws are designed to grip, so that when it dives underwater, it drags its prey with it and quickly drowns the other animal.

Teeth can be large and spectacular in appearance as well – such as the tusks of a walrus or an elephant, or the large fangs of a saber-tooth. And finally there are the hypodermic needles of venomous snakes. Any of these could come into play when designing a new species of people or animal in fantasy.

Fantastical teeth

Not many SF races have different dentition. One exception is the Tilari of F. M. Busby’s The Demu Trilogy, who have forty teeth which ate correspondingly smaller to fit into their mouths. And of course, there are any number of paranormal races with fangs.

The Mouth of Sauron, in Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King, is a great example of this. Just making his mouth twice as large and giving him rotting fangs to match = instantly disturbing. People with circular rows of teeth, like lampreys or cookiecutter sharks, would be even worse.

Teeth in a fantasy world don’t need to be made of enamel. Metal teeth might remind readers too much of Jaws from the James Bond films, but there’s a character in A Song of Ice and Fire who has wooden teeth. Stone might work as well—or how about taking useful teeth from animals and implanting them in a character’s jaw?

Going one step further than this would be teeth that changed depending on what the person needed at the time, from injecting venom to opening a can of peas without the assistance of a can-opener. Dentition is used as forensic evidence, but in this situation it couldn’t be trusted.

Uses for teeth

Once they’ve been removed, there are several purposes they could be put to. Jewelry. Weapons. Armor with overlapping rows of sharks’ teeth. Tools, such as the large molars of giant herbivores as pestles or grinders.

Or for something more fantastical, how about a secret method of assassination? Mix tiny teeth in with cooked rice, or with something that’s likely to be swallowed whole without chewing. Once these teeth are inside a person’s stomach, they jab into the nearest surface and burrow in. Death from peritonitis occurs soon, and short of an autopsy, no one will know why.

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