It’s not universally the case, but very often there are other intelligent or semi-intelligent races that can act as rivals (Klingons), friends (Vulcans) or enemies (the Romulans). Of course, there’s also the concept of a fodder race, whose primary purpose is to allow morally acceptable massacres (things like orcs, goblins, or the Borg).
I’ve been going through an older story, as I mentioned on the 29th, and it’s interesting to see just how different in terms of writing style and general approach it is to Bane of Souls.
Bane of Souls goes down the route of differing species of human. In it the differences are largely superficial (the Felarians have slightly darker skin than the Dennish, and the Kuhrisch are significantly taller and paler than both). However, I have been doing some background work for Altmortis and a trilogy which will see at least two additional races (possibly three) that have more substantial differences.
It’s unfortunate, probably, that in recorded history we’ve never really lived alongside another human species. The Neanderthals died long before written history began, and whilst I think a hobbit-sized race of humans lived with some homo sapiens on a remote island until just a few centuries ago there isn’t much record of them either.
In ye olde booke, there’s one vaguely-but-not-quite human species that makes a brief appearance, but the two main non-human races are more radically different. One is an entirely warrior race (tough, furry, big teeth and a tail that can choke a man to death) and the other’s a kind of giant rat-mole hybrid. The latter are much more human in their outlook, whereas the brutes have a more rigid, savage approach to the world.
Another aspect of humanity in fantasy is whether or not it should be portrayed as a decadent or benevolent force. There are two broad traditions, of civilising a barbaric world or of ruining a primordial garden of plenty (this applies both to fantasy and to history/literature, with Ovid bemoaning the declining Ages of Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron).
Given the modern style, to which I subscribe, of a grey approach to morality it’s entirely possible to marry the two concepts. Indeed, that’s probably what happens in real life. We have almost constant technological advances, but success breeds wealth which leads to luxury and decadence (Europe today could be compared, in that regard, to the latter days of the Western Roman Empire, only there’s no Aurelian or Gothic Claudius around).
Because fantasy has so much scope for creativity and inventiveness sometimes it needs characters to be cynical and ‘normal’ in order to establish an air of realism. That’s one of the reasons I like Sand dan Glokta more than Aragorn. An embittered cripple is just more credible than someone so damned heroic.