This is a post about Lamarckism and if you’ve never heard of Lamarckism I’m hoping that this post will get you interested in it as well as how it has appeared in various forms of media in the modern era. At some point in the future, I’m going to use this as a base for a video I am planning on making as soon as I can afford a video camera and editing software of my own. I think this would do better as a video than as a blog post but I want to go ahead and write this out somewhere so that way people can see it and hopefully writers can learn about this neat and unacknowledged idea in fantasy & sci-fi media. Oh yeah and some spoilers for Re:Monster but if you aren’t a nerd like me that won’t matter to you.
Defining & Explaining Lamarckism:
Before the publication of The Origin Of Species (and thus the emergence of the theory of evolution by natural selection in the public eye), there were ideas which sought to explain how traits were passed down from one generation to another. One such idea which enjoyed a bit of popularity but was also the subject of very intense criticism from the science community at the time is now referred to as Lamarckism, and if someone had to boil down this idea of French biologist Lamarck’s to its most simple it had two major ideas. The first idea was that something could gain advantageous characteristics during its life and lose unused or disadvantageous characteristics during its life (the idea of use & disuse organs) and the second idea was that such characteristics are inheritable and thus can be passed down to one’s offspring more easily. Lamarck’s work Zoological Philosophy outlines his views and notes the impact he thinks the environment could have on species and even writes about vestigial structures in it.
How Has Lamarckism Snuck Into Fantasy Media?
First of all, there’s a trope that’s been identified and is on TV Tropes which talks about Lamarckism which is neat in and of itself. If you want specific examples of Lamarkism look at Pokemon. Many pokemon are examples of one part of Lamarckian thought since once they reach a certain level of power due to being trained (generally in different environments than they were born) or are exposed to a wild change of conditions (such as when pokemon evolve due to being exposed to types of stones which contain or embody classical elements like water, fire, or thunder) they can radically and wildly change acquiring way new characteristics and in more than a few cases even change types while evolving but it doesn’t even have to be that massive because pokemon learning new moves over the course of their lives is also an example of Lamarckian thought. At this point, if you were a casual fan of Pokemon or not a fan at all I bet you’re wondering if there’s an example of passing down acquired characteristics in Pokemon and there is! Breeding is an element in Pokemon and there are guides which show how to pass down moves from parent pokemon to child pokemon, which is, in fact, an example of passing down acquired characteristics from parent to child.
One of my favorite examples of Lamarckism in fantasy media is a critical aspect of my favorite light novel and one of my favorite mangas Re:Monster, the “rank-up” system. I’m not going to spoil this a whole lot but in this story, there’s a system by which monsters can evolve once they’ve gained enough experience and like pokemon, they transform into new beings with new and advantageous characteristics. In my opinion, this is a MUCH better example of Lamarckism than Pokemon is because in this the evolutionary possibilities hinge upon how the individual behaved and not just the state of acquiring enough power over time. To illustrate this properly the main cast of characters in this story start off as a trio of goblins. Rou (I’m using their base names instead of their “real” names during each of their evolutionary phases) is the leading protagonist and he ranks-up into an apostle lord. One of his partners was originally a goblin named Kichi who ranks up into a minotaur. The last member of their group was a goblin named Mi who ranks up into a dhampir (her’s is a bit weird because she doesn’t become an ogre whereas both Rou & Kichi become ogres before they rank up into an apostle lord & a minotaur respectively). The reasons why their evolutions are different despite having the same base which is a basic goblin with different stats between each of them is because they behaved differently in battle and specialized in different things which is why their acquired characteristics were different. Partway through the story, Rou becomes a father and his children inherit characteristics and that he acquired during his life and when his youngest child is born it becomes clear that his present strength at the moment the child is conceived affects the natural strength & characteristics of the child which is the perfect example of Lamarck’s idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics.
These are clearly an understanding perhaps unconsciously of the sorts of ideas that Lamarck had in life applied to creative works of fiction and it’s neat as heck. Pokemon and Re:Monster are FAR from the only times these ideas appear in fantasy but they are some of the clearer examples of them in fantasy and Pokemon is something that most people who’d ever read this post have even a passing understanding of or even awareness of whereas for many of my readers this’ll likely be the first time they’ll ever hear of Re:Monster. If I ever get to make a video on this topic I’ll dive way more in-depth than this, but I hope that this post introduced you to new stuff that you want to experience and learn about yourself. I’d love to hear what you think of all of this and your favorite examples of Lamarckism in fantasy!