Fantasy has elves and goblins, strange kingdoms and wizards saying spells, horses and swords and warriors, right? Except, why does it? That's one question I've been asking myself recently, and it ties into some broader consideration about genre. Genres have what are generally considered to be genre staples, whether it's the above list for fantasy, all the vampire and werewolf mythos for UF, or something else. Yet how many times can we really go through the same elements before things become stale? More importantly, how many times can we take in stock elements before our stories are not really something of us?
One thing with fantasy is that it offers the scope to do things differently. You don't have to talk about magic in the traditional sense, even as you have it there. Or you create new creatures that reflect a specific point you're trying to make rather than just relying on people's knowledge of generic fantasy monster types. Or you make fun of the whole thing as you go along. With one of the novels I'm working on at the moment, although I'm working with some very traditional fantasy themes, I'm trying very hard to present something that avoids stock ideas. I'm trying to sit down at every point and think about what I want to happen in detail, and yes, occasionally that comes out close to the standard stuff (there's a wizard, for example) but even then, it does it in slightly different ways.
So, the next time you're writing fantasy, think before you put those elves in. Or at least before you call them elves. Yes, it can be fun to retread some of Tolkein's core elements, but surely it's even more fun to dredge up things from within yourself that one day other people will be talking about in the same sort of way? Think in those terms, and you'll soon have something original.