1. Morgan Willows
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    Morgan Willows Member

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    Deliberate Values Dissonance. How far is too far?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Morgan Willows, Sep 26, 2013.

    (For those who are unaware, I'm talking about this trope.)

    In the fantasy series I'm currently working on, there's really only one aspect of the setting that I'm a bit wary of. The average life expectancy is 85-90 (as opposed to the current real world average of approx. 95-100) and the 'landmark' ages of the cultures are also adjusted for this. So, for example, marrying age in my world is around 14-15 in most places and about 2/3 of the countries in my world have a society where marrying for position or advantage is common so it's not at all unheard of for a 15 year old girl to be marrying a man or woman ten years older than her, or for a 15 year old boy to do the same.
    It's perfectly normal in-universe... I'm just a bit leery of how well an audience would take it. I have several characters who readers would probably consider to be young that are in relationships, some of them non-heterosexual. I'm aware that I'm probably going to have to be careful about how they're written and it's not as if I'm going to be going into, y'know, graphic detail, but I'd also rather not have to be coy about the fact that these couples are, well, couples. Any tips on how to manage that sort of balance?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I just read the article you pointed out and what comes to mind is what I learned as an anthro major. Firstly, 95 - 100 is not correct for average life expectancy today. It's closer to 80, and that only if you live in the developed world. Normal human biological life expectancy, without any of the aids of culture, and by that I mean butt-naked on the prairie, savanna, or pantanal; no cows, no corn, no knowledge of farming; no medical care at all, no knowledge of hygiene, no nothing: the absolute base model human can expect no more than a max of between 50 and 55 years. That's the maximum a lucky human is designed to last without the maintenance of culture. So the question becomes, if you have a concern about the ages of the characters in relationships, you must first revisit that 85 - 90 years of age. It's not at all realistic. It's higher than real world. In 1930, the average expectancy in America was 61, and you had to be white to get that luxury. If you weren't white, it was 48-ish. And that's less than 100 years ago. In your fantasy world where I assume MRI's, chemotherapy and and a regular visit to the OBGYN are not in evidence, average life expectancy is actually going to be rather low unless you devise something to keep people healthy. I think when you keep this in mind, your younger relationships may not seem so out of line.

    EDIT ~ Just to play devil's advocate to my own post and to show how easy it might be to devise a system of keeping people healthy: Middle and upper class citizens of Rome had rather high life expectancies compared to later periods like the Medieval. Romans had running water and sewer systems. It's amazing what that will do for a society. Without that, people live in very close proximity to poop and pee. Very close. All that fecal matter around sets up a cycle of vermin and vectors that make for dead humans. [​IMG]
     
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  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It can be problematic, not because it is wrong as such, but there are people out there just waiting to pounce on something and flex their moralistic muscle. These people usually don't actually read the stories they complain about, but certain aspects, taken out of context, can give them a lot to chew on. Can authors ensure they avoid their wrath? I don't see how. The question is would you want to? If you are true to yourself, and your story is meaningful, well-written and every aspect of it has a point, any vocal complaints are likely to be just free advertising (just look at '50 Shades'). But if you want to minimise the potential offence, why not make them eligible for marriage when they are 16-17 instead of 14-15. It's only a couple years difference.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Just to amplify on Wreybies' post, infant mortality is a major variable in life expectancy. In an heavily industrialized society, worker safety (or lack thereof) can also be a factor.
     
  5. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Wreybies hit the nail I was going to hammer on the head. Awesome.

    Food for thought: If your characters grow up quickly (and I assume they do with a shortened life expectancy, etc.) and in-world 14/15 is the equivalent of, let's say, real-world 19/20, you could try not revealing your characters' ages until after your text has established their maturity. Have people refer to a male character, age 14, as "already a man," etc., to establish cultural norms, and then show in his actions that he's far more like an adult than a teenager. If we read the first chapter thinking these kids must be 18 or even 20, it might soften the blow of their true ages when you reveal them in chapter two.

    Don't underestimate your readers, either. The society in your world isn't like real-world society. Adjustments have to be made for fantasy, and fantasy readers are accustomed (even thrilled) to make them.
     
  6. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Sorry if this seems cheeky, but isn't medieval fantasy by definition an escapist genre where everything was better and "more natural" than in our modern world, with healthy people walking across lush green meadows under sunny skies eating fully organic food and drinking fresh spring water from a sparkling clear stream. And the happy, cheerful villagers in their picturesque houses next to beautifully kept cobblestone roads... ah...
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    One other thought: perhaps the OP didn't really mean average age expectancy, in the sense of a true arithmetic mean. In the life insurance industry, actuaries are always reviewing and revising life expectancy tables so that their companies can determine what premium rates to charge for life and annuity policies and determine how much reserve needs to be set aside in any given year. In the late '90s, I worked for an annuity provider. Life insurance was first described to me as a gamble - the company gambles the insured is going to live and the insured is gambling he's going to die. The longer the insured lives, the more money the company makes. Annuities are exactly the opposite, the longer the insured lives, the more costly the policy becomes. That's because premiums are collected over time, and a life payout happens once while an annuity payout can happen over a substantial number of years.

    Anyway, in the late 90s, annuity providers were in a real pickle. Their most recent life expectancy tables assumed a maximum age of 100 and so based their payout rates (i.e. the monthly benefit paid to the annuitant on premiums already collected) on that maximum age, but they were seeing more and more people on their books who had already lived beyond that point. So the industry went to work and came up with a whole new annuity table with a maximum age of 121.

    My point being, instead of an arithmetic mean, perhaps the OP is referring to a maximum or common life expectancy, excluding infant mortality, wars or disasters.
     
  8. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    We forget the Black Death. Always with the forgetting of the Black Death and the lack of plumbing and the serfs--not to be confused with Smurfs, who really did do everything you described. ;)

    Also, the original poster didn't mention anything about a medieval fantasy. They just said "fantasy." The world could be more Tolkien than Chaucer for all we know! Lol.
     
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  9. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    It wasn't uncommon for girls who were 12-13 to marry 30-40 year old men in the 1880's. Gender is the least of your issues, it's age.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree, which is why I played devil's advocate to myself and also gave the Roman example. There are numerous fantasy backdrops or levels of technological advancement that could lend to either a higher or lower expectation. :)
     
  11. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Hear, hear!
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Are you basing this on anything specific? According to a quick search I just did, the average age of a woman getting married in the US in 1890 was 23.5. Also, a list I turned up of wedding registers (in California, I think) in 1879 showed one bride age 14, one age 15, a few 17 and several that were 18, and then on into the 20s. The 14-year-old married a 19-year-old.

    Not a conclusive result by any means, but I'd still be surprised if the age spread you cite was anything but uncommon.
     
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  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You're not wrong there in the least, Ed. The idea of this child bride culture in the 19 century is part of the greater mythos created to purify and sanctify the image of 1950's America, separating it from earlier "questionable times". You know, the Leave it Beaver, Father Knows Best, Better Homes and Gardens fictitious 1950's that never actually happened. Ever. ;)
     
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  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Wait. You mean June didn't clean house and cook in a shirtdress, pearls and heels??

    (And what DID Ward actually do for a living, besides "go to the office"?)
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sure he was in advertising. Weren't all the TV dads of the day in advertising?? :)
     
  16. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    It was common among immigrants (particularly in the Polish, Itailian, and mining communities ) to send for a bride from their home country. It wasn't really documented because of the poverty of the regions and the fact that these girls were widowed quite frequently. Or they died in childbirth at age 15. One or the other.


    I will however happily agree that the 1950's never existed. (They did, but not how we'd care to remember them).....
     
  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    LOL :) Yup! The chronological decade of course occurred, but the paradigmatic one is a fable. A powder blue, celedan green and Miami pink lie. ;)

    BTW, and totally off topic, so appy-poly-loggies, in advance, "The 50's" is a period of time that actually stretches from the mid 40's through to about 1965. Paradigmatic decades have little to do with numerical decades. "The 60's" didn't kick into gear until about 1966 and lasted through the mid seventies.
     
  18. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    I don't know what "paradigmatic" means, but I will use context clues (YAY) to assume that it means "ideal". Which is true.


    Yay, fun-fact time! The 50's was really the "baby boom" so that makes sense. Like "The 30's" was really 1929-1941.
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    So, again, I have to ask what your basis is for saying that girls of 12-13 commonly married men of 30-40. If, as you say, it wasn't really documented, then on what are you basing it? Oral traditions? Family lore?
     
  20. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Besides running water and sewer systems what did the Romans ever do for us? Sorry man - couldn't resist!
     
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  21. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    "Ben Hur"?
     
  22. DPVP
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    DPVP Active Member

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    was not Romeo and Juliet 14 or 15?
     
  23. Morgan Willows
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    Morgan Willows Member

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    O_O ok... wasn't expecting quite this can of worms.
    Apologies if my life expectancy figures are off/don't include mortality rates BUT... that's not really the point I was asking about. I'm trying to figure out a way to frame the characters' relatively young ages in a way that won't completely squick out the majority of readers. Is it just a matter of making a point that the values/morals of the setting are different from reality and then stay consistent in-universe or is there more to it?
     
  24. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Mama taught me to never quote myself like I'm an authority, but to reiterate...

     
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  25. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    This thread shows a major fault in today's society. We are so egocentric that we too often project our values to be the only values that are acceptable. Fact is, values are developed based on the type of society someone lives in. So having people in their early teens marrying and copulating is not against the values of everyone, and I don't mean in just past societies, but some of them today. Do more research and you'll find many societies that marrying young is encouraged and the norm, and not the exception to the rule.
     
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