1. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    Why are fantasies always stuck in the middle ages?

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Sean2112bd, Feb 11, 2011.

    I mean, why? I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but you'd think after a while they would start developing better technology and weapons and stuff. I'd love to read about a fantasy that takes place in the industrial age, or even a western fantasy, or maybe steampunk fantasy etc. So why is it that Dwarves, Elves, Men, and other creatures rely on swords and armor when they could be discovering gun powder and making guns and trains and flying machines etc.

    Take my example of a western fantasy since that's what sounds intriguing to me. You can totally take a western american approach and make Elves and Dwarves similar to the Indians, the Chinese or the Irish that immigrated into the U.S (not trying to be racist, it's just an example that could go either way e.g white people being the minority) and then you would have a new frontier where traveling can be done. The gunslinger would be the new knight errant, and magic can be outlawed since its now considered "too dangerous" and with the rise of technology unnecessary and those performing it would be criminally charged and hanged (this is off the top of my head). Anyway, I think it would be great, but then people would be like "he copied Stephen King" so I don't think anyone will do it since the whole knight/gunslinger thing has been done by one of the most prominent authors.

    Anyway, why is fantasy always stuck in the middle ages.
     
  2. Cerrus
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    Cerrus Senior Member

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    Fantasy doesn't have to be in the middle ages, but it's just the usual fantasy people write. For example: The Final Fantasy video game series - it takes place in an environment with futuristic technology with swords, and magic. Fantasy doesn't have to be in the middle ages, it just usually fits best there. I mean would you read a fantasy story with a dwarf waiting for a train, or a dark elf being a car salesman?
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Such books exist! Get to know China Mieville. All your reading dreams shall come true. ;)

    Perdido Street Station - Urban/Steampunk Fantasy/Science Fiction

    The Scar - Pirate Fantasy with some Steampunk and even a vampire for kicks.

    Iron Council - Steampunk + Fantasy + Western + Sci-Fi
     
  4. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    I love the idea of a western fantasy. If you don't write it, I will!

    Although now that I think about it, The Dark Tower series is a western fantasy.
     
  5. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Except for Lord of the Rings, I've never read a fantasy with a mideval setting, though most of the fantasy I read are horror/monster novels. And there is a ton of steampunk fantasy out there, you just have to look a bit harder. They are not as commercial, so you won't always find them in libraries.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It isn't all - there's loads of urban fantasy and blah. And not all cultures in high fantasy are strictly medieval. the Victorian period, with all its existing pedigree of horror and early supernatural stories, makes an awesome setting, and writers utilise that.

    Personally, while I've studied the middle ages far more extensively, when I write fantasy worlds, I'm much more comfortable in an Enlightenment/Victorian setting (1700-1900, depending on the needs of the story). My characters will use guns, steam power is not unheard of, etc. I don't particularly get steam punk - ie, I have no problem with it, but I don't think in a very technological way so I don't really work well with trying to make more technology up. I just don't care enough about the social world of the 1900s onwards to set something in a historically similar setting there, despite the greater range of technology, and a greater confidence in knowing what I was talking about in some regards compared to earlier times.

    In any case, the point with "Medieval" or rennaisance-based fantasy settings is:

    - the world is unknown, green, vast, and harking back to a simpler time. Technology as we know it isn't even in its infancy. The world is untouched, basically, the people having almost no much lasting impact on it. it's the ultimate hippie dream, and something many people think longingly of if they spend too long in a city

    - it's far removed from our culture; there is room to really explore, create a new setting, and if you break some rules it doesn't matter because it's fantasy. The TYPE of world in the middle ages is quite easy to replicate. The society itself would be easy to screw up if you hadn't studied it, but the TYPE of world we get after the middle ages becomes increasingly more dependant on what came before - as you can see with the emergence of steam punk it comes in later time periods, branching off what happened before. There's a greater sense of alternate history: what would have happened if...? The middle ages, being vast, and largely inconsequential in terms of world shaking events except for the trading back and forth of rulers (ie: sometimes England owns France, sometimes it's the reverse) life itself for the peasants didn't change much, even with the easier social structure after the black death. That sort of society makes a good backdrop, since you don't have to worry about messing anything up: add new kings, give them wizards, make it so they all live upside down... They're peasants and they'll keep on serfing as long as they live :p

    - it's been insanely romanticised (see above comment about an ideal past) but it also means it's got vast amounts of literature already dedicated to it. Even the FIRST literature looked back a few hundred years, and as you get further forward in time, literature always looks back to the middle ages, the further you get from it, the more fantastic it is. For a long time King Arthur and all the legends were fact and history. All the stuff with dragons, merlin, etc, were all accepted parts of our history. So there is a very strong precedent for it. The medieval world IS incomplete without its "mythology". I read a book written in the 1200s a few weeks ago that was a bestiary, or, well, zoology textbook. Among animals like cattle and horses were griffons and dragons, with zilch distinction made between whether they existed or not. Sure, the guy down the road didn't own a manticore - they and the rainbow-coloured flying wolves were all in "Ethiopia" (all of Africa to them, basically :p) but they existed as far as the medieval people were concerned. The middle ages IS a fantasy world, if you take it at face value and read their beliefs, sciences, and practices with an "open" mind.

    Basically, it's the perfect setting for epic high fantasy. It's where it existed even before we knew what that was. :p


    (OH HEY, THIS IS MY DEGREE :p)
     
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  7. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just think there haven't been many authors that have explored settings like the wild west with fantasy, especially since that would be crossing genres. You don't see many futuristic fantasies because then they might get labeled as sci-fi instead.

    In some stories I have seen it explained that certain societies try to keep technology limited from the public. As the saying went, any idiot can use technology, but it takes a special idiot to use magic. It went along the idea that life is difficult enough dealing with wizards that can shoot fireballs and lightning bolts. If every peasant suddenly has access to a pistol or rifle, then life becomes a whole lot more complicated.

    However, that hasn't stopped games from exploring those settings. Years ago someone invented a wild west setting gaming module for Dungeons and Dragons. It fit all the races in much as you described.

    Then there was a fun video made called Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic which was a fantasy world set during an industrial revolution. The story and background were done very well, and they balanced magic and technology in an interesting way. If you were an inventor/engineer, you couldn't use magic. Likewise, if you were a magic user, you couldn't use technology. In fact, being around your polar opposite could have disasterous results. A powerful wizard's presence would cause technology to completely stop functioning. A genious inventor's presence could cause a simple healing spell to explode in a fireball.

    If you find the fantasy genre lacking in the settings you have described, why don't you give it a shot? :)
     
  8. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    I would think that in today's market you might have a better chance to get published if you deviate from the traditional medieval setting. Of course, a good story is a good story is a good story, regardless of the setting. Still, if you make a good story in a unique setting, so much the better.
     
  9. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another interesting argument is that there been points in history when a industrial revolution -could- have happened, but didn't. With factors such as of a drop in population, a need of effectivisation in the workforce since we had less people needing but job still needed doing, educational levels, etc. For example at a bunch of points in Chinese history.

    One way to see history could be that having an industrial revolution isn't the norm, it a freak accident that happened once in our history, and changed the world.

    But you just read to much of the bad mainstream fantasy, and to little of the rich awesome goodies there is in the fantasy genre. Jim Butcher has written roman fantasy (Codex Alera), there ar looooooooooooooooods of urban fatasy, and science fantasy. Robin Hobb and Orson Scott Card have written fantasy set or with an American colonisation feel ("Shamans crossings" and "Alivin the maker" respectively).,. Steam punk fantasy is hot, loads of victorian era scince fantasy/horror etc etc.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    they're not!
     
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  11. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    The epic-fantasy I'm writing at the moment is set in a near-futuristic world, say, 50 to 100 years more advanced than we are now?

    I suppose the main thing is that futuristic fantasy is blending into sci-fi. I've been working hard to make sure the novel feels much more like a typical fantasy with a modern setting, rather than a sci-fi with fantasy elements. But I'm not using elves, dwarves and other typically fantasy mythical creatures; I'm trying to come up with my own. I guess if you attempted that you'd have to come up with a believable portrayal of those household races in the modern world.
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually like the swords/sorcery middle ages feel to fantasy even when it has modern technology, the beauty of a fantasy is you can mix and match when building your own world.

    Fantasies do vary but I love the medieval feel of Narnia, Pern etc but then I quite like ones like the Faraway Tree set in the 1940s. And love the Ghibli Steampunk style films.
     
  13. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Well not all fantasy is stuck in medieval times if you're thinking fantasy along the lines of Harry Potter, Matilda, Merry Poppins etc -- I mean, these types of fantasies are more real-world/relatable for lack of a better word.

    I think the OP is referring to high fantasy -- the kind with completely made up worlds and creatures -- and yes, those do seem to use a whole lot of armor, swords, gems, torchlights etc. This is only from what I've read, and take it with a grain of salt, because I'm no fantasy expert.

    By the way -- what exactly distinguishes high fantasy from regular (general?) fantasy? I mean, I think I could tell them apart in a given situation, and I know stuff like LOTR is high fantasy...but is there a specific definition?
     
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  14. joelpatterson
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    joelpatterson Member

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    I'm sure someone has come up with a specific definition, but I remember in the discussions of how the technology on Star Trek would operate: the protagonists could never "beam themselves up" from a dangerous situation on a hostile planet-- that would undercut the whole rules of how conflict must operate in a story.

    Also, in the classic fairy tales, the supernatural entities never had any power to control anything-- they were always only there to advise the hero/heroine, to focus their attention on key information-- the struggle would have to take place in the protagonist, internally, their triumph would have to be of their own doing.

    For all the miraculous "scenery" and "effects" in fantasy literature, it seems like that's the lesson-- all the contesting and striving-- and the outcome-- happens in the core of the character.
     
  15. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Generally, high fantasy is a story that either involves the entire world or has huge repercussions for it.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's not. There are plenty of fantasies set in other times, including the present day, as well as other cultures, etc.
     
  17. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thanks for explaining - so something that involves saving the world is generally high fantasy, while something only involving a character or group of characters on a smaller scale is lower fantasy?
     
  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It has something to do with creating a new world or having a secondary world, other than Earth. Not sure where mine lies lol It has swords but also guns, MP3 players and laptops. Also Earth is my secondary world, its the one people have come from initially or visit once I do the time travel.
     
  19. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Uh yeah I'd actually would want to read it.


    As for me? I just love the setting. Knights in shiny white armor dripping with blood and Damsels in distress who are really evil shapeshifters that want to eat your brains... yeah good stuff. :D

    But no seriously I just enjoy the setting so I write within something like it.
     
  20. Heather Munn
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    Heather Munn Member

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    On a side note, I always wondered why fantasy is always stuck in a European-type landscape. (Although I'm sure there's some fantasy featuring Asian landscapes too; I haven't really read that type though.)

    Then when I picked up Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife series, I was delighted to discover it was set in an American landscape. It had raccoons, possums, catalpa trees, even a river that is clearly the Mississippi. (Though most of the geography is quite different. It could be the American continent in a different geological age or something.) Very refreshing.
     
  21. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    Fantasies don't have to take place on a secondary world. Middle-Earth was the same Earth we live in now, Tolkien said it took place roughly 6000 years before his time.
     
  22. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    I probably shouldn't, but I would like to voice my utter hatred of "fantasy." I don't know why people write it, and I don't know why people read it, but they do in large numbers and have ever since I was a kid.

    I'm sure there are psychological archetypes associated with the elements of fantasy: the elf, the wizard, the Middle Ages setting, the sword, etc., and that's what touches most of humanity--myself excluded. I, for one, would like nothing better than a story where a fantasy Middle Age village full of noble elves and sorcerers with names like Zocoria and Avalanchia was nuked by the drunken crew of a B-2 bomber. But that's me.

    My own personal theory is that people write fantasy to make social commentary but don't have the insight to write stories about real life. Thus instead of a story about overcoming racism through understanding on both sides using real people say at a...construction site or something...the person who knows nothing of people or construction sites makes up purple elves and green elves that hate one another and fight each other with swords because said author has never owned a gun and would probably describe a .38 as having .22 LR ammo in it.

    I'm not trying to start a fight or anything. I'm just saying that I've never really liked fantasy much, and I've never understood its purpose. Somehow the archetypes in millions of people are absent in me.

    Now, a completely unrealistic horror story--that I'm all in for!
     
  23. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    Okay guys you've convinced me, but I still think there's a lot of untapped potential in fantasy. Or maybe I need to read more lol :rolleyes:
     
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  24. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    You know I like fantasy, but in a way I'm kind of growing out of it. However, I have quite a few fantasy books I need to read so until that time I'll enjoy them, but I agree that fantasy is an acquired taste.
     
  25. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    In my opinion, the middle ages is a primitive world. Peasants toil underneath wealthy lords, have very few freedoms, and live in pretty sad conditions with hardly any possessions of their own. This gives a writer many possible characters to create. And with this setting, it's also a point in our history where we were transforming from the old ages to the new. And because of this, writers find an easy platform to build their stories upon where they can choose what happens as the future is not completely set in stone.

    So really anything can happen. That's what fantasy is.
     
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