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Hereford Eye
May 27th, 2005, 04:22 PM
There are some things that have been bothering me lately about the fantasy that I have been reading and writing. Am wondering if it's only me or if these things bother others as well?

(1) About a third of a way through a story set in a fantasy world that has great detail to it, the event happens and the protagonists refer to the event as 'menarche'. I don't object to the accuracy of the term or the fact that it happened in the story. I found myself startled back to reality by the word's occurence. Shouldn't a fantasy character use a different term, something unique to the setting? Or is that just me?

(2) Why do I find myself wondering about the economy of places? In a perfectly normal setting, like Rivendell, who does the cooking and dishes? There are all these great feasts spread out for the heros but who makes that happen? I'm certain Elrond had no barbeque grill nor did Arwen spend afternoons over a hot stove. They certainly didn't keep slaves, Who did the cooking and who did the dishes? This problem occurs over and over again. Who draws the baths and does the laundry and runs the kitchens and for what? Minimum wage? The chance to be around heros? I wonder if the author thought about these things and has an answer but didn't see a need to put it into the story. Sort of like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, no one ever asks who made the furniture in the bears' house. Is it just me that wonders these things?

(3) Who makes the glorious dresses the heroines get to wear? Is it just me that wonders these things?

Are these legitimate concerns that world-builders should have answers for or are they like the rivers in R.A. Salvatore's underground world: not necessary?

Ouroboros
May 27th, 2005, 05:49 PM
(1) About a third of a way through a story set in a fantasy world that has great detail to it, the event happens and the protagonists refer to the event as 'menarche'. I don't object to the accuracy of the term or the fact that it happened in the story. I found myself startled back to reality by the word's occurence. Shouldn't a fantasy character use a different term, something unique to the setting? Or is that just me?

If I understand the thrust of your question. I suppose it comes down to a cut-off point. At what point does world-building imply you start into creating your own lexicon as opposed to drawing on our collective one?

Personally, I don't think you necessarily have to bother, but to each their own.

Can't say I've actually come across the term 'menarche' beyond in the usual context, though. Where does it crop up?



(2) Why do I find myself wondering about the economy of places? In a perfectly normal setting, like Rivendell, who does the cooking and dishes? There are all these great feasts spread out for the heros but who makes that happen? I'm certain Elrond had no barbeque grill nor did Arwen spend afternoons over a hot stove. They certainly didn't keep slaves, Who did the cooking and who did the dishes? This problem occurs over and over again. Who draws the baths and does the laundry and runs the kitchens and for what? Minimum wage? The chance to be around heros? I wonder if the author thought about these things and has an answer but didn't see a need to put it into the story. Sort of like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, no one ever asks who made the furniture in the bears' house. Is it just me that wonders these things?

OK, here I think I have an answer.

Clarke suggests that the technology of a highly advanced civilisation would be near indistinguishable from magic to a less advanced situation.

Do Elrond and friends qualify as being highly advanced? I think so. OK, lets let highly advanced magic equal highly advanced technology, on the basis that we're sufficiently young as a culture to understand neither. Elrond's guys have big magic, hard to dispute that.

If I can accept that super-technology enables the easy creation of a lot of food from pretty much nothing, then I can suspend disbelief in order to believe that Elrond's magic is capable of achieving something similar, even if the methods are even more mysterious to me.

Not to suggest that the above is even slightly coherent as a logical argument, but..... :rolleyes:

You mention Goldilocks: In the same vein, maybe its also worth considering that other old folktale about the Brownies who do the cooking and cleaning for nice people: Hell, maybe Elrond has a pocketful of Brownies. No more improbable than the guy living for thousands of years.

My last stab at explaining this stuff would be to suggest that perhaps in Rivendell the culinary arts are considered to be as worthy an art form of study and practice as music and dance. Maybe these guys laud their cooks with great honors, write poems about them, and sing songs sitting in boats about them, and whatnot.

Maybe the elves bring to cooking the same grace and ease they bring to everything else: Perhaps, even when preparing great feasts, elf kitchens resemble churches more than our concept of kitchens?



(3) Who makes the glorious dresses the heroines get to wear? Is it just me that wonders these things?

I'd imagine the elf chicks make their own dresses. Being immortal probably means you find ways to kill the time. Dress-making is probably more appealing to them than weightlifting or fixing clocks.

I'd suspect that the human heroines of whatever fantasy genre, if they get to wear these kinds of dresses, come from privillege. That means someone else gets the calloused thumbs from all the sewing (or...whatever.... do calloused thumbs come from sewing?).

KatG
May 27th, 2005, 07:09 PM
(1) About a third of a way through a story set in a fantasy world that has great detail to it, the event happens and the protagonists refer to the event as 'menarche'. I don't object to the accuracy of the term or the fact that it happened in the story. I found myself startled back to reality by the word's occurence. Shouldn't a fantasy character use a different term, something unique to the setting? Or is that just me?

Do we call a second a second? Do we call a sword a sword? Authors make choices. And they're writing in English. I back Ouro's take on this. Menarche comes from Latin and Greek components. So do most of the words: and, the, a, I, and such, that the writer uses. So going along with menarche for that, ahem, event, is not that different a choice from calling an oak tree an oak tree. In fact, some readers find the assigning of lots different terms to be highly annoying and a poor device.


(2) Why do I find myself wondering about the economy of places? In a perfectly normal setting, like Rivendell, who does the cooking and dishes? There are all these great feasts spread out for the heros but who makes that happen? I'm certain Elrond had no barbeque grill nor did Arwen spend afternoons over a hot stove. They certainly didn't keep slaves, Who did the cooking and who did the dishes? This problem occurs over and over again. Who draws the baths and does the laundry and runs the kitchens and for what? Minimum wage? The chance to be around heros? I wonder if the author thought about these things and has an answer but didn't see a need to put it into the story. Sort of like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, no one ever asks who made the furniture in the bears' house. Is it just me that wonders these things?

The other, lower ranking elves, just like the elves who take care of the horses, the elves who set the magical defenses, and do this and do that, trade with the dwarves. Tolkein never gives us more than glimpses of the elven world, which seems to be mostly tribal, and we don't really need to see it for what he's trying to do. (The elves aren't that important, they're on the way out.) In other epic fantasy works I've read, though, quite a lot of attention has been paid to the people doing the scut work. In fact, in some fantasies, I really wish they wouldn't pay so much attention. I'm rather tired of being thoroughly introduced to dozens of minor characters -- servants, heralds, secretaries, cooks, stableboys, innkeepers, whose names and personal history I'm never going to remember. Sometimes the wallpaper should just stay on the wall, you know? :) I don't need to know about how they go to the bathroom (though often you never see characters go to the bathroom.)


(3) Who makes the glorious dresses the heroines get to wear? Is it just me that wonders these things?

Again, I've often run into more dress-making info than I'd care to hear about. I don't really need to have a detailed description of every dress every female character wears. Jordan, Cherryh, even Martin have annoyed me with this. Of course, I'm mostly joking -- if it fits in the story, it can be interesting, but dresses are either made by the ladies who wear them or they were bought or stolen -- why would that be mysterious?


Are these legitimate concerns that world-builders should have answers for or are they like the rivers in R.A. Salvatore's underground world: not necessary?

They can be legitimate concerns, but fantasy writers, of any kind, don't have to answer any questions. It's their choice what to emphasize, what to describe, what to play around with, etc. And if they all made the same choices, wouldn't it get rather boring? If you don't like the mythic style where the practical questions are less often explored, go for the realists. Barbara Hambly is pretty decent in this area. R.A. MacAvoy and Tad Williams do alright. Or you might like non-epic fantasies -- which MacAvoy, Williams, Hambly, and many other writers who also do epics have written too -- where the setting is more modern and such questions may also be ignored but not many care about it.

Teresa Edgerton
May 27th, 2005, 08:03 PM
I think there is a middle ground. Once the writer has established that there are servants of various sorts scurrying about in the background and quietly performing their various tasks, the reader can fill in the blanks as needed, without a detailed list of who does what. By the same token, one scene of the lady of the house and her attendants spinning, weaving, or sewing while they talk about something more important to the plot adequately addresses the question of where the clothes come from.

(If I remember correctly, Tolkien does tell us that Galadriel and her women made the cloaks given to the fellowship, and he certainly does say that Arwen embroidered Aragorn's banner, so I think we can take it as given that elf women of the highest orders were handy with a needle. Who did the cooking remains a little more mysterious.)

michaelS0620
May 27th, 2005, 08:03 PM
They can be legitimate concerns, but fantasy writers, of any kind, don't have to answer any questions. It's their choice what to emphasize, what to describe, what to play around with, etc.

Sol Stein calls this filling the envelope. The idea is that you give enough details (and the right kind of details) to build the frame of the scene, and you allow reader's imaginations to fill in the rest. It doesn't just work for things like description of the functioning of the society but also small things.

For instance you don't need pages and pages to describe a beautiful woman. Provide the few details that make her uniquely beautiful, show how other characters react to her and there you go. Paragraphs of describing her flawless skin, pert nose and (god forbid) heart shaped face will only get in the way. We've all seen beautiful women before. Give us the sketch and let us imagine the rest.

Not sure how I went from Elven janitors to beautiful women, but ah well...

Expendable
May 28th, 2005, 12:28 AM
Hereford, you do so give us so much to look forward to....

Ouroboros and KatG are right - getting too cutsy can turn the reader's stomach. If the word fits... use it.

Elrond had servants. Elf servants.

Not only can Elf princesses sew, so can dressmakers. Queen Elizabeth I had so many dresses that when King James took the throne, he told his wife she had to wear Elizabeth's.

Although if Elves can make mithril, what can they do with some silk?

Anyway, go read a book on life in a medieval castle. If you feel it's necessary, you can mention servants but like KatG said, you don't need to go into detail if it has no importance to your story.

Hereford Eye
May 28th, 2005, 08:42 AM
I picked on Elrond because I didn't want to offend any author who I am presently reading and might be a member of this forum. Tolkien cannot complain anymore. I am very impressed by the tolerance this forum extends to authors. It is a refreshing change from the crit group I have been submitting stuff to for review. That being said, let me take issue with a few little things:

(1) The word "menarche" is a sophisticated noun not part of the mainstream day-to-day vocabulary. As a man acquainted with 4 sisters, a woman who shares her life with me, five sisters-in-law, a daughter, two daughters-in-law, and a thousand and six nieces, I have never heard any of these women use the term. In my more than half-century of reading, I cannot recall meeting the term in any sf or fantasy work. Mainstream lit, yes; sff, no. The onset of menses, a sign of puberty, a rite of passage, a first period, yes. But this is the first time I can remember encountering the term in a traditional science fiction or fantasy work. So, it struck me as an anachronism. Much as if the author were to refer to a character as suffering from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The terms are accurate and descriptive but do not seem to fit within the scope of epic fantasy worlds. I know; I know. As you've all pointed out, it's just me.

(2) It's all very nice that the ladies of the court sit around sewing and tatting their clothes. Please explain where they obtained the silks and satins they are using. I know; I know, it's just me.

I agree that an author can provide more information than anyone wants. But the implications of sashaying into the pub and ordering a mead are pretty significant. Where does the bartender get the mead or the wine or the beer? The industry implied belies the little inn at the crossroads of nowhere and out-of-the-way. Even if the still is out back, it takes labor to gather the crops to brew the brew. And then, how does the bartender know what to charge?

I thoroughly enjoyed Windling's The Essential Bordertown stories but the more I think about them, the more questions aqbout the infrastructure of the place crop up. I suffered from this disorder even more reading Salvatore's Dark Elf trilogy. It's a terrible failing that seems to be getting worse in my old age. Which is what prompted me to begin this thread. How much reality can a reader legitimately expect in fantasy and when do the anachronisms begin to outweigh the story and cause you to put the book down? :D

michaelS0620
May 28th, 2005, 09:08 AM
Star Trek TNG had an episode called "Below Decks" which detailed the lives of several low level people of the crew. The main characters were made secondary. It was a pretty good episode and turned things on its head a bit. People have the same question about ST. You have these officers running around saving the galaxy. What about all the other people? What do they do all day?

To do such a thing with a fantasy or sci fi novel would be pretty cool and unusual. Something where the bartenders, clothes makers, and other underlings are the focus of the story, and all of the death dealing, hard talking, heros are at the periphery.

You would have to be careful of a couple of things.

1) That you didn't bore the reader. The normal day to day life, while interesting at first, could get boring after several chapters.

2) That your "underlings" didn't turn into heroes thereby spoiling the premise. If you have your dress maker find the Sword of Eternal Butt-Kicking(TM) and start whiping out the Enemy Hordes of Doom(TM) then you have turned it back into everyday epic fantasy.

It would be difficult to pull off, but I see an opportunity for a different kind of novel. Perhaps a comedy?

Michael

Ouroboros
May 28th, 2005, 09:30 AM
I don't need to know about how they go to the bathroom (though often you never see characters go to the bathroom.)

Ah yes, the toilet issue. I remember an old issue of a 'Thundercats' comic from way back which had a letters section. Whoever was in charge of it obviously didn't mind poking a bit of fun at the franchise, because one of the letters he published was a one-liner questioning whether or not the Thunderlair had toilet facilities. They didn't reply, sadly. Presumably it would have been some kind of a giant litterbox with a few magazines strewn around.


It's all very nice that the ladies of the court sit around sewing and tatting their clothes. Please explain where they obtained the silks and satins they are using. I know; I know, it's just me.

I would imagine that in a pre-industrial society where clothing has to be painstakingly made as opposed to simply snagged off a rail, the skills required to weave, sew, knit, repair and maintain them would be widely diffused.

(Hell, even today, here and now, all of us know how to sew. I can knit and weave as well, not that I will ever need to.)

If we're specifically talking about ladies of lesiure, then perhaps in their society (as in ours, in the past) things like embroidery and whatnot were considered a normal part of a lady's education, much like singing, poetry etc.

Failing that, if these are ladies of the court then maybe that kind of thing gets done by maids, housecarles, seamstresses, ladies-in-waiting or basically someone a little less rich and powerful than them. Barring that, hell, maybe the things come from trade?

As Kat suggests, it seems likely that someone ends up saddled with the scutwork of these societies, as in every other society...
Cooking, trading, healing, building, teaching, hunting, soldiering, tanning, butchering, baking ....


But the implications of sashaying into the pub and ordering a mead are pretty significant. Where does the bartender get the mead or the wine or the beer? The industry implied belies the little inn at the crossroads of nowhere and out-of-the-way. Even if the still is out back, it takes labor to gather the crops to brew the brew. And then, how does the bartender know what to charge?


Brewing your own hooch isn't so much labour-intensive or difficult, just unreliable and less easy than buying from someone using modern manafacturing methods to mass produce a consistent product to sell at a reasonable price. In the past, when you couldn't count on a lorry pulling up to unload cases of Heineken, then if you wanted a drink then you did the work yourself. The more successful individuals opened the first free-houses, as their neighbours figured out that it was worth paying someone who had a better idea of what they were doing, rather than soldier through undrinkable batches or watery crap. Your hypothetical Inn in the middle of no-where would plausibly offer travellers both shelter and booze, a winning combination. Hard work probably, but a livelihood for someone also.

As regards the decision of what to charge: Is it that hard? A product is worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.

---

The thing is, I do agree with you that sometimes in fantasy novels there are elements which will require you to work extra hard to suspend your disbelief (in the fantasy genre, imagine that!) ... but I'm not sure you're offering the best examples.

Better examples seem to elude me at the moment, however, so I can't really talk....

Holbrook
May 28th, 2005, 11:36 AM
The devil is in the details eh HE ;)

The important things you should ask yourself are;

Is the background important to the story so much at one point that you need a description of a scene from the ground up or can a mere sketch be enough.

To what depth can the background be described before it brings the story to a crashing halt.

At what points does a story need the characters to interact with the rest of the citzens of that world and where does the scene take place, is that as important or can it be merely a rough description.

Which places in that world is it important to the story to know more about than a basic description.

A writer must rely on words, if he/she says city and the story is set in a mediveal type world, the reader gets the beginning of a mental picture. The odd details placed in as the story goes on paints the picture in more colours. You have to ask yourself do you want a story to be like a photo, complete in every detail? Or an impression of a scene drawn in outline, partly coloured, yet giving you the texture and feel of an event.

Often the later is better, the first can be cold and stilted, too much effort placed on the details and not enough on the story....