View Full Version : Where in the world is fantasy?
October 31st, 2004, 11:10 AM
A fine critique of a fantasy story I wrote took me to task for having elk served in my inn. The reviewer pointed out that elk are native to North America and have no place in a 'paraEuropean' setting.
Another reviewer took me task because I mentioned corn fields, also originally from North America. He didn't like my having potatoes served either as they, too, are North American and not available to Europe in medieval times.
Another assumed that because there is a King and a hint of nobility, the society must be fuedal.
They would have taken Tolkien to task, I suppose, for including tobacco in Middle Earth.
If, as Barry Hughart and Liam Neeson do, we build an Asian-modeled culture, must we then confine ourselves to rice and wine?
I recognize my vocabulary carries with it certain societal baggage that I am sometimes aware of and sometimes oblivous towards. It's a kindness editors direct my attention to these foibles. Still...
when we build worlds, are we not starting from scratch, taking some from Column A and some from Column B and saying "my world has these" or is sword and sorcery fantasy limited to Euro-centric traits? By that I am asking is the industry so wrapped up in the notion that sword and sorcery implies a medieval European setting that any departure sends publishers and editors in shuddering hysterics never to consider the work as worthy of print?
October 31st, 2004, 12:38 PM
I feel this is a symbol of the refusal to "suspend belief" or prior knowledge. A fantasy world is built out of the building blocks of our world. The world is HOW the creator wishes to be. When you enter that world you should mentally leave this world with its cultures behind. You should know you will run into familiar things in unfamilar settings.
This, is it not, one of the great appeal of fantasy worlds?
A writer uses the world as a template not as a rule book.
If I want to use pounds and onces and inches and miles I will. I don't use our days of the week or money system, these I tend to be vague about, but do use the words, month and year.... Have worlds with one moon, east, west, north and south. WHY NOT.
I was once taken to task by one critique for using "modern" names WHY NOT? they wanted me to use made up names to make it "fantasy" Why in the name of all things would made up names make it fantasy.... Albert is called Albert for a very good reason. Albert is not frightening, the name brings a visual vision of a bald man with a knitted tank top, slippers and a pipe! Most certainly not the most dangerous person you could run into....
You use the words, sea, river, lake, road, city, village and on and on.... should you not use these words.
I mix and blend, in the monster I use a combination of medieval and victorian technology to "make" a certain item, the who thing "doable" worked out by myself and a world famous (in sword circles) smith... is that wrong to do?
I took the victorian gentlemen's sport of stick fighting and turned it, with the help of a moive stunt co-ordinator into a sport for my guildsmen, was this wrong to do?
The world of the monster is my world, not some european medieval world!
A writer creates mixes and matches... and I still haven't given up on the idea of the panama hat ;) yet lol......
October 31st, 2004, 09:27 PM
I'm currently reading a fantasy called "The Black Crusade" (go to Vilewatch (http://www.vilewatch.com) to find out more) and it is set in the past... our past in eastern europe, but it is full of strange goings on and extraordinary people... and, I'm purposely watching for jarring historical issues (since I have to review it) and I've found none. It all works wonderfully altho outrageously and with invented technology (one of the characters is an inventor). I find myself wondering how Richard did it. Now I'm also wondering if elks and potatoes wandered in, if it would throw me...
Worlds have to have consistency (I haven't read your story yet HE). Did you purposely set it in Europe, or North America or in some fantasy world (ala Mieville)? I'm inclined towards saying that if you choose a setting off the shelf, instead of building it yourself, then the reader will like it better if it is consistent. If you want potatoes and Elk in your European inn, then have an Innkeeper named Raging Crow who owns a shipping business and a fondness for things from home.
It's all about keeping the reader with you and talking them round to your way of things after all.
October 31st, 2004, 09:38 PM
Just imagine if you gave corn a different name, what a response you might have had.
Sometimes its important to give things new names but sometimes for our readers we have to remember not to get too crazy. Call a volcano a volcano, even if instead of magma its spewing hot mud.
you could point out to the guy who said that cornfields aren't right for medieval Europe that he's right for Earth, not for your world.
October 31st, 2004, 10:00 PM
Wait let me guess: after railing against you to conform to only the most historically accurate details in your novel, he/she then went on to complain about how standardized and clichéd the field has become.
There are plenty of readers who will actually appreciate novels that do not feel compelled to conform to industry expectations. Some actually seek out books that buck the status quo. My point: let these reviewers go back to their day jobs with the Society for Creative Anachronisms and keep the world in your novel your own- complete with Albert eating halibut at the Smoking Guns Inn. ;)
November 1st, 2004, 05:22 AM
Ok, what follows is a bit of a personal rant concerning the writing of fantasy and the worlds in such works.
Fantasy; according to the Collins concise dictionary
a) Imagination unrestricted by reality.
b) A creation of the imagination.
c) Highly elaborate imaginative design or creation.
d) Literature having a large fantasy content.
Literature eh? . ;)
Add this to another important word.
Literary works invented by the imagination such as novels and short stories.
So why are people hung up on the idea that because you include elements of a past culture in your work, the said work must be that culture. Unless a writer tells me that his or her work is a carbon copy of Stoke –on-Trent at 3.30pm on 14th June 1435, then I know that there will be acronyms. There could very well be a medieval inn with a steam train picking up passengers outside.
The whole point is that the work I am reading is FICTION. The important thing is that the writer writes a story that blends the elements from various cultures/history etc into a BELIEVABLE story. That the writer creates a world you can accept does exist somewhere.
If, like Mary Gentle a certain time in our history is used as a base for the story then I expect a high degree of historical accuracy in the story.
BUT if you are using parts of a medieval culture as a template for certain aspects of your work, you have the right, as the creator of this world to use other aspects from other times and places, the important thing is that you create a world that works for your reader.
If I create a world where people ride pigs instead of horses and the pigs are pig shaped I would like as a writer to reserve the right to call them “pigs” because that gives my readers a damn good idea what the mounts look like. The people in the world might call them horses, but they are pigs. I hope that makes sense.
We are writing fiction. If the fiction is set in this world in any time and place, then we need to do our research and get things as close to reality, our world’s reality.
If we are creating a world from the ground up, we, as writers must create a world that works with the limits of its own reality. Yes, we can make up words for things but if a work contains too many “made” up words for items, you are going to spend 2/3rds of the book explaining what each word is? Ask yourself do you want to write a book like that? The thing is to write a story that creates a world than can be seen as real.
Also readers need to leave this world behind when they open the covers of a book. Children do, they accept the story as the story, they don’t try and alter it to fit the real world, they like the familiar, known elements and items doing magical and strange things. Children don’t turn round and say Thomas is a train therefore he can’t talk. Which is what people are saying in a way, when they decide because this story has elements of a medieval society, that it ishas to be carbon copy of one in everyway, and has to be “limited” too that.
November 1st, 2004, 06:00 AM
Me and Holbrook tend to think in the same channels but let me point out that my original question is more to the point of "what sells?" Is the Society for Euro-Centric Fantasy ruling the roost as I suspect it must be? If so, then selling a story depend upon meeting their expectations.
As opposed to writing the story for my own satisfaction.
November 1st, 2004, 07:50 AM
Potatoes and Elk in a medieval European inn, run by an Innkeeper named Raging Crow who owns a shipping business and has a fondness for things from home?
By all means write what and how you want. You certainly can't please everyone and you have to write what you like to write... but I tend to approach from the emphasis of reader and do try to please a majority, and I have to work hard to keep readers with me (partially because I think there's nothing wrong with "potatoes and Elk in a medieval European inn, run by an Innkeeper named Raging Crow who owns a shipping business and has a fondness for things from home" as a storyline)...
so I say in answer to what sells: if somebody has a problem with a particular element in your story, make a note. If five people have the same problem, change it to make it work unless you are writing for yourself or adamant that your way was right. Learning to evaluate critiques and critiquers is a bit of a skill in itself.
There's no point in saying, the goal posts are in the wrong place... of course they are. This is writing. It's not a logical hobby. They'll probably be somewhere else next week.
Anyway, explanations in fantasy are dead easy: "He got potatoes and corn flown in twice a week by dragon courier." "The Elk had been in a chinese travelling circus until he had a run in with a ping pong ball juggler and was turfed off outside Essex." What could be easier?
November 1st, 2004, 07:56 AM
Oh and yes to the Society for Euro-Centric Fantasy ruling the roost, bit. Especially in Epic fantasy.
We've hated that in Australia for ages and teased it apart, bit by bit, year after year. Luckily now even epic fantasy authors are aware that it is an overused trope. Come on down and join the campaign.
November 1st, 2004, 02:06 PM
I tried to get Euro-centric concepts out of my fantasy trilogy. I don't know what people will think of it though. Theres a lot of real fantasy in there, I think. I've used the 'ancient technology' route rather than the magic route. The way its happened, the first book now looks like a sci-fi novel, at least during the first chapter. Half the second book has a sci-fi theme too.
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