October 4th, 2005, 08:02 AM
A typical fantasy setting? What's that??
Just been poking around on one of the other forums here, and noticed a lot of comments along the lines of Robin Hobb's new book is "not your usual fantasy setting." By which, one assumes, they mean mediaeval - castles, swords, horse travel etc. Or possibly Dark Ages King Arthur/Celtic stuff. And, quite frankly, I wonder where the people who posted those comments have been over the last 10 years or so.
If you ask me, very little of today's fantasy is actually set in mediaeval times - neither on a mediaeval Earth, nor on some mediaeval-type alternative earth. And most of it is not Celtic/Dark Ages setting, either. But somehow, some readers have failed to notice! Just look at some of the award winning fantasy of late - Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Dr Norrell ; Gaiman’s American Gods; Harry Potter; Mieville’s work; Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw; I could on and on. And on.
Even fantasy that superficially seems to be mediaeval – in that there is not much sophisticated technology and everyone fights with swords – often has very little resemblance to the mediaeval. (Magic often renders the idea of mediaeval concept superfluous anyway– is a world like Robert Jordan’s mediaeval when people can travel around it magically with an ease that makes airlines look slow?) And yet still readers will insist that “typical” fantasy settings are somehow homogenous. This is not true now, if it ever was.
My Isles of Glory trilogy was quite obviously set in an alternative world at a time that approximates to our 1780-1830. There were scientific expeditions on sailing ships, open ocean navigation by people who knew what they were doing, 19th century type colonialism, the beginnings of modern medicine and democracy and countless other clues to the period. And yet I have had reviewers refer to it as a mediaeval fantasy. I’m not sure what book they were reading! Were they so mired in this tired idea that fantasy has to be mediaeval, that they didn’t read what was on the page?
These days, fantasy has as many settings as there are fantasy books; some are brilliantly realised, some aren’t. Some are cliched, some aren’t. So please, none of this “not your typical fantasy setting” – there ain't no such thing!