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  1. #1

    Why is fantasy stuck in the middle ages?

    I know that modern fantasy has been on the rise recently, but it seems like so much of it stuck in the middle ages. I know we have the romantic images of knights, and certain great works of literature come from that time period, but many of the legends that influence modern works of fiction come from before that time. So why is fantasy seemingly stuck in the middle ages?

  2. #2
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    So why is fantasy seemingly stuck in the middle ages?
    It's not?

    You could ask why is crime seemingly stuck in modern times?, why are romance novels always nauseating and ridiculous?, why is sci-fi so obsessed with space ships? and so on, and you'd be missing most of what's out there.

    Yeah, there are multiple series out there which are set in a mediaeval-esque world, whether it's Sapkowski's The Witcher (which is based on Eastern European mythology and so forth more so than the stuff Tolkien used), Jordan's The Wheel of Time or Moon's Paksworld books, but largely I would say fantasy has shrugged off those chains and gone its own way.

    We have Modesitt's near-steampunk Imager series, anything by Miéville, the numerous post-apocalyptic fantasies that are kicking about and, well, even the Urban Fantasy genre itself. There's so much diversity out there, and you don't even have to look for it. Authors are continually inventing their own worlds, their own styles and their own histories. To suggest fantasy is stuck in one time period is to do a disservice to many of the great authors past, present and even future.

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    Registered User Atw's Avatar
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    A lot of fantasy is still set in the middle ages. But to say it's stuck there isn't true. (In my humble opinion.)

    Some recent examples I've seen.
    The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson.
    A very western (Steampunk?) book, with revolvers and the like. Still grounded in fantasy of course.
    Twelve by Jasper Kent. I haven't read it yet (That will change soon.) but I understand it's set in the early 19th century.
    There's also a review on this site of Well of Sorrow by Benjamin Tate, which seems to be set in the American Colonial period.

    There are other books as well, but I'm not going to put a huge amount of effort into searching for them. Loerwyn brought up some excellent points, and aside from that there's examples like the ones I just gave.

    I wont disagree that there's still a lot of fantasy still in the middle ages, but it's got it's roots there, it is to be expected. I wouldn't be opposed to seeing a little more variance, it's true. But as I said, I think "stuck" isn't the right word.

    As for why it's there?
    My knowledge of the subject is by no means spectacular. But it seems it's almost always been that way, from early "fantasy" authors, through Tolkien to the present day. And what has come before is bound to influence what comes after. (Allowing for exceptions of course.)

    p.s. I just noticed Well of Sorrows is the book of the month in February for this forum as well.

  4. #4
    Illustrious Gambler saintjon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loerwyn View Post
    It's not?

    You could ask why is crime seemingly stuck in modern times?, why are romance novels always nauseating and ridiculous?, why is sci-fi so obsessed with space ships? and so on, and you'd be missing most of what's out there.

    Yeah, there are multiple series out there which are set in a mediaeval-esque world, whether it's Sapkowski's The Witcher (which is based on Eastern European mythology and so forth more so than the stuff Tolkien used), Jordan's The Wheel of Time or Moon's Paksworld books, but largely I would say fantasy has shrugged off those chains and gone its own way.

    We have Modesitt's near-steampunk Imager series, anything by Miéville, the numerous post-apocalyptic fantasies that are kicking about and, well, even the Urban Fantasy genre itself. There's so much diversity out there, and you don't even have to look for it. Authors are continually inventing their own worlds, their own styles and their own histories. To suggest fantasy is stuck in one time period is to do a disservice to many of the great authors past, present and even future.
    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    I'd like to add that Wheel of Time visually seems to be more Victorian than anything.

    Also there's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, The Age of Unreason, all kinds of stuff really. I've read some that were Renaissance flavoured (the one ground into my brain right now wasn't a great read though).

    Even if this weren't the case though if someone has a good story to tell in a medieval setting why not use that setting? Would the Kingkiller chronicles be that much better if they were a bit more Steam Age or a bit more Dark Ages? Doubt it.


    next paragraph has like a mild spoiler if you're real persnickety about that stuff. It seems so mild to me I'm not going to dignify it with spoiler tags though.

    Richard Morgan's Steel Remains had some medieval trappings and then took a wild detour into some 21st century type weirdness for a bit there (none of the characters who saw a dwenda could recognize their clothes as such but it sure seemed to me like they were wearing leather crotch rocket jumpsuits with matching plastic helmets)

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    Resident Gadfly Pugio's Avatar
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    A few years ago I got it in my head that it would be cool to base a fantasy setting around the American West. Like the Middle Ages, there's a lot of romance and mystique to the era, and it seems like a good opportunity to explore governments besides feudalism. Then I read The Iron Council and realized China Mieville was way ahead of me.

    Then I read The Dark Tower and realized Stephen King was waaaaaay ahead of me. Ah well, at least I know I'm on the right path. And it looks like Joe Abercrombie's next book is going to have some Western themes, so needless to say I'm looking forward.

  6. #6
    Despite the existence of stories set in other times I feel I must use the term stuck, because it is by in large stuck there. Looking through the shelves of any bookstore, or anyone's list of favorite books, I can hardly find one that is not set in a middle ages type setting. I just ponder why, given then wide breadth of inspiration and information out there it is so.

  7. #7
    Resident Gadfly Pugio's Avatar
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    I think part of it might be that a book with fantastic elements is more likely to be labelled as "fantasy" if it's has a Medieval-ish setting. If it's a fantasy in a futuristic setting like Star Wars, it could be regarded as sci fi. Or if it's a fantasy in a modern day setting, it could be regarded as horror, (or even magical realism) depending on the tone.
    Last edited by Pugio; February 2nd, 2012 at 11:38 PM.

  8. #8
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    Despite the existence of stories set in other times I feel I must use the term stuck, because it is by in large stuck there. Looking through the shelves of any bookstore, or anyone's list of favorite books, I can hardly find one that is not set in a middle ages type setting. I just ponder why, given then wide breadth of inspiration and information out there it is so.
    I think your bookstore must be a little bizarre, then, and you can't really base your opinion on a list of people's favourite books as they might not like certain subgenres (say, steampunk) and as such they wouldn't appear on their lists.

    Is there a lot of mediaeval-era fantasy? Yes.
    Is there an equal amount of non-mediaeval fantasy, or at least non-traditional mediaeval fantasy (e.g. Sapkowski)? I would say so.

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    Vanaeph Westsiyeed's Avatar
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    Maybe there's a perception of an abundance of "medieval/middle ages" fantasy because of it's popularity on this forum and also in recent media such as GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

    Personally this is the sub-genre of fantasy that I generally steer clear of, but there is a vast range of fantasy authors that aren't in this sub-genre at all, and many have written my favourite novels - Jeff Vandermeer, China Mieville, Clive Barker, Jeffrey Ford, Jeff Noon, Neil Gaimam, etc. This is my kind of fantasy!

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Loerwyn View Post
    I think your bookstore must be a little bizarre, then, and you can't really base your opinion on a list of people's favourite books as they might not like certain subgenres (say, steampunk) and as such they wouldn't appear on their lists.

    Is there a lot of mediaeval-era fantasy? Yes.
    Is there an equal amount of non-mediaeval fantasy, or at least non-traditional mediaeval fantasy (e.g. Sapkowski)? I would say so.
    I dunno. I think the shelves of the university bookstore, local general bookstore, the borders (probably closed now.), and several others I've been through would suggest otherwise.

  11. #11
    Registered User JustaStaffer's Avatar
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    Maybe the better question would be, why do we (of the royal variety) buy more anachronistic middle age fantasy than other types?

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    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustaStaffer View Post
    Maybe the better question would be, why do we (of the royal variety) buy more anachronistic middle age fantasy than other types?
    This. I was going to answer the OP with: because that's what sells. The industry doesn't dictate tastes; it reflects them.

    And as so many have pointed out, there is plenty of non-medieval fantasy out there.

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    Illustrious Gambler saintjon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    Despite the existence of stories set in other times I feel I must use the term stuck, because it is by in large stuck there. Looking through the shelves of any bookstore, or anyone's list of favorite books, I can hardly find one that is not set in a middle ages type setting. I just ponder why, given then wide breadth of inspiration and information out there it is so.
    I don't think it's unfair to say it has been stuck there before but I don't think it is now. There's also all kinds of fiction that really hinge on fantasy elements but don't classify themselves as such. What happens as a result is a lot of people are fantasy fans without knowing they are because they think that it's JUST stories with knights, dragons and wizards and stuff.

    Like when I say "fantasy" I doubt Field of Dreams springs to mind but what could be more fantastic than a guy who hears a voice and ends up with a team of dead baseball players romping around in his cornfield?

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    Resident Gadfly Pugio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by saintjon View Post
    What happens as a result is a lot of people are fantasy fans without knowing they are because they think that it's JUST stories with knights, dragons and wizards and stuff.

    Like when I say "fantasy" I doubt Field of Dreams springs to mind but what could be more fantastic than a guy who hears a voice and ends up with a team of dead baseball players romping around in his cornfield?
    Exactly, that's what I was trying to get at above. One could easily consider One Hundred Years of Solitude or Beloved as fantasy novels, but because they're set in modern(ish) times they often get considered as mainstream literature. Whereas we've been trained to think of "fantasy" as something that happens in a pre-industrial setting. Maybe that's because it's just easier to imagine a society with magic if the society isn't very technologically advanced.

  15. #15
    Couch Commander Danogzilla's Avatar
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    Quite a lot of "traditional fantasy" is set in a Renaissance analog.

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