Friday, April 13, 2012

Speculative Fiction Tropes: Lords and Ladies




Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on Lords and Ladies. In other words, we'll be talking about medievalism in speculative fiction.

Perhaps most prevalent in high fantasy, a large number of works across fantasy sub-genres have shared a common pseudo-medieval setting. In these stories, kings and queens rule the realm, valiant knights defend the honor of their kingdoms, and brave adventurers crusade against the forces of darkness.

This trope calls to mind the clanging of steel and the pounding of hooves, battle standards flying and war horns sounding. In fact, if it wasn't for the presence of fantastical elements like magic and monsters, you might think you were reading a story set in medieval Europe.

Medievalism in fantasy can be traced back to some of the earliest examples of the fantasy genre, such as The Well at the World's End by William Morris. This 1896 novel introduced the reader to Ralph of Upmeads, who sets out on an adventure to find a magical well that grants strength and destiny to anyone who can drink from it. Morris' story was directly influenced by medieval tales and legends, and along with other early works like Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter, it would help to lay the foundations of fantasy as a literary genre, particularly high fantasy and sword & sorcery.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but much of this trope's prevalence in modern fantasy (like many others) also has a great deal to do with the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Tolkien himself was inspired partially by the tales mentioned above, but it was his work (along with others, like C.S. Lewis) that proved fantasy could be a commercially viable genre, breaking into the mainstream and paving the way for legions of writers that would follow.

Lord of the Rings set the type for high fantasy, portraying a world clearly born of medieval culture and folklore. You'd be hard pressed to find a fantasy author that has been emulated more than Tolkien.

Since I was a child, I've been absolutely in love with the medieval setting in epic fantasy. As a writer, I've produced more science fiction than fantasy, but most of the fantasy works I've written are dripping with unabashed influence from the likes of Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and George R.R. Martin. Several short stories of mine have taken place in a world dominated by feudal kingdoms wrapped up in religious conflict, including a couple that may be seeing publication soon.

I don't know what it is that compels me so, but as a reader I just can't get enough of it. Give me wicked tyrants and scrappy rebel armies. Give me epic sword duels and brave dragon slayers. Give me wizards and paladins. You can even give me Orcs, Elves, and Dwarves. As long as it's imaginative and written well, I'll consume just about any story in this mold with a smile on my face.

Recommended Reading:
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Recommended Viewing:
Game of Thrones
Dragonslayer
The Princess Bride

Recommended Gaming:
Dragon Age: Origins
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
The Witcher






10 comments:

  1. Thanks for stopping by and following! I write contemporary YA, but I read just about everything. I haven't seen Game of Thrones yet, but I keep hearing how great it is. I'm sure I'll delve into it sooner than later!

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    1. Game of Thrones is fantastic, in my opinion. I've read all of the books, so I know what's going to happen already, and it still manages to keep me on the edge of my seat.

      Thanks for reading, Daisy!

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  2. Beautifully said, J.W. The fascination you have with epic fantasy seeps out every paragraph of this post, and it got me thinking how it would have looks like without Tolkien. Would any other historical period have been as good a match as the medieval one? Somehow I doubt it. But then again, it's hard for me to shake LOTR out of my mind on this one. I've seen the movies about 14-15 times (not joking, my hubby "accidentally" lost the CDs during a spring-cleaning after that).

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    1. That would be grounds for divorce where I come from! :P

      It's hard to imagine where the fantasy genre would be without Tolkien's influence. Some of the greatest stories of all time are rife with his influence. More often though, I wonder where it would be if he'd lived long enough to finish his work. His son has done a well enough job of trying to share the manuscripts his father was working on, but J.R.R. was so well known for copious redrafting that I wonder if his posthumous work would have looked anything like it did if his work had continued. A shame that we'll never know!

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  3. I'm a Tolkien fan, but haven't gotten interested in much other fantasy. I'm trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge Blogs this month.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sharkbytes! The challenge has been great fun!

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  4. There is also the Feudal Future types, as is my current WiP. But I would argue that the first "fantasy" stories are the tales of ancient mythologies and the Medieval Romances.

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    1. Absolutely! Dune is one of the greatest scifi works of all time, and funnily enough I just recommended it to a friend by describing it as "Game of Thrones in space."

      You're right about fantasy's connection to medieval romance. As I mentioned, the earliest authors in what is now considered the fantasy genre were clearly inspired by European mythology, Arthurian legend, and epic narrative poems such as Beowulf.

      Thanks for the comment, Rafael!

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  5. Fascinating topic! Thanks for sharing!(I am halfway through book 3 of A Song of Fire and Ice! Only put it down to check out some a-z blogs with my lunch!)

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    1. Martin's series is one of my favorites of all time. I only wish he'd write faster!

      Thanks for stopping by, Lost Star.

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Thanks for reading!