Fantasy and History
Panels at Loncon3
“Fantasy authors should borrow, steal and pillage history.”
So sayeth George R.R. Martin, and he should know what he’s talking about.
He is only too ready to talk about the many ways that people died in medieval times, and
I think he’s maybe trying to cover as many of them as he can in his Game of Thrones series!
I seemed understandable then, that many of the panels at Loncon3 were about history, and world building based on historical models. Amongst those that I attended were:
- Religion in fantasy
- Fantasy and Medievalism
- Imagining fantasy lands; the status quo does not need world building.
- Your ‘realistic’ fantasy is a washed out colourless emptiness compared to the Rabelaisian reality. Discuss.
- Travel in fantasy
- Seeing the future, knowing the past.
As I’ve commented before, the level of interest (and use) of these varied topics depended entirely on the quality of the panellist, so I won’t go through each panel individually, rather share the notes I took that were of interest to me, and hope they might be to you too. I’m sure some of it will not be news to you, but I’ve never been a history buff (bad move for a fantasy writer) but by the sounds of it, many historical misconceptions in fantasy novels are perpetuated by others (like me!) who reproduce them until they become accepted as fact.
I concentrated on the medieval period as that is pertinent to one of my series.
This classification covers a thousand years of history: 500 – 1500 AD
The average marriage age was 21 – 25
Possible life expectancy was no different then to now, there were simply so many more things that might kill you early.
Learned women in this time had more rights than during the Victorian era.
Throwing insults and curses took far longer than any eventual fight.
Remember that what food they ate depended on the time of year, and that warfare stopped for harvest when manpower was short. The one who could keep his men in the field come harvest time would win the war.
Examples of trade goods were: butter, eggs (when in short supply), lace, salt, information, grain and spices.
I didn’t include this panel in the above, because it wasn’t strictly about history, but as they were using Robin Hobb’s character FitzChivalry as the main (and title) example, and Robin Hobb’s books have a medieval setting, and Robin Hobb was on the panel (yay!) for me, this was one of the highlights of the Con.
Assassins crop up frequently in fantasy, and often the book is entirely about how they came to that position, and what they then do with it, morally and literally.
Having an assassin as a main character in my own novel, THE PRINCE’S MAN, it was of particular interest to me to gain more understanding of why and how an assassin could be made, and to realise I’d done it right with my own Lady Risada, who began her journey to the dark side at the tender age of 6, when her parents are murdered before her eyes.
The conversation revolved about the timeline of the mental development of a child, producing the alarming fact that the part of the brain dealing with conscience does not fully develop until the age of 22 – 23.
When children in medieval times were considered adult at the age of 14, this could have grave consequences.
A historical fact was introduced here: Alexander the Great was just 17 when he led his armies; way too early for him to have had any understanding of moral consequences.
So the lesson was, if you want to create an assassin, it’s easier to take a child and mould them (much like the tragic child soldiers we see in conflicts today) than to re-train an adult.
This cheery panel concluded with some recommended reading:
Deadly Doses: a Writer’s Guide to Poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens and Anne Klarner
Medieval Herbal Remedies: The Old English Herbarium and Anglo-Saxon Medicine by Anne Van Arsdall
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy by Adrienne Mayor
So who’s next for a nice glass of wine?!**??