Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?

  • 24 Replies
  • 336 Views

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

*

kherezae

  • mad jack
  • Administrator
  • Expert
  • *****
  • 433
    • View Profile
    • My Wattpad
Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« on: June 06, 2017, 11:39:24 PM »
I've been wondering lately why, by and large, so much fantasy tends to either be set in Ye Olden Days or in an alternate version of more modern Earth with magic. I mean, of course there are outliers that write different stuff, but I guess I'm more curious about why that's so uncommon. Do we just tend to think worlds with magic wouldn't progress scientifically? Is it too much work to try to track how a world with magic and science developing quickly would actually turn out?

I'm much more interested these days in writing scifantasy. It's something different, and anyway I want to build a world with a history spanning many different eras, so naturally technology would grow over time! It's definitely challenging, but it also leads to some genuinely fascinating developments in setting!

What do you think?

*

Tyrannohotep

  • Master
  • *****
  • 711
    • View Profile
    • My Wordpress
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2017, 12:51:16 AM »
I've been wondering lately why, by and large, so much fantasy tends to either be set in Ye Olden Days or in an alternate version of more modern Earth with magic. I mean, of course there are outliers that write different stuff, but I guess I'm more curious about why that's so uncommon. Do we just tend to think worlds with magic wouldn't progress scientifically? Is it too much work to try to track how a world with magic and science developing quickly would actually turn out?

I'm much more interested these days in writing scifantasy. It's something different, and anyway I want to build a world with a history spanning many different eras, so naturally technology would grow over time! It's definitely challenging, but it also leads to some genuinely fascinating developments in setting!

What do you think?
I think a lot of the people who write fantasy fiction start out as history buffs, or at least have a casual interest in historical settings. For them, fantasy is historical fiction with more creative leeway (and maybe more magic).

Furthermore, while it might depend on your magic system, I would think that magic would take care of a lot of the problems that took technology to solve in the real world. If you have magic portals linking different places in your world, do you really need to bother with airplanes?

That said, I do like the idea of science fantasy, . And personally I'd like to see more secondary worlds that have a modern or even futuristic level of technology as opposed to the usual pre-industrial affairs.
My big art thread

Also the author of the entire Dinosaurs & Dames anthology

*

ScribblerKat

  • Journeyman
  • ***
  • 128
    • View Profile
    • Kathy Ann Trueman - fantasy writer
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2017, 12:21:32 PM »
On a variation of what Tyrannohotep says, I got into writing fantasy in Ye Olden Days because I was a history buff who lost all interest in history with the Industrial Revolution. I still think the ugliest tree is more beautiful than the most marvelous skyscraper. I wouldn't want to live without technical advances, especially in medicine and communication, but I love nature and the country, so I set my stories there, where I can live without cars and pollution. I also avoid other things I don't like, such as politics, and I don't write urban fantasy. I am unapologetic for this indulgence in my writing - why in the world would I want to spend months of creative endeavor in a world that I loathe?

kherezae, I do love your idea of scifantasy. I read a lot more broadly than I write - a lot - so I'd be interested in reading that.
All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost

*

Jedi Knight Muse

  • A muse that's a Jedi
  • Administrator
  • Master
  • *****
  • 2630
    • View Profile
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2017, 12:59:29 PM »
I...don't have some big, detailed, complex answer for this. I'm not a history buff. I have NEVER been a history buff. I think in my case, the reason I write in a setting that's at least loosely medieval based (castles, kings, queens, princesses, swords, etc) is because a lot of the movies that I enjoy writing actually have that kind of a setting, or a loosely based setting to that, and same with some of the stuff I read. The Princess Bride, Willow, Ladyhawke, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, Quest for Camelot, Game of Thrones, Merlin...those are all movies/TV shows (there's actually two versions of Merlin that I've seen, one a TV show and one a TV made movie, so I'm including both of those) that I can think of and have medieval-y settings (and I mean, Quest for Camelot may be animated and I bet most people haven't heard of it, but it IS loosely based on Arthurian legend....

...or it at least has the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin and Arthur in it, even if they're all very secondary characters. Oh, and it has Excalibur in it.)

Anyway. Those movies and books have influenced my writing in a lot of ways, and I think I unconsciously just...decided to write in a setting that's at least a little similar to a medieval setting, even if it's not historically accurate. I honestly don't care about the historical accuracy. I mean, I do, but it's not a priority in my writing, because even though the world I imagine has a medieval-type setting, it's NOT medieval as far as historical accuracy goes. I don't have female characters married and having kids at eleven years old, for example. If a female character wants to wait until she's old enough to get married, she can (generally speaking. Betrothals are a thing I've done in the past and I think I had the characters as young as eighteen years old for that, but I'd probably make them older now).

Quote
why in the world would I want to spend months of creative endeavor in a world that I loathe?

This, 1,000%. I have 0 interest in writing in a modern setting. I mean, I guess I technically used to do that when I wrote fan fiction and even non-fan fiction, but that was when I was a kid and I just wrote whatever my imagination came up with without caring. (I actually wish I still had access to most of the things I used to write that I only vaguely remember, just for the laughs. There's one that I really wish I still had.)

I lied about the detailed answer. :P tl;dr I just like the medieval setting, and I have 0 interest in writing a modern one. I also don't have any real interest in writing a scifantasy setting. That may be because I've done Star Wars role playing for so long, though.
Storms of Magic - Draft 1 FINISHED


*

kherezae

  • mad jack
  • Administrator
  • Expert
  • *****
  • 433
    • View Profile
    • My Wattpad
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2017, 04:11:43 PM »
That all makes a lot of sense on one level! I, too, have always been more interested in pre-Industrial Revolution history, though I used to not like any modern history at all and it has at least grown on me some in the past couple of years. And of course with the prevalence of historic fantasy, new fantasy authors have an easy in to write what they've been exposed to in the bulk of fantasy work.

And I absolutely agree that you should write what interests you! You're not gonna be invested in writing something you find boring.

It's just interesting to me that fantasy grew up into a genre that attracts history buffs so much... and that there's the odd jump from historic fantasy to urban/supernatural fantasy.

Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2017, 06:15:42 PM »
I have a great loathing for most history, so I am by far the furthest away from a history buff that you can get. Now that being said it is just the USA history I loath and that is because in school it seemed like we learned the same things over and over again. It got very daunting and boring. I never did well with boring. Give me history that I haven't learned much about and I will gladly learn about it. US History (Politics along with it,) and I are not good friends. I think that is why I enjoy fantasy writing and reading so much.

Now that all being said, I do know there are books out there that combine the fantastical with the modern day times and means, Fablehaven has fairies, witches, and the likes but it is a modern setting. I myself have a dragon book that has magic and all the good fantasy stuff in it but
the main characters are from the modern world and get transported to the other place, so the real (modern) world still exists but so does the fantasy world, the exists side by side almost but the fantasy world is only visible to a few people from the modern world.

Like was said I too have a real board spectrum of what I read, (I think I write in a board spectrum too) so Scifantasy sounds interesting and I would probably read it, but I don't know if I would write it.
 
The Princess Bride, Willow, Ladyhawke, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, Quest for Camelot, Game of Thrones, Merlin...

I love all of these that you listed!!! :D

*

ScribblerKat

  • Journeyman
  • ***
  • 128
    • View Profile
    • Kathy Ann Trueman - fantasy writer
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2017, 11:12:14 AM »
, Quest for Camelot may be animated and I bet most people haven't heard of it

I've heard of it! And I liked it! I'm a huge animation fan. And I also love all the movies you listed. I think "Ladyhawke" is the most romantic movie ever.

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost

*

Jedi Knight Muse

  • A muse that's a Jedi
  • Administrator
  • Master
  • *****
  • 2630
    • View Profile
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #7 on: June 08, 2017, 11:20:17 AM »
, Quest for Camelot may be animated and I bet most people haven't heard of it

I've heard of it! And I liked it! I'm a huge animation fan. And I also love all the movies you listed. I think "Ladyhawke" is the most romantic movie ever.

It really is. And as much as I like the episode in general, it kind of bugs me that Charmed basically ripped it off but switched things around and changed one of the animals. Instead of a hawk it's an owl and instead of the guy being the wolf, the girl was. I still like that episode, though.

I freaking love Quest for Camelot. I wish Freeform would get the rights to air it on their station instead of playing the same movies over and over and over and over again. I feel like it was one of those movies that didn't do great in theaters, so not many people know about it. Or at least not many people that I've talked to.
Storms of Magic - Draft 1 FINISHED


*

Amblygon

  • Apprentice
  • **
  • 53
  • Kris
    • View Profile
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2017, 05:40:29 PM »
This is such an interesting question and one that I've been thinking about a lot recently in relation to one of my WIPs and my two latest ideas.

My first idea involves people from a cold land, with ships and swords, and they like raiding... And then I was like, oh man, that's essentially just like vikings (with some magic thrown in). My second idea has castles, a council of 'mages', princes/princesses, and then I realised that that was like any generic medieval inspired fantasy setting. And that's fine, I'm still going to go with them (and try to challenge the stereotypes where I can), but it made me think about why it's so difficult to come up with something that's not inspired by historical cultures or isn't set in the modern world.

I think the conclusions I came to are similar to what's already been said. Essentially, we write about what we're familiar with, but (perhaps without realising) I think we also write about things that our readers are familiar with. If you have a culture that's similar to the vikings, your reader can import quite a lot of their own knowledge even if they haven't read any actual viking history. Or a Robin Hood-type setting. Or knights and dragons. Or LotR elves and dwarves. Or even Renaissance Italy with its city states is starting to be familiar enough to people who haven't necessarily read about it in detail. Readers can use their preconceived notions of those familiar things to feel more immersed in the world. Of course, a writer can have twists and make some surprising changes, but it helps your reader to be able to say, aha, these people are sort of like the vikings, I know what their culture is like, I can imagine what they might look like, etc.

But if you have to start from scratch... I think most people find it difficult - I find it really difficult. How do you go about inventing a culture from scratch? All the history, religion, language(s), societal values, etc. It's easier (for writer and reader) to borrow from something already known. Also, I was thinking about things that I've read that try really hard to make something be as unique as possible, and sometimes I feel like they're quite alien. The languages/names look like something generated by a monkey jumping on a keyboard and the structure of the culture feels unnatural...

Aanyway, I would be interested to hear if anyone has any alternative views. I don't think fantasy needs to move to being completely unique - I think being inspired by things we know is good. What I think I'd like to do (both in terms of reading and writing) is to start reading more books that don't focus on Western settings/cultures. (In fact, maybe it's worth starting a topic where people can share books that are inspired by non-Western cultures/histories/settings.)

*

No One of Consequence

  • Journeyman
  • ***
  • 109
    • View Profile
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #9 on: June 12, 2017, 10:30:31 PM »
The Princess Bride, Willow, Ladyhawke, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, Quest for Camelot, Game of Thrones, Merlin

Add to these Hearts & Armour (spaghetti fantasy if there is such a thing) & Flesh & Blood, and you've summed up my youth pretty effectively. Except of course that I'm old enough to have seen all of them in original theatrical release - damn I feel old.

I think the original question is fascinating, because I've always loved sci-fantasy - the planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E Howard, Leigh Bracket and C.L. Moore. Even later fantasists like Mercedes Lackey and Michael Moorcock. I think that's why I find myself going back to these earlier authors, I'm trying to resist this domination of fantasy by the pseudo-medieval. It's not that I hate this period for fantasy and of course it works great for Tolkien. But I like my fantasy with something different.

I've never really got into this newer trend of modern fantasy - it kind of feels like an outgrowth of HP and Percy Jackson on the one hand and the vampire & werewolf romances on the other. Since I haven't read much of these genres I can't say why they would be so popular, but I'd guess that the familiarity of the setting is more approachable for some readers. People who don't like history and can't wrap their heads around thees and thous and castles and knights, can get a dose of fantasy through Bella and Edward (did I get those names right).

Also, I think I've said somewhere on this forum before - it feels like a lot of fantasy authors are trying to be the 'next big thing' and for the longest time that's meant trying to out Tolkien the Lord of the Rings. 

In fact, maybe it's worth starting a topic where people can share books that are inspired by non-Western cultures/histories/settings.)

There's actually a lot more of this than many folks think - also, there's a lot more to Western culture than just England between 1100 and 1300 AD. I find the Thirty Years War period fascinating, for example, and use it as the inspiration for my series of books. I think I'll go off and start your suggested thread (or find the thread if others have already been me to it).

*

Jedi Knight Muse

  • A muse that's a Jedi
  • Administrator
  • Master
  • *****
  • 2630
    • View Profile
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #10 on: June 13, 2017, 12:24:20 AM »

In fact, maybe it's worth starting a topic where people can share books that are inspired by non-Western cultures/histories/settings.)

There's actually a lot more of this than many folks think - also, there's a lot more to Western culture than just England between 1100 and 1300 AD. I find the Thirty Years War period fascinating, for example, and use it as the inspiration for my series of books. I think I'll go off and start your suggested thread (or find the thread if others have already been me to it).

I meant to reply to this sooner and then I forgot, but as far as I know there hasn't been a thread made about this, so I say go ahead and make it!
Storms of Magic - Draft 1 FINISHED


*

ScribblerKat

  • Journeyman
  • ***
  • 128
    • View Profile
    • Kathy Ann Trueman - fantasy writer
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #11 on: June 13, 2017, 12:27:28 PM »
What I think I'd like to do (both in terms of reading and writing) is to start reading more books that don't focus on Western settings/cultures.

Have you tried Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori?
All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost

*

Sandy

  • Apprentice
  • **
  • 88
  • probably haunting you right now
    • View Profile
    • My Artblog
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #12 on: June 13, 2017, 05:07:30 PM »
I was a pretty big fan of Final Fantasy X-2 when I was a kid (it was the only one I had played for a very long time, embarrassing), and I definitely love colorful futuristic sci-fi fantasy settings. It's really cool how Final Fantasy usually combines 'woodsy nature mages' with 'cyberpunk cities' and 'ancient monsters and legends' and 'also some of this stuff is steampunk shh' without feeling like any of the elements are out of place. I've also read a lot of jedi-themed star wars expanded universe books, and the Jedi are pretty much just wizards who hang out in the far future while everyone else does technology stuff.

I've been promising myself for ages that I'll write a fantasy novel, and my favorite kinds of settings are very, very 'old timey', because world history BCE is just one of my favorite things to learn about. It's still pretty hard to find Non-Western high fantasy in general, and I wanna write something I'd like to read but can't find much of. As a history buff, I also think it's weird that medieval settings don't base 'more advanced/elfy/etc. cultures on y'kno, the Arabic world, since they were at a cultural Renaissance during the western dark ages. This paragraph is devolving into me just reiterating that I'm really into not-medieval history.......

My other plot bunny is definitely rooted in my Final Fantasy fannishness, because I want it to be ""post-apocalypse"" but in the sense that I want 'the grid' to have fallen apart and for people to manage in a pre-industrial manner, while there's still cities where "the old way" (electricity, technology, etc.) exists, that most of the protagonists see as being basically no different from a 'magical elf city'. That story wouldn't have any fantasy elements, though, just references to some religious beliefs and fantasy-genre tone.

*

Amblygon

  • Apprentice
  • **
  • 53
  • Kris
    • View Profile
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #13 on: June 13, 2017, 05:16:11 PM »
ScribblerKat - that was number one in my additions to the non-medieval books! I love that series, it's one I go back to quite often. (And I recently read The Tale of Shikanoko which is set in the same world!!) I'm very interested in things about Japan so really enjoyed this great combination of fantasy and Japan.

*

Irish_Carbomb

  • Journeyman
  • ***
  • 139
  • Yarr! I'm a pirate. I be plunderin' yer werdz!
    • View Profile
    • The Author Known as Vanderbilt
Re: Why is most fantasy old-timey or alternate urban?
« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2017, 04:50:46 PM »
I've dabbled in sci-fantasy here and there, but that was before I was taking my work seriously. I have vague ideas toward a one-off I might actually write in the future, but it's not even a premise at this point. XD As for the general options you listed, I'm not sure why those are defaults. Takes one thing off the world-building plate to set it up that way, I guess. For olden times, you're taking out tech which has to be factored into societal advances. For urban, you've already got a grounded setting for your readers to jump from "no way" to "I can suspend my disbelief." For someone doing sci-magic, it's a lot of work that most people aren't prepared for.