Historical realism vs fantasy

Brian G Turner

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The articles were interesting though more than a little overwrought. But they're angry and that's fine.

The history was sloppy around the edges. Some of the criticism was leveled at fictional societies based on some variation of medieval European society. People get that stuff wrong all the time and not just about gender roles or race. They get social organization wrong, have misconceptions about religion, and so on. But the article over and over cites examples that are post-medieval. The citations for a "myriad" of female soldiers lists maybe fifty across about a thousand years.

The point I agree very much on is that no one should be allowed to get away with claiming that their treatment of women or race in their novel is because such-and-such simply never existed historically. That's flat wrong and is just a lazy and prejudiced way for not trying very hard. At the same time, if one happens to write a medieval novel in which everyone is white, that cannot be said to be unrealistic. Unless, of course, the setting is Sicily or certain other places where there were other cultures present.

Anyway, I get their point, even if they didn't have to shout at me to make it.
 
An interesting read, but I'll have to put in that a black Lancelot probably is unlikely. However, Wikipedia does inform me that blacks were known in England as early as the Roman times.

I clearly remember Patricia Wrede's Caught in Crystal. I thought the plot was a bit underwhelming, but I was deeply impressed that the protagonist was not your typical Aragorn/Frodo/Allanon/Hercules/Perseus kind of traditional male hero. She was a woman whose husband had abandoned his family and who had to drag her two children along on her quest with her. It was so refreshingly different, and believable. It is what I remember about the novel more than anything else.
 
An absolutely kick-ass challenge to the idea of white male history being the norm:
http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/psa-your-default-narrative-settings-are-not-apolitical/

Especially loving the section on women pirates, and Scott Lynch's response to the criticism of his having a black middle-age pirate mother-of-two character.

Foz Meadows is brilliant as usual. That post should be required reading for all would-be fantasy authors.

...and the Scott Lynch reply is just classic.
 
I think sknox has a good point about the tone.

I for one definitely agree with what they try to say, but not necessarily with the way they say it. I sympathise with the passion about these issues, but I think that at least the Lynch answer is too agressive. I mean - these issues are important, but screaming and cursing at people and calling them "you sad little bigot" will not win them over. Which is unfortunate.
 
I think sknox has a good point about the tone.

I for one definitely agree with what they try to say, but not necessarily with the way they say it. I sympathise with the passion about these issues, but I think that at least the Lynch answer is too agressive. I mean - these issues are important, but screaming and cursing at people and calling them "you sad little bigot" will not win them over. Which is unfortunate.

I don't think it's unfortunate at all. There are multiple signposts in that rather offensive statement he responded to that indicate the writer has no interest in a conversation and instead just wants to accuse Lynch of kowtowing to "political correctness" (a loaded term).

I'm usually one for trying to take the high road, when the other person wants a genuine dialogue, but that's just not the case here.
 
You may well be right about those signposts, but still, to me it essentially looks just like another case of the kind of polarised mudslinging that these discussions seem to end up in too often. I would have been more impressed by an answer in a more constructive tone.
 
I have come to accept that some critics are so polemical that they aren't really interested in debate or getting their facts straight. In those cases, the best advice is to ignore them. Engaging them means presenting your facts and hoping that they will be given fair consideration by someone intent on using you as an example of what's wrong with society.

But, hey, there's this story about Ray Bradbury . . . http://blogs.agu.org/martianchronicles/2010/10/28/bradbury-on-martian-moonrise/ ;)
 
I think the problem is two-fold. Firstly, there's the issue of social context. The very notion that society "always used to be x" is nonsensical from the start, because human society is in a constant state of change, and has existed in a myriad of different forms. Even limiting ourself to a single cultural heritage, the culture changes enormously over the years.

Within each period of a culture, various factors will influence the social dynamic, and who is or isn't empowered.

The second major complication is that our understanding of our cultural history is dictated by education, and western formal education was unfortunately established right smack in the middle of a period where "white, straight christian males" did indeed rule - namely from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th Century.

So much of western civilisation's understanding of our past is derived from this time period, and is clouded by that society's perceptions. However if you seek our primary sources for the Middle Ages or the Dark Ages or Classical Rome or Pre-Roman Britain you'll find quite a different story.

Because the Middle Ages was the period immediately before white man took control during the Renaissance, the Middle Ages are perhaps the most distorted of all periods. And unfortunately most fantasy writers set their works in a medieval setting, usually tainted by the Victorian notion of pastoralism.
 

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