No, Not All Fantasy Fiction Is Medieval

Updated on August 27, 2018
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Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit, loves analyzing fiction, and is dorkily obsessed with books, film, and television.

Is this automatically medieval because . . . floating islands? Only Europeans had floating islands, right?
Is this automatically medieval because . . . floating islands? Only Europeans had floating islands, right?

In fact, medieval fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, but people tend to confuse it with epic fantasy or fantasy in general. Epic fantasy (or "high fantasy") actually takes place in a secondary world (not our real Earth), and while it might be influenced by real cultures, it is largely made up gobbledygook.

This secondary world operates by its own rules while remaining consistent (as in, not breaking those rules), meaning its inhabitants speak, dress, and act just the way the writer imagined.

So Why Is Most Fantasy Fiction Medieval?

A lot of people tend to ask this question.

First, it's not. I wouldn't call The Edge Chronicles "medieval." (By the way, those are fantastic books. Check them out!)

Second, the simple answer is that the dominate culture is Eurocentric, and so Eurocentric history is romanticized above all else. This is largely done through films and books based in medieval history and lore and includes damsels in distress, dragons, elves, and magic.

As a result of this continuous vein of nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses, most people look at any epic fantasy story that has elves and dragons and swords and assume it must be "medieval."

Dragons And Elves And Swords -- Oh My!

For writers like me, who don't write Eurocentric fantasy, this is really annoying.

Most people seem to be laboring under the delusion that Europeans invented dragons and swords and elves, when in fact, these fantasy elements are prevalent in various cultures across the globe. Ancient Africans told stories about dragons, (which they referred to as "serpents"), and China has an entire mythos revolving around them.

Believe it or not, other cultures also had their own version of elves! And swords were not even invented by Europeans. Though most people will try to tell you otherwise, the Iron Age began in Africa and swords were invented by ancient Egyptians, who evolved them from daggers

They Didn't Talk That Way "Back Then."

This is something most fantasy writers will hear from those dozen or so people who believe our story is automatically medieval and thus, should adhere to "thous" and "thees," with all our characters speaking poetically in English Romantic Verse.

In reality, there is no "back then" and our characters are not speaking "anachronistically" because our story is not based in the Middle Ages.

Even when people don't assume our epic fantasy novel is medieval, there still seems to be this notion that characters in fantasy books have to speak in a certain way.

Since when? Who set these rules? And why in hell should I have to follow them?

Fantasy doesn't and shouldn't adhere to some arbitrary set of rules.

Fantasy is literally just some made up shit.

Isn't It Time For Something New?

I tried thinking of an epic fantasy book that wasn't influenced by medieval Europe (aside from The Edge Chronicles, that is), and . . . I drew a blank. Maybe the Earthsea Cycle? That's about it. Everything else I thought of was children's portal fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland), which is not epic fantasy but low fantasy.

That's . . . really depressing, actually. Don't people ever get tired of reading the same damn thing? I know I do. Around the age of nineteen, I decided to quit reading because I was tired of the same hero riding off to do the same thing over and over. My own weariness is probably the reason I write epic fantasy novels that are anything but "medieval."

In the end, the only way to stop the screams of "anachronism!" is to enlighten people to the fact that other cultures and myths exist that aren't European, and thus, not all fantasy automatically takes inspiration from medieval Europe.

This obviously isn't something that's going to happen overnight, but I do see people out there trying to discover books by authors who write outside the themes that have dominated our fiction for so long.

I mean, why not? As readers, it was our intellectual curiosity, our hunger for stories in their many forms, that led us to read in the first place.

Why not seek out as many voices and perspectives as we can?

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Ash


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