After reading the postings and comments about high fantasy (link below), I thought I would throw in my 2 cents worth. Half of my books are fantasy and I’ve found myself struggling with the ideas of historical accuracy in my Clovel Sword series.
Interesting Analysis and Comments on Fantasy
Originally posted on Legends of Windemere: Joan of Arc Various questions come up when someone wants to write high fantasy and many of them are completely understandable. They may deal with magic, various races, and creating a world that isn’t Earth. Yet, there are other questions that you can see why they are asked, but…Does Fantasy Have to Be Medieval? — Author Don Massenzio
For better or worse, I came to the stories originally hindered by my background with a history degree. I say hindered because I’ve tried to maintain accuracy in the weapons, equipment, structures, etc. based upon Northern Europe on Earth circa 600-800 AD. My fondest recollections of early reads include Beowulf as well as the Viking mythology stories. Therefore, the chain mail armor, swords, shields, spears, axes, and bows along with fighting techniques I incorporate into the stories. At times, my readers mention similarities in my stories with the time, even when the main characters ride long-neck creatures that look like a small giraffe while they take on gods.
While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the questions and conversation in the blog comments highlight the puzzle. Historical accuracy in a fantasy world, particularly high fantasy, starts with the familiarity of the works by Tolkien and Lewis. The stories remain popular. They are a starting point for many readers, as well as the authors in their expectations. Since the reader already has the world of castles, magical creatures, knights in armor, etc. embedded in their memory, does an author need to build a new world? Setting a story in a new, yet familiar place, following similar rules about magic, creatures, and customs allows the writer and reader to focus on the characters, their development, etc. It’s really more comfortable in many ways than trying to build an underwater world. Developing sympathetic main characters that communicate telepathically, eat smaller animals raw while following the mating rituals of fish is a much higher hurdle.
Add to this is the popularity of writers like George R.R. Martin, who develop such intricate storylines. I believe this leads to an expectation from the reader about the level of detail. Influenced by those who are successful leads the writer to imitate the level of detail and accuracy. I would argue the same pattern extends to the reader. After enjoying a genre, author, or type of story, the buyer looks to the familiar and comfortable in their next purchase. They can picture the line of archers along the castle’s battlements while Orcs and Uruk-hai attack in line formation while carrying sword and mace. When they see the cover showing similar characters and backgrounds, I would argue that the reader gravitates toward it.
None of this is to say that medieval settings must be the focus of a fantasy story nor that there should be a requirement for historical accuracy. In my opinion, publishers rely too much on past fantasy stories to show them the future. But they can’t be faulted entirely since they follow what sells for them. Readers and writers must blaze the trail by looking at those writers who are opening strange, new worlds with intriguing characters.