Middle Ages, Dark Ages and pre-modern "straight" fantasy

Paul Andinach pandinac at tartarus.uwa.edu.au
Mon Aug 14 03:14:59 EDT 2000

On Fri, 11 Aug 2000 Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk wrote:

> To start with the "straight" fantasy - an alternative world,
> pre-modern, with magic.  DWJ works a lot of elements of this into
> her multiverse books - SWM, DS and most of the Chrestomanci books. 
> But Magicians of Caprona is straight fantasy.  An alternative world. 
> Pre-modern - about 80 years behind ours, I think, though this is not
> the same in all aspects of life.  And magical.

When you say "80 years behind ours", do you mean that the *world* is
80 years behind ours, or only the technology? Because it's fairly
clear that the Chrestomanci novels are contemporary.

> One thing I like about the Chrestomanci books is the way the fantasy
> world is so close to ours technologically.  I have always disliked
> the convention that fantasy worlds should be medieval, or at best
> Elizabethan, simply because it is a convention for which I could see
> no fundamental reason.

If we're talking about fundamental reasons, we might look at
fundamental fantasy stories: a lot of fairytales seem to have settled
themselves in an idealised version of the middle ages. Ditto the whole
business with King Arthur and the Age Of Chivalry.
People tend to be influenced by what they grew up with.

And, of course, some people actually have *reasons* for setting the
stories where and when they do.

> I'd like to see some straight fantasy with a world technologically
> and culturally at least as modern as ours.

How do you measure modernity of technology and culture, though?

It's fairly obvious that the magical world in which, say, Piers
Anthony's Incarnations series is set is modern. This is because
socially and technologically it is, apart from some basically cosmetic
changes, an exact copy of our world at the time the series was
And it's really dumb, when you think about it.
It's a world where magic has been sloshing around for centuries, where
beings exist who can prevent a world war in the time it takes a man to
walk home; a world where everyone knows God and the Devil exist,
because of the television advertising campaigns. And none of this has
made any difference to their cultural and technological development?

On the other hand, we could look at, say, Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy
stories. These, too, are set in the late twentieth century of a world
much like ours only with magic. But this isn't obvious to the casual
glance, because having magic has made a difference. Their level of
what we would call technology is decades behind ours; nobody's
invented the internal combustion engine, or the telephone, or the
discovered how to send messages by radio waves, or...
But their technology isn't any less advanced than ours; it's just
different. With magic to study as well as all the physical sciences,
they've found better ways to do many things, or just different ways.

Same with the Chrestomanci stories, although obviously with
differences of opinion about precisely what differences magic would
make. :)

"Hold fast to the one noble thing."

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