: fantasy monarchies

Margaret Ball margaret at onr.com
Sun Feb 2 10:46:41 EST 2003

>But then, so much fantasy buys in
>unquestioningly into the idea that some are born to rule and others to serve
>(in a way which few of its writers or readers would promote in real life),
>by seeming to advocate - amongst other things - absolute monarchy. From
>Narnia to Prydain to Middle-Earth to Earthsea, no fantasy society seems to
>be well-adjusted without a true-born king sitting on a throne and wielding
>total power.
I think there are several reasons for the popularity of this setup:

(1) Tolkien. Breathes there a fantasy writer who hasn't read Lord of the 
Rings, probably in uncritical childhood?  And as best I recall (ok, it's 
been a long time since my own uncritical childhood, so somebody who's 
read it more recently may be able to pull up counterexamples) he manages 
to pack three volumes full of kings, noble warriors, elves, wizards, and 
spear carriers, with nobody outside the Shire doing anything prosaic 
like growing turnips or maintaining roads.

(2) Love of a quasi-medieval setting without adequate understanding of 
medieval society: damn few kings were "true-born" if you went back more 
than three generations, and while they may have liked to style 
themselves absolute monarchs, most of them didn't wield anything like 
that kind of power. A lot of those "absolute monarchs" would have had 
more trouble starting a war of aggression against a distant country than 
a certain president I can think of seems to be having now.

(3) Love of a quasi-medieval setting *with* adequate understanding of 
medieval society: the nobility have more options, and more interesting 
problems, than the peasants.

That last one, though, makes me think of an extremely good and 
undervalued novel: Diana Norman's _Fitzempress' Law_. Anybody here read 
it? She catapults four modern teenagers back into the mid-twelfth 
century. And one of them is a peaant. And she makes it interesting. In 
fact, the whole book is fun. She doesn't lean hard on the time-travel 
trick at the beginning, I think that was just a device allowing her to 
describe twelfth-century life from the point of view of an outsider. I 
think my favorite scene is the one where one of the characters gets 
wounded in a tournament and tells his solicitous friends, "Stop! Nobody 
touches that wound untill they've washed their hands and boiled the 
knives....uhhh....that is.....it's a charm my old nurse taught me."

Margaret Ball

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