: fantasy monarchies

Charles Butler hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk
Sun Feb 2 12:32:54 EST 2003

Yes, I'm sure Tolkien has a lot to do with it. You don't need a Tough Guide
to see that some fantasy writers have taken his example as a licence to stop
using their own brains. But this monarchy thing is particularly puzzling to
me because so many of even the best fantasy writers do it, writers who are
quite willing to take into account contemporary sensitivities about gender
and ecology for example, without feeling any apparent need to problematize
the convention (to use some unlovely jargon).

I think the explanation may lie even deeper than JRRT's influence. Why would
it be unthinkable for Disney - a good republican, no doubt - to make a film
called The Lion President? Yet it would be hard to cite Tolkien's influence
there, or even that of the Middle Ages. Must we turn to Jungian archetypes
for an explanation?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Margaret Ball" <margaret at onr.com>
To: <dwj at suberic.net>
Sent: Sunday, February 02, 2003 3:46 PM
Subject: Re: : fantasy monarchies

> >
> >
> >But then, so much fantasy buys in
> >unquestioningly into the idea that some are born to rule and others to
> >(in a way which few of its writers or readers would promote in real
> >by seeming to advocate - amongst other things - absolute monarchy. From
> >Narnia to Prydain to Middle-Earth to Earthsea, no fantasy society seems
> >be well-adjusted without a true-born king sitting on a throne and
> >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
> http://www.flameweaver.com
> --
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