: fantasy monarchies

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 2 15:19:51 EST 2003

While JRRT has been a massive influence on everything
since, Kings were an established feature of fantasy
before him. It has been more years than I care to
count since I read much pre-JRRT fantasy (there was a
time when there was more pre-JRRT fantasy available
than post JRRT) but I can only think of one book that
features a government that is not a monarchy - Hope
Mirlees "Lud in the mist", although in Dunsany's "King
of Elfland's daughter" the hero's father is a Duke who
is at least moved by public opinion.
In one of Terry Goodkind's novels he is very critical
of a democratic government, wiping out a society
because the vote the wrong way.
It certainly helps plot wise for the baddies to be
absolute monarchs, the Goodkind book is the closest to
a  counter-example I can think of, and a counter
monarchy on the good side makes easier writing, but
even in books where politics are important - Guy Kay's
later books, George RR Martin's etc. monarchies still
seem to be the falvour of the genre.
When you look at historical societies that could serve
as prototypes why does everyone have to go for an
imagined version of the middle ages rather than - say
- republican Rome or democratic Athens. Even in the
middle ages monarchs weren't really absolute - think
of the fun Sauron would have had if the Parliament of
Orcs had refused to allow him to raise an army or if
the Council of Nazgul had said that they wouldn't go
off unless he signed a Great Charter guaranteeing the
autonomy of their own rings.
My own feeling is that in the end it comes down to the
essentially "fascist" nature of the genre - I topic I
will try to avoid this time round.

Jon Noble
--- Charles Butler
<hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk> wrote:
> 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?
> Charlie
> ----- 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
> 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.

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