Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Keeping it real in fantasy

I recently saw a blog post about keeping archaeological facts straight in fantasy fiction. I had a few issues with the concept. First and foremost, they were talking about FANTASY, not historical, fiction.

FANTASY: noun, plural fantasies.
imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
a mental image, especially when unreal or fantastic; vision:
a nightmare fantasy.
Psychology. an imagined or conjured up sequence fulfilling a psychological need; daydream.
a hallucination.
a supposition based on no solid foundation; visionary idea; illusion:
dreams of Utopias and similar fantasies.
caprice; whim.

Aka- made up shit.

One of the things mentioned in the aforementioned article, was that some people complained about potatoes in Lord of the Rings because they weren’t a food staple yet.

Think about that for a moment.

LOTR is a PURELY invented world. Yes, it borrows heavily from the British Isles, but it is a FICTIONAL world. How do these naysayers know when that world discovered potatoes? Just because the background was similar to ours, last time I checked there weren’t wizards, golems, trolls, ents, or any number of beings found in LOTR, in our world.

Yet, they were upset about potatoes being around.

Now, to be fair, the post wasn’t focused on the LOTR issue, that was simply a side comment, but it did deal with keeping anachronisms out of your fantasy fiction.

Again we are back to that logic diagram in our heads (we all carry those around, right?).

An anachronism is something out of time. If a world is INVENTED, then unless you are the creator of said world, no one can say you have created an anachronistic event. Unless you contradict something already established by YOU in that world.

An example was given of an author who had prisoners taking a donkey cart to their work site. The author of the article was stating how they should have put that they walked, since that would be how it would have been. Ummm, says who? If you are writing historical fiction, damn skippy you’d better get it right, down to the exact type of buttons they used. But for fantasy? As soon as you’ve introduced wizards, witches, vampires, centaurs, dragons, faeries, etc you are NO longer in this world. Therefore, the rules aren’t the same.

The author of a world of fantasy is creating that entire world. Yes, we steal (borrow ;)) from various times in history, and some are very close to historical truth with just a slight variation added. But they have still deviated from the historical truth.

If you, as the author, are telling me that your hero in 1833 used a snargleblaster to blow away a swamp monster that climbed out of the Thames, I can’t really argue that the boat the hero used wasn’t around then. The author has already hijacked the timeline with a snargleblaster, and the fact that a sentient two-story being has crawled out of the Thames and is snacking on passer-by. Reality has changed. A type of boat that wouldn’t have been around in OUR 1833, might have been designed in 1830 in a world with snargleblasters (not to mention swamp monsters who are not living in swamps at all).

Now, if in the above example, the author states that a snargleblaster can never be used near large bodies of water because a safety (to be built and added to the weapon in 1840) was missing which would cause the hero to explode—and the hero fails to explode—we have another issue completely. The author has betrayed their own established reality. 

So to all my other fantasy writers out there, I say let your wild ideas fly! There will still be troublesome naysayers, but just ask them where in YOUR world it was stated or implied that your culture advanced in the precise manner that “reality” did. (Just make sure you don’t contradict yourself ;)).


  1. (Raises hand cautiously) I may be one of those naysayers. Eeek. I never looked at it completely in this way. You make some great points here, Marie. You're right, the fantasy world is whatever the author decides it is and I should be more open minded to the world they have created.

    However, though I'm not fluent in the evolution of every type of technology, I can't seem to help having a problem when a character uses an everyday 20th century item in a less technologically advanced culture with no explanation of it beforehand. (He needed to kill Dr. Doom and couldn't get close enough with his sword, so he pulled out a .30-06 and shot him.) With a rifle? There are rifles in this world? Since when? It pulls me out of the story and I find myself examining pages looking for what I missed. For me, things like this make me feel like the author forgot about the world he's created in his rush to reach the end. Like the details aren't important. I'm all for fantastical worlds, cultures, and peoples, but using something "modern" without laying the groundwork somewhere in the story bothers me as a reader.


  2. Good points- but what we call modern- another culture may not ;). Example: let's say an advanced culture (again defined by the author) has a long long long war. Their technology is crumbling and advancing at the same time as they lose the ability to keep up. They are now fighting with high tech weapons (the ones left) as well as swords, knives, etc. ;)- Just saying :). (And yes, stole that idea from Dr. Who- he came across a world fighting on both levels and points out, ‘They’ve been fighting a very long time judging by the mix of weapons’.)

    But very good points! And even in these, everyone is different. Some folks are fine with this, others not so much. Doesn’t mean anyone is wrong- just different books for different folks!

    Marie- at work can't log in ;)

  3. You know, this reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband. He's a science buff, and I'm not. I say anything goes in fantasy, so long as it's consistent. :)

    1. Exactly!! When authors contradict themselves- that's a problem. Otherwise, it's OUR world and our reality ;)).

      Marie- at work, can't log in

  4. I take issue with some things in fantasy - especially in Urban Fantasy. If you use real people, events, places, and use them completely different, it bothers me. Like, putting the Statue of Liberty in Texas, or using a documented speech as dialogue in a completely different setting. Unless you've clearly established an alternate world, not just a fantasy world.

    But what bugs me the worst is using modern profanity in a fantasy novel. Really, you can't come up with your own relevant curse words? Not that I'm opposed to profanity, but if you've invented a whole new world, with magic spells and unique species, stretch a little more for the colloquial terms.

    1. Interesting. I have to admit I did like that the TV show Farscape actively created their own swear words, but I'd never thought about it in books, good or bad. As long as the author doesn't get too crazy about it, and the general meaning of the word is clear, that would help build that world. Good point!

  5. Hi Marie,

    I both agree and disagree with you. As a fantasy writer (and reader) I get frustrated when I read something that doesn't make sense and the excuse is "it's Fantasy." This is my biggest gripe with dystopian fantasy. I read a story based in a world where there was no money, everything was provided by the government. But later in the story the author had characters "buying" items on the black market, with no explanation of what they were using as currency. The author explained that where the currency came from was not pertinent to the story, so they didn't have to explain how everyone in a moneyless society seemed to have money. It may not have been pertinent to the author, but I didn't finish reading and won't read that author again.

    1. I would count that as the author either betraying the world they created, or not providing enough information. If they knew they were going to have "black market" items later in the story, they had to have built in a caveat earlier when they were showing that no one had money. I'm willing to follow an author, but they need to make things clear (even if only in passing where the reader goes, "ohwaitaminute- they did mention that!" But without building it into the world, it just looks sloppy. And probably would have taken only a few lines earlier on to make it plausible later. :(