Comic Talk and General Discussion *

When does fantasy just become "historical fiction" with the names filed off?
Furwerk studio at 8:45AM, Dec. 7, 2021
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I once posted a vent on reddit about how it feels like so much of American modern fantasy is just retelling the Norman conquest just with the names being changed, that instead of Phantom Tollbooths or thieves of Always or Who Censored Roger Rabbit a lot of times it is Tolkien “inspired” only through a modern lens of maturity, which means “Dark, gritty and strip out the unnatural for grounded realism.”

I bring this up because on rpgpub, and a few trpg youtubers I use to follow, are going through this almost no magic, humans only, boots on the ground realism “fantasy” which causes me to just ask, “why not just do a historic setting instead of calling it fantasy?”

I yelled at about that, A Lot… Mainly about immersion and something about maturity but honestly I tuned out and just left.

I wonder, at what point does common fantasy stop being just that, fantasy, and is just historical fiction?
bravo1102 at 11:30AM, Dec. 7, 2021
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When the historical parallels are overwhelming any fantastic bits of the narrative and setting. Like would you consider Arthurian romance historical fiction? Just a straight story Chretien de'Troyes Knight of the Cart?

It's a fantasy court of ideal knights in a sort of 12th century never-never land though it is dark and edgy (read it unedited some time. Most of the Chretien de'Troyes stuff is dark.) It is real but hardly historical. Setting is what makes a story historical. If you put it in the court of Henry II in 1120 it's historical. Arthur in the pseudo idealized 12th century? That's not historical no matter how many gross details you throw in.

I've actually given thought to putting my epic fantasy story into a real historical setting. Just need a couple of fantastic elements that could actually be based completely on real period beliefs and practices. Kind of like that Viking TV show. It has plenty of fantasy in it but it gets away with being historical because it's historical figures and places and events but a fictionalized story line.

Or are you ending up with a new mixed genre of historical fantasy?

I ran a D&D campaign in 9th century Europe during the age of Charlemagne but with magic and dragons based on another great cycle of Medieval Romances, the paladins of Charlemagne. I was teaching Medieval history in the campaign too. Real time, place, people and events but there's a dragon that needs to be killed. A lot of the D&D rpg monster manual things are real legendary creatures that there are stories of some historical hero fighting. Such legends grow up around real people too rather than just the semi-myth of Arthurian romance. After all Alexander the Great had numerous Medieval romances written about him too. Gil-gamesh was a real king exactly the time and place his epic has him.
last edited on Dec. 7, 2021 11:42AM
hushicho at 4:49PM, Dec. 7, 2021
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It's definitely not like Tolkien; Tolkien wrote what is considered high fantasy, which tends to be more comprehensively developed and also removed from the modern real world. Even though for a while Tolkien played with the idea of Middle-Earth being a distant-past precursor to our modern Earth, it's still well-defined enough and enough of its own thing that it's not so tempting to draw the conclusion.

Most of what these “harsh realism” types don't get is that they often confuse verisimilitude for realism, and those two things are not the same. They also tend not to actually look into the things they assume are light and stereotypical (see also George R. R. Martin, who despite aping Tolkien down to the name, apparently never read The Silmarillion, just like all the rest of the self-proclaimed authorities on fantasy seem to have missed as well) and take it upon themselves to make it “real” and “down to earth” and “gritty/edgy/whatever the current in vogue term happens to be”, even if they often, in total ignorance of the original works they find so inadequate, are basically just doing a shittier version of the exact thing.

There's nothing wrong with writing what I think could accurately be called historical fantasy. It's still a fantasy, even if a particularly “low fantasy” approach, if it doesn't have much in the way of non-human beings, magic, or really much fantastical goings-on or setting. But it is that much more important, I feel, to accurately represent one's fantasy work. If it's just “here's my take on something based strongly in, say, Medieval Europe” then it's not what we would consider high fantasy, in and of itself, which is more usually what people think of when they hear “fantasy”. If you're just doing basically a “what if” based heavily on places in the real world and pulling in lots of historical elements, that's very different than if you're doing a story where there's little basis in the world most readers will know. If someone can look at something and think “that's just Paris with the names changed”, it's probably not high fantasy.

But I think it is important to represent what you're writing honestly. Don't delude yourself, most of all, because then it'll make it much harder to use any feedback you might receive. In general, I think that's a pretty good rule of thumb: don't kid yourself about what it is, and don't mislead others, because once they find out – and they will find out – they'll probably be unhappy with you.
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Ozoneocean at 8:38PM, Dec. 8, 2021
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It's probably related to a trend that began around the 90s I think called “Low Fantasy”, as opposed to “high fantasy” or “epic fantasy”.

It was all new and interesting back then. The idea was to focus on the people on the ground and really get into the nitty-gritty details. Having it become the dominant form, displacing epic fantasy or even merging with it though is rather disappointing.
 
bravo1102 at 1:12AM, Dec. 9, 2021
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Ozoneocean wrote:
It's probably related to a trend that began around the 90s I think called “Low Fantasy”, as opposed to “high fantasy” or “epic fantasy”.

It was all new and interesting back then. The idea was to focus on the people on the ground and really get into the nitty-gritty details. Having it become the dominant form, displacing epic fantasy or even merging with it though is rather disappointing.
A mis directed effort to go to the roots of fantasy? The first fantasy “sword and sorcery ” pulp stories have a lot more in common with “low fantasy ” than with Tolkien. Conan isn't high concept fantasy by any stretch of the imagination.

Though to get back on point Conan's setting was based on a mythic history of a world between the fall of Atlantis and recorded history. Conan could easily have been set in Sumer or Egypt putting it firmly into history but again its in a neverwhere land before contemporary archeology that Theosophy had touched on in its teachings. We know a lot more about it now and could writers have done (pre)historical fiction in that time that has all the trappings of fantasy but the setting puts it firmly in a time and place, even if it is more a figment of the author's imagination than what the actual evidence indicates.
Ozoneocean at 1:25AM, Dec. 9, 2021
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Conan has some “low fantasy” elements but that sword and sorcery style was still more mythic and magical. It reminds me of the style of story told about Thor and Loki in the Eddas. It's very heroic and rough like those.

ER Eddison, Tolkien's contemporary, had more of a “low fantasy” style but it's still pretty Arthurian and magical. -though a lot more earthy and violent and real than Tolkien.
 
bravo1102 at 2:53AM, Dec. 9, 2021
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There have been any number of “historical fiction” attempts at the Arthurian story and many are historical fantasy. A magical fantasy story in an historical setting. There are those that try really hard to make it all historical and that means dumping all the magic by the wayside. Sure there's a Holy Grail but it's a cup with great symbolic value, but it's a cup. It doesn't magically go around a room to feed a multitude.
Then there are historical tales that really are fantasy complete with seemingly magical races and events but all based on one interpretation of available evidence. The “Clan of the Cave Bear” is an example. Cornwell's “Stonehenge” is another. It's a fantasy story with an historic setting. Any number of the older Biblical and ancient world epics are like that. Histotical setting, but a very fantastic plot even with glimmers of magic around the edges.
So historical fiction has delved into fantasy hardly surprising for fantasy to return the favor and be history with the names filed off. I know I'm guilty of it. “Game of Thrones” is the Wars of the Roses with dragons and some other historical cultures thrown in for local color. Even Tolkien can be reduced to Anglo-Saxon England down to the languages and peoples. Tolkien was a scholar of the early Middle Ages and his names are a Who's Who of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Got to recommend the documentary 1066:the War for Middle Earth that really puts it all in context of just how grounded Tolkien's LOTR is in early Medieval history.
last edited on Dec. 9, 2021 2:58AM

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