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I Want More of This

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Specifically, fantasy stories set in the historical period of Greece and Rome, or rather with those influences. Way too often we get the standard Medieval European Fantasy(tm), and the few ventures into Greco-Roman styles are marked by the usual trappings of sword and sandal "epics" and others: rehashes of the famous monsters and heroes, no unique or original plots, just a direct transplant of the mythology behind a different pen or camera lens.

Now, I'll say it outright that I'm honestly not too much of a fan of high fantasy with magical swords and dragons everywhere and wizards blasting around spells, like the Dungeons and Dragons fare that people have come to expect. Even something that almost fits my ideal of Fantasy Antiquity, Conan the Barbarian, is well-made and very unique but too much of a mish-mash of various materials with too much of an emphasis on that old, musty fantasy-style lore and still not enough atmosphere.

It's interesting, though: for the most part, the modern reaction to the deluge of Medieval European Fantasy stories has been to shift to urban fantasy settings, like Dresden Files, Harry Potter, American Gods, and even our own Fate/Stay Night and Tsukihime. The, ah, semi-hilarious irony of this is that the movement is so complete that literature is now being deluged by urban fantasy, in really amazing quantities. I like my share of urban fantasy, but at the same time it's still not the same as what I'm imagining. Urban fantasy, at its core, still has that fantasy style, which in the end is part of what makes it work so well: there's a major contrast between what would otherwise be a high fantasy setting and the realism of modern life, which appeals to people because it's relatable and, of course, modern. Perhaps even a little socially relevant, as well.

The first major work to really "get" the feel that I'm going for is, surprisingly, the progenitor of Medieval European Fantasy as a whole: the venerable Lord of the Rings.

Now, it's not Lord of the Rings on the whole that manages to get to me; it's really a small part of the overall package, a little bit that really clicked in my head and when I realized it made me absolutely fall in love with the setting again: that little thing would be Gondor.

Now, Medieval European Fantasy cliches of light and darkness and lost kings being crowned aside, Gondor is absolutely fantastic and unique in that it's a very keen portrayal of a fantasy-Roman society, with striking architecture, aesthetics and especially military that are some strange but wonderful mix of fantastical elements and solid Roman glory. And yes, I'm going on about Rome again.

The whole concept of Gondor, and especially the way Peter Jackson envisioned it in his films, is incredibly evocative of late Roman history and ideas: the old, ruined city of Osgiliath is reminiscent of the loss of Roman cities to Germanic tribes, and in fact the forces of Mordor could very well fit as a figurative showcase of barbarian destruction of the late Roman Empire; in the beginning of Lord of the Rings, Gondor is shown as a fractured kingdom, with its once expansive territories shrunk to a few protected cities, lost to the encroaching forces of its enemies. All that is left to stand against the tide is the jewel of the kingdom, Minas Tirith, a city unmatched in its grandeur, bringing to mind a sort of antiquity even for the old setting of Lord of the Rings. Coupled with the very obviously Anglo-Saxon Rohirrim to the west, the setting of Lord of the Rings could very well be said to be a reflection of the 4th-6th century AD.

Lord of the Rings is also notable in that though it is incorrectly seen by some to be the genesis of high fantasy with wizards and magic and all that everywhere, it's quite truly a low fantasy tale, with the emphasis on humans rather than the other races, which are coming to the end of their existence. At this point, going into Numenor is effectively redundant; the Numenorian land basically represents Rome at its height, without a doubt, especially given the stylings it has in the books that expand on that period of the setting's history.

Too often, stories about Antiquity either focus on some nonspecific part of history involving imperial gladiator games or other parts of Greece and Rome, or they focus on the myths and totally rehash those with some new coats of paint every few decades.

What I want is a low fantasy story, perhaps not unlike George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, that shifts the focus from a Medieval European Fantasy world or the mish-mash of Conan and others to a genuine, fantasy interpretation of the world of Antiquity, with the atmosphere and attention to setting that Medieval European Fantasy tales get, but instead directed towards the ancient cultures, especially those abused ones in the west.

And please, refrain from having everyone talk to centaurs and Olympian gods and fight minotaurs and hydras. Make up your own creatures and people, if you will.

In the end, this is the fantasy I would enjoy writing: it would mix my love for history with my desire for an open setting of my own, and would fill the gap that exists where the cultures of the ancient world should get more attention. Why should the answer to Medieval European Fantasy be in urban fantasy? Instead of moving the time period forward, I think the most interesting choice is to go backwards.


  1. Irothtin's Avatar
    Try reading the Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson, maybe. It's more of a Renaissance/Victorian inspired fantasy world.
  2. Five_X's Avatar
    I... don't think you're quite getting the point. Does it have characters with Hellenic and Latin naming conventions, or hoplitic warfare, or freeborn/servile social dynamics?

    Renaissance/Victorian does not equal fantasy Antiquity, at all.
  3. Alyeris's Avatar
    ... The mood you are looking for is more easily found in time travel SF books...
  4. Trevelyan's Avatar
    Five, you mentioned the Dresden Files. Might you be unaware of Butcher's Codex Alera?
  5. Theocrass's Avatar
    I was going to suggest Codex Alera, too.

    But I haven't actually read it, and it sounds like it's not really what Five is looking for, what with all the magic present.

    Could be wrong.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Five has already heard of it.
  6. Irothtin's Avatar
    Was just offering a suggestion that isn't Generic European Fantasy. Don't lynch me, here.

    And oh yeah, Codex Alera. That's pretty Roman-y.
  7. Five_X's Avatar
    Wasn't trying to lynch ya; it just didn't exactly fit the theme. :P

    I've read a bit of Codex Alera when I saw it recommend as, "If you enjoyed The Dresden Files, check out..." and all that. Read a bit of it, but I found that it wasn't quite the same. Theo's right in that the main focus is on magic, arguably, and the references to Rome feel arbitrary and superficial at best. Gondor manages to capture the Roman feel without even going out and out and saying that it's Roman. Alera doesn't quite manage that level of style, but I guess it partially has a movie to aid it there, so who knows.

    And time-travel science fiction is just boring, because it's still history and it's still inflexible.

    I guess I really should try my hand at writing this thing myself. If you want something done you do it yourself, after all.
  8. Aiden's Avatar
    Yeah; part of it is also just that, to really get shit right with this, you need to have a background equivalent to (but not necessarily an actual) history major with a focus in the time period.

    Part of the appeal of 'generic' High Fantasy is that you don't have to actually do much along the lines of historic or sociological research.

    You should, but people don't usually expect it, so they won't usually rag on you for not doing it. There is, quite simply, an appeal to laziness factor involved.