A huge proportion of high fantasy stories written by western writers are set in worlds based on a medieval European setting. Or not so much real medieval Europe, but the fantasy world the medievalist Tolkien designed.
Tolkien’s world was a made up one.
Many writers base their worlds on his. They don’t change much. Except for the magic, and ‘their’ story, most of them remain true to Tolkien’s setting. Including his now almost-a-hundred-year-old views of a woman’s place in society, and how sex, politics and gender should be treated.
We don’t need that to make a good high fantasy.
What do we need?
- A world which has little or no technology, and the subsequent lifestyle requirements from that, like transport, and how people fight
- Clothing from another era
- The magic, or McGuffin, demons or dragons or whatever makes your story special.
What else do you need to make high fantasy work? Other than a good story and characters to love?
Democracies, republics, monarchies, aristocracies, theocracies, dictatorships have been around for millennia. I can’t say I’ve come across many governments in fantasy that you can’t break back to one of the known types of governing bodies.
Gender inequality, skewed toward a patriarchal system, where the girl never inherits, and her husband or her father protects her?
Of course not, but that’s often part of a high-fantasy novel.
Sexual ‘standards’ where there are two genders and men get together with women and and anything else is a deviation?
Again, you don’t need this for a fantasy, but likewise it’s also often standard.
What about treatment of other races, where people of other cultures or color were treated as sub-human, or property? Do you need this for your fantasy to be successful? Most likely not.
Writers might put a bit of a modern-day slant on these things, in the same way Regency romance writers put a modern-day slant on how their women behave. Because for most of us, the way other races, genders, and women, were treated in older times is not okay. But they still write basically the same world Tolkien did.
I, for one, love books that take the gender/sex/race components and mix them around a bit.
2 replies on “High fantasy I’d like to read”
30+ years ago , 40 even… a lot of experimentation was going on–The Sword of Winter by Marta Randall, The Northern Girl and the other two books in the series by Elizabeth Lynn, were among the books exploring What If which included flexible social roles/social roles not being determined by gender, and in the case of the Elizabeth Lynn series, non-binary gender.
MIchelle Sagara, writing currently, has her Elantra series with multiple sapient species, with the immortal Barrani having “Lord” be a title independent of gender, however the title of the Lady is one specifically female of the Consort of the Barrani Caste Lord–but the position of Consort is one won only through a test, a different test than the test through which a Barrani achieves the status of Lord. The flavor of the series has something of the flavor of Steve Brust’s Dragaera series, which is another fantasy series of magic where status is not necessarily gender-dependent. In Brust’s Dragaera series, the Warlord who head the military of the Dragaeran Empire can be a woman, and the greatest warrior-wizard of all is ages-old Sethra Lavode. Influences on Brust’s series include Eastern European myth and legend.
The influences on the Elantra series, are ??? Influences on Michelle Sagara’s long-running writing-as-Michelle-West fantasy series (she’s currently working on the 14th novel in the series, plus there have been a number of shorter length stories (up to novella) in that universe) include Asian cultures and myth and presumably some European myth/traditional high fantasy/contemporary high fantasy content.
The Dominion of Annagar in the South of the human world, is a gender-defined culture, which differentiates the roles of women and men. The Lords and official authorities are male, and the Lords have harems with primary wiives. The primary wives exert considerable influence, much more than casually obvious, and marriage involved clan/tribal arrangements and affiliations. There appears to be significant influence of Asian, particularly East Asian, culture regarding swords and social order. On the other hand, there’s a culture of the “Voyani,” the survivors of ancient long-gone Cities of Man, traveling and in motion in the South ever since, and in that culture, the absolute rule of each Voyani clan, is the Matriarch.
In the North is the Essaylien Empire, presided over by the two god-born “Twin Kings,” whose successors by law are their sons–but by blood are their half-brothers, engendered by their divine fathers on the Twin Kings’ wives. The Empire is not polygynous, it tends to monogamy, if the citizen is married. Other than the Twin Kings, however, civil authority and position don’t depend on gender, or, for that matter, parentage. Accession to membershing in one of the Ten Houses which occupy the rung just belong the Kings in ruling the society, is by appointment of the Lord of the House. Ascension to the being a Lord of one of the Ten Houses, is either by succeeding the previous Lord as having been designated Heir and being accepted by the House Council (members appointed by the (previous) Lord, or by being the victor in an internal house war, with the Twin Kings staying out of the succession war so long as the bloodshed remains internal to the House.
In the internal timeline of the main sequence and timeframe of books (there’s a character who to the perspective of others, is time traveler) House Kalakar and House Terafin both have women as their Lords. The Kalakar is also one of the three generals who lead the Empire’s armies. The Empire has Houses which are more minor, and which inheritance is by blood/lineage–but in them, too, ability rather than gender determines who become the head of the House.
The head of the Mage Guild is female, and the head of the bards is female.
The land of the Breodani, where the first two books published in the universe, the Hunter’s Oath and Hunter’s Death duology, start out, roles -are- gender-definied, the Lords of the land are the Hunt Lords, each of whom’s pair with a Hunt Brother-and their religion, involves human death in the annual Sacred Hunt as the price for fertility and survival.
Overall there’s magic in the universe, mages talented with powers, some bards talented with power, Healers had powers, Makers have magic imbued which goes into the works they create, and priests have powers–particularly ones who are offspring of gods. Mages who dabble in forbidden lore, such as demonology and summon creatures and demons from the hells, are a continuing problem….
Again, there seem to be a lot of different influences at work, ideas and myth and values of different cultures, including ones further to the north of the Essaylien Empire.
Thanks for the recommendations, Paula. They sound interesting. It’s good to get recommendations like this.
I’ll check them out. (I looked up the Michelle Sagara, and saw ‘policeman’, now I’m looking for what I hope is a fantasy police procedural. 🙂 I might be wrong, but we both love mysteries here.)