Thoughts on Setting: Fantasy in the Renaissance and Beyond — Primer

It is very late and I am tackling an interesting subject with very little (cogent) time left in my day.

Recently I have been thinking quite a bit about how Fantasy is expanding beyond the feudalistic, medieval setting that dominated the genre after Tolkien. Many of the fantasy novels that I have enjoyed of late have a diverged from the traditional, pastoral fantasy in more than just tone. Prominent examples would be Brian McLellan’s Promise of Blood, dubbed Flintlock Fantasy, which is can be placed around the French revolution in time and Chine Mieville’s Bas Lag series which is more Victorian. My own Domains of the Chosen series has Steampunk elements and some very Renaissance influences mixed in with the Roman sensibilities. There are, of course, plenty of other examples, but it is late.

Here are a few of the post medieval time periods, and how they differ.

  • Rennaissance: The Rennaissance denotes the period of time when scholars “rediscovered” the ancients, and regained interest in philosophy and civic society. It is an urban movement, beginning in Italy. During this time concrete is rediscovered (interestingly enough we are just unlocking the full secrets of Roman concrete now) and the printing press comes into full use in western society. On the war side, cannon become increasingly important in this period.
    • Columbus’s voyages occur in this period, and European imperialism gradually becomes more and more important over all these periods.
    • Cortez and other Explorers plunder the “new world.” Faiths clash, diseases are spread, and Empires fall.
  • Reformation: The Reformation is a period of sectarian strife that begins with Martin Luther and end with the Thirty Years War. It is notable for the serious challenge to traditional religious authority, and how that is spread through new techniques. The thirty years war sees firearm tactics developed and used in a bloody religious war.
    • The three musketeers is set in this period.
    • The period leading up to the Tokugawa Shogunate, which shows up in a lot of games and movies, occurs in this time period.
    • Religious strife drives many out of Europe into the new world.
    • Conflicts with indigenous cultures continues.
    • The Inquisition and witch trials reach their height in this time.
  • The Enlightenment: The Enlightenment challenges the very structures of Feudalism, leading up to the Declaration of independence and the French Revolution. This period sees a turning away from traditional authorities in favour of reason. The law of men replaces the law of the Church. Mozart, Newton, and Napoleon are famed products of this period, which also sees a transition toward a more modern professional/national army over the warrior nobility of the feudal age.
    • In the Enlightenment there is finally a sense in Europe that they have surpassed the classical age.
    • The importance of art, and the humanities, and the growing field of science make this a tumultuous time. Ideas clash often.
    • Despite all of this some of histories ugliest practices increase in this period. Slavery and genocide spring to mind. These clash with the thoughts on the rights of man, but continue into later periods.
    • Universal Law, courts of justice, and the rights of man are argued over and systematized during this period.

Industrialization and urbanization are on the rise all throughout this time. Nationalism becomes increasingly important, and the state eclipses the power of both the Church, and the Aristocracy. People think and write about everything from the perfect prisons to why prisms work the way they do. Music is systematized and math reaches new heights. Thinking men become sexy and war becomes increasingly strategic and grander in scale until the ancients are also surpassed in that regard.

Meeting with new cultures and exploration are also themes of this time. Although many if these relationships eventually became exploitative as the great empires sought new resources to fuel their wars and expansion, many of these meetings were initially friendly and trade flourished.

These are rich settings for Fantasy. The intellectual conflicts, the clash of cultures, the high ideals and the lows of utter exploitation are the fodder of what I hope is a new expansion of the genre that dovetails nicely with geek chic and a renewed interest in the intellectual.

Specific examples next Sunday!

 

 

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One comment on “Thoughts on Setting: Fantasy in the Renaissance and Beyond — Primer

  1. […] few Sundays ago I wrote this post, about how fantasy is expanding into time periods other than the classical and the medieval. I […]

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