De fantasiae

Latin, "On fantasy"—post is thoughts on same. Incidentally, "fantasia" with an F is a different thing from "phantasia"; I think the former is later, and, while I'm pretty sure both were used almost identically, one might make the distinction most modern languages make between fantasy and phantasy. That is, between "speculative fiction informed by the wonders of folklore" (science fiction being "speculative fiction informed by the wonders of science") and "illusions, dreams".
  • Think I'm gonna have to check out RuneQuest (the fantasy RPG that provides the underlying mechanic for Call of Cthulhu). I like that mechanic, and the idea of doing without character levels; I also like much of what I see about their setting (the bastards have very plantlike elves, just like my D&D setting). I don't care for their dwarves (suddenly the dwemer look a lot less original), but then again I wasn't planning to use their core setting anyway. A lot of their "Cults" idea is similar to my idea of humans getting their training from totem-societies.

    Some of the setting's conception of magic seems, to me, to be New Age/neo-pagan BS, but then again the core setting was apparently created by a gent who calls himself a shaman. No word on if he dresses in drag (most Eurasian shamans—which are the only kind—are female, and the male ones frequently dress as women while "on duty"). And seriously, you don't decide to become a shaman, you become a shaman so you don't go insane from spirit-sickness.
  • And seriously, Eurasian shamans are the only kind. Native Americans have "medicine men", which work very differently—they don't channel gods, for one thing, except in certain very specific rituals. African "witch doctors" are pretty much medicine men (remember, nobody whose spiritual powers are lawful is a witch)—or even the equivalent of East Asian diviner-"exorcists", like onmyôji.

    I have said it before and I'll say it again, study real traditions, when you create a magic system. And if you think the quasi-Hermeticism of D&D is boring (and who doesn't?), sorry, but you're gonna have to crack some big-people books.
  • I think it's funny how many criticisms of Tolkien involve criticisms of his style—generally reducible to, "Tolkien is bad because I'm too stupid to understand him." Less funny is when they accuse him of being a reactionary—again, a Tory Radical is the opposite of a reactionary, they were generally far too revolutionary for most socialists.

    There actually isn't much white-washing or optimistic sentimentalism in Tolkien; actually if anything his setting is too pessimistic (due to his being in the tradition of Romanticism). But even if he were waxing sentimental about the Good Old Days and whitewashing a defeated system, much better that than what Martin, Mieville, and Moorcock do, which is waxing hysterical against the Bad Old Days and vilifying a defeated system, to flatter the one currently in power. There is a mad dignity in being the court-poet of a powerless system; there is nothing but prostitution in being the ever-so-politically-correct poet laureate of a currently dominant one.
  • An element I think people should include in fantasy is the idea of charms. Most Native Americans carried (or, if they're still their traditional religions, carry) "medicine pouches", with, e.g., images of totem animals, and usually something like salt or corn pollen, that they use for blessings. Why don't people in fantasy settings carry such things? Especially people from "barbarian" societies.

    In my RPG-setting fantasy, soldiers consider their dice to be among their charms—the reason being that bored soldiers begin to wish for something to happen, which ruins their unit's luck (this is a real thing in Shinto, it's usually translated "subconscious malice", and the Ouija-board chapter of xxxHolic hinges on it). "Gambling=magic" is a real thing in a lot of cultures (though not generally because bored soldiers are a jinx). Apache women, for example, aren't allowed to gamble—since they and the Navajo have most of the same rules, I question how the Navajo can have casinos—because there's so much "medicine" involved in it.
  • It amuses me no end how the barbarians in fantasy are generally less cultic than the civilized, when in actual fact they tended to be vastly more. Conan's Krom might do as the tutelary of some quasi-Confucian skeptical civilization; a tribe of raiders would find him uselessly standoffish. Navajo and Apache women were forbidden from handling weapons and armor, because those societies put so many divine invocations on everything they fought with (and, again, "medicine" is dangerous).

    Barbarians are more cultic/religious than the civilized—because "civilization" means fewer things are "in God's (or the gods') hands"—but it is true that the civilized are the ones who go in for diabolism (and trafficking with darksome otherworldlies is a staple of fantasy). The Hopi and the ancient Israelites were backward little mountain villagers; the Aztecs and Carthaginians were the greatest civilizations in their regions. But of course, diabolism ("witchcraft" in the anthropological sense) is not really an alternative religion; it consists of subverting a more "conventional" religion.
  • I've just been reading fantasy reviews, and I'm curious to know if these people understand that criticism is more than just "The unbeliever has not kept the taboos of our law! Unclean, unclean!" Seriously, do they harp on Lord of the Flies not being about female protagonists? Or Brave New World? (Oh, yes, I've heard of the Bechdel Test; I regard it as somewhat less valid or relevant than The Knee Test.)

    Do forgive me, comrades, if I quote a man your spiritual forebears sent to the Gulag (specifically, from "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"): "A genius doesn't adjust his treatment of a theme to a tyrant's taste."
  • Interestingly, I've found that I do actually like "dark" fantasy...provided it's in a manga. Mostly because manga is written by people who are old hands at sympathetic treatments of seriously hardass feudal warlords—e.g. Oda "If the cuckoo won't sing, kill it" Nobunaga, the Devil King. Thus they feel no need to portray feudal societies as worse than totalitarian ones, the way the Socialist Realist school of fantasy does (again, Mieville, Moorcock, Martin, you are Anglo leftists, that makes you worse people than the worst warlord that ever lived—especially since the worst warlord in Western Europe was the ancestor of the kings who gave birth to English nationalism).

    Seriously, when Übel Blatt has a more balanced, sympathetic treatment of its society than you do, you are officially in Birth of a Nation territory. Übel Blatt is about a human-elf hybrid (not accomplished by cross-breeding) who's trying to murder the Seven Heroes of his civilization. Why? Well, because the Seven Heroes were originally Fourteen; three died along the way, and only four completed the quest they'd been given. Then the seven, who'd stayed behind, murdered those four and claimed they'd completed the quest. One of those four survived by being hybridized with a fairy (either it ate him or he ate it, he's no longer sure—nor, indeed, if he's himself with a part-fairy body or a fairy with his memories and a part-human body), and now he wants revenge. He journeys around righting all kinds of wrongs in the domains of the false heroes, until he can get close enough to each to murder him.

    It's pretty damn dark. But at no time is it pretended that that society as a whole is unlivable; the abuses are, as feudal abuses were, individual and particular rather than systemic. And the bad lords have to cover up what they do, lest the Emperor or their neighbors turn on them. Whereas Martin, Moorcock, and Mieville have entire civilizations where the lords openly do things that are worse than Stalin's Russia or Mao's China.

    Personally I think they're just ideologues, who fear that writing fantasy will have them be suspected of disloyalty to liberalism (and no, I don't just mean left-liberalism). So they create these ugly caricatures of non-liberal systems, as a form of "fumi-e", to absolve themselves of suspicion.

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