De fabularum mirabilium II

Fantasy thoughts.
  • This article, about nebulously defined magic systems, really doesn't cover any ground TVTropes doesn't cover in the entry on the same topic (well, and also "NewPowersAsThePlotDemands"). One thing both articles mention is that the phrase, and trope-title, "AWizardDidIt" originated with a Simpsons episode with Lucy Lawless in it. The one thing the Mythic Scribes article points out that TVTropes doesn't is that there are lots of gods in Xena, but nary a single wizard.

    And it occurred to me, re: "AGodDidIt", it would actually have been a genuinely Simpsons-like gag (nerdiness from an unexpected quarter) to have Lucy Lawless, who was mostly known for looking good in a leather cheerleader outfit, deliver a small lecture about pre-Socratic Greek thought. (They ascribed all events, even human actions, to the capricious whims of the gods.) Of course, that wouldn't have involved a catch-phrase that Browncoats with degrees in (Insert Victim Identity) Studies could immortalize as a trope-title, but still, it would've been more accurate to the show, and just as funny.
  • Jackasses like to say, when it's brought up that George Martin writes laughable caricatures on par with Learned Elders of Zion, "Oh, well, maybe medieval wars weren't that bad, but they were pretty brutal, and they were pretty up-close and personal when they got bad". They then often cite things that happened in China, because China had a Middle Ages, just like how Charlemagne ruled Tang Dynasty France, right? Yes I'm thinking of a particular person, they shall remain nameless but it's a pretty common argument (if that's what you want to call it).

    Obviously the basic question to ask these halfwits is, "Brutal compared to what imaginary wars where everyone acted the perfect gentleman?" I have quoted, on this blog, the death tolls of the Crusades and Hundred Years War compared to the US Civil War or World War II, or to the wars of Asian "feudalism" (only Japan actually had anything like feudalism, I don't care what Maoist historians try to cram into Marx's timeline). The fact of the matter is that medieval wars stack up favorably with 19th-century "officer and gentleman" wars, which were probably about as nice as wars ever get.

    Also, RE: that second part, ask, "Up-close and personal...compared to the half-million women the Soviets alone raped in Poland alone, in the single year 1945? Compared to probably hundreds of thousands of comfort women in East Asia, whose conditions I will not describe because it would involve thinking about them? Compared to the Rape of Nanking?" World War II was the worst war to be a woman in, sorry, despite the fact its combatants enjoyed the best conditions, in terms of provisions and medicine, of all soldiers in all wars up to their time.
  • Also point out Japan's Ônin War, which started the Warring States Era and is roughly comparable to the war in Song of Ice and Fire in being a succession dispute that half-destroyed a country—but ask Martin's fans why none of Westeros has been taken over by peasant uprisings or religious militias, as happened to probably a third of Japan's provinces a few years into the Ônin War. Why do you think Oda Nobunaga was so concerned to break the monasteries? I have said it before and I'll say it again, this is why Japan can write dark fantasy: they know exactly what really brutal feudal warlords are like, and their national self-respect hinges on being able to think of them as human beings rather than cackling caricatures.

    Speaking of historical models, remember, Martin claims he based Westeros on the War of the Roses. (Stark and Lannister = York and Lancaster, isn't he just a freaking genius?) But, in fact, that makes it even more laughable than if he were trying to caricature medieval war generally (aside from how that war happened in the Renaissance). The War of the Roses was a damn quilting bee, they deliberately kept the battles small in order not to disrupt trade (possibly because they didn't want to do to their own country what they, or their fathers, had just got through doing to France, in the Hundred Years War).

    If you are an honest person rather than a bigot-pandering hack caricaturist (see also what I mentioned in that post there about the Apartheid account of the Zulu expansion), you could basically only get a setting like Westeros if you based it on the Basarab clan of Romania. But even then you'd pretty much have to assume that only the things people's enemies said about them were true. For instance, most of the things said about that clan's most famous member, Vlad III Draculea, were spread by Matthias Corvinus of Hungary...who had embezzled money he was supposed to use to fight the Turks, and framed Vlad for it.
  • I've re-done my fiction based on a D&D style world, yet again, and this time I'm using the same setting as my campaign. I'm mostly using ideas from New World mythologies for the cosmology, although I'm combining them with some stuff from Japanese legend and old pulp fantasy, too. One thing I need to figure out is how to work the gnomes in; I resent their being excluded from 4th Edition so it'd be hypocritical to do it myself, but I can't figure out how to do them. I actually have an idea relating to the creation myth of the elves that might work—I do know I'm not going to have them be tinker(er)s (which Warcraft got from Dragonlance, which ceded them to Spelljammer), but rather the illusionist-artists from their original appearance (if you have The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings, PHBR9, you know giving them bard instead of illusionist as a favored class wasn't such a stretch, though it was a break with three editions of precedent).

    One thing I did was make my humans resemble absolutely no real human ethnicities, by the simple expedient of giving them Asian or African shapes and European or Asian/Native American colors. Most humans look Asian, with straight (sometimes wavy) hair and eyes with epicanthic folds—but they have pink-to-olive/swarthy skin; blond, brown, or black hair; and blue, brown, or black eyes (one of the two major ethnicities tends to have lighter hair and eyes but darker skin than the other). An extinct civilization known to most humans simply as "the Ancients" had red hair, green eyes, and ivory, yellowish, or red-brown skin, but facial features and hair-texture resembling sub-Saharan Africans. (Though their civilization is extinct, except for a few enclaves—because no fantasy people ever really goes extinct, we expect the Dwemer back any day now—many of them were absorbed by the other civilizations, who regard round and/or green eyes and red hair as signs of "Ancient" blood.)
  • I am fascinated by the people who get into a lather about "race" in fantasy, specifically because they knee-jerk demand token blacks (who must resemble Black Americans rather than anyone in Africa) in every single work. Not only do they set ridiculous, color-obsessed hiring quotas for your cast of characters, but if you base a fantasy culture on actual Sub-Saharan Africa, well that's racist too, just like it's racist to talk about the actual cultures of Native Americans or East Asians rather than the versions of them that hippies fantasize about.

    What's really funny is when they do it to non-Western stuff, e.g. a question I've heard from several quarters, "Why isn't Link black?" Now aside from the fact he's not white, he's "mukokuseki" ("countryless style") and has pointed ears, that? Yeah, that's cultural freaking imperialism, right there. Newsflash, you self-righteous honky, you do not get to ask that a work, made on the other side of the planet by people with wholly different ethnic issues from you, cater to your race-politics. Shit, do Russians ask why Marcus Phoenix isn't a Chukchi? Do the Chinese ask why Duke Nukem's not an Uighur?
  • You know those people who complain that X fantasy book is full of cliche characters "ripped straight from Tolkien"? Yes, well, sorry, but that complaint is itself a cliche, and more often than not, it's not even true. I just got done reading some hack who said it of Dragonlance. Uh...there are complaints about Dragonlance one could make, it does indeed contain a number of cliches, but "straight from Tolkien"? No. Tell me, infant, which of those two works are you only pretending to have read? I mean, Tanis is a stereotyped indecisive hero vis-à-vis both his love-triangle and his half-breedness (itself a tired cliche), but neither of those ever really happens in Tolkien. Caramon's a dumb bruiser with a heart of gold, Raistlin's a tortured megalomaniac, those are cliches but they're not in Tolkien (compare Saruman). Riverwind and Goldmoon are Television Indians, of which there are very faint traces in Tolkien but nothing this overt. Flint is closest, and he's really nothing like any Tolkien dwarf. Tasslehoff is the epitome of D&D's attempts to distance halflings from Hobbits, and "immune to fear" is just about the last thing you can say 'bout Hobbits. Fizban has nothing in common with Gandalf except a look and being more powerful than he seems, and that trope is older than Tolkien, he got it from the Volsungasaga.

    Indeed, those things most typical of Dragonlance are 180° off from Tolkien. The snooty elves are the same half-wit reaction against Tolkien elves that you get 1,728 other places in fantasy by B-grade adolescents. The dragons are, well, D&D freaking dragons, basically, they are themselves and nothing else. And the big thing of the setting, the "balance between Good and Evil" thing? Yeah, well, Tracy Hickman is a Mormon. Mormonism, like Kabala, is a type of Gnosticism that hypostasizes negation (it asserts that evil is a thing in its own right, rather than the lack of goodness) and says that evil—identified in Mormonism with sexuality and the body, in Kabala with self-interest—is necessary to a complete cosmos.
  • If you have ever praised Robin Hobb, you probably aren't allowed to criticize even Robert Jordan on the matter of stupid fantasy names. I mean, (Fitz)Chivalry? King Shrewd? Lady Patience? Puritans had names like that because they were as revolutionary-loco as the people who gave us ten-day "decades" in months with names like "Germinal", or five-day workweeks where everyone had different weekends. Most normal societies only have obviously meaningful names about as often as you meet a person named Faith (yes, every Japanese name is meaningful, but you usually have to see the kanji to know what the meaning is). And seriously, "King Shrewd" sounds like they're trying Kirby out against someone other than Dedede.

    Personally I think if you're going to be serious about writing fantasy, you should at the very least create naming languages—possibly several of them—so your names will be consistent. Tolkien did it. I think to an extent C. J. Cherryh does it. George Martin doesn't do it...but he does name a character something that, if there are any rules to phonetics at all, can only be pronounced "dænerüs targarü-en" (nothing says "epic fantasy" like making Swedish Chef noises with your lips pursed) and misspell "sir" (perhaps we should all praise his restraint in not going with what was doubtless his first impulse, namely spelling it "syr"?). Also, his villain's name is Jeff, there is no amount of misspelling that will hide the fact he named a fantasy villain Jeff!
  • It is bizarre to me that people persist in writing (R. A. Salvatore is a bad one for this) that swordfighting or martial arts that resemble "dancing" are good ones (Artemis Entreri, AKA "Evil Drizzt", is an obvious halfwit caricature of kenjutsu, while Drizzt does Wire Fu With Swords). I know of one martial art that resembles dancing that I'd trust in a real fight, and most people who do that don't actually know how to make it dangerous (the guys who make it look the most like dancing, however, are the ones to watch out for—a mestre's ginga often looks like a little jig, and then he busts your eardrums with the palms of his hands).

    Swordfighting, meanwhile, should involve as little wasted motion as possible. A real swordfight should pretty much look like two guys standing and glaring at each other, while holding swords—then they move and somebody dies. You can make it more cinematic by having the first attack get parried, which should segue into a counterattack, and over and over until, again, somebody dies, but there should be no damn spinning. Also, thing to include: a good cut feels like nothing. You swing, you think you missed, pieces of your target fall off. It's sweet.