#4 Post of 2020: Does Fantasy Have to Be Medieval?

(Post originally made on January 6, 2020. That’s staying power.)

Joan of Arc

Various questions come up when someone wants to write high fantasy and many of them are completely understandable.  They may deal with magic, various races, and creating a world that isn’t Earth.  Yet, there are other questions that you can see why they are asked, but they come off as shocking.  It makes one wonder about the entire genre and how it might not have evolved as much as many believe.  I’m going to touch on one of those questions here:

Does a fantasy story have to take place in a medieval Europe/Dark Ages setting?

The obvious answer is ‘No’.

As long as the genre doesn’t require a specific setting type like Westerns and WWII dramas, you can do whatever you want.  Even those ‘restrictive’ areas have some wiggle room, so nothing is set in stone.  The rules are incredibly flexible with fantasy, which really only requires that there be a magical, mystical element that can’t be chalked up to science.  This means you can do the traditional medieval setting or take inspiration from any time period.  You can also ignore that and try to make something entirely from scratch.  It is much more important to make the world work than to follow what you believe is a genre trend.

It isn’t hard to see why people think it should be medieval worlds or expect them to run the way our history did.  Tolkien and Lewis set that standard, which tends to go along without many changes when you look at the big ones.  ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, and even series that take place on a future Earth that has magic seem to go for the European aesthetic.  Castles with kings and knights traveling in search of adventure or a dragon to rescue from a fire-breathing princess.  You’re going to find more series that follow this tradition than blatantly go against it.  So, new authors get the feeling that this is a requirement instead of a suggestion that most people take.  Although, can you really blame them?

I’ve seen many readers go after a fantasy book because it isn’t historically accurate.  A suit of platemail isn’t correct or rules of etiquette don’t meant with medieval standards.  You can have a reader complain that the heroes are bathing regularly or that there are indoor bathrooms.  Had those tossed my way a few times.  As soon as you have the set pieces of medieval Europe, you’re bound to have people assuming that it will be Earth history accurate.  This doesn’t make much sense to me when it’s a place like Windemere, which isn’t Earth.  Yes, they have settings similar to the traditional, but they also have more modern things like the emergence of indoor plumbing.  This means you can’t suddenly say that something isn’t supposed to be that way because it could very well be right since it isn’t Earth.

Well, that’s my opinion and statement on this.  I’m going to be playing more with the idea when I finally get to the fantasy tip book.  What do you think about the belief that fantasy stories need to be in medieval Europe?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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22 Responses to #4 Post of 2020: Does Fantasy Have to Be Medieval?

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    As long as the world is consistent by its own rules, any time or place works for me with fantasy. The trouble, I suppose, comes when you want to define your genre… at what point does it cross the lines and become sci-fi etc…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. V.M.Sang says:

    I agree Charles. And it annoys me about the people who nitpick about a world that is wholly a creation of the author. How do they know what happened in this imaginary world?
    In one of the worlds in my Elemental Worlds books, there is steam power on one of the worlds. One is much more primitive than medieval, another completely different as it’s below the sea.
    If an author wishes to have indoor bathrooms, why not? It’s their world, after all. Just as long as it is feasible that this could have been developed, that’s fine. Think of the Romans. They had incredible things, like toilets with running water, and central heating.
    That’s a thought. I think I’ll write a story in a Roman-type setting rather than medieval.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. I wonder if those people nitpick everything in the same fashion. I think part of it is then assuming the author was going in a certain direction. Romans are a great example too. We forget how advanced they were.


  3. I remember this post. Good stuff. I think fantasy is a state, not a specific checklist. Many urban fantasies exist these days, although the urban part of that is helpful to readers looking for a book.


  4. L. Marie says:

    No wonder this was one of the most popular posts! A really good one! It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. And some who write fantasy seem to be steering away from many of the traditions in fantasy writing.

    Love what V. M. Sang wrote in the comment above. The author can do whatever he or she wants with his/her world.


  5. A dragon that needs to be rescued from a fire breathing princess? Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. noelleg44 says:

    I think any time or place works but medieval times have a certain romantic cachet to them which attracts interest. Victorian England as well. And dragons. There have to be dragons.


  7. This was a good post. Not surprised it was number four.


  8. I know I must have commented to the original post, but even Westerns and War novels can cross with fantasy. Weird Western is a category with supernatural elements.

    And do you remember that comic book Hellboy, by Mike Mignola? It started in World War II when a group of Allied soldiers penetrated one of Hitler’s fortresses and found something that looked like a baby demon. So they took him home and raised him as human, because of course they would! He was cute!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never got to the Hellboy comics, but I saw the two movies. He was a big character when I was collecting comics too, but I never tried them.

      Fantasy can definitely be mix with Moana genres. Same with romance. They’re probably the two most versatile genres. Yet, people get really picky about how they’re used. Seems counterproductive.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post Charles. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the characteristics of fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

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