Friday, August 4, 2023

A Rant on Heroic Fantasy "versus" Medieval - With My Answers

What Is 'Medieval' Fantasy?
The Grungeon Master, 31 July 2023

0:52 As a Tolkien fan and a Medievalist, I actually tend to agree a bit.

7:50 To be fair to those using firearms ... there was a 14th C. battle where they were used.

10:21 Esgaroth. Have you taken a look at the real life inspirations for it?

Some are dated to 5000 or 3000 BC ...

11:33 Walter Leaf made a point of Mycenaean Greece being ruled by Achaean warlords that had come into the country (and actually centralised it - if you think of it, only a well centralised Achaea could have matched Hercules' prowess in stopping him from being king some other place than Tiryns) just a few generations earlier, like Pelops was not too many generations before Agamemnon, Perseus before Hercules and so on .... many of the earlier warlords are called "sons of Zeus" according to his conjecture in the sense of "self made man" ...

B u t ... while this was going on, a generation or two before the Trojan war and up to that war itself, the Hittite Empire was older than the Achaean family lines, and Egypt was older than the Hittites, so was Crete.

When it comes to family lines, if you consider it from a Christian perspective, Achaean Greece is partly overlapping in time with the long family line that CMI loves to depict, from Luke 3, in the crucial time period between Obed and King David. And King David has a few Aragorn vibes.

So, those aspects of "Medieval" in Tolkien are not necessarily Medieval. For Snorre, the Yngling family starts a bit before Christ is born, for Saxo, those people lived a bit closer to perhaps Alexander or Cyrus. It was a long family line. Obviously, the most Medieval counterpart to Tolkien is like Poles and Hungarians facing the Mongols.

The non-Greek style may have something to do with the climate not being Mediterranean (apart from Ithilien) and peplos and himation being less adviceable ...

12:49 Spain getting to Americas ... England getting to Americas ... Tolkien kind of did deal with that as Numenoreans getting to Middle Earth. The explanation why Eriador speaks Westron is like the explanation why English is spoken from Alaska to Florida and from Newfoundland to California la Alta.

Speaking of Westron, basically all of the languages in Eriador, human or elven, are meant to evoke pre-Indo-european languages of Europe, and it is arguable Gondor is actually facing an onslaught of people from the Kurgans (wainriders). Linguistically, any Middle Earth material and especially Third Age is very firmly set millennia before Christ.

A bit like how Esgaroth evokes .... looking up my 2019 essay "Laketown, but not Esgaroth" ... I linked to Lac de Chalain ...

14:48* "knights and lords and kings and all of that mallarkey"

I'm letting you go on to say what you mean first ...

16:06 I think this is not very convincing as criticism of JRRT.

First, let's assume a Bronze Age lord of some type, perhaps just a man digging for tin (throough slaves) in carbon dated 3000 BC in Cornwall, had as real title "Satchem" or "Ghân-Buri-Ghân" or borrowed from Middle East perhaps "Malak" or "Lugal" or "Sharrum" - if Tolkien chose to render it more like as "king" or "lord of ..." this could be making the point that obedience to kings would tend to feel similar to heroes independently of at what age.

Second, it's not a totally good summing up of the Medieval period either.

1) Armed bands went to Spain or Estonia or Cyprus or Palestine on a thing called Crusades.
2) If a small group needed to pass for peaceful travellers, who only carried weapons just in case, there was this somewhat hippie-like thing called pilgrimages.

If you think I am exaggerating when I call them hippie-like - consider that Lewis XIV, who decided to force homeless beggars to hospitals, where they would get food and lodging in return for tending gardens or the sick, until they got sick themselves, the same Lewis XIV also forbade pilgrimages to Spain.

It can be noted, some Catholics who had been used to being ruled by Habsburgs, when conquered by Lewis XIV, were worried the Antichrist was already around.

I think this was the case in Comtat Venaissin, where the previous King to Lewis XIV, arriving in 1663, was the Pope. Who by the way was taking it back with his successors up to 1791, with a few more invasions from that bigger country that spoke the same language.

Other hippie like things in the Middle Ages : vagants and friars. When for an unknown reason the fictional Adso is getting from one Benedictine monastery towards Melk, a very different one, passing by a place in North Italy, also monastic, Umberto Eco puts his journey into the hands of a friar William of Baskerville ... and just at the end, a little before 1492 or so, Gipsies tell the Pope they come from Egypt, descend from a family that refused hospitality to the Holy Family, and are therefore doomed to perpetual vagancy as a penance, which the Pope accepts.

The Grungeon Master
In general, your comments here are filled with very useful historical points, many of which are indeed new to me. The only thing I might critique is that by many of the timestamps you mention, I am no longer talking about Tolkien. His works are covered nearer the start of the video, and my discussion moves on to more generic 'medieval fantasy' fare. Indeed, I argue that Tolkien doesn't fit the 'medieval fantasy' mold that we have in modernity, because he uses so many disparate and interesting historical sources. Thus discussions of using other historical resources as inspiration (eg. Bronze age cultures) are not in fact critiques of Tolkien, as it seems you may take them.

However, in general, these are excellent points. You can certainly tell adventuring stories in and among the medieval period (the early medieval papacy and their dramas are fascinatingly dynamic), and I could certainly have mentioned pilgrims as a counterpoint to my discussion.

But at the end of the day, I'm trying to critique an entire subgenre of fantasy and its use of a broad swath of historical veneers, within 25 minutes. It's not enough time for the topic to be discussed with full nuance and accuracy, and I fear even if I made this video 4 hours long, I'd still miss out on some small aspects of history.

In any case, thanks for watching and thinking about the video - I appreciate your insights, and will certainly be reading up on some of the lesser- known things you've brought up.


Hans Georg Lundahl
@Grungeon_Master You are welcome!

May I enter your comment into the post I made?

The Grungeon Master
@hglundahl oh, what post?

I don't mind where you repost my responses.

Hans Georg Lundahl
@Grungeon_Master Wonderful - thank you!

On my blog, assortedretorts dot blogspot dot com.

16:29** I think you are somewhat ignorant of Justinian.

Check out Eadwine's or Ine's laws making travel a fearless and safe venture, and how they relate to Codex Iuris Civilis.

I thought I had the reference in John Richard Green, A Short History of the English People, but can't find it right now online in it.
Knights were obviously visiting courts, not because they "were as constrained as anyone else" but because they had to show, basically, they mastered the chivalrous code of conduct, weren't impostors who illegally had dressed up as a knight with followers.

Not all warriors involved knights. Check out Swiss infantry, starting just before the end of the Middle Ages, they could roam and plunder (Bregenz, in Vorarlberg, got targetted). And they invented the terms Captain and Lieutenant.

19:35 One of the basic ideas about "Medieval stasis" is the Industrial Revolution didn't happen (or didn't happen with good and successful guys).

Now, for me, the Industrial Revolution is not so much about producing better as about producing more, and also not so much about producing more per unit of area, per acre, as about producing more per person employed in production.

In France, some have spoken about a "first industrial revolution" which involved producing salpeter or sulphuric acid for purposes like gunpowder or etching.

In fact, I know a fantasy that basically takes place in such a setting resembling 18th C - Lloyd Alexander Misadventures of Sebastian (I think Westmarch is also set in a similar setting).

* Here Grungeon Master gave a polite reply, where he explained I had missed a point that when he was talking of Medieval Fantasy, he was not so much talking of Tolkien. Apart from that he liked my comments. He then granted me permission to repost his answer, so this note is somewhat superfluous. ** This comment was delated, I found out when I tried to follow up with an "answer" to my comment.