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  1. #21
    I maintain that is lazy. Also often irrelevant in 2020 when traditional social status means so little. Occasionally you get a clever take, a king who resembles a contemporary dictator or other public figure, but mostly it's the same old power-struggle-in-the-middle-ages crap.
    And also mostly nowhere near as good a story as the real thing, look at 'Wolf Hall', a really good story all based on fact, or 'Who murdered Chaucer' by Terry Jones, a proper exciting read.
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  2. #22
    I'd argue that's a narrow-minded way of looking at things. Monarchies, just like everything else in writing, is only as interesting as the writer makes it. There is a lot of historical intricacies and sources to draw from, and as fantasy is often set in this era it only makes sense to draw inspiration from the most documented aspects of medieval life.

    And before you argue that "most writers don't do this", realize that if that is your retort then the problem isn't monarchies but thoughtless writers. All writing draws from something, and though I agree that certain aspects can become stale due to over-saturation, that is not a flaw of idea but of implementation. With enough skill almost anything can be interesting, and I'd go so far as to argue that if novelty is your books only draw, then you've partially failed as a writer.

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  3. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Saying monarchs generally did a reasonably-decent job at governing and then saying a bleaker portrayal of monarchies is truer to what they were really like historically seems contradictory. Isn't the truth that monarchies have always been by their very design exploitative and unpleasant? I suppose you could still say the monarch did a 'good job in governing' in the sense that they maintained order, but I can't say I vibe with that evaluation. By that same token, Nazi Germany also did a good job in governing. But I suspect that's a matter of difference over what individual assessors deem as a government doing a 'good job'. Certainly, we don't need to discuss politics.

    BUT I would nevertheless disagree strongly that the reason authors tend to like monarchical structures is because they feel they are more realistic. This is fantasy, after all, realism isn't supposed to be high on the list of priorities. And even if it is, I don't think it's the reason. I think most fantasy authors go to monarchy as a default (again, my issue isn't really the existence of monarchy in a fantasy world but the focus on the monarch, the fussying over the 'realm') because it's a trope that almost feels expected at this point. Additionally, it's easier to write a story about a kingdom and convey drama when it is told from the perspective of the higher-ups: More immediate exposure to the big-picture, higher-stakes, etc.

    I maintain that is lazy. Also often irrelevant in 2020 when traditional social status means so little. Occasionally you get a clever take, a king who resembles a contemporary dictator or other public figure, but mostly it's the same old power-struggle-in-the-middle-ages crap.
    For a stable and effective nation-scale democracy to even exist, certain conditions must first be met, which have only emerged relatively recently with the advent of industrialization, namely a large and prosperous middle class of self-made citizens, widespread literacy of the lower classes and the technologies of quick long-distance communication. All of those conditions were attained by monarchies and the occasional oligarchic republic, which at the time were the only forms of governance efficient enough to manage a centralized state and attain the degree of social organization necessary for industrialization to even be possible. So yea, monarchies absolutely could be (though not necessarily were) exploitative and unpleasant, but they worked, and the common folk much rather put up with that than the alternatives.

    Where it concerns our topic of discussion, the prevalence of monarchy in the Middle Ages has made it effectively synonymous with them. The first things that come to mind whenever Middle Ages are mentioned are, after all, knights in shining armor, jousting tournaments, princesses and kings - all the trappings of feudal monarchy. Which is probably why most authors instinctively resort to monarchy as the default whenever writing a setting anywhere remotely resembling historical Middle Ages. Furthermore, the readers themselves tend to expect it of such settings, so authors may very well write that way deliberately, to appeal to an audience that is generally uninterested in the nuances of fictional politics and is just looking to read a decent story rather than nitpick about a lack of political (or any other) diversity. In my experience, the typical fantasy reader is looking for entertainment and escape to a reality removed from their own, rather than a lesson in politics of the real world, only with magic and elves.

    So I wouldn't fault writers about being lazy for resorting to tried and tested concepts that the readers tend to expect from them anyway. There's obviously the difference in whether they choose to portray their faux-Medieval worlds as whimsical Disney fairytales, or as gritty and bleak Witcher or Warhammer-esque places that are much closer to historical reality, but that's already a matter of personal taste.

  4. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Solus View Post
    I'd argue that's a narrow-minded way of looking at things. Monarchies, just like everything else in writing, is only as interesting as the writer makes it. There is a lot of historical intricacies and sources to draw from, and as fantasy is often set in this era it only makes sense to draw inspiration from the most documented aspects of medieval life.

    And before you argue that "most writers don't do this", realize that if that is your retort then the problem isn't monarchies but thoughtless writers. All writing draws from something, and though I agree that certain aspects can become stale due to over-saturation, that is not a flaw of idea but of implementation. With enough skill almost anything can be interesting, and I'd go so far as to argue that if novelty is your books only draw, then you've partially failed as a writer.
    Of course thoughtless writers are always a death sentence to any subject matter.

    Here, though, I'm not really talking about the problem of execution but more about a wider problem of writers in 2020, consciously or not, contributing to an antiquated social order that is inherently regressive. I see a lot of writers as playing the role of useful idiot when it comes to these orders, whether they are writing about monarchy or elitism in general.

    For example, looking beyond monarchy as the easy target, books like Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, and movies like Wall Street as well as countless others play into the myth of glamour concerning money and power to the point they almost become propaganda accessories to those ideas. It's one thing if the book/movie is there to savagely destroy those myths, and to that extent I can tolerate them. It's also not as big of a deal if the story isn't really told from the perspective of the rich and powerful, because then it could be argued it's just a 'reflection'.

    What I cannot tolerate is stuff that not only fails to adequately address the evils of privileged excess but actually tries to make those things seem desirable, sympathetic, or otherwise in keeping with the character of a good person. An obvious example of this is in A Song Of Ice And Fire, a series I otherwise admire, but which seems absolutely flawed from the start in its obsession with 'the rightful king' to the point where that is the only real measure of a character's worth, never mind how unqualified they may be, never mind how shitty a person they might be. In fairness, the series is not completed yet, but if the indications from the TV show are correct it's going to entirely hold to the idea of 'who should be king?' and not whether that's a relevant question in a world where monarchy is entirely discredited.

    The reason fantasy is my main target with this (because I could easily pick on historical fiction or really any book about rich people and nobility) is because fantasy is supposed to be imaginative. It's supposed to imagine a different world. Again, understanding I'm not necessarily saying there should be no world building in which there is an absolute monarchy (that would be strange), my main criticism is that there are so very few of them that don't. An awful lot of fantasy writers start from the premise of there being a ruler with established elite social order and an awful lot of those have the ruler (or aspiring ruler(s)) as the primary POV characters. It's boring. It's unnecessary. Decades back, fine, but I don't want to read another epic fantasy story about assholes competing over who should be in charge on the basis of blood or a wizard's prophecy or a magic ring or whatever else. It has no relevance to the world in which we live and I don't believe there is much that can be said of interest.

    Quote Originally Posted by CyberWar View Post
    For a stable and effective nation-scale democracy to even exist, certain conditions must first be met, which have only emerged relatively recently with the advent of industrialization, namely a large and prosperous middle class of self-made citizens, widespread literacy of the lower classes and the technologies of quick long-distance communication. All of those conditions were attained by monarchies and the occasional oligarchic republic, which at the time were the only forms of governance efficient enough to manage a centralized state and attain the degree of social organization necessary for industrialization to even be possible. So yea, monarchies absolutely could be (though not necessarily were) exploitative and unpleasant, but they worked, and the common folk much rather put up with that than the alternatives.
    I see that as a flawed argument. Yes progress happened under the eye of monarchies (because the alternatives barely existed) but it was slow and skewed in favor of the ruling classes and the 'common folk' were kept ignorant of the alternatives, largely through religion with the idea of kings being appointed by god. It's not really valid IMO to credit monarchy with development when there is no parallel universe with a different system to draw comparison. Industrialization coincides with the Enlightenment, the period in which modern democratic ideas rose to the surface. Can hardly say that was thanks to the rulers when many of the rulers fought bitterly against those ideas and got killed for it -- i.e the French Revolution. No King was responsible for inventing the Spinning Jenny or Steam Engine. I would say it was in spite of the monarchies, not because of them, that such developments occurred.

    Where it concerns our topic of discussion, the prevalence of monarchy in the Middle Ages has made it effectively synonymous with them. The first things that come to mind whenever Middle Ages are mentioned are, after all, knights in shining armor, jousting tournaments, princesses and kings - all the trappings of feudal monarchy. Which is probably why most authors instinctively resort to monarchy as the default whenever writing a setting anywhere remotely resembling historical Middle Ages. Furthermore, the readers themselves tend to expect it of such settings, so authors may very well write that way deliberately, to appeal to an audience that is generally uninterested in the nuances of fictional politics and is just looking to read a decent story rather than nitpick about a lack of political (or any other) diversity. In my experience, the typical fantasy reader is looking for entertainment and escape to a reality removed from their own, rather than a lesson in politics of the real world, only with magic and elves.

    So I wouldn't fault writers about being lazy for resorting to tried and tested concepts that the readers tend to expect from them anyway. There's obviously the difference in whether they choose to portray their faux-Medieval worlds as whimsical Disney fairytales, or as gritty and bleak Witcher or Warhammer-esque places that are much closer to historical reality, but that's already a matter of personal taste.
    I agree that monarchy is synonymous with the Middle Ages and would agree that it is the simple aesthetic that draws writers toward those things. It feels strange to write about a castle in which there is no king or Lord, doesn't it? And without the castle, it seems, there can be no knights, no sieges, etc. So I get it.

    But, again, this is fantasy. This is about creating new ideas, about thinking outside the box. It's not about 'novelty', but 'creativity'. I'm not saying there is zero creativity in modern fantasy, there is, but for whatever reason a lot of stories can't seem to -- don't want to -- dispense with the notion that in order to create a sense of the past one must embrace the political systems of the past rather than doing the legwork to come up with something different. That is lazy and inexcusable. If you're going to world-build, build a world, don't just recreate the exact same world as what used to exist and insert dragons and magic and then say it's original because everybody is a little bit nastier (or less nasty) than in real history. It has been done to death.
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  5. #25
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    I honestly think people write fantasies centred on select noblility or other luminaries simply because it's an appealing aesthetic. I mean, who wouldn't want to louche about in a huge castle all day, occasionally gallivanting off on a massive horse to war (which you're pretty much ordained by God to win), followed by fine dining, legion respectful subjects and access to the choicest raiments spun by exclusive tailors? Literally, where the hell do I sign up? And if I can't have it, I sure as hell want to escape into it. By contrast, a fantasy concerning the doings of your average town-centre tracksuit is going to be a hard sell.

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  6. #26
    I definitely wouldn't go as far as to claim that the commoners under absolute monarchy were deliberately kept ignorant and illiterate by the elites. Rather, the existing economic conditions and information technologies precluded large masses from acquiring literacy or having much interest in political participation. A pre-requisite for society to even have any real desire for democracy is a large and prosperous middle class, which is literate enough to be aware of the political ongoings, and has enough free time and resources to invest in political activities. This only became possible after the invention of the printing press for reasonably cheap proliferation of literature (and the corresponding increase in literacy and availability of information), colonization and the corresponding increase in trade and prosperity (new cultures make subsistence easier, new goods and markets facilitate trade, etc.), consequent population growth and industrialization that the availability of colonial resources made possible (mechanization introduced to meet increased demand for goods, leading to widespread availability of cheap mass-produced goods). The Enlightenment and the ideas derived from it are a product of economic growth and prosperity fuelled chiefly by colonization and economic initiatives of ambitious monarchs and their equally ambitious subjects rather than the other way around.

    Also, it was mostly absolute monarchs who first embraced and implemented Enlightenment ideals with various degrees of success. Enlightenment never argued for the abolition of monarchy, nor even strictly against the divine right of monarchs to rule - rather, it argued for the rule of law, that even kings should not be above the law. With the notable exceptions of United States and Revolutionary France, monarchy as a form of government remained alive and well all the way up to WWI in the Western world, and it was under this system that Western civilization attained it's pinnacle of power.

    Anyway, that's a matter deserving a whole thread of its own.

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    Creativity and originality are all fine and cool, of course - but then again, why fix something that isn't really broken? The majority of readers already have certain pre-conceived expectations of what a fantasy world should look like - most of them won't be disappointed if you stick to established conventions, as long as the story itself is exciting to read. The Witcher series, for example, offers little in the way of originality that you speak of, having a rather cliche high fantasy setting, with feuding kingdoms and tropey fantasy races. It's how the story in this setting is handled that made it so popular.

  7. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Here, though, I'm not really talking about the problem of execution but more about a wider problem of writers in 2020, consciously or not, contributing to an antiquated social order that is inherently regressive. I see a lot of writers as playing the role of useful idiot when it comes to these orders, whether they are writing about monarchy or elitism in general.

    For example, looking beyond monarchy as the easy target, books like Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, and movies like Wall Street as well as countless others play into the myth of glamour concerning money and power to the point they almost become propaganda accessories to those ideas. It's one thing if the book/movie is there to savagely destroy those myths, and to that extent I can tolerate them. It's also not as big of a deal if the story isn't really told from the perspective of the rich and powerful, because then it could be argued it's just a 'reflection'.

    What I cannot tolerate is stuff that not only fails to adequately address the evils of privileged excess but actually tries to make those things seem desirable, sympathetic, or otherwise in keeping with the character of a good person. An obvious example of this is in A Song Of Ice And Fire, a series I otherwise admire, but which seems absolutely flawed from the start in its obsession with 'the rightful king' to the point where that is the only real measure of a character's worth, never mind how unqualified they may be, never mind how shitty a person they might be.
    Well, couldn't this be turned on its head as well? You said fantasy is all about creating a new world, free from the bounds of reality, so why not create a world were goodness is linked to something like, for the sake of argument, power or money. The main draw for fantasy is escapism; escaping the corruption and abuse often synonymous with powerful positions -ask anyone what they think of politicians- is most definitely a part of that. But creating a world devoid of power or inequality is often an arduous task, and one that doesn't mesh well with the need for conflict. And that's not even talking about how unimmersive such a world would feel, unless there is a really good reason for it or if the world is not populated by humans.

    So why not create a world where good people are the ones that gain power? (and the villain of course, but he shall be defeated by our dear heroes) There is no need for contrived reasoning here, pure chance and a spark of writers magic and you're good to go. The fantasy genre has maybe the best description in its name, because it's inherently not a reflection of the real world (there are exceptions, as with all things). A fantasy, in short, filled with wish-fulfillment and unrealistic happenings (notice that I said unrealistic and not unimmersive).



    Also, in regards to your claims against Game of Thrones, it is the measure of their worth by other characters, and not for the reader. At least that was how I saw it. There are enough terrible rulers in that series to rival Shakespeare, and I think the characters' worth as individuals are quite separate from their potential as rulers. But i digress, because where I truly disagree is with this particular statement.

    In fairness, the series is not completed yet, but if the indications from the TV show are correct it's going to entirely hold to the idea of 'who should be king?' and not whether that's a relevant question in a world where monarchy is entirely discredited.
    How on earth is monarchy discredited in the context of the GoT universe? Yes they commit egregious crimes, yes they are corrupt like no others, but what other developed political system is in place in that world which could rival monarchy? We have oligarchs in Pentos, chieftains (think the vikings) on the iron islands and not a democracy in sight. The discussion if there's not a better political system might be relevant, but not whether it should be abolished or not, since that would be quite absurd when one considers the world in which this all takes place in.

    And even if we grant that there should be some kind of upheaval, the chances are still great that another monarch will emerge, and in that case you want the best guy for the job, no? It's going to affect everything concerning the realm, so that might very well be the most important problem for most people in the series.



    Anyways, I respectfully disagree with your opinion, though I understand why it is that you think that way because there is indeed some shameless glorification of autocracy in fantasy

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  8. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Solus View Post
    Well, couldn't this be turned on its head as well? You said fantasy is all about creating a new world, free from the bounds of reality, so why not create a world were goodness is linked to something like, for the sake of argument, power or money. The main draw for fantasy is escapism; escaping the corruption and abuse often synonymous with powerful positions -ask anyone what they think of politicians- is most definitely a part of that. But creating a world devoid of power or inequality is often an arduous task, and one that doesn't mesh well with the need for conflict. And that's not even talking about how unimmersive such a world would feel, unless there is a really good reason for it or if the world is not populated by humans.
    I'm not talking about a world devoid of power or inequality. That would be boring. I'm talking about a world fixated on social elitism and/or monarchy. I'm talking about a world where otherwise vacuous characters are given lift by the fact they are some form of higher-up. Whether it's the US Financial system or Medieval monarchy makes no matter. What I despise is the depiction of morality based on a good suit and suave demeanor -- and yeah, money.

    Batman is a good example of this sort of thing. Jesus, fuck Bruce Wayne, man. An over-indulged, vacuous leech with no real job or purpose in life other than to spend his billions commissioning pointlessly over-engineered gadgets just so he can ham around Gotham City beating up street thugs and the mentally ill under the guise of 'cleaning up Gotham City'. It's the classic trope of a 'billionaire with a heart of gold' and it's nonsense. The man has the money to fund the Gotham police on his own and does nothing: He's all ego, Michael Bloomberg with a costume and squarer jaw. I generally leave Batman alone, it's from yesteryear and for kids (or used to be) but I don't want that sort of thing in my grown-up books anymore, thank you very much. This isn't 1975, move the fuck on.

    So why not create a world where good people are the ones that gain power? (and the villain of course, but he shall be defeated by our dear heroes) There is no need for contrived reasoning here, pure chance and a spark of writers magic and you're good to go. The fantasy genre has maybe the best description in its name, because it's inherently not a reflection of the real world (there are exceptions, as with all things). A fantasy, in short, filled with wish-fulfillment and unrealistic happenings (notice that I said unrealistic and not unimmersive).
    I am fine with power as mentioned, I just don't want it gifted on a plate and then be expected to cry over poor little Lord Fontleroy who just wants to be king but Evil Uncle Benji stole it from him.

    You know what's a really good fantasy novel? The Wizard Of Oz books. Great world building and plenty of power in he form of witches, a man from Nebraska pretending to be a wizard, etc. But no serious government, no fetishizing the crown, no rich Lords playing Commander.

    Also, in regards to your claims against Game of Thrones, it is the measure of their worth by other characters, and not for the reader. At least that was how I saw it. There are enough terrible rulers in that series to rival Shakespeare, and I think the characters' worth as individuals are quite separate from their potential as rulers.
    Not very many of them have any real worth as individuals, do they? Other than Jon Snow who arguably worked his way up being a moral and intelligent person, virtually all of the other rulers or would-be rulers are incompetent, assholes or both. And yet there is never any possibility entertained the system that empowers them is the problem. Again, it's just lazy.


    How on earth is monarchy discredited in the context of the GoT universe? Yes they commit egregious crimes, yes they are corrupt like no others, but what other developed political system is in place in that world which could rival monarchy? We have oligarchs in Pentos, chieftains (think the vikings) on the iron islands and not a democracy in sight. The discussion if there's not a better political system might be relevant, but not whether it should be abolished or not, since that would be quite absurd when one considers the world in which this all takes place in.And even if we grant that there should be some kind of upheaval, the chances are still great that another monarch will emerge, and in that case you want the best guy for the job, no? It's going to affect everything concerning the realm, so that might very well be the most important problem for most people in the series.
    Not really. In the TV show adaption (I'm referring to that because GRRM has not yet finished his series and did indicate the endings were roughly aligned) there is a bit at the end where they are discussing who should rule and somebody mentions what is essentially democracy and it gets laughed down and that's the end of it. Not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but clearly there was scope for that being the messaging -- but it doesn't happen, we get some kid being king. Additionally, there are several examples of non-autocratic/anarchical factions within the world: The Brothers Without Banners, etc. Even the Dothraki have a kind of democratic system in the sense that their leader depends on the support of the other Dothraki and they don't care much about bloodlines, etc, if the guy is incompetent. So it's not unheard of, it's just GRRM wanted to focus on royalty/would-be royalty for his primary protagonists...and that's fine. But we don't need anymore of it IMO.
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