New poll - Cultural influence on Fantasy settings

Monday, September 24, 2012

The last poll's topic of interest was the narrative mode the authors choose for their novels.  The question was "Which narrative mode do you prefer?" and the results were:

  • First person   - 18%
  • Third person  - 44%
  • Both              - 38%

So it seems that readers have a clear preference after all between first and third person perspective.  I would have thought that "both" would have finished with a higher score.  The results may be more related to the number of novels available in each category and surprisingly, the people who like first person perspective more than third were more adamant about it.

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On to the next subject!

Fantasy is usually defined by imaginary settings where magic is involved (I know, that's one of the most central aspect and not a complete definition). When you think about these imaginary settings, the European medieval theme and history is probably the one coming first to your mind, at least where epic or high Fantasy is concerned. The genre was defined by Tolkien, Jordan, C.S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock and George R.R. Martin to name just a few and in almost every cases, the medieval era stood as a certain base.

In the last couple of years, Fantasy authors explored more varied settings.  Some included steampunk or technological elements but in term of inspiration from the real world,  Arabic and Islamic cultures are now more and more present.  Looking at R. Scott Bakker, Peter V. Brett, Richard Morgan, etc.., slowly, a multitude of elements from the Middle Eastern lore and people became represented, more often than not as foreign civilizations and not as the principal background.

Even more recently, Arabic and Islamic culture became the predominant environment for Saladin Ahmed (Throne of Crescent Moon), Mazarkis Williams (The Emperor's Knife) and Howard Andrew Jones (The Desert of Souls).  However, Middle East is not the sole region being capitalized upon,  Brad P. Beaulieu's The Lays of Anuskaya series is inspired by Russian culture and Elizabeth Bear's Range of Ghost world is a derivation of the Mongolian empire from the time of Genghis Khan, the steppe people.

Even if I can't really imagine a Fantasy setting without swords, they don't have to be swords from a pseudo-medieval era of Western Europe. I really like the fact that the authors are finding inspiration in more diverse cultures from the real world and it's always interesting to read a story set in a completely invented world full of surprises.  In the end, I think I will always have a knack for the pseudo-medieval setting but to keep it this way, there ought to have original settings from various cultures popping up from time to time.

I'm not saying that every epic Fantasy novel ought to be set in this setting, I'm only pointing out my favorite. Alright, my question is:

"Which cultural inspiration do you prefer for your Fantasy setting?"
  • Pseudo-medieval Europe
  • Middle Eastern (Arabic, Islamic)
  • Another culture from the real world
  • Completely out of this world
  • No preference

4 comments:

Jamie Gibbs said...

I'd go for the Medieval western-Europe but only because I've been exposed to it longest so I'm used to it. I've read stories in other settings (e.g. Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer) and some contemporary fantasy that works equally well.

Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom

Gabriela Alonso said...

I also go for medieval western Europe because I am a sucker for mevieval European history. But I like to see elements from other real cultures in my stories, as well as completely made up elements.

Daddy Grognard said...

I'm happy with mediaeval Europe but I've got no problem with any other setting, provided it's well-written. What I don't like to see is real-world place names intruding onto what is supposed to be a fantasy world. The invention of names, both personal and geographical seems to run a poor second to the creation of the setting itself.

Dom said...

A lot of novels are indeed inspired by medieval western europe. Guy Gavriel Kay is pretty good at not only being inspired by it but pretty much takes real events and basicaly changes the names and adds fantasy to it. Lions of Al-Rassan is the Moore's decline in the southern iberian peninsula and Sailing for Sarantium is the fall of Constantinople. Both books were an excellent read.

I feel the author can't help but be inspired by already existing cultures. In epic fantasy series like the Prince of Nothing there are Norse, central and northen african, etc. Same goes for Steven Erikson, Seven cities sounds a lot like northen Africa. Then again it might only be my brain that tries to find familiar ground.

It seems the non-human species don't have the same historical shackles. Although, again, my brain tries to picture something that I've already seens. Drows and Tiste Andiis are very similar in my mind.

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