When it comes to fantasy, I for one am fairly bored to pieces with the Middle-Earthian, orcs/elves/humans/dwarves cultures loosely based in Western Europe with rearranged geography. Not to belittle or otherwise disparage the cultures from which these classic Fantastical settings are derived, I just think it’s over done.
A slightly more modern example could be the Dragon Age games, where the majority of the stories take place in a realm known as Thedas, and since the first game (Origins, the only one I’ve played), the developers have certainly expanded on the setting, but there still remains the essence of the classic influences. Interesting spins are taken on dwarven and elven cultures, while a couple of countries in-game are clearly influenced by neighbors of England, namely France, Spain and Italy. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with this, not really, I’m just tired of it.
I recall the Riftwar Saga as created by Raymond E. Feist, where there exists the classic European Fantasy setting with its elves and dwarves and things, but he wrote it well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But then, things get really interesting when a portal opens to another world, and an entirely non-classical Euro-centric fantasy culture appears. This concept rings a bell of similar tone to my own stories, which is probably why I really like Feist’s work.
You see, in spite of my general antipathy toward “classic fantasy,” it’s important to have it as a benchmark for when one is attempting to really show a contrast. How could we know Feist’s Japanese/Pacific Islander-inspired warriors from the other world were so exotic, if they weren’t interacting with characters and cultures the likes of which we find so familiar? In other words, not only did he write the story of the recognizably “western” world well enough to hold its own, but its existence served to show excellent comparison when the New Guys arrived.
This is not a new trick, but it’s something that I think Feist did very well. I really have got to get to his next book.
So I bring this up because, in case I haven’t emphasized it enough on this blog, I’m a huge fan of diversity and multi-cultural/lingual/racial interactions, especially in fantasy. One of my favorite lines from Feist’s Magician: Master was (and I know I’m butchering it): “It seems that no matter what world you are from, merchant need you to buy something or their children will starve.”
Because that’s the whole point, isn’t it? With so much diversity and multiculturalism in our lives, let alone our fantasy, we discover the Godfather of All Cliches: That we’re really not all that different.
Next time I’ll write about a specific culture the likes of which I knew next-to-nothing about until fairly recently, which I currently find fascinating, to the point of making plans to actually go and visit there.
What of you, dear readers? I’m always curious to hear not only about what books influenced your tastes, but what cultures might influence your fiction as well.
P.S.~ I’m aware I missed the last two blog post deadlines. If you weren’t aware of this, nevermind – but otherwise, a offer a humble apology to the interwebz gods.
Be well and keep writing!