An Author’s Journey: What is Literary Epic Fantasy? (4) The Sources: #11-13 (Religious Conflicts, Medieval Thought, & History)
3.11.14 An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences, Part 4.9: What is Literary Epic Fantasy? (4) The Sources: #11-13 (Religious Conflicts, Medieval Thought, & History)
Good Evening, Everybody!
For those joining the party late, I’m in the midst of recreating a definition of “epic fantasy” for a new generation of creators and readers alike. Time to join the 21st Century, People, and while I’m first in line for anything Tolkien-related, I also am in the forefront of fantasy enthusiasts who admit that huge representations of people, regions, and interests were omitted when Tolkien created the Middle Earth template for the fantasy genre back in the 1930s through 1960s (i.e., from the publication of The Hobbit in 1937 through various versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion).
Allowing for Tolkien’s definition that included European regions from the latitudes of Britain in the North (Hobbiton) to Minas Tirith in the South (Italy), here’s how I suggest expanding the definition of “epic fantasy” in respect to geographic coverage:
[A.J. Carlisle]…A literary epic fantasy, then, following J.R.R. Tolkien, the genre’s creator, might invent other worlds or landscapes in its narrative, but — to briefly restate part of Monday’s definition of location and expand upon Tolkien — for me, the majority of settings in “high fantasy/epic fantasy” must evoke a bygone age that reflect key aspects of lands and peoples (nobility, peasantry, merchants, clergy, etc) of the medieval period in Western Europe and the Mediterranean Basin (c. 500-1500 A.D., & including the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, & the lands of the Middle Eastern littoral).
I’ve covered “scope” and “setting” last week, but now I’m in the midst of relating what sources I find fair game in influencing my fantasy writing. Today’s subjects are (11) medieval religious conflicts, (12) aspects of medieval thought, and (13) the historical & archaeological record. So, the medieval sources from which the epic fantasist should feel free to draw are
(11) elements of the religious conflicts of the High & Late Middle Ages insofar as those conflicts occurred within each religion, between religions, and also in contrast to how those religions confronted heresies (Cathar/Dualism) and especially “pagan” practitioners of sorcery and witchcraft (druids, witches, animism, etc.). For epic fantasy, inclusion of these elements (whether by explicit reference or implicit allegory/analogy, makes for engaging story lines because characters and situations play out against the hopes and fears that society has about the limits of religion or magic.
(12) the cultural, philosophical, and religious problems central to medieval thought such as the practice of Christian philosophy and Scholasticism in the universities, the literary evidence for a chivalric culture, the question of “universal” concepts of Good and Evil, and the allegorical presentation of literary motifs (Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell) whose imagery perseveres to this day (Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise), Guillame de Lorris & Jean de Meun’s The Romance of the Rose, etc.)
(13) the historical and archaeological record for urban and rural societal and economic life in the Middle Ages; really a catch-all source, because if a creator starts researching and understanding the basics of the medieval worlds, any reputable text book is going to canvass some of these essentials. However, I would say that this is one of the most important aspects to study because of the depictions of family life, towns & cities, countryside, and societal/cultural interactions that any decent epic-fantasy world-building should include!
Next time: The last “Sources” (#14-15) for defining a new epic fantasy genre…