It’s very common for fantasies to be set in a medieval Europe-type place, even when the story is set on a different world. Individuals fight with swords and magic, any kind of advanced technology is conspicuously absent – even with all their magical abilities, no one has figured out cars or the internet. Everyone still travels by horse, feudal lords rule the lands, and so on.
Obviously, if you look at the history, it makes sense. J. R. R. Tolkien used his war experience as inspiration for many elements in his books, and he clearly used Europe as the setting. The legend of Arthur sits squarely in this time. Even in other cultures, sword play and traveling by horses is common, even as they have their own unique elements added.
But what about tropical forest fantasy? What about underwater fantasy? What about fantasy on other worlds where technology has developed? How would that change the way magic is used and understood?
It’s certainly possible that it’s precisely the presence of magic that keeps technology at bay, but usually, these cultures have been around for thousands of years and I have to ask – don’t you think elves would eventually get tired of taking weeks or months to travel and try to find a faster way? I mean, after 5,000 years of it, wouldn’t it be appealing to move faster?
Part of fantasy, I know, is the appeal of the very differentness of the setting. We are used to instant access to all things, faster and bigger and better, and there’s something strangely appealing about a world in which none of this exists. Where no one knows about what’s happening on the other side of the world or even the other side of the continent or realm or whatever word you want to use. However, I still think it would be really interesting to explore how technology might affect magic.
So what about different settings? Like the tropics? Are there fantasies that are set in a rainforest? With thousands of insects and weird animals – giants and miniatures – heat, humidity, monsoons, daily rains? How do they travel from village to village? How separated are they?
What about warfare conducted with modern weapons? Tanks and cannons and missiles and sniper weapons – how do those with magic fight against such incredible machinery? Is it even possible to fight against it? What would that look like?
Don’t get me wrong, I love high fantasy. I love the medieval settings. I love the relationship with the earth and the animals and everything that goes with it. It’s probably one of my favorite fantasy elements, but maybe that’s precisely why I should explore something else.
What are your thoughts on the medieval setting of most fantasies? Have you come across different settings? Tell me the title and author! I’d love to read it!