High fantasy is almost invariably set in invented worlds inspired by medieval Europe. Can we put this down to the legacy of Tolkien and to genre works being in close conversation with each other? Or is there something about the place that medieval Europe occupies in our imagination that makes it a perfect companion for tales of epic striving and larger-than-life Good versus Evil? Either way, does this help or hinder the genre?
The medieval time period covers 1,000 years, between the 5th and 15th centuries, and while there’s a need to realistically reflect history, we don’t know everything about this era. But this is fantasy, so you can take liberties.
Alluring traits of Europe in the middle ages:
- the ‘Once upon a time…’ setting when legend and superstition ruled.
- the simplicity of the ‘everyone was white and straight’ demographic of that era.
- women had more rights than Victorian women.
- interesting diseases were rife, such as leprosy.
- travelling was a dangerous pursuit – robbery, illness and accidents – but also fascinating in the scenery you see and the people you meet along the way. The journey can be more interesting than the destination. 21st century air travel is dull by comparison.
*I left this panel early because my belly was loudly complaining about wanting to be fed.