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Fantasy and Monarchy

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Aldarion, Aug 6, 2020.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    So I just published my "Argument for Monarchy" post:
    Argument for Monarchy

    That in turn reminded me of arguments on "why fantasy is monarchical" and whether it makes sense, or if it is a bad thing. Now, I am not going to argue here on merits of monarchy as such - that is done in the linked post, so if you want to read my opinions on monarchy, read that. Rather, I will outline here why I believe monarchy in fantasy makes sense, and how different systems might be implemented.

    * * * *

    One aspect of fantasy is that it is - with some exceptions (e.g. Warhammer 40 000) - rather medieval (and even Warhammer 40 000 is better at portraying a medieval society than most of medieval fantasy). So what does this mean? There are several sociological and technological limitations of a medieval society:
    1. Slow communications
    2. Social stratification
    3. Limited administration
    Slow communications mean that state is highly decentralized, and politics are highly localized. This in turn means that for most people, most of the time, it does not matter who or how holds the "ultimate" authority. Day-to-day governance is done by the local government, and that is where focus lies. And said local government can be autocratic, aristocratic or democratic without having any influence from - or on - the central government. In fact, this decentralization promotes monarchy at the same time as promoting liberty: it means that central government, having limited duties, will itself be limited in scope; and monarchical model is the most efficient one for a small government.

    Social stratification means that while most people might have been able to read and write (that is unclear), most people were not educated enough to make political decisions. And since extensive education was much more difficult to carry out, this meant that all decision-making was in the hands of a small group of people, which would almost inevitably (though by no means always) produce one individual above the rest (primus inter pares). From there, there was only a step to monarchy.

    Limited administration also means that monarchy was the most logical choice. Unlike the intrusive, authoritharian and self-perpetuating administrative monster of a modern state, administration of most monarchies was rather limited (this is especially true for feudal ones, but even absolute monarchies had limited administration compared to modern-day monstrosities). This in turn meant that having a single person oversee said limited apparatus was merely good economy of resources.

    Said limited administration also provides another explanation for why monarchical setup was so long dominant: it simply didn't matter as much. Most of the governance was carried out on the local level, and there one could have real diversity of political systems. Dubrovnik was an aristocratic republic even while it was still a part of monarchical Hungarian-Croatian kingdom, as were many other cities and towns. Poljica were ruled by an elected duke, and had only few serfs (there were 40 noble families, 120 serf families and 800 families of free peasants). In other words, while kingdom was, well, kingdom, actual system "on the ground" - that is, what people actually experienced - could be extremely varied. In this sense, the absolutist monarchy that was eventually overthrown by the French revolution was an aberration of Medieval government, and product of same process of political centralization which also produced modern-day democracy as well as various totalitarian regimes.

    And that is another point "in favour" of monarchy. Monarch provides an easy focal point: for political system as such, for feelings of loyalty, but also for anger if things do not work. Simply said, if monarchical system does not work and monarch becomes a tyrant, you overthrow the monarch. But if modern-day republic does not work, who do you overthrow? You have two parties - both the same, a bunch of minor parties - all the same, composed of politicians - all the same. I have already written about politicial issues with such system in the linked post, but the reason I am mentioning it here is that it also leads to literary issues: it is easy to get "lost". In a monarchical system, it is easy to have a good guy, a bad guy, and a solution to the problem: remove the bad guy. This leads to comparatively streamlined narrative. But trying to write such a story in a democratic system is problematic. Thus, it is no surprise that villains in stories are generally either monarchs or represent some perversion of monarchy (as Sauron, Palpatine etc. do): it makes story easier to make, easier to follow, and villain easier to hate. Story is easier to focus, and avoids diluting.

    And there are also psychological reasons behind the monarchy. Monarchy essentially duplicates family, with monarch acting as pater familias (this is seen with modern-day populist politics). Basically, king is not just a ruler, but father, the personalization of the nation. This, then, leads to idea so often seen, that "good king" will also be a good ruler and will bring about the good times for the kingdom (see: Aragorn and Return of the King in, well, RotK).

    * * * *
    Again, this is not about merits of monarchy vs republic vs democracy; that argument I made in the linked post. Rather, here I wanted to explain why monarchical leanings of high fantasy is not merely "follow the Lord of the Rings" effect, but actually makes historical, sociological and politological sense; as well as why - to me at least - many fantasy which tries to avoid monarchism trope feels so forced.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Is- is this a joke or something? 0_o
     
  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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  4. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    Interesting OP.

    There are several details I disagree with but I agree with the suitability for monarchy in fantasy, and fiction in general, as its highly personal and thus allows for more personal relations and personal expressions and uses of power.

    Now a good author who plans things out can certainly make a republic or a democracy become personal and so for characters and readers. But I think that monarchy makes it much eaiser for authors. Especially if they don't want to spend alot of time to research how democracy and republics have actually worked in both historical times as well as in modern times. Thus monarchy can be an easier alternative.
     
  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I’m a little concerned that you might be demonstrating a very narrow vision as to what fantasy is.
    It seems like you’re working under the assumption that all fantasy is a medieval-flavored good-vs.-evil story where politics are meant to be dealt with efficient and sparingly but that isn’t necessarily the case.

    Like, my fantasy story is a morally grey crime thriller with a setting based on a mix of 1980s New York and modern day Pyongyang that focuses more on internal good/evil struggles and personal redemption themes (plus it’s made explicitly clear in the story that killing the corrupt and politically powerful villain wouldn’t solve the hero’s problem) so would a monarchy “make sense” in my story?
     
  6. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    True. That being said, while authors could indeed make republic or democracy personal (though I don't really see many practical means as to how), they would still run into practical limitations. Historically, democracy only really worked in city-states, as long-range communication was impractical. Reason why monarchy or aristocratic monarchy was so widespread in larger entities was that decision-making had to be done in one place - there were no teleconferences - which means that all people had to be concentrated in said place. Which in turn meant that only those of significant wealth (that is, nobility) could do so, and even they could only do it intermittently while leaving majority of day-to-day work to a monarch (elected or otherwise). In KIngdom of Hungary, magnates in fact used this fact against smaller nobility after death of Matthias Corvinus, by dragging out elections to the point that most of minor nobility was forced to leave, thus making magnates win by default.

    Medieval/Byzantine/ancient fantasy is what I am interested in. Unless you count Warhammer 40 000 as fantasy. But medieval-ish fantasy is where my interest primarily lies, so that is where most of my focus is as well.
     
  7. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    *ahem* ANYWAYS! Now to actually engage with the substance of the thread...

    I mean, yeah? Monarchies are an option? The Roman Republic lasted for 500 years before it became the Roman Empire and that was the period of its greatest growth. Considering it predated that medieval period it naturally had to deal with all the same factors and clearly it was capable of dealing with them considering its success.

    Mixing together different cultural influences is also a really easy way to give your setting some flavor of its own. Why not have those city states mentioned? Research the Greek city states, slap on some Medieval European names and... bam!

    Mind, I'm more partial for stealing the Japanese Shogunate for that myself. There is a princess. All the citizens know this. There's a sacred and holy princess. Her prayers are so important that it falls to the Lord Paladin to serve as her arm and her voice. He rules the country in her stead. (aka an Emperor that still exists on paper, but where all the actual power lies with a military leader (shogun))

    Mmm..... Let's see.....

    For slow communication and social stratification, well, again, Roman Republic, but considering it's fantasy it's up to the author whether or not that applies. I mean, what was the flying speed of those ravens in Game of Thrones after all?

    If the limited ability to directly administrate an area meant that for the boots on the ground it didn't matter if it was a monarchy or not.... then it doesn't matter if it's a monarchy or not. It's a bit weird to say it's efficient to have one person calling the shots when you think about the web of nobilities, bloodlines, loyalties and honestly just the number of people you see in medieval court scenes.

    Next, for monarchies as icons for loyalty and scapegoats for anger. Ahhhhhhhh.... there was a history video I watched once which for the life of me I can't find now. It was about a British rebellion. They made it all the way to London I think when the king told them to go home. They did. See, the whole "divine right of kings" and icon of loyalty thing meant that all their anger was directed at the nobility.

    It's really more of a Chinese thing. The Mandate of Heaven provided justification to regularly overthrowing the old ruler and installing the new one. Clearly if they were overthrown then they must have lost the mandate. Similarly, extending the principles of the family unit to society and the kingdom (aka King as Father) clearly hews to Confucian belief.

    Finally, using a King as a bad guy that you can kill to solve the problems of the plot is.... a choice? I can't really say it's a good choice or a bad choice. It's just a choice.

    Like, some writers don't want to just have a Voldemort for their heroes to defeat. For some writers the point is addressing the whole blood purity and discrimination thing that allowed Voldemort to come to power in the first place. At the very least, you can be sure that peeps on youtube are going to notice that you just had a big bad to punch down instead of dealing with the underlying problems.
     
  8. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    Here's a few thoughts on the question of fantasy and monarchy.

    I can understand why (mostly absolute) monarchies are popular in fantasy. Real life monarchies have been full of intrigue, backstabbing (sometimes literal), political skulduggery, incest, adulterous affairs, violence, murders, inbreeding, wars... the list goes on. In fantasy you can add magic, enchanted items, potions that can do awesome things and mythical beasts to add some spice to the mix.

    But...

    When monarchy is stripped down to its bare bones it's nothing but a repugnant form of nepotism regardless of whether it's real life or fictional.

    It doesn't matter how you portray the rightful heir to the throne in your stories they are still people who will rule on the basis of who their mommy and/or daddy is/was. They belong to a family whose right to rule is never questioned or challenged except by the villain and ignorant peasants. It's irrelevant whether the monarchy is absolute, benevolent or constitutional or which society it's modelled on. It doesn't change the fact it's the worst form of nepotism.

    While Hollywood works itself up into a frenzy over the skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation and body types of the Disney Princesses (which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it means greater diversity of Disney Princesses) no one ever seems to question the nepotism that she represents. The same problem exists with fantasy writers who obsess over how to create a heroic heir to the throne that will appeal to readers who are becoming bored with beautiful white buxom heroines or ruggedly handsome heroes but who never ask what gives that heir the right to rule or if their hero(ine) should be fighting to abolish the throne altogether rather than putting themselves on it.

    The government in my WIP is a non-hereditary constitutional monarchy in which the Emperor is elected by the rulers of the various regions that make up the Empire if the throne becomes vacant because the Emperor dies, resigns, gets kicked out or turns 80. The Emperor cannot be a member of any ruling dynasty within or outside the Empire in order to prevent favouritism towards a region or a particular ruling family. However they do have to be a high ranking member of the nobility. Thus, the concept of a heir to the throne or an imperial dynastic bloodline effectively does not exist.

    Furthermore, the battle between the heroine and the villain isn't about who will get to run the Empire as both of them are mages and, therefore, banned from holding an aristocratic title or political leadership role. Their battle is over the heroine's thesis as it could potentially cause a major schism in the Faith and create the potential for grooming children so they would be more likely to be gifted the Spark when they turn sixteen. I don't need a monarchy for the story to work but I do need a modern state and its cumbersome bureaucratic nature for it to work best.
     
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Oh well this doesn't happen in democracies! /endsarcasm :sneaky:
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm not sure I follow all the reasoning and agenda behind the current topic, but....

    I do think monarchies present some special opportunities for stories. This isn't to say that monarchies are the only rich source of opportunity, but only that they do have some things going for them.

    I would separate the in-real-life monarchic systems, past and present, and the literary—especially fantasy—monarchies. Often on this site, a topic arises, and I'm left scratching my head because people seem to be arguing about the state of reality.

    Real history. Real issues. Real viability. Real...but I think the only real question for me personally is this: Does it work? That's a fairly broad, perhaps vague question. But I think various approaches can work for telling a story, might even have lots of hidden richness—heck, might even make storytelling easier sometimes—quite regardless of whether our approach says something about the real world in a direct correlation.

    So for instance, on this topic, I don't need to argue whether monarchies were good or bad in our real world. I don't need to argue whether monarchies have some inherent viability, or better than average success rate, or the opposite of these in our real world. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not here to argue about our reality, so much—past historical realities or present reality.

    I might be curious about exploring those authentic real conditions if I think doing so would help me develop and write a particular story. Yes. But it's no skin off my back if historical monarchies have been the spawn of Satan or an angel in disguise.

    As for storytelling...there are a few areas where I think having a monarchy in the fantasy world might help.

    Personal Freedom. I mean, freedom to act. Princes, princesses, kings, queens, dukes, royalty and nobles in general had a lot more personal freedom than the average peasant, in at least one way: They didn't have to work all day just to have food to eat. Sure, non-royalty, the non-noble, had free time sometimes. Enshrining this with festival days, for instance, or having taverns and pubs, meant occasional freedom to do just whatever. But royalty and nobility had more dependably consistent opportunities.

    But that's from a historical perspective. From a storytelling perspective, having a cast of characters who can move about and act with greater freedom creates lots of storytelling opportunity.

    What if you had a protagonist who lived on a small farm supporting a family? Yes, that's doable. But chances are, you're going to have to address how/why that protag can abandon the family to go off on a quest of some sort. Or why he doesn't need to worry about milking the cow or planting, harvesting the crops or spending half a day preparing food for storage...but can instead skulk in shadows as he spies on this or that really bad dude. Basically, if you are going to have a peasant protag, you have to make that protag a-historic anyway; or, turn the peasant into a de facto noble of some sort. Or put him in the employ of such a person.

    Yes, this issue of personal freedom can apply in other systems, and you can have other forms of government in your fantasy story. But a fantasy monarchy gives an easy out for developing a cast of characters being involved in story-things. I.e., not involved in mere subsistence living.

    In our own system, for instance, the rich who are de facto nobility have far more freedom to act than the very poor. At least they can hop on a plane and fly to another continent whenever they want, and not worry about working 60+ hours a week trying to pay off medical bills.

    This issue affects storytelling in other genres too. Just picture all the medical and legal dramas that feature casts of professionals. Sure, some of them work long hours; but still, they have a lot more freedom than the average McDonald's worker—which is why you don't often run into television shows featuring a main protag who works in fast food. Lawyers, doctors, CEOs, small-business owners, politicians, architects, etc., populate most shows. Where's the main protag who works on the line in a woodworking factory (making cabinets and the like)?

    Personal Friction. I'd call this the soap opera inbred factor. It's not real inbreeding of course (unless we're talking Lannisters or the Hapsburgs) but having a narrow-ish cast of characters, all of them related to each other through blood or law or both, presents opportunity for a variety of family dynamics, happy and tragic, predictable and shocking. I call it "the soap opera inbred factor" because this easy setup is something we see a lot on television in shows that verge on being soap operas (if not actual soap operas.)

    Season after season, we'll have the same cast, and the stories are possible because the writers just shuffle them around and around again. If it's the sort of show that needs a villain, then the cast take turns becoming the villain from season to season, heh, or at least doing some horrible, almost villainous things. Or maybe the cast takes turns being the hero, or the weak victim, or the love interest of X, or of Y, or of Z until everyone's been romantically entangled with everyone else, heh.

    The reason this is done on television might have a lot to do with economy and law (contracts, costs), and keeping more or less the same cast for many seasons requires being .... I authentically hesitated to write this....creative.

    But there's more to it. Fans of the show can learn all the basic characters if there's a smallish cast and find sympathy with all of them, if only a bit, and not have to keep running to catch up with who is who is who. Fans can come to understand the various personal frictions between the characters, the various evolving relationships.

    Monarchy in fantasy tales facilitates something like this.

    If the story involved a sprawling capitalist, democratic-republican bureaucracy...well, keeping things straight might be a little more difficult, depending on the story. (Some stories are not meant to be sprawling epics, after all.) Sci-fi can handle those stories, and contemporary fiction can handle it, so fantasy could handle it.

    But a monarchy makes things smaller, closer, keeps it all in the family. If reinforcements fail to show during a battle, you know that your beloved uncle, the protag's uncle leading that reinforcement force, might be dead! Or, betrayed! :eek:

    But if this were a society governed more like our own, then the focus would need to be more on the protag's general sense of isolation and the general terribleness of the situation when reinforcements fail to show. Either can work, of course, depending on the story.

    When you combine these two things, personal freedom and personal friction, a lot of storytelling opportunity happens. I think using monarchies helps, makes it a lot easier. But it's not required.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020
    Aldarion likes this.
  11. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Roman Republic stopped being Republic and turned into the Empire precisely because of said growth. Yes, it lasted for 500 years... but it lasting for another 500, or even 50, was quite impossible. Concentration of wealth due to conquests, as well as glory which conquests brought, meant that commanders had increasing authority with legions. Once control of the army went to commanders instead of the Senate, latter became superfluous, and could only be countered by a dictator who would also have loyalty of the armies. This happened in part also because armies professionalized, but reason why armies professionalized were those same conquests.

    I am actually aiming for something closer to Holy Roman Empire or else Roman municipia:
    Municipal government

    But as I have pointed out, you can easily have incredible diversity of political systems within the monarchy... just look at Holy Roman Empire.

    From Roman history, it would appear that it does matter. Roman Republic had two consuls who were mostly calling the shots, and it had an institution of dictator created specifically for times of crisis... and as times of crisis became more frequent (thanks to social and geopolitical changes due to Republic's expansion), so did periods of dictatorship became more and more frequent, culminating in the establishment of Principate under Octavian Augustus. In other words, even during Republic Romans did not believe that a Senate, let alone an actual citizen assembly, is an efficient or even effective way of dealing with crises.

    Earlier, it was threat of Carthaginian attacks which lead to widespread adoption of tyranny (in its technical meaning - rule of one person) on Sicily.

    However....

    This was actually important part for feudal monarchies. Feudalism basically did away with formal state administration (which society at the time was incapable of maintaining anyway) and replaced it with a web of personal relationships. King was one who held that web together, and also acted as counterbalance to nobility. In essence, common people, minor nobility, magnates and royalty formed a pattern of checks and balances equivalent to that of modern states - except lot more effective (until it broke down, but all human-made systems break down eventually).

    Also, "divine right of kings" is not a thing which existed in feudal monarchies. It is an invention during era of absolutism (16th century). Do you want to discuss feudal or modern (absolutist) monarchies? Because those two have nothing in common with each other. Hungarian kings had to navigate a web of conflicting interests if they wanted to maintain peace in the kingdom. When they failed, they regularly faced rebellion. And Hungary was one of more centralized states at the time; in France, king was mostly a joke.

    And even in 17th century, political thinking and practices were actually a mix of absolutism and constitutionalism. Divine right of kings had little with the extent of royal powers in reality. Before French Revolution, it was nobles who had ran country to the ground, but popular anger was aimed at Louis and Marie. What divine right of kings was about was independence of monarchy from the Church, but it did not imply that monarch was unrestrained by either laws or morals. If anything, the theory implied responsibility: monarch was given authority by God, and was thus responsible for enforcing God's laws on Earth.

    Except Christianity too provided justification for overthrowing monarchs. Byzantines were all too happy to get rid of their emperors, and kings of Hungary also had to deal with frequent (if mostly unsuccessful) rebellions.
    List of revolutions and rebellions - Wikipedia
     
  12. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Had to split post due to length...

    Aaand here we go... one of things I probably should have written about in the OP is the fact that monarchy was actually an incredibly diverse political system. And this also included the basis of monarch's power. In Roman and later Byzantine Empire the Emperor was essentially a military dictator, and had to ensure support of the army (which, in Middle Byzantine Empire, meant support of provincial governors). As a result, dynastic principle was incredibly weak. In Hungary, king was elected by assembly of nobles - even if he was son of a previous king, he still required confirmation by the assembly (see what happened to Janos Corvinus). In Holy Roman Empire, monarch had to have support of estates (nobility, free cities etc) to do anything, regardless of whether he was elected or inherited the throne. In fact, absolutist inheritive monarchy - which is what you seem to be thinking of - was only a minority among all the types of monarchy which had historically existed, and actually had relatively short run as well (16th to 18th centuries, in Europe at least).

    And modern-day democracies often develop political dynasties as well. They are not that different from feudal monarchies, all things considered.

    And again, monarchy does not need to be inheritable, let alone nepotistic. Byzantium strikes again, but just as before, it was hardly a unique case.

    Also, "abolishing the throne" means replacing monarchy with something else. As I have already explained, that is not really practical in a medieval setting, at large scale at least.

    Problem is that fantasy is often less diverse than real world, precisely because writers do not understand real world. 90% of monarchies in fantasy appear to be modern absolutist monarchies.

    Rest of your post I really don't have anything to add to.
     
  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    It's only a problem if that's not what you are looking for. But that is what some people are looking for. They aren't deficient because they look for it or fail to look for something else.

    I think this also depends on the scope and intention of the tale. If a spotlight is being put on the system, then knowing all the working parts and presenting them in interesting ways, or presenting new systems for enjoyment, requires having more than the common idea, heh. But sometimes the monarchy is just a framework, and this doesn't prevent a wide variety of stories from being written with that particular framework.

    Edit: Isn't most fiction inherently less diverse than reality? I mean, each work is a focus, not the whole of reality.
     
  14. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    But it does have implications on reality. Personally, I do not think it is possible to separate education and entertainment. Especially today, entertainment is education. So this incorrect presentation is rather troublesome.
     
  15. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I think you don’t need to portray things totally accurate to reality (implications and all) in order to communicate meaning in a story.
    I also think it’s ridiculous to say that entertainment and education are functionally the same.
    Even if 90% of fantasy writers portray monarchies incorrectly, I don’t see the issue. Making a good story is a far more important (and I would say valuable) pursuit than trying to use fantasy fiction to educate people on how government works.

    And finally, I’d like to reiterate my earlier contention that this thread has very limited use to worldbuilders and writers. And as a critique on the genre, its scope is limited.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    This thread is definitely more an argument about IRL monarchies than about story-telling. I will follow Aldarion's request and avoid that.

    In story world, monarchies seem to offer the following: fancy dresses, a clear target, and ready-made politics. At least, that's how I see it employed in most fantasy stories with MCs in or around the throne. Given that so many people *believe* they know what kings were and what the Middle Ages were like, it's a pretty short hop from conception to execution.

    The first thing that occurs to me is, identifying these points of attraction makes it easy to take another hop and turn each inside out. What if dress and court ritual didn't matter? Or if such things were subverted, inverted, or just plain verted?

    I can't do much with the clear target. Whether it's killing the evil king or making the throne the prized objective, we clearly have a case of something so easy to pick up, it's hard to pass it by. What if the king was just an ordinary sort of king? *Now* what's our Youth of Destiny supposed to do? Strive for an endowed chair at a university? *snort* "You are destined to hold one of twenty-four positions on the city's Inner Council!" *woooooo*

    So, yeah. Kings.

    The ready-made politics is the one that grates on my historian's nerves most, so it's the one I try most consciously to set aside. Or else go read mystery novels. But the appeal is clear enough. We don't just have the king, we have the royal court. Then we have this clear hierarchy of dukes and counts and other nobles on down to peasants and slaves. The hierarchy varies by author, but 90% of the time it's assumed the hiearchy not only exists but is clear to the characters. This provides a whole network of conflicts easily exploited by the author.

    Underlying all this is the relationship between story and reader. The author often assumes that the reader will have the same understanding of terms like princess or king as the author himself does. This may be somewhat less justifiable with today's wide distribution of books across cultures, but it holds well enough. Because, otherwise, the author is going to have to explain all those positions and rituals and relationships from scratch, and that takes a ton more work, and it's not really story-telling work. Monarchies come with a whole trainload of "understandings" that are mostly shared between author and audience. Note I said mostly. In this respect, monarchy is much like elves or dwarves or wizards in fantasy writing--a known trope.

    So, sure. Kings.
     
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  17. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    I think IRL discussion is fine as long as it is relevant to storytelling as such... that is, discussing various forms of monarchies is fine as it can help with creating more political diversity when writing. I just wanted to avoid "monarchy is bad" and other similar arguments which go into politics without providing any value to writers who want to write about monarchies.

    So the question is then, how much exposition is necessary when one implements an irregular monarchy - say, Roman or Byzantine style one, instead of your run-of-the-mill barbarian kings-and-knights monarchy?
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >So the question is then, how much exposition is necessary when one implements an irregular monarchy - say, Roman or Byzantine style one, instead of your run-of-the-mill barbarian kings-and-knights monarchy?

    Well, there you go, right there. "Run-of-the-mill" presumes a common understanding, which is a problematic assumption. I taught freshman Western Civ for thirty years, and even extracting a stereotype from there is problematic, since most people don't go to college. I can layer over that what I would call "run-of-the-mill" fantasy stories that involve monarchy. Still problematic, but it's the best I can do.

    You'd have to explain a Roman king. Most (remember who I mean here) think only Roman Empire. At a stretch, they might know the Republic. They might know Sparta had kings, but likely their knowledge would stem from having watched (or read) 300. *shudder* And they likely would barely know "Byzantine" outside of having vaguely heard the word. So, explain everything? Or, rather, treat it as if your non-standard monarchy was a complete invention and like any other invented story element, explain only just so much as the story needs.

    I suppose "irregular monarchy" can mean whatever you wish it to mean. The author is free to regard their fantasy monarch as regular or irregular or wholly original, as they please.

    "Barbarian" kings and knights makes me skid to a stop. You can argue equites has a long history, but using a term like "Roman knights" will need explanation except to a Roman historian. Knights to me means mounted warriors in Europe in service to an overlord, which means Carolingian or later, which means they aren't barbarians. Sure, most folks won't blink at the phrase, but I did so now I have to deconstruct it.

    Barbarians get to be whoever the author wishes them to be in the story context. There's plenty of room to play with themes there. No, Aldarion, not Greek themes. <g>

    So then we get to run-of-the-mill kings (already covered) and knights. Most of the same observations apply. Most readers will have a certain understanding of that word. It's historically accurate for only limited times and places, and there are so many other possibilities--which is sort of your point (and mine)--but that's where the reader starts. If we're going to use the same word to mean something rather different (say, 13thc Lombardy), then we're going to have to explain. And that can get clumsy quickly.

    It can be handled, though. An extreme example is Robert Silverberg's Downard to the Earth, which involves elephants. Only they aren't because they're native to another planet and they only *look* like elephants. Central to the story is human misunderstandings based not only on the aliens' appearance but also their behavior. There's a case where the author takes a common understanding (of elephants) and makes the explanation central to the story. It can loom that large.

    OTOH, in my novel A Child of Great Promise (look at me, photo bombing Silverberg!), a secondary character is an elf chevalier. I deliberately don't use "knight". He's not human, so that signals a shift in understanding, and I use a different word. This sets up at least some expectation that were enountering something other than the stereotype. I don't make a big deal out of explaining; he's in scenes, and I let the readers form their own understanding. And if they want to picture him as "just like a knight but he's an elf" then that's fine. One thing I learned as a teacher is that all I can do is teach; the learning is up to the student and will happen in unexpected ways. I've found a similar truth in writing.
     
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  19. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Unless my story is about the government, I think the quicker they are pushed into the background, the better. Much easier to do if I use a ready made system than one that needs to be explained. That it may end up being feudal is more a rendering of the times and culture I would attempt to capture. I would not very likely to have a feudal society writing about a tribe in the amazon.

    I've seen the articles about Tolkien being too favorable to kings and such. As one who looks and says 'What is this now?" I can see what they are saying that. But when I read those books, I had no concept of that and did not care, I doubt it made a strong pro-authority imprint on my brain, and I don't think that was some kind of hidden agenda. I feel it is more, if I go looking for stuff, I can find what I want to see. Aragorn returning to the thrown would have changed the story too much if it was more Aragorn gets elected to a post. And somehow, I don't see a character like Conan running for office.
     
  20. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I get into this somewhat in my writing. 'Solaria' is a sort of 'reunited Roman Empire' on another planet, with a lot of extras tossed in.

    Basically, you had the 'old' Solaria - sort of Roman Empire version 2.1 that had been severely reduced through a combination of religious strife, civil war, and barbarian invasion. They'd settled on an Emperor held in check by a hereditary senate - if enough senators got ticked off, they could and did depose Emperors. After the worst of the strife, they set out to reconquer their old lands...and ran head on into the 'Avar' issue. Social strata real close to the Roman model - Senators, Equites (middle class), Plebes, Freemen, Foreigners, Slaves.

    The Avar were among the 'barbarian' groups that overran the western portion of Solaria (displaced by climate change and demon troubles). Classic mounted warriors who became knights answering to the 'Du's' or Great Families. Below them was a sort of raucous 'middle class' of fighters, farmers, merchants, and artisans. At the bottom were the serfs, who could aspire to better life, especially through military service.

    A century and a half prior to the time of the stories, these respective nations merged - it was supposed to be an alliance to keep the precariously perched (and brand new) ruling families of each nation in power. Instead, the families merged, and after subsequent turmoil, so did the nations. The new ruling Avar dynasty adopted the Legion model for the army, though the knights remained. The social reforms instituted by the Avar monarchs (specifically land and citizenship for twenty years military service) permitted no few Solarian Plebes and Freemen to become citizens, a source of irritation for the old school leaders. They also freed up some long suppressed inventions from Solaria's most technologically advanced province, most notably a semaphore (signal tower) system that permitted communication across thousands of miles in days instead of weeks, and (at first great restricted) use of the printing press.

    At the time of the stories, Solaria was nominally ruled by an Emperor, chosen from eligible families by the Senate (who also approved other top officials and had a degree of control over taxes/spending - gah! sounds like an economic textbook!) While most believed the Emperor's power absolute, his authority could be checked by the 'Privy Council' - eight or twelve top senators and churchmen representing various interests and regions - and much of the day to day bureaucratic grind was seen to by the Chancellor (who, in dire emergency, could step into the Emperors shoes for a year and a day). Sounding like a political textbook now - Gah!. Anyhow, region and culture depending, Senators could be appointed by local potentates or elected.

    Several decades after the novels, 'events' made the Emperor into little more than a figurehead with real power residing with the Chancellor - too many dud's became Emperors, causing problems, while the Chancellors were at least competent at administration and intrigue.
     
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