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blog Fantasy and Monarchy

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Black Dragon, Feb 21, 2021.

  1. Featured Author

    Featured Author Scribe

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    AldarionAldarion submitted a new blog post

    Fantasy and Monarchy
    This article is by Toni Šušnjar.

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    Monarchy is the most usual governing system found in fantasy. While this is often presented as problematic by democrats, it is actually a) very logical, b) practical and c) much less problematic than presented. In other words, monarchy makes much more sense in a fantasy setting than any other form of government.

    Introduction: Why Monarchy Appeared

    Practically, monarchy makes sense because the fantasy discussed here is typical medieval fantasy. While medieval forms of goverment were highly diverse, large polities were almost invariably ruled by a some form of individual government, that is, a monarchy. Reason for this were several:
    • social stratification
    • slow communication
    • limited administration
    Social stratification and the expense of ensuring education meant that most people were unable to effectively participate in political discourse even when there were no physical barriers to such. In ancient Athens and other democracies of antiquity such participation by citizens was possible because almost all actual work was done by slaves, making free citizens into a sort of aristocracy which could afford to be leisurely enough to...
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
     
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  2. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Is there a reason this had to go political right from the start?
     
  3. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Scribe

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    I think they were meaning little "d" democrats - those that believe in democratic or representative style government, rather than big "D" Democrats, the US political party.
     
  4. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Because modern day politics and ideologies are the primary source of misconceptions about medieval monarchies. In modern world, democracy is seen as an ideal, which then leads to such smart articles as this:
    Ethics in World-Building: Monarchies

    The entire article was in fact inspired by the following article:
    The Authoritarian Heroes of 'Game of Thrones'
    which not-so-subtly implied that any fantasy author who included a monarchy as anything other than outright villains is promoting tyranny.

    And as A PineappleA Pineapple pointed out, I am using "democrats" with a low-case "d", that is to say, supporters of a democracy as a political system - and I am also including republicans in this label as well (democracy in this definition being what we call "direct democracy" while republic would be today's "representative democracy", just to prevent confusion).
     
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  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Ah yes, because problematic is such a politically neutral term. Pull the other one. It's got bells on.
     
  6. yes, I have to agree. you could have made your point and had a very good article without calling out other political systems/people as : actually: This and NOT what they propose. You have presented the article as a refutation of democracy from the start without first establishing a position of positivity for your argument. if that make sense. In any case, it's off-putting. I'd suggest working from a positive point and not start with a negation of others before you even start.
     
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  7. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Minstrel

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    Ah, but it was not said that monarchy is simply "problematic," but "problematic by democrats," which is a less controversial thing to say. Strong believers in democracy do think there's a problem in non-democratic monarchies.
     
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  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    yes, the government of Solaria, the primary nation of my primary world, is a monarchy (well, technically an Empire) with a hereditary leadership. However, succession is not automatic, and there are checks on imperial authority. Get right down to it, Solaria is more 'alliance' than 'monolithic nation.' Some provinces are authoritarian hell holes, others are ruled by elected officials.

    That said, many of my characters are from the lower rungs of Solarian society - and that society is in growing turmoil: guilds or unions bossing aristocrats around, a massive increase in the middle class, technological developments like bicycles and printing presses becoming commonplace.
     
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  9. Amy Keeley

    Amy Keeley New Member

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    This was a really informative article. Democratic and republic systems get so much focus that it's hard to remember that other systems had variations as well.

    I personally love the concept of an elected monarch, but haven't done nearly enough research into it to feel comfortable writing it. At the moment, I find it easiest to write about hereditary monarchies.

    (I wonder if part of a hereditary monarchy's charm in fantasy is that they feel old/ancient, and help ground the world in the reader's mind, especially if the ruler's family had been in charge for thousands of years. Maybe it makes the change within the story feel that much more dramatic? *shrugs*)
     
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  10. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Have you guys even read the article? It is an observation of a fact:
    Monarchy is the most usual governing system found in fantasy. While this is often presented as problematic by democrats, it is actually a) very logical, b) practical and c) much less problematic than presented. In other words, monarchy makes much more sense in a fantasy setting than any other form of government.

    It is a fact that many people / commenters / journalist see a problem in prevalence of monarchical systems in fantasy, and it is also a fact that my article is a response to those criticisms: an argument on why monarchy is not a problem and not something that should be intentionally avoided when writing a fantasy. It is an observation of a phenomenon, one phenomenon which significantly warps many people's understanding of the past and of the fantasy as such. It has nothing to do with modern politics, except insomuch as modern-day political thought impacts our views of both monarchy and fantasy - but that much was basically impossible to avoid.

    It is also a fact that many people see monarchy and monarchical systems exclusively in the terms of an absolute monarchy, and even those few attempts to portray a different form of monarchy (Westeros in ASoIaF, which is supposed to be a federal-feudal state) typically fail because modern-day writers simply do not understand anything beyond "I am the state" mindset and political setup when it comes to a monarchy - they treat premodern monarchies as basically variants of modern-day authoritharian states, which said monarchies were very definitely not. What was the last time you saw free royal cities, trade guilds, traders as a class, parishes, local communities and municipal confederations play a major role in the internal politics of a kingdom? I cannot remember any: most of the time, when author even can be arsed to try and portray a feudal monarchy instead of an absolute one, you get a king, magnates, minor nobility if you are lucky, and serfs. No cities as political entities, no communities, no Church as a political entity, no middle-class nobility as a political entity, no guilds... you get the idea. And this is a problem because:
    a) it significantly warps people's understanding of the period
    b) it makes politics and anything connected to politics a rather cookie-cutter affair. There is simply not much diversity, just a mass of writers presenting a stupidly simplified feudal system, and a few outliers which have systems that are not feudal at all (Gondor, Videssos, Alera...).

    Everything that makes both feudalism and monarchy as such interesting is lost because of this.

    So basically Holy Roman Empire if it had survived long enough? That is something I'd really like to see more of in fantasy.

    Agreed. As for why hereditary monarchy is so popular in fantasy, answer is actually simple: monarchy of Gondor was a hereditary monarchy, and so most fantasy writers write a hereditary monarchy, completely disregarding the fact that even Middle Earth had a variety of political systems (Shire was an anarchist commune, Mordor a theocracy - but with a literal (fallen) angel ruling over it, Lake Town was a democracy).
     
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  11. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Look, if that's the sort of conversation you want to have then yeah, let's have that. It sounds interesting. I've taken inspiration from shogunate Japan for my own Empire.

    What I object to is trying to sell it as objective or not connected to modern day politics when you say stuff like, "Unlike the intrusive, authoritharian and self-perpetuating administrative monster of a modern state," in the article.
     
  12. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    There's a few reasons a monarchy is one of the go-to systems of government for fantasy. You mention two of the big ones: it fits the period of many fantasy stories and it's easy to write.

    Another reason is that as a protagonist you need to be able to efect change. Being a monarch gives you this space. Or alternatively, removing a monarch as a "solution" also does this.

    There's a few points I disagreed with in the article.
    This is simply not the case. Yes, it happens in some countries. But those are countries like the US and UK which have a "winner takes all" district system. It's not the case in other democracies. In the Netherlands (which technically is not a republic, I know) there hasn't been a single 1 party government since we introduced the current form of democracy in 1919. It's always a minimum of 2 parties needed to get a majority, and there are large parties ranging from socialists to right winged parties with vastly different agenda's. And that's the case in many different other democracies as well.

    I don't really see this point, or how it's any better in a monarchy. At least in a democracy several of the steps are public. You've got a discussion about a law in a parliament and a vote on it. You can see who voted what. And at some point you can elect officials based on their promisses and votes. yes, there is a lobying phase which happens out of sight and no, not all politicians are honest. But this is no different in a monarchy. Except that in a monarchy, the bit in the middle, where you can actually see what discussions happen on laws and who votes for what are hidden. A monarchy doesn't have a the middle and end bits. There you just have a law which appears because monarch and the people around him decided it was a good idea.

    Later in the article, you make a similar statement
    You offer no proof why this would be the case. There is no reason why a democracy is inherently more bureaucratic than a monarchy. Chinese monarchies for instance are famous for their bureaucracy. And one of the reasons the eaastern roman empire lasted as long as it did was precisely because of its extensive and effective bureaucracy which kept the state going through all the turmoil. And I suspect that bribing was a lot more common in a monarchy than in modern democracies. It's much easier to bribe a single individual and get your way in a monarchy than having to bribe half a political party. In a feudal society if a local barron likes you then you can get away with pretty much anything. If you pay the local magistrate you get your way. In a modern democracy there are checks and balances built into the system to counteract this.

    Again, this is not a defining thing for democracies. It might be the case in the US, where there are certain families which have provided many senators and even a few presidents or presidential candidates. But in the Netherlands, I can think of 1 case where the daughter of the fouding member of a political party also came to rule said party. And that was a relatively small party at that. I don't think we've ever had two prime ministers from the same family.
    This is something which is likely stronger in a monarchy. Even in an elected monarchy, you have same group of nobles and the rich who decide who stand a chance of becoming a monarch. The group below the monarch is much less likely to change over time, even if the person on top changes.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2021
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  13. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    I think you've oversimplified the arguments a bit, and you've let your own political views influence the article a little too much.

    In my view no medieval kingdom/princedom was an autocracy unless it was very small. The time taken to travel meant that authority neccessarily had to be delegated. That in turn meant that the king/prince had to manage relations with a number of subordinates (the barons as they're sometimes called) who had power and resources, and who could therefore pose a real threat to the ruler. In turn, the kings subordinates would also have local subordinates of some kind whom they had to keep on side. In a kingdom with an elective kingship (Sweden, for example), those relations were very important and if the kingdom didn't have the concept of serfdom (which Sweden didn't have) then the king and his subordinates also had to consider what the free men thought (in Sweden, at the meeting of the local ting). In short, there is always an element of democracy in the way the king and his subordinates rule, simply because there has to be. The exact format for managing these relations varies enormously, but they create many opportunities for good writers to develop both the background and major plot elements in their writing.
     
  14. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    I have not tried to sell it as not connected to modern day politics, nor was that intent. I have however explained why I connected it to modern-day politics: majority of misconceptions about historical political systems stem from lacking knowledge about said systems and then comparing them to modern-day political ideals. Basically, you have idealized modern politics vs bastardized historical politics.

    Relative to real life, maybe, and you are too polarized here anyway (politicians get bribed in a democracy, and even a king has to take into account interests of the people). But the point I was making was that democratic process is difficult to understand for the reader. The very system of checks and balances on which a functional democracy relies so much makes the entire political process extremely complex and difficult to describe. It is slow, unresponsive and impersonal. How many readers want to read about "Good Graces of Parliament, Chapter 500" or "All The Bribes of Honest John: A Story of A Lobbyst"? Regardless of your opinion on how functional democracy may be in real life, fact is that it makes for a boring story. In a monarchical setting, a king or an emperor does have the option to push through the laws, and in any case whole thing is much less procedural and much more personal, making it a far better choice from a storytelling perspective, even if for some reason you do want to discuss the entire lawmaking process.

    Again, the whole article is from the perspective of writing a story. Yes, historical monarchies could be heavily bureaucratized. Relatively speaking, and in relation to contemporary states. Even the most bureaucratic of the monarchies I am familiar with (Byzantine Empire and Austria-Hungary) never approached the bureaucratization of your average representative republic. As a matter of fact, Byzantine bureaucracy was - compared to basically any other modern state - extremely small and efficient. The only reason why we think of the Byzantium as highly bureaucratized state was that its Western European contemporaries had no bureaucracy to speak of, so even the (in modern terms) austere Byzantine bureaucracy was an incomprehensible mastodont to them.

    But regardless of historical misconceptions, the point is that bureaucracy makes for a boring story. It is formulaic, obstructive, slow to act and react, narrow-minded and obsessed with forms, formulars, regulations and procedures. And representative democracy is basically bureaucracy made into a government. You can have an interesting democratic government in a story, maybe, but you'd have to look to Athenian Ecclesia or Norse Things for that. And that is a much smaller scale than most authors write at - plus, even Athenian system is more complex than most authors would care to wrap their brains around. FFS, they even simplify feudal monarchies, and you can't really get any simpler than that if you want a large-scale government. But the point is, for most purposes, you simply have to have a monarchical government, or else a government in a crisis, to allow for sufficient individual initiative required to keep the story interesting.

    It is less political dynasties and more magnate dynasties. But yes, you are correct here.
     
  15. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    I never denied either of those points. I said that I don't see how this is better in a monarchy. Politicians and bureaucrats get bribed. I don't deny that. But someone who would bribe a politician or bureaucrat in a democracy will do the same thing in a monarchy as well. And in a democracy larger parts of the process are transparent than in a monarchy, which makes it easier to bribe someone in a monarchy.

    And yes, a king needs to take the people's opinion into account to a certain degree. But, it's a much lower barrier to vote someone out of office after a term that to actually rise up in rebellion against a king. One is "put piece of paper in a box", the other is "risk getting killed for your beliefs". What's more, in a monarchy, a king needs to pay more attention to those who wield force than to the interest of the people. Look at the influence the praetorian guards had on the emperors of rome. If you got on their wrong side, then they'd simply assasinate you and replace you with someone else. A lot easier to do than to rise up in open rebellion if you're a farmer someone out in the country.
    I disagree. For starters, most of your readers will know the way a democracy works. They live in one after all. They might not know the intimate details, but they know the basics. It's not that hard to explain to a random person in the western world how a parliament works. They're the guys you vote for who approve the laws.

    Also, it doesn't make a story more or less boring. It's all down to the writing. One of the most succesful authors in the world writes stories about lawyers. I don't know if you have any experience with real life lawyers, but in my experience, most parts of lawyering are boring and tedious. And yet, they make for great stories. I actually have a sneaky suspicion that most secret service stuff if actually boring as well. Same with politics. It's the characters and story which matter, not the specific workings.

    A great story specifically about a republic and the democratic workings is the Cicero trilogy by Robert Harris (Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator). It's about Cicero becoming consul. There's tons of stuff about how the democracy of the late roman republic works in there. And it's wonderful. Another story, which features a kind of Athenian democracy (if I recall correctly) is "Empire in black and gold" by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It's less the focus point of the story than the Harris one, but it's still there and it plays a role and it's not a boring book.

    And you can just have a democracy without actually explaining most of it. If it doesn't matter to the story, then just handwave it. That's pretty much the same as with a monarchy. We don't get much about the monarchies in the first parts of lord of the rings and it doesn't matter, since it features very little in the story. We don't get told how exactly the Rohirim function on a government level and that's fine.

    The reason writers default to monarchies is because they're easy and if it's not the focus point of the story, then you can just hand-wave it, which a monarchy lets you do.
    It doesn't have to be. What you've just described is a point of conflict. And conflict is the bread and butter of a story. In the empire in black and gold I mentioned earlier for instance, part of the problems in the novel arise because of slow moving bureaucracy.

    Just image, a protagonists has news of an approaching enemy. He has to work his way through layers of bureaucracy before he's even able to tell the news to anyone important enough to do something with it. He then is asked to appear before the democratic assembly, where he's questioned. Parts of the assembly doubt his claim or state that it's not as bad as he makes it seem. There's discussions on the protagonists motives. Maybe there's a faction who doesn't want to spend money on an army, since their holdings are on the other side of the country from where the army is.

    That's not boring, that's rising conflict and tension with each page. And you don't need to bore the reader to explain all of that. You can just have the protagonist move through the ranks of bureaucracy, becoming more frustrated with each step.
     
  16. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    It is better in a premodern monarchy because of the balance and flows of power. In a democracy, government is voted in and it is claimed to represent all the people. As a result, everybody and their dog look to the central government as a tool to push their own agendas, which leads to tyranny. In a monarchy, especially a federal monarchy, local political units look at the central government as a danger to their own freedoms and rights, and thus work to limit it. As a result, tyranny on a grand scale is much less likely to appear.

    Political freedom is based on subsidiarity. A monarchist system with a high degree of subsidiarity allows much more freedom and agency than a democratic system with a low degree of subsidiarity. Combine this with what I described in the previous paragraph, and you can see how the two balance each other out.

    Also - and this is a big advantage of a monarchy from a storytelling perspective - monarchy allows much more local differences. Monarch is a visible symbol of unity, and the balancing act described above means that central government's power is likely (not certain, but likely) to be much more limited than in a democracy. As a result, monarchy was capable of accomodating very significant local differences: it was not unusual for a monarchist state to include local governments that were decidedly not monarchist. In Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia, you had Republic of Poljica, Republic of Dubrovnik, and a few more perhaps. Holy Roman Empire included decidedly democratic Swiss Confederacy and republican cities of the Holland.

    That being said, you can have similar degree of political diversity in a confederation, but that would be much more like Roman Republic pre-Hannibal wars.

    See above. I am not against democracy as such. I am however against democracy on a national level, because people get the impression that all issues can be solved by voting. Which is not true. In the end, you have a democratic government when government is either a) not present or b) afraid of the people so much that it almost isn't present.

    This might explain it better:
    https://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=english_4610jrrt
     
  17. Alana S

    Alana S Acolyte

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    Confession time - I figure monarchies are used in fantasy because it is easier to come up with than designing a more representative form of government. It's also convenient. Need a big bad to fight - kill the evil king and problem solve. Nee resources for your adventure - some noble person has access to treasure and materials and will support your cause, no need to fill out a requisition form. Need some sort of weird ass rule to create tension - kings can do what they want, if they want a rule that says no one can hope on their right leg on a Sunday, then they make that rule.

    Monarchies also give your intrepid band of wanders from a podunk village a big fancy capital to explore with royal parties to attend while not knowing the manners and behavioral expectations. Hell, clothing alone gives you all kinds of mileage in then peasant versus rich dudes area.

    I mean, I'm just as guilty - my story has a monarch.
     
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  18. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Fairly close. Solaria version 1.0 was founded by...forced immigrants from Rome and other Mediterranean peoples (brought in by the Ancient Aliens right before their civilization collapsed.) Initially a 'republic' of sorts, until one guy got himself elected 'Dictator for Life.' Cue 'echo of Roman Empire,' which like our Rome, conquered a big slab of territory before the barbarians showed up. Then things sort of went to pieces for a couple hundred years. There were several warlords and cunning aristocrats who kind-of sort-of put things back together for short periods. Finally, the Fabian family, chosen as a compromise between several other more powerful clans, managed to stitch back together about a third of the old Empire, but the price was those other families demanded 'rights.' Cue another interregnum when the Fabian family fizzled and the Maximus made a bid for the top spot. The Bestia used an impressive series of legal loopholes (among other methods) to depose the Maximus and take the throne, but were badly exposed - and they knew it. Enter the Avar, the most...ethical...of the barbarians who'd brought down the old Empire, and pretty much ruled the western third. Their ruling family - the DuSwaimair - also had issues, and they got along reasonably well with Solaria 2.0. A marriage alliance was proposed between the Bestia and DuSwaimair. Other important clans in both nations took violent exception to the alliance. When the dust settled, Morgan DuSwaimair, a youngish war hero, was atop the throne of the reunited Solarian Empire. Again, though, part of the price was severe checks on the Emperors authority: the Privy Council (representing other families, the church and others) can overrule imperial edicts. The Senate (also some elected, some appointed) can reject imperial appointments, and has a lot of say in finance.

    Emperor Morgan DuSwaimair was...very roughly comparable to Charlemagne (Charles the Great). His son Louis was well...like Louis... and the empire almost broke up yet again after his death...but instead Solaria ended up with Emperor Franklin, a total asshole and populist of sorts, who partly empowered the lower classes (citizenship and land for military service, plus other major reforms) at the expense of rival aristocrats. The situation Franklin created persisted through several subsequent Emperors...and the Traag War. Over time, what happens is the Emperor becomes a near figurehead, with real power resting with the Privy Council.
     
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  19. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I feel like this article is kind of limiting. It only applies to fantasy monarchies that take place in settings explicitly similar to medieval Europe and I like to believe fantasy goes a little wider than that as it's a genre where anything can happen.
    I also find it strange that in an article about the use of monarchy in fiction, there's very little talk of fictional examples outside of passing mentions to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars with most of the examples to illustrate the function of monarchies being in history.

    But my setting is a contemporary stratocracy/military aristocracy so maybe this article wasn't meant for me.
     
  20. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Minstrel

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    To be fair, that's the setting most people are writing, so that's where the support is needed. It's like if you had a blog for something broad like "web development;" you don't post about niche things like Elm (dead language lol), but rather about things people most people are using and need help with, like React. Does this lead to a feedback loop? Yes. That's why you create niche offshoot blogs.
     
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