1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Fantasy worlds (that aren't European)

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by P.A. Trujillo, Mar 9, 2020.

  1. P.A. Trujillo

    P.A. Trujillo Dreamer

    16
    8
    3
    What is the one continent/nation/culture that doesn't get enough representation in fantasy fiction, in your opinion?

    Many authors go straight for a vaguely European flavor (and not without reason, mind you), but there are plenty of other cultures from around the world that could spice up the genre with their unique customs and languages and more. Which ones would you like to see?
     
  2. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    2,365
    1,403
    163
    Indonesia. A country about as wide as Europe, China or the US, filled to the brim with languages, cultures, cuisines and religions most of which have yet to be explored in any real capacity in popular fantasy.
     
    P.A. Trujillo likes this.
  3. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    564
    348
    63
    The Pacific Islands are rich in traditions, cultures and mythical creatures that almost never get mentioned. In Polynesia (Samoa, American Samoa, Tahiti, Cook Islands, Niue, Hawaii, Tonga and New Zealand) there's a rich oral history featuring mythical creatures, gods and heroes. There's love, tragedy, heroism, cowardice and mischief all round.

    Being from New Zealand I grew up with Maori legends which seemed more real to me than stories about ancient Greek gods or some guy named King Arthur.
     
    Ruru, S.T. Ockenner, Cu Mara and 2 others like this.
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,512
    772
    113
    I'm going to second this. I love Polynesian culture.
    My first book was actually set in an area based on Samoa with some influence from Hawaii, Tonga, New Zealand and Fiji (Fiji not technically being Polynesian but close enough geographically).
    My current book is based mostly on the American east coast (also, Korea). So that isn't European. I think it's enough of a twist for the genre while still keeping some familiarity. I think a little good old-fashioned Americana in fantasy could do some good. I'd also love to see some fantasy based on the American south, especially the Mississippi delta region.
     
    S.T. Ockenner and P.A. Trujillo like this.
  5. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    1,089
    792
    113
    I'm also putting a vote in towards the Polynesian and Hawaiian cultures. In my own world I haven't really touched on them, though I have both human, orc and troll slightly copied from them and reworked. South America and Africa also for me, as it's not often you get fantasy tropics. It does happen, but it's rare. I guess cause it's hard to imagine an elf in the tropics. But hell, I got surfer orcs out of the deal and a combined South America and Africa with golem armies. Though going Inuit and other such far north cultures is also an option. For those not afraid of the cold.
     
    S.T. Ockenner and P.A. Trujillo like this.
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,870
    4,825
    313
    Yeah, so I'll voice my usual complaint here. What the heck is "European"? To me, it's a bit like saying "Asian" as if it is all one culture. There are lots of areas of Europe that don't make much of a showing in fantasy. And most of what people call medieval European is really late medieval England, full stop.

    But that's, like, a personal problem. <grin>

    More seriously, I'm interested in what people mean by representation in this context. How much, for example, needs to be in a story for a reader to say yeah, this book represents (inspired by, does a good job with, ...) Polynesian society?

    I can think of food, costuming, a ritual or two (even if modified), the setting itself (oceanic, tropical). What else? And how much is "enough"? I'm not looking to start an argument; just wondering if people have certain criteria in mind.
     
  7. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    1,089
    792
    113
    For me, I guess it was more along the lines of the Moana movie, which really did a better job introducing the culture then The Rock, though is latest F&F film helped a bit too. I admit when it comes to the Pacific Islands cultures I'm still not anywhere near up to snuff. And I do love the tattoo's, even as I get how culturally significant they are. As tattoo's tend to be. Setting wise I guess it's islander and oceanic and probably as much fantasy as the generic european fantasy that got tossed around to start this. A bit like the start of The Dragon's of Autumn Twilight. But back to the Polynesian bit, even that can end up a vague culture thing that ends up as generic islanders in a Lego set.

    King Kahuka | Brickipedia | Fandomhttps://brickipedia.fandom.com › wiki › King_Kahuka

    Case and point. But yeah, food and rituals may be a big point too. You can only lift so much before you have to start going off on your own. But yeah, fish, pineapples and coconuts, classy boats, tattoo's and singing crabs. And this may have became another one of my off course ramblings as I lose brainpower.
     
  8. Yora

    Yora Maester

    684
    327
    63
    In practice it almost always means North-West-Central Europe. Or Tolkien-Land.
    At the superficial level, were most fantasy draws from, Eastern Europe looks pretty much the same, though interesting new things could be done drawing from Byzantines, Tartars, and Mongols. Southern Europe is already treated as a different beast.

    What I regard as a really cool reference that sees almost no use is the Hellenistic World, that covered the area of the Persian Empire between the time of Classical Greece and the Roman Empire. You have the ancient Iranian world, with considerable Egyptian, Arab, Indian, and Central Asian areas, ruled by a Greek elite that shaped culture and Religion. Greeks conquering Afghanistan and invading India (with Iranian and Egyptian soldiers) is a world that feels very fresh, while also retaining many structures that are quite familiar, which makes for a relatively flatter learning curve to get into it. There's plenty of cool stuff, like the chief god of Kleopatra (an obviously Greek name when you think of it) being Hades-Osiris.
     
    Gospodin and skip.knox like this.
  9. I would absolutely love to explore a more Byzantine-style fantasy world! The Byzantine empire certainly has the european influences common in fantasy, but with a fantastic diversity of cultures around to interact with and exist in contrast to it. At the height of their empire's power every language known to man at that point in time was represented in the capital city of Constantinople save for those of the Americas. I don't want a fantasy world with a prevailing culture if I can help it, but rather, a melting pot of many interesting groups to explore. It's wonderful for world-building also! Such an array of characters to pull from without relying on tired archetypes.
     
    Aldarion likes this.
  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,512
    772
    113
    I take it to mean the aesthetic. Even the "medieval Europe" setting standard isn't really true to the real world medieval Europe. It just has that look. They're just talking about the superficial stuff that you'd actually be looking at in-universe: castles, kings, knights, dragons, elves, etc.

    When I did my Polynesian setting; I swapped-out orcs, elves and goblins for nawao, turehu and ponaturi. Swapped forests for jungles, banquets for lu'au, called demons "tipua" and had the local kahuna talk about the interplay of the mystical forces of ao, po and kore.
    It's not an accurate representation of Polynesian culture or folklore but that's not the point. It's just window dressing. It's there to give the reader an experience of being in another world with different things to see and learn without being too foreign or alien for them to understand what's happening. And as far as "how much", the answer would be: at minimum, enough that the feel they've experienced it.
     
  11. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

    501
    299
    63
    Well, European is... European. In practice, as pointed out, it means mostly Western Europe. As a matter of fact, Mediterranean and Eastern Europe are rather underrepresented in fantasy... I would really like to see more Byzantine Empire around.

    If you want to be technical, Constantinople was not "melting pot" - every group had their quarter (so there was Venetian quarter, Turkish quarter, Russian quarter etc. - you could live your whole life in Constantinople and never even learn Greek). They also had problems typical of multicultural societies, such as internal fragility in face of crisis - just take a look at slaughter of "Latins" carried out under Andronicus (linky).

    Eh... that does not work for me. If you just change window dressing, your setting will lack depth. Which is the problem with most fantasy: it is generally copy-pasta job. They steal - mostly from Tolkien - but fail to understand the depth and background laying underneath the world. So you end up with shallow facsimiles of Tolkien, which can never approach qualities of original; they do not understand the why of what they stole, so when you read such worlds there is always something incoherent or dissonant about them - like watching recording of opera where everyone is half-a-second out of step with each other and with the image on screen.
     
  12. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    2,365
    1,403
    163
    I avoided being nitpicky about "European," but seeing as we've broken through that barrier, I'd like to point out that as someone from one of the more obscure cultures of Western Europe, even our folklore is not represented in Fantasy. What is seen as standard "European" fantasy consists mostly of the skimmings from German, French, Irish and English mythology. You're not (or at least I haven't) going to find much in the way of Breton fantasy, or Limburgish fantasy, or Frisian fantasy,or any other regional minority culture with folklore of their own I've forgot to mention. Part of that is because locals haven't done a great job of digging up and presenting our stuff to the world, but the point is that even "Western Europe" is far too much of a blanket statement if we're going to be picky here.
     
    Cu Mara likes this.
  13. That's certainly true, but even given the massive size of the city itself it would be impossible to have a quarter for every culture that passed through/lived in the city. There were hundreds upon hundreds of unique groups.

    The city was segmented in that way but they were allowed to pass from one place to another most of the time. It was indeed an ever churning melting pot and that fragility you spoke of was largely a result of that. It is also a great example of the kinds of unique stories you could tell in such a setting! Cultural tensions are always fun to see played out in a fantasy world! Another good example of this would be Justinian the Second's resettlement of various peoples within the empire in order to change the allocation of skilled labor available from region to region and to suppress insurrection.
     
    Aldarion likes this.
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,975
    3,697
    313
    I draw from folklore as much as anyone. But honestly, fantasy isn’t about folklore. It’s not about preserving or representing or modernizing old myths and ideas. And Medieval European-esque countries aren’t about being, well, Medieval, or European. This may come as a surprise but white people with swords doesn’t really make something Medieval Europe and we shouldn’t pretend it does. And the thing is, that’s true for other regions and ethnicities and timeframes too.

    I absolutely encourage anyone with a historical bent to write more authentic historical-esque fantasy. But I think it’s important to recognize that fantasy is about ideas, speculation, themes, wonder, an audience... it can be but isn’t usually about history, myth, or the original source material.
     
  15. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,512
    772
    113
    Yeah, that's what I'm getting at. Most of these historical "influences" are shallow and any historical period or culture that keeps showing-up in fantasy is going to eventually become cliche. And just drawing from a rarely-portrayed culture isn't automatically going to giving a setting depth.

    The original question wasn't about how to make a good setting. It was just asking what periods of world history can be drawn from besides medieval (western) Europe.
     
  16. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    564
    348
    63
    As long as there are emperors, kings, queens, princes, princesses, dukes and duchesses it will scream "Medieval Europe!" As long as there are castles, knights and taverns it will scream "Medieval Europe!" As long as rabbits, wolves and bears inhabit the forests it will scream "Medieval Europe!" As long as there are names that sound European and... well, you get the picture.

    Obviously, anyone who has read history books about such things knows that these things aren't necessarily anything to do with medieval Europe but it's a perception that many people have.

    However, there is a huge world out there with landscapes, histories, oral and written epics and legends, mythical and real creatures, traditions and so forth just waiting to be explored - or explored in greater depth - that doesn't have that pseudo-medieval European feel. I used the example of Polynesian society because New Zealand is part of Polynesia, I'm part-Polynesian (Maori) and it's a group of cultures and societies that are little known and still largely misunderstood. However, there's also Aztec and Mayan Empires, the Maharajas in South Asia, Southeast Asian Sultanates, northwest and southern African empires such as the Zulu and Great Zimbabwean Empires which offer vastly different settings from the pseudo-feudal settings of China and Japan or the pseudo-Arabian settings that sometimes occur in anime, manga and Disney cartoons.

    Just as interesting are the various time periods that could be looked at instead of Classical, medieval or other pre-industrial time periods. Why the hell can't there be dogfights between Spitfires and dragons, steam engines and enchanted swords, and both science and magic operating at the same time? And why should mages have to ride around on horseback when they could just jump into a boxcar and take the train to wherever they're going?
     
    P.A. Trujillo likes this.
  17. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    530
    184
    43
    I honestly don't care but i'm sick of the Tolkien setting being used again and again. I liked reading about a Japaneses cross Indonesia city with history and mythology with dragons in it.
     
  18. P.A. Trujillo

    P.A. Trujillo Dreamer

    16
    8
    3
    Indonesia: that's a country I hadn't thought to include. That could be a good addition to my world. Where do you go to find information about the culture?
     
  19. P.A. Trujillo

    P.A. Trujillo Dreamer

    16
    8
    3
    Thanks for the suggestion! I've definitely got to include some South Pacific island cultures in my tales. That would be a great change of pace from the usual European forest setting.
     
  20. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,584
    1,601
    163
    Worth thinking about - the best fantasy settings ever, the ones that really inspired people, some of which were made into movies or television shows, are...

    Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings) by Tolkien - the original 'generic' European setting, made into a major movie series.

    'Midkemia' (Magician Series) By Fiest - also pretty much a generic European setting, though somewhat Asian cultures were explored

    'Witch World' by Andre' Norton - vaguely European related, became a shared world, starting point for many female fantasy authors.

    Earth Sea (Earth Sea series) by LeGuin - unusual island culture, old time favorite, made into a movie that flopped.

    'Crown of Stars' by Kate Elliot - literally an alternate medieval Europe

    Westeros (Song of Ice and Fire) by George RR Martin - West European based, made into a television series.

    The Continent (Witcher) by... - also described as a generic Tolkien style setting (have to get around to reading it)

    However, what the authors did in each case was to use the generic setting as a base for a more detailed realm. Middle Earth, Midkemia, Witch World, and Westeros have history They have dangerous monsters like dragons, strange races, and more. The authors added *depth* to these settings.
     
    P.A. Trujillo likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page