Fantasy worlds (that aren't European)

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

  1. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Her book "Always Coming Home" has one of my favorite fictional settings - mostly inspired by contemporary Native American culture. However, you can debate whether or not it even qualifies as fantasy (I think it does but whatever).

    I also think you should include the Howard's Hyborian Age, Burrough's Barsoom, Lovecraft's Dreamlands and Baum's Oz. They all predate Middle-Earth and I've always seen those as the original constructed worlds by which all later fantasy worlds are compared to. Though, the latter three don't really have much in the way of real-world equivalents with their cultures so they may not be super useful in this discussion.

    I would like to point-out that I've heard people use the video game Morrowind as a great example of an unique fantasy setting. The main real-world parallel was Roman-era Israel though it takes a lot of inspiration from Lovecraft's Dreamlands (at least, I think so).
     
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  2. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Morrowind defies any easy categorization and alegory. I mostly see Persian influences, but I've also seen people talk about India or Egypt. The Imperials have somewhat Roman looking armor, but their towns look very English. It really isn't anything specifically.

    And it's amazing!
     
  3. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    And before them, Dunsany, who influenced pretty much all the early fantasists (and quite a few more recent). Lovecraft's dream sequence is pretty much a straight copy of his work.
     
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  4. Robert Jordan also has a wonderful european-asian fusion world in the Wheel of Time series! With many unique cultures outside of even that as you travel from one country to the next.
     
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  5. Son of the Roman

    Son of the Roman Scribe

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    The Polynesian legends truly are an amazing source of inspiration for storytelling. Not only are their traditions rich, but the island setting is always refreshing.
     
  6. Son of the Roman

    Son of the Roman Scribe

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    I think North America is very underrepresented. Even South America gets its fair share of coverage considering their large empires and cities of stone. Occasionally the far North gets represented, but even rarer is a North American fantasy that is not the Plains Nomads. The Mississippians, Puebloans, and Californians had rich histories, cultures, and cities, yet they’re always thrown to the wayside.
     
  7. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    West/Saharan Africa is a setting I’ve wanted to do for a while. Mostly because their perspective on magic is notably different than Europe and East Asia.

    Western and Asian (both eastern and middle-eastern) magic is usually depicted as being linked to words (incantations, runes, etc.) however, as West Africa has very few written languages, they don’t depict magic that way. They also don’t really have alchemy or potion to the same extent. Instead their idea of magic is built around the building and operating of magic items - totems and so forth.
    So while a European-style wizard would be a scholar in a library with some alchemical tools scattered about, an African wizard would be a blacksmith or craftsman in a workshop.

    I think that’s an interesting difference between the cultures that could lend itself to a cool setting. Plus you got things like tribal conflict, animal symbology, the African landscape which are all cool but not very alienating to most people. Like even the whitest audience can recognize that lions symbolize greatest while hyenas symbolize not-greatness. There’s a universality to this stuff.
     
  8. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    I think his name was Charles De Lint had some books set in Canada - one at least was very good but it's 25 years since I read them.
     
  9. Cu Mara

    Cu Mara Dreamer

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    I am currently working on a storyline with legends from around the globe and agree that all non-European fantasies are very much underrated. That being said, it is very difficult to find information on non-western Euro legends for writers like myself to utilize without very very in-depth digging. I know others have asked where to find information on legends from across the globe. I am curious how writers who aren’t as familiar with these legends should write about them without falling over cultural or religious stumbling blocks. The research is extensive I would think.
     
  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    My advice would be to ignore the stumbling blocks. If there's any truth or beauty to those stories, then they would be universal. The cultural or religious differences would only be on the surface while the meaningful core is what you and your readers will be looking to get at.

    Unless you have no regard or appreciation for these stories or cultures. In which case, you probably wouldn't be writing about them so the point is moot.
     
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  11. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    I think setting is relatively easy to change, compared to telling actual stories from other cultures. Of course, a more unfamiliar world will require a bit more research. But the common themes, tropes and plot-lines in non-european stories are much harder to do I think. I could write a story set in a pseudo-Japan. Just research Japanese society, architecture and customs and take it from there. I could not write a Japanese story, because the whole story set-up is very different from European stories.

    As a side question, when does a fantasy world stop being European? If I replace my knights with samurai, their swords with katanas and churches with shrines etc while keeping the rest of the story the same, is it then no longer a European setting?
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >As a side question, when does a fantasy world stop being European?
    Good question. Is it the decoration? Is it the story structure itself? Is it the cultural assumptions and norms? Before you reply with "yeah, all those" I want to say that the first one is easy, as the aspirational prince implies, but the other two are somewhere in the rocky land between difficult and impossible.

    Story structure is not the same across cultures. The novel itself is not merely Western, it's modern. Medieval fiction is nearly non-existent, and where it does appear, it's in forms that would never sell today. Cultural norms run just as deep--different ideas about what's funny, what's tragic, what constitutes horror or mystery (do such genres even exist in, say, central African literature?).

    Yes, there is common ground. We're all human beings. But if I'm truly going to write a fantasy story that is Patagonian in nature, I've got years of research ahead of me. Otherwise, I risk not only merely swapping katanas for swords, I risk the very cultural misappropriation that's pilloried by critics.

    That's at one end. At the other is the argument reduced to absurdity. I'm third-generation American, with roots in Holland and Italy. What can I possibly know of being a Norwegian immigrant in Wisconsin? On what grounds do I incorporate Viking motifs into my story when I've not studied them? For that matter, I'm modern not pre-modern, so my cultural norms are going to be radically different. That last, btw, is one that causes me to cringe often when reading fantasy, especially more recent fantasy--too often the author injects modern sensibilities into a medieval setting, which just makes a mash of it for me. But for another reader, it's fine and dandy.

    Personally, I'm a fine of the ol' swipe-and-swap. For fiction, especially for fantasy fiction, we ought to plunder happily. Some writers will skim the surface, others will go live in other lands and dive deep. They'll all produce work that delights some and irritates others. I don't see how it can be any other way.

    I do credit the enthusiastic and sometimes virulent discussion about cultural appropriation of the past twenty or so years with this important accomplishment: it got us talking. The more informed I am as a writer, the better will my choices be, and I'm quite sure that I wouldn't have put three thoughts toward this subject had it not been for those passionate voices yelling at us all to pay attention.
     
  13. MauEvig

    MauEvig Scribe

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    I guess when I think of European I think of the typical, castles, knights, Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses, dragons, elves, that sort of thing.
    Japan is actually quite popular with their fantasy works too, though that is mostly because of anime.
    I would like to see more lore of other cultures, like the Native Americans, Africa, some distant island cultures, or even perhaps the celtic cultures prior to the Christianization of Europe.
    One thing I think would be really interesting is to delve into really ancient cultures, like babylonia or mesopotamia. You know, the places they talk about in Global History for the first lesson and then it's basically forgotten about. Egypt is done a lot, although I find Egypt fascinating as well.
    I enjoy putting a mixture of elements in a story. Rodentia in Sky Kingdom is medieval european-esque but there's a twist, their dress, armor and fighting style is closer to Japan. Nekojin has a very Japanese-like culture but they're extremely technologically advanced and have a gender neutral culture, and in contrast Primatia is very sexist and based off China and perhaps a bit like the Middle East. Of course the main story doesn't really focus on those, but I could revisit them.
    Artic cultures would be interesting as well.
    It would be refreshing to see something new, or a new take on what we already have.
    Magicordia does have a lot of european elements certainly, but the twist is the main character is from Modern America. The technology is no more advanced than the 1700's and maybe the 1800's is a stretch, but they've also discovered DNA and don't need the technological instruments that we have, because they have magic.
     
  14. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    A few years ago, I did a lecture on Asian vs. Western story structure. When I explained the kishōtenketsu structure from Japan, I used the Ramayana as an example despite it being Indian. And when I discussed the five-act variation (which originated in China), I used Star Wars as an example.

    So I don’t think the distinction between how cultures tell story is a hard cut. It’s more of a gradient. And really, the differences may not be as deep as the similarities.

    If you have samurai and youkai in a classic fantasy story, the reader will see it as a Japanese-based story but if you have the main theme as mono no aware, the reader may not acknowledge the story as being Japanese-influenced despite that being a much deeper influence than the dressings.
    So I guess it just depends on whether you want the apparent surface elements to be foreign or if you want the less apparent substance to be foreign. Or both or neither. Wherever your priorities are.
     
  15. spaced06

    spaced06 Dreamer

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    Not so much a culture as a time period, but I'd love for more fantasy to look back at the bronze age for inspiration. How about instead of knights, steel and trebuchets we have chariots, hoplites and bronze? What if instead of feudalistic kingdoms we had endemic warfare between city-states? Imagine having a bronze age setting with a certain faction that knows the secret of making steel. They could basically make it look like they have crazy magical swords. Imagine a high magic setting full of monsters where proper medieval castles and fortifications are not a thing, and instead you have ring-forts and hillforts and stuff mostly made of wood and earthworks? Now imagine this place is constantly hit by dragon/monster attacks, forcing the population to spend a huge chunk of their life underground. BOOM. Mandatory underground bronze-age settlements baby. Give them a subterranean hippodrome for chariot races. Make the chariots pulled by giant underground lizards. What if your trademark evil wizard lived in a bad ass lime stone coated, bronze tipped pyramid instead of a tower? What if you have an emergent multi-cultural system of neighboring nations that are all tied together through trade and shifting alliances, but then, everything changed when the fire nat... I mean, the sea peoples attacked? The possibilities are endless. ENDLESS!!!

    Sorry, I got a bit excited there.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2020
  16. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Vikings are another constantly represented culture in fantasy.
     
  17. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    That is what makes me cringe as well. But OTOH, fantasy - much like sci-fi - is a form of escapism. Writer is going to write, first and foremost, what he likes. And if that means that readers have to suffer through nonsense...
     
  18. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Also, it is not actually medieval so much as pseudo medieval so it does make sense depending on the worldbuilding.
     
  19. spaced06

    spaced06 Dreamer

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    It's also worthy of note that most of these representations of "vikings" have about as much to do with actual norse medieval cultures as Conan the Barbarian. They just... make them beardy, cover them in sexy fur that serves no purpose whatsoever because insulation is hard, and give them half-inch thick leather "armor" (Papier mache would have been more cost effective, don't those vikings know!). Oh, and of course, put horns on their helmets. ALL THE HORNS. No, I'm not talking about your favourite scandinavian metal band.
     
  20. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    I don't like metal, and you are correct. But remember this: It's not viking...it's Pseudo-viking.
     
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