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blog History for Fantasy Writers: Miners

Discussion in 'Research' started by Black Dragon, Dec 21, 2020.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    skip.knox submitted a new blog post:

    History for Fantasy Writers: Miners
    by by E.L. Skip Knox


    We fantasy fans know this much: mines = dwarves. Short, stocky types with their picks, delving deep beneath the earth. And … er, well, things get a bit fuzzy after that. There’s a ton of details about mining, though, that provide a rich … um … vein to … ah … mine. Yeesh.

    Where do precious metals come from?

    Without modern understanding of the elements, this is a pretty mysterious question, but that didn’t stop medieval natural philosophers from coming up with ingenious answers.

    Like much of medieval understanding of the natural world, we can blame the Greeks, and especially Aristotle (after the 12thc, anyway). Certain core beliefs are relevant here. One, that the earth is a system, usually understood to be a living system in some way or other. Two, that substances are in constant process of growth and change. To stick with mining, raw material becomes base metals which becomes noble metals. Third and finally for our purposes, the celestial affects the terrestrial, right down to the very core of the world.

    With that in mind, here are four theories about the formation of noble metals (mostly gold) that I think would be interesting for the fantasy writer.

    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
  2. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    Nice post. There's some lovely ideas in there. I can just imagine a human entering a dwarf mine only to learn that it's actually more of an animal form where the dwarfs are breading all maner of animals who produce these metals. Now that would be a sight to behold.

    Of course, I'm blaming phlogiston for all that metal nonsense...
  3. Tigrrl

    Tigrrl New Member

    Perhaps I lean toward the literal and the science-based, but my inclination is to not invent new explanations for where gold comes from. Magical methods of mining, sure, go for it, but there is no need to claim that veins of gold are the roots of the World Tree or similar. And no, gold flakes you obtain by panning for gold in a stream are not more pure than gold you find in a vein, necessarily. What is "noble" about gold is that it is soft, malleable, pretty, shiny, easy to mix with other metals, not prone to rust or tarnish, that sort of thing. It was very useful for making pretty things and making things pretty. It is not a special magical quality. Copper is not a noble metal. Although it is fairly soft and easy to work with and makes pretty things, it very quickly oxidizes into crumbly green. In alloys, it is stronger and more resilient, but still has a tendency to tarnish over time. Silver is strongly prone to tarnishing through oxidization. Yes, electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold, but it is not the only form one finds gold in nature.
    skip.knox likes this.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Thanks for the reply, Tigrrl. You are quite right, the article is aimed at fantasy writers, not to SF. The whole series, History for Fantasy Authors, is predicated on the idea that real-world examples are comparatively easy to come by, but non-modern ones require more research. Since I happen to know a bit about the Middle Ages, I offer these essays as a place where fantasy authors can go for ideas or inspiration. Folks can take or leave as it pleases them.
  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    This depends on the definition of Noble Metal. In physics, it’s gold, silver, and copper (filled electron D bands). Most primitive societies would know very little of the expanded noble metals such as rhodium, palladium, ruthenium, osmium, and iridium. And heck, most societies based on medieval times wouldn’t know about most of those, as 1803 is a key date there, with platinum being the earliest if I recall correctly. Not that an advanced smelting culture like dwarves couldn’t learn these things.

    When it comes to fantasy, I like the extra creative kick when authors give offbeat explanations for materials and events, it’s much like creation myths in religion, giving the world a unique flavor.

    skip.knox likes this.

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