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Is Medieval Europe Really Cliched/Overused?

Maunus

Dreamer
To me writing fantasy is participating in a narrative tradition with roots in pre-modern times, and the narrative tradition I see myself as participating in a european narrative tradition, which is why I think setting the stories in pre-modern Europe makes sense. I try very much to make my story feel as if it is anchored in early medieval stories, and reinscribe this tradition into our time. So I don't think it can be overdone in that way. Though of course from the perspective of the reader, I do understand if they can become a bit fed up with the tropes and clichés of euro-fantasy, and begin longing for something new. Hopefully there are still ways to put in new elements and turns of story, into fantasy set in medieval Europe - I try to find them by looking at the old stories, and finding the elements that have been used less.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
To me writing fantasy is participating in a narrative tradition with roots in pre-modern times, and the narrative tradition I see myself as participating in a european narrative tradition, which is why I think setting the stories in pre-modern Europe makes sense. I try very much to make my story feel as if it is anchored in early medieval stories, and reinscribe this tradition into our time. So I don't think it can be overdone in that way. Though of course from the perspective of the reader, I do understand if they can become a bit fed up with the tropes and clichés of euro-fantasy, and begin longing for something new. Hopefully there are still ways to put in new elements and turns of story, into fantasy set in medieval Europe - I try to find them by looking at the old stories, and finding the elements that have been used less.

Problem is that "medieval Europe" generally turns out to be "High-to-Late Medieval Western Europe". Non-feudal societies - such as Early Medieval societies (Frankish Empire, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Britonnic kingdoms, Byzantine Empire) seem to be used much more rarely. Which is ironic seeing how Tolkien - the man who launched modern "alternative world" fantasy - himself used precisely those for inspiration (Rohirrim are based heavily on Anglo-Saxons, while Gondor is inspired by Byzantine Empire in more than one way).
 

Maunus

Dreamer
It is interesting for example how Arthurian inspired fantasy basically reinvents early Iron age Britain as a feudal high medieval society - when really it was something very different. This is of course because the early Arthurian writers wrote during the high middle ages and imagined the past they were writing about as similar to their own time. One of the things I find particulary interesting is t try to rewrite those types of stories, but using archaeological and mythological reconstruction to get closer to what a real "Arthur" (or other early Iron Age petty king) could have been like.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
It is interesting for example how Arthurian inspired fantasy basically reinvents early Iron age Britain as a feudal high medieval society - when really it was something very different. This is of course because the early Arthurian writers wrote during the high middle ages and imagined the past they were writing about as similar to their own time. One of the things I find particulary interesting is t try to rewrite those types of stories, but using archaeological and mythological reconstruction to get closer to what a real "Arthur" (or other early Iron Age petty king) could have been like.

Yeah, that is a very good idea.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I like to consider my settings to be post-premodern. I don't try to pinpoint a specific point in history but instead I try to think, "they don't have electricity, gunpowder works a little differently (it's scarce), and there's magic, so what do things look like five hundred years after medieval history?" In Smughitter I have a minor villain character who sells horses, carriages and saddles. She talks about the carriages like they're cars and the saddles like they turn your horses into motorcycles. It feels very modern and premodern at the same time.
 
I think medieval fantasy settings are a bit cliched at this point. That's probably a part of why I like the Hyborian Age used by Robert E. Howard in his Conan the Barbarian stories. It was ancient fantasy, not medieval fantasy. Conversely, I'm really into flintlock fantasy story settings and am presently working on one myself I'm blending a lot of elements together, including mythology, folklore, tabletop RPGs, and other sources of inspiration, to create something that I hope will feel simultaneously "classic" while also being fresh and new. But I'm still doing a ton of research on how things worked in different times and places than the medieval period in Europe, just to figure out how things might have been before the period where things take place in my story setting.

At the same time, the bulk of my research is on the time when flintlock weapons were in widespread usage, which actually extends into the mid 19th century, when caplock firearms started to emerge onto the scene. While I'm not including caplock firearms in my stories (at least for a while, they may come into near the later stages of the series,) I am including some types of technology that came around in the second half of the 19th century, primarily a magical form of photographic camera and the typewriter. (My protagonist, Perdita Nightshade, is going to be using one that she can move in and out of Limbo to write some of the first person narratives for the stories, which will take the form of autobiographical essays she writes for periodicals set in-universe.)

For me, while I do love the "classic" fantasy story settings, I think that other periods of history have so many possibilities to explore when combined with fantasy elements. Consider how you can combine magic with the Victorian era. (Heck, one could argue that Dracula was the first story to do so.) There's no reason not to choose other periods and cultures as a source of inspiration for a fantasy setting. The great thing about fantasy is that it can be applied to so many different things. Urban fantasy, not to mention Harry Potter still count as fantasy stories, after all, they just don't feature a medieval-style setting. I believe that the more people consider using different points of history as a source of inspiration, the more diverse the fantasy genre will become.
 
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