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

Is the title "king” too European?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Son of the Roman, Aug 21, 2020.

Is the term King too European?

  1. Yes, it’s strongly associated with Europe.

    3 vote(s)
  2. No, it’s a generic term that can be used for any culture.

    17 vote(s)
  1. Son of the Roman

    Son of the Roman Scribe

    The term means “the male ruler of an independent state, especially one who inherits the position by right of birth.”

    This term is most often associated with European monarchies, but is occasionally used for ancient Levantine and Mediterranean rulers of nations and city-states. Conversely many places had specific terms for their rulers that we still use, such as Pharaoh, Shah, and Sultan.
    In a fantasy setting, (especially a non-western European one) should the European-associated term “king” be used, or would it be best to create an entirely new fantasy term to describe rulers? Would the term “king” feel out of place in say, a Precolumbian American setting? Does it give it too much of a European feel?
  2. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

    To me, "King" is kind of a default term for the ruler of a nation when no better translation is available. While it can carry European connotations depending on how it's used it can be applied to practically any culture. If you want to make up your own word, that's good too, but I've seen the word "king" used in settings reminiscent of everything from Japanese to Mesopotamian cultures.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    King is the English word for a monarch. If it implies things it’s because we have a long literature depicting how kings should behave. But it’s the correct English word so you can’t go wrong with it.

    We can get away from king and use more local terms like Tzar, Sultan and Pharos, sure. But these words come from specific cultures and suggest that you’re referring to those cultures. If you use Sultan just to sound exotic and non-European you’re opening the door to some appropriation criticisms.

    There’s a reason settings like D&Ds Dark Sun desert setting uses wizard-king and not the sultan we might associate more with deserts.

    Finally you can make your own term, but it comes with all the usual issues of doing so, just to not use king. These kinds of terms make the novel heavier, less of a light and easy read, so you need to decide when it’s worth that trade off. One word is nothing but they add up fast.
  4. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

    There's also "prince," which used to be used as a generic title for the ruler of a country, but that's not the common definition nowadays.

    Anyway, the OP is better off just using "king." You could the leader of a fictional Aztec stand-in the "tlatoani," but I find it to be a stretch that they would have the exact same word as the real life Aztecs did for their leader.

    Now, I can understand titles like "duke," or "count" being too European.
  5. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

    King, emperor, prince, whatever their origin, have become generic names for rulers. Almost too generic, maybe, but useful a lot of the time. I've borrowed from other cultures for titles a time or two (like using the Irish 'Ri' for king once, even though the culture had nothing to do with Ireland) but I'm more inclined to make something up.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  6. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    Considering that the word "King" is only used in English, I'd find it a stretch to call the word "European". It's a diverse continent mind you ;) With some leniency you might be able to add the Germanic languages to that with Koning, Konge, König and so on, but that only covers a fourth or so of Europe. If anything, non-England based European settings would benefit from also being afforded their own titles of nobility.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2020
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie and Devor like this.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    That's not a complete definition. The Prince of Monaco is a male ruler of an independent state who inherits by right of birth. That's just one example. Also, some kings were elected.

    This raises a question. If it's a fantasy setting, how does the reader know it's non-European? If it's wholly invented, then you could make up your own title, especially if the powers and duties of the monarch differ significantly from a traditional European king. OTOH, if your monarch really is pretty much a clone of a European king (I would ask, which century?) then why not just go with the word?

    Here again, if the setting is obviously and explicitly Precolumbian America, why not use Precolumbian titles? And if you're just using that setting as inspiration, then you're sort of free to choose.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  8. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I think a lot of people here are missing the obvious fact that we speak English (I’d assume since this an English language forum) so of course the English term would become the default.
    It’s be a little strange to just start using the term “raj” for a monarch unless used specifically for an Indian-style setting. But if you want to call the “Indian” ruler a king, it’s like “sure, that’s an accurate term”.
    Eclipse Sovereign likes this.
  9. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    Not really. The question was whether or not the term "king" is specifically European, which the answers here argue it is not. I don't see anyone arguing that English terms shouldn't be used in English, only that when those terms are used they can be used universally, without specific connotations to a full continent.
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    King works because it gives a quick frame of reference. Using a new word requires explanation. Me, I have no problem either way as a reader.
    Vaporo likes this.
  11. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    Sorry, I don’t think I was very clear. I was trying to say that an English-speaking audience would likely see it as a non-culture-specific title.
  12. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    Oh that's a fair point, than I misunderstood.
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    King is a word that most folks will assume everyone agrees on. I don't, though most times I can set aside my historian's hat. A king in 15thc Poland was quite a different monarch from a Frankish king in the 7thc, who differed again from an 18thc French monarch. That word rex was applied in many ways.

    My impression of other people's impression (<g>) is that most folks imagine a more or less absolute monarch on the model of Louis XIV when they imagine a king, but I bet others might imagine Richard Lionheart or even Ferdinand of Spain. It's rather like it is with the case of "elf" or "peasant" or "troll." If it's peripheral, you can probably just use the word and not worry about it. But if it's a central character, it's worth looking more carefully at the various ways that type has been portrayed (or has actually existed) and thinking how it might work in your particular story. And how you are going to go about shifting your reader's expectations as to what the word means.
    Aldarion likes this.
  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I don't know about other folks, but I don't have a set definition of "king" outside of a ruler, in particular once within the realms of fantasy. I take a very general view, rather than thinking of an historical system or something more detailed. Even by modern standards, a king/queen can be a king/queen and have zero real power.

    FifthView likes this.
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Yeah, my experience of kings in fantasy stories is more general than all of a single, specific variety. More or less power, more hands-on with the whole of the kingdom or less hands-on, shifting levels of influence the further from the capital city you go—or not—and all kinds of interlocking power structures/struggles, for instance with the addition of a strong religious organization running parallel but separate (or in tandem, or actually in power while the king is just a figurehead, or...Maybe it's a network of powerful guilds, or a cabal of wizards, or....)

    "King" is more of an expectation, I suppose. Not so much related to my expectations—I will get the details from the rest of the story—but involving the expectations of the characters of the story and the wider populace. What's a king to do? Or, not do? How should I (asks random peasant on the street) feel about my king falling ill and being near death? Do I look to the king for protection when barbarians are at the city walls howling for my death? Or do I make preparations to leave the city on the sly, because I have no such expectation of my king (because he's a do-nothing or an idiot, I know. Or he just doesn't care about us. Or he can't do anything, for whatever reason.) And so forth.
  16. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Minstrel

    Off the top of my head, non European leaders that are/were referred to as Kings include:
    King of Thailand, king of Jordan, King of Hawaii, Aztec Kings, king of Tahiti, King of Samoa, king of the Mayans and King of the Incas.

    They all have their own names in their own languages, but that is how they are referred to by English speakers. Even the pharaohs are often referred to as Kings or Queens - King Ramses, King Tutankhamen, Queen Nefertiti, Queen Cleopatra etc.

    King is perfectly fine.
  17. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

    You can use specific term if you want, but king is a good generic term. And no, it would not feel out of place in a Precolumbian American setting any more than term "Emperor" would. Ottoman ruler was called Sultan, but Ottoman Caliphate is usually called Ottoman Empire, making him an Emperor.

    In the end, defining his authority and powers is more important than the term you use. As a rule, you don't really need more than three titles:
    Duke - a ruler of a country that is not sovereign (so under authority of a foreign monarch - e.g. Duchy of Croatia in 7th century)
    King - ruler of a country that has single dominant ethnicity without major minorities (e.g. Croats in Croatia, Serbs in Serbia, French in France)
    Emperor - ruler of a country that has multiple major ethnicities (e.g. Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire), or else dominant ethnicity rules several major ethnicities (e.g. French Empire, Russian Empire), or else is comprised of many statelets (e.g. Holy Roman Empire, Japanese Empire)
  18. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Sage

    So depends. There are hundreds of ways to say "leader/ruler". For example in my books, you have king, Zhariik (term for a male leader), Zharekii or Zhariik-bahra (prince same language as Zhariik), maliik(king in the giants language), Amyris (prince in giant tongue), Reiis (r-ee-ss) (fae language which is universal to mean a king/prince or even queen/princess).
  19. Eclipse Sovereign

    Eclipse Sovereign Scribe

    My go-to is Sovereign or Imperator (the original form of Emperor). Of course, king is a generic title that can refer to civilizations that predate Europe. For instance, Ancient Mesopotamian research dubs their leaders kings, and nobody cares.
    ShadeZ likes this.

Share This Page