the bayeaux tapestry

Grimdarkness in Fantasy

Or, as I like to call it, Game of Thrones syndrome!

I can’t really get into grimdark fantasy. Not to rag on George R.R. Martin, but a lot of it comes off as being, well, just there for shock value, and I can’t stomach the stuff. But my big issue is that there’s usually a lot of overtones of REALISM, with the implication being that this horrible world of horribleness was what the Dark Ages in Europe were really like, instead of the lighter, fluffier variety of regular fantasy.

This drives me insane, I tell you. I mean, I don’t even know how you can attach the word ‘realistic’ to a story that involves magic and dragons, for example. It does worry me as well that people will start thinking that the actual Dark Ages were really just like that, which is so far over the horizon of wrong it’s not even on the same map anymore.

So here’s the short version: the Dark Ages should be rightly called the Middle Ages, i.e. the time from around the decline of the Roman Empire and before the Renaissance. There was no abject tyranny going on – do you know how costly it is to have to oppress people all the time? The Christian Church evolved into the Roman Catholic version in the west, and the Orthodox in the east. Monasticism rose to prominence, and missionaries travelled around doing their thing.

Writing and art was created. The finest and most beautiful illuminated manuscripts were bound. The great fighting treatises, from which came the techniques I learn today, were written by the European swordmasters. The Islamic Golden Age took off in a big way, with discoveries and scholarship to put the west to shame.

The Black Death changed the face of Europe in a huge way, as did various wars and famine – but it wasn’t all death, all the time. People were not being killed all over the place. Women were not being raped to death all the time.

Did I mention that? Women were not being raped all the time. Raping a woman was a crime punishable by death in the Roman Empire, and that lasted well into the middle of the Middle Ages. Women controlled the household, from the lowest peasant up to the nobility. They held the power that linked families and communities together; they didn’t sit around passively and let everything be run by men, because – yet again – who’s got the time for that when you’ve got wars to fight and political alliances to make?

People were not constantly starving to death, for gods’ sake. Yes, lots of people died, but there were lots of people who survived, and do you really think their lives were nothing but doom and gloom? Do you really think their lives were awful 100% of the time, that all they did was suffer?

I don’t believe it for a second. Even in the middle of the Great Famine in Ireland, for example, there was still light and laughter and hope. There always is. I think what really annoys me about grimdark fantasy is that it seems to want to reflect only the worst of humanity and call that reality, when reality actually sits somewhere in between that and fluffy bunny lollipops.

All I know is I honestly can’t write it.

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