Let’s Hear It for Simplicity

Most medieval fantasies are modern ones. There were a few written during feudal times, but remember that books had to be written out by hand at that time and that made it ever so much more difficult to turn out a book than it is today. The most important books were the scriptures, particularly the Bible and those had the priority every time. The Arthurian legend is certainly a medieval fantasy but it has inspired twenty times as many modern treatments than were written in the past.

Why are there so many modern medieval fantasies? The period lends itself well to that kind of book. Small kingdoms abounded in a much larger and wilder area. One could easily imagine the existence of all the fabulous creatures of fantasy in the huge deep woods and unexplored countryside. But by the time of the Renaissance many great cities had emerged from the feudal baronies and life was characterized by larger conflicts between emerging empires. In modern times, of course, it is much harder to give reign to our imagination because of science and the scientific method where everything at least seems to have been explored.

But the medieval period captures our fancy for other reasons, for one thing because life is simpler and however much we may cling to our life style of convenience, that simplicity appeals to us, especially now that the world is teetering on the brink of an ecological catastrophe. In Gahan Hanmer’s The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality, a very wealthy man actually creates a feudal kingdom in the Canadian wilderness that he thinks might be preferable to living in the modern age. In that kingdom, fantasy and reality are easily mistaken for one another, and whether or not the life there is preferable is a very subjective matter.