Today on TheTattooedBookGeek I’m very pleased to welcome back Darrell Drake for his guest post. I previously posted a Spotlight about his forthcoming book A Star-Reckoner’s Lot with an extract from chapter one of the book. Please consider checking out if you haven’t already after you have read his guest post. The link can be found !!HERE!!
You’ve Got History in My Fantasy:
Or why fantasy readers are so often drawn to history. Beginning your guest post with conjecture: this is how the pros do it.
Fantasy is by definition fiction. History lies on the more factual end of the spectrum—even if it is by and large the result of historians’ perspectives, fragmented sources, and propaganda. There still remain in those annals the seeds of truth. History is by nature firmly rooted in the past, in events that have transpired in some fashion. So why read historical fantasy at all? What could possibly convince fantasy readers to obtain degrees in history, to seek out the past, with its foundation in reality? The answer lies in the relationship they share.
While it’s true that history is meant to be founded on reality, to most it is anything but. A reader caught up in the Wars of the Roses wouldn’t have memories of declaring allegiance to the Houses of York or Lancaster. Neither would a scholar recollect the tenacious yet ultimately futile resistance of Yazdgerd III when the Arab host invaded Iran. Everything but the most recent history is entirely foreign. And it is for that reason that history stirs the imagination. It becomes a tapestry; its warp and weft the heroes and empires of yore.
What’s more, history encompasses all the makings of a good fantasy. Antiquity is rife with its own magic and mystery. Conquistadors once set out in search of the fabled golden city of El Dorado. The Voynich Manuscript continues to stump cryptographers, linguists, and historians alike. Conquerors such as Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan inspire the image of a hero in a long-running fantasy epic—or a villain in some lights.
Internal conflicts in the late Sassanid Empire were internecine. They left the stability of the empire disrupted, and had all the right trappings in doing so: political intrigue, coups by pretenders and courtiers, rebellions, and fratricide.
Perhaps the most recognizable of all historical events, wars left enduring scars on the past—scars that oftentimes reach into the present. For any fantasy reader, that connection is patent. But it needn’t be limited to clashes on the battlefield. World War I, a devastating war which resulted in millions of lives lost, began with a single death. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was brought low by assassins sent by a secret society called Black Hand. If that doesn’t reek of fantasy, I don’t know what does.
By now, you’re probably starting to get an idea of where this is going. Readers can discover stories in history that may as well be plucked from the imagination. Fantasy works in a similar fashion.
Ignoring the historical fantasy genre, one of the more ubiquitous examples can be found in A Song of Ice and Fire. The Wars of the Roses, something that could be seen as fantastical in its own right (as mentioned earlier), was chief among historical inspirations cited by George R. R. Martin. This isn’t to claim he applied the history directly, but it nevertheless left an impression on the series.
In strapping together the underpinning of a setting, fantasy authors regularly devise a history of their own—fanciful, but often holding a mirror to the chronicles of humanity all the same. There must be motivations for all the multifarious nations, peoples, races, religions, and so on and so forth that constitute the innards of worldbuilding. Invariably, a fictional history takes center stage.
Where better to turn for a historical model than the established annals of the real world? In scouring those millennia, fantasy authors can unearth the nature of territories and communities—be it the tense cooperation of city states in the Delian League, or the aftermath of a failed rebellion. It’s no coincidence readers so regularly find analogs in worlds like Andzrej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, with its dominions that resemble European countries.
Of course, the more mundane elements of fantasy are grounded in history, even if they are at times misguided in their accuracy. Medievalism is pervasive in popular fantasy novels, and represents one of the more easily recognizable influences history has had on fantasy. So much so that it needn’t be dwelled upon any more than the widespread presence dragons in the genre—though the beasts are certainly relevant to the scope of this post.
Fantasy narratives so often draw inspiration from history—if only as a basis for a tale busy with swords, sorcery, and mythical beasts. Likewise, history is charged with all the magic and mystery of fantasy. The two complement one another brilliantly, so it’s only natural that fans of one enjoy the other.
A Star-Reckoner’s Lot:
For some, loss merely deprives. For others, it consumes.
Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Witness her treacherous journey through Iranian legends and ancient history.
Only a brave few storytellers still relate cautionary glimpses into the life of Ashtadukht, a woman who commanded the might of the constellations—if only just, and often unpredictably. They’ll stir the imagination with tales of her path to retribution. How, fraught with bereavement and a dogged illness, she criss-crossed Sassanian Iran in pursuit of creatures now believed mythical. Then, in hushed tones, what she wrought on that path.
A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is released on October 2nd 2016.