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 Post subject: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:04 pm 
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This thread I open because the issue has been raised and preliminarily discussed in another thread: The Banality of Evil, but probably deserves one of its own.

Which are the roots of the Fantasy genre.

I think that the main root is the Romance genre of Late Medieval and even Early Modern historical periods in Europe, however some mythological stuff, specially Celtic and Germanic mythology is also very influential, largely via Tolkien. And of course we can't ignore the precursor or the Romance genre which is the Chanson de Geste, typical of troubadours, and even the Odyssey is mentioned as a more distant precursor.

And I'd dare say that in particular the Arturian Cycle is maybe the most important single root, specially because it includes British mythological themes that would reappear in modern Fantasy. Merlin can be said to be the original archetypal wizard, Arthur the original archetypal good King (though in this we may also look to older sources, such as the Biblical story of David) and Lancelot the original archetypal heroic good knight.

Surely no other single Medieval story has been so influential in the modern Fantasy genre. However, it may be convenient here to briefly mention some of the other important stories of the genre. I am not that knowledgeable, so feel free to expand, please.

The Chanson de Roland. Narrates from the Frankish viewpoint a major battle and maybe the only serious defeat of Charlemagne. In revenge for the destruction of the walls of Pamplona, Basques ambushed and annihilated the rearguard of Charlemagne's army as it retreated to France after having failed to conquer Zaragoza. Roland was the commander of this force, made up seemingly by the elite knights of the Empire, a relative of Charlemagne and Marquis of Brittany. He was glorified in the song, that replaced Basques with the more standard foe of Moors (Muslims) and altered many other historical facts as well. This is the archetypal Chanson de Geste.

Another important Chanson de Geste, again based on real historical facts, is the Cantar del Mío Cid (Song of My "Sidi", "Lord" in Arabic), narrates the adventures of a disgraced Castilian knight who demanded from his new king to swear he was not guilty of killing his brother and predecessor and was exiled after that. He then became a mercenary captain at the Christian-Muslim frontier and eventually conquered Valencia. His loyalty to his original monarch, the King of Castile, was so great that he declared himself vassal of this realm even if he could well have chosen other overlords.

Other major chansons are included in the Matter of France and the Matter of Rome, however I am not really knowledgeable of them, so I won't comment further.

One issue that called my attention while reviewing this matter is the troubadour song style of sirventes (servants), which deals with less highly born characters, usually at the service of a more important knight. This might be an important precursor of the appearance of commoner adventurers in the modern Fantasy genre. However they are still normally noblemen themselves.

I also have to mention the rather well known legend of Robin Hood, which in fact introduces the character of the good rogue or bandit. A quite unusual story for its time.

Another possible source could be the Nordic sagas, in which I would include the Beowulf. The best known one is of course that of Erik the Red and his son Leif.

While obviously not among the roots of the genre, non-European cultures also had their own similar materials. In East Asia may be mentioned the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the legend of Sun Wukong, the monkey god (that inspires modern Japanese cartoon character Son Goku). In India the long epic Mahabharata must be mentioned as well.

And I would dare say that the Romanticism is in many ways a revival of the cavalry genre, however modernized. Romantic heroes like Sandokan or Michael Strogoff are very much close to the modern Fantasy genre and may also be considered at its roots. One of the similitudes is that their adventures take place at frontier areas. In this sense, Wild West "mythology" can also be said to fit in this late development, somewhat between realism and fantasy, between nostalgic epic and modernity.

This review does not pretend to be totally comprehensive, just introductory. Please discuss. :biggrin:


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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 3:08 pm 
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So by "Romance" we're not talking about the modern Hard To Love Men (with Throbbing Urgencies) and the Women Who Tame Them genre? Good to know. ;)

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 3:24 pm 
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Don't forget fairy-tales and folklore. It is here that we get a lot of the stories of commoners who, through their own virtues, wind up as nobles in the end. Also, it might be worth noting that Robin Hood is often identified as Sir Robin of Locksley, a noble who has been cheated of his rights.

Looking at this historically, we have the mediaeval period and the renaissance, where such stories were circulated for edification and entertainment. Then comes the age of reason and the neo-classical period (roughly mid-1700s) when people started looking back to the ancient Greeks for their inspiration, and "a la Grecque" became the fashion.

The Romantic period came as a reaction to the neo-classical fashions. This is when people started looking to their own cultures rather than to that of the ancient Greeks. The mediaeval mindset is tauted as an ideal -- the stories of those times are given an additional layer of glamour and romance, made more attractive, and given the sort of attention that they would never have had if the brief incursion of the neo-classical had not made it possible to "rediscover" them.

I can't think of anyone other than Hans Christian Andersen who wrote what might be termed "fantasy" before the 20th century, though. Yeats collected the folklore of Ireland, but that was probably regarded as a scholarly exercise: there does not seem to be any attempt at immersing the reader in a new world, only of presenting these stories the way one would present a museum showpiece.

I should also mention the emergence of science-fiction around this time. With all the technological innovations of the 1800s, people started writing about where these innovations could lead. It is not quite fantasy (there are some overlaps) but I would say that it is the emerging genre of science-fiction that opens up the possibility of writing about imaginary worlds. It is that second step: from "the world that is" to "the world that could be", and finally to "the world that is not". It is the possibility of world-building.

Then in the turn of the century we get Lord Dunsany, who tried to create a new mythology with his "gods of Pegana". I think this is where we get the pantheons and religions in fantasy worlds. After all, if we have a fresh new world, why not a fresh new religion to go with it?

I have no conclusion. These are just some thoughts I have on the development of the fantasy genre.

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 6:09 pm 
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DungeonMaster wrote:
So by "Romance" we're not talking about the modern Hard To Love Men (with Throbbing Urgencies) and the Women Who Tame Them genre? Good to know. ;)


Romance (a variant of Roman or Romanic etymologically) may mean several things (from Wikipedia):

Quote:
Romance or romantic may refer to:

* Romance languages, a family of languages originating in south-western Europe.
* Romance (genre), a genre of medieval and renaissance narrative fiction
* Romance (music), a type of ballad or lyrical song
* Romanticism, an artistic and intellectual movement in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
* Romance (love), love emphasizing emotion over libido.


In understand that the last (and probably more common) meaning is in fact derived from the Medieval Romance genre and the 19th century Romantic art movement, which partly emphasized courtly love (the former) and passional or emotional love (the latter). But they are much wider than just the love aspect.


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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 7:25 pm 
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Yes, darling. I'm well aware. I was poking fun at 1) the thread title, 2) my bemused assumption after reading the thread title and before clicking on the link to see the first post, and 3) how terminology changes with the eras.

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 9:48 pm 
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I've just lost a post with some links to Wikipedia but it is now late (or rather very early) here and so I'll keep things brief.

18th and 19th century influences on fantasy can be found in the following literary/arttistic movements
  • Gothic fiction (although horror is normally thought of as the descendant of gothic, a lot of fantasy landscapes are influenced by the gothic treatment of the sublime
  • German Romantic fiction, the likes of E.T.A Hoffman and Tieck. Also the collection of folk tales by the likes of the Grimms and the fantastic elements in German Romantic opera (Hoffmann (again) Weber, Marschner, Wagner, Humperdinck and R. Strauss) can be regarded as influential on fantasy. Tom Holt isn't the only fantasy writer to take Wagner's Ring as a start and the late Robert Holdstock borrowed the Wolf's Glen scene from Weber's Freischuetz in Mythago Wood.
  • Symbolism. Maeterlinck (Pelleas and Melisande, Bluebeard's Castle) is the archetypal symbolist, but Wikipedia lists Oscar Wilde, George MacDonald and Clark Ashton Smith among the English language authors influenced by the movement.


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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 10:39 pm 
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DungeonMaster wrote:
Yes, darling. I'm well aware. I was poking fun at 1) the thread title, 2) my bemused assumption after reading the thread title and before clicking on the link to see the first post, and 3) how terminology changes with the eras.


Yah, maybe it's not the best title...


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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 10:46 pm 
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I would dare to go very very very far back into the ancient Green drama and point that the themes of romances were already found there... no matter the disguise, the Quest is an archetype always present in storytelling.

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 11:08 pm 
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miseri wrote:
Also, it might be worth noting that Robin Hood is often identified as Sir Robin of Locksley, a noble who has been cheated of his rights.


I was about to write that Robin was himself a noble in the first post but then I realized that the Wiki is very clear that the ballads identify him as a commoner...

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Then comes the age of reason and the neo-classical period (roughly mid-1700s) when people started looking back to the ancient Greeks for their inspiration, and "a la Grecque" became the fashion.


I am under the impression that by the late 15th century, when Don Quixote (a satyre of the cavalry novels, the last offshoot of the Romance genre) is published, they were more or less already going out of fashion. On the other hand classical Greek references were around in the Renaissance already. I'd dare say that Early Modernity with its growing interest for rationalism was already overcoming that style. Also the World was already becoming more bourgeois and less aristocratic.

Quote:
I can't think of anyone other than Hans Christian Andersen who wrote what might be termed "fantasy" before the 20th century, though.


What about Grimm brothers? Anyhow to me they look within the Romanticism movement, even if more "naïf" (i.e. for children or whatever). Wagner's opera The Ring of the Nibelungs is also very much in what we call now the Fantasy genre and has all the ingredients for it. In the Basque Country we also had Agosti Xaho, who wrote neo-myths such as The Legend of Aitor or about Leherensuge (the First and Last Dragon, inspired on the ancient Basque god Sugaar or Maju and other local dragon legends) also from a nationalist perspective, as well as some more realist books on the local war of his time. I am sure that there are many others, just that not known to me.

They are all within the Romantic movement, though this has many ramifications, of course, including the first Science Fiction (Verne) and the first Gothic genre (Shelley's Frankenstein).

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I should also mention the emergence of science-fiction (...) It is that second step: from "the world that is" to "the world that could be", and finally to "the world that is not". It is the possibility of world-building.


Sure but SF is generally regarded as a very different genre.

Quote:
Then in the turn of the century we get Lord Dunsany, who tried to create a new mythology with his "gods of Pegana".
.

Never heard of him but reminds me of what Xaho did, inventing myths. However Xaho had a nationalist intent: creating myths to inspire a struggling people, while Dunsany may not, which is in itself interesting.


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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 11:15 pm 
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Morgana wrote:
I would dare to go very very very far back into the ancient Green drama and point that the themes of romances were already found there... no matter the disguise, the Quest is an archetype always present in storytelling.


Green or Greek?

I already mentioned the Odyssey and guess that to some extent the Illiad can also be considered. However between Homer and the troubadours there is a huge time gap.

Or do you mean Greek theatre? Would you say that Oedipus King is (loosely) within the Fantasy genre? I'd rather think it has too little fantastic elements and too much of X-rated material like incest and all that. However Medea was at least a magician... though again PG at least.


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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Tue Dec 29, 2009 12:59 am 
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DungeonMaster wrote:
So by "Romance" we're not talking about the modern Hard To Love Men (with Throbbing Urgencies) and the Women Who Tame Them genre? Good to know. ;)

No... I think we're talking about the Hard to Love Men (With a Taste for Blood) and the Writers Who Tamed Them Once Women Started Reading genre. :)

But... dude. We could spend the next 15 years just going over the evolution of the Robin Hood or Aurthur legends! Let me noodle on this for a while before I dive in!

As a side note, I've been reading old-school pulp and Sword and Sorcery - Howard's original Conan stories, along with 60's and 70's fare like Gardner F. Fox's Kothar and the Wizard Slayer and Andre Norton's Quag Keep (the very first gaming tie-in novel). It will be interesting to see how these fit into the overall picture.

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Tue Dec 29, 2009 2:58 am 
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The Quest archetype has been around for millenia, agreed, but it is not the only thing that makes a fantasy. I think that another key ingredient to fantasy is that of world-building. I bring up science-fiction, though it is a different genre (there is some overlap) because I identify it as contributing to the world-building aspect of the fantasy novel.

Thing is, the sense I get from the old epics is that they were often taken as historical fact by the people who told them and heard them -- meaning that the epics were ACCEPTED, and NOT that the people involved were historians or that they had any understanding of history, and please let us not go into any pointless discussions on the meaning of "history" through the ages -- whereas what I would term as "proper fantasy" would have been received as clear entertainment, not as plausible historical fact or even as historical fiction. Mythology may have magical and fantastic elements in it, but they generally come from a time when people believed in such things, and thus would have considered those stories as being set in the real world; as such, I would consider them as contributing to the fantasy genre, but not actually part of it.

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Tue Dec 29, 2009 11:14 am 
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Maju wrote:
miseri wrote:
I can't think of anyone other than Hans Christian Andersen who wrote what might be termed "fantasy" before the 20th century, though.
What about Grimm brothers?
...weren't those meant as a sort of object lesson (or cautionary tale) to the young, rather than as a foray into imagination, as we see modern "fantasy"?

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Tue Dec 29, 2009 1:35 pm 
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No idea, really, MrFranklin.

For what I can find they were originally meant as a compilation of various fairy tales, of German, French and other origins. Later amended precisely because they were considered not suited for children (just found out that Snow White's and Hansel and Gretel's evil "stepmothers" were originally their biological mothers).

Also found out, reading about this that the first creator (rather than true compiler) of fairy tales was Charles Perrault (Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella...), as early as the 18th century.

While Andersen is more clearly into stories for children as such, I have always considered him within the fairy tale genre, very specially the Little Mermaid, a tale that has surely very deep roots in European folklore (I even know of a very similar but tragically ending Basque story on a peasant and a lamia - Basque equivalent of a nymph, and the theme is also present in the novel Undine, which also ends tragically).

You can't tell me that The Little Match Girl is a tale for children with a happy ending certainly. In this sense it does resemble more many of the oral traditions withe their usually tragic finals than most of his other stories and certain moralism in her hallucinations - no matter it was a totally new creation.


Last edited by Maju on Wed Dec 30, 2009 2:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Romance genre and modern Fantasy
PostPosted: Tue Dec 29, 2009 3:09 pm 
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Maju wrote:
For what I can find they were originally meant as a compilation of various fairy tales, of German, French and other origins. Later amended precisely because they were considered not suited for children (just found out that Snow White's and Hansel and Gretel's evil "stepmothers" were originally their biological mothers).

...

You can't tell me that The Little Match Girl is a tale for children with a happy ending certainly. In this sense it does resemble more many of the oral traditions withe their usually tragic finals than most of his other stories and certain moralism in her hallucinations - no matter it was a totally new creation.
I don't think that any of them had particularly "happy" endings at first, as I recall... For example, in order to fit into the slipper, Cinderella's stepsisters actually hacked of parts of their feet (toes, heel) to try to make it work. (How charming...) I was under the impression that folks in that day and age didn't bother putting on the kid gloves when speaking to their children.

But I'm far from expert. That was just one thing that I had remembered hearing that popped into my head as I read.

Thanks, all, for an interesting discussion! :)

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