Fantasy is a great genre, mainly because the writer is free to seek inspiration from anywhere they want. From the magical realism of Midnight’s Children, a symbolic exercise in contemporary Indian history, to the recent epic The Poppy War, a story inspired by Chinese history- fantasy authors are free to seek whatever inspiration they want.
Yet, the fantasy genre has a reputation for being ‘euro-obsessed.’ I believe this stems out of two key fantasy worlds: Middle-Earth by Tolkien, and Westeros by George R. R Martin. Both of these works are heavily inspired by European history.
However, both works only ever scratch the surface when it comes to European history. Remember: European history spans thousands of years, wars, state formation, changes, movements and revolutions. There is so much to European history that it is rather sad that many fantasy readers and writers feel that European inspired fantasy is ‘done.’
From the ancient philosophers of Greece, to the medieval sagas of Iceland, to the revolutions in France and Russia, to the World Wars, to the Berlin Wall, and to the current political tension with the European Union, there are still plenty of European Inspired fantasy stories to tell.
There is this awful tendency to simplify history. You can’t do that with Europe.
I also believe the same about Asia, Africa, The Americas and Oceania. There is a wealth of inspiration to draw from, all across the world. I wonder if those who say they are sick of ‘European’ fantasy are just bothered by British medieval stories.
To them, I would say that there is far more to European history than Britain, and the late medieval period. There is still plenty for authors to draw on! As a writer myself, I am fascinated by German, Russian and Italian history. But I also love learning about India, Egypt and China. My point is that authors seek inspiration from a variety of places. Calling a complex work of literature like The Hobbit as ‘European fantasy’ is rather misleading.
It’s also weird. There is nothing wrong with ‘European’ inspired fantasy, and me writing it does not stop anyone from writing the stories they desire. Publishers follow trends, and there is nothing stopping publishers, agents nor writers from creating stories ‘outside’ of European inspiration.
What makes a fantasy story great is rarely the setting. It’s the nuance, the characters, the subtext, the imagery, the commentary, the life and bones of the novel. Often, I think fantasy authors focus way too much on the ‘setting’ of their story, and they forget to give it life. This makes sense, as fantasy authors tend to be excited by the intricate nature of their worlds. But we remember the stories that speak to our hearts and minds. Because of that, I urge writers and readers to look beyond stylish categories.
For now, I will continue to be inspired by the politics and intrigue of European history. And I’ll continue to hope that fantasy isn’t divided into labels such as ‘European’ or ‘Oriental.’
What are your thoughts? Comment below.