Period Storytelling

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at
Thu Dec 21 18:15:54 PST 1995

On Thu, 21 Dec 1995, Mark Ramsden wrote:

> I know that tales of Athurian legend and Robin Hood were most popular in the
> era, but I'm unsure of the general opinion of stories involving magic and
> monsters.  I am, mundanely, interested in writing fantasy literature for
> money (not as an entire career, however), and wondered if any of the art
> might be of use within the SCA. (With adjustments, of course).

My advice would be to familiarize yourself thoroughly with the ways in 
which monsters and magic are used in _period_ literature to get a good 
feel for a medieval treatment. In fact, it wouldn't hurt to start with a 
repertoire based on period tales that fit your interests. Then, when you 
have a good sense of how these motifs were used in period, you can branch 
out and create original stories with the same "feel". The conventions, 
motifs, and defaults of modern fantasy literature can be extremely 
different from those of period literature -- different enough that they 
can pull the listener out of a "period mindset" irrevokably. The greatest 
differences are usually in the motivations and actions of the human 
characters, but monsters and magic have some significantly different 
treatments as well.  For monsters, I would suggest that you be aware of 
the "origins" of the monsters you plan to use: their contexts, 
characteristics, etc. Modern fantasy literature often has fossilized 
particular traits or one author's view of a species that may differ 
radically from the medieval origins. Particular monsters may "belong" to 
a specific cultural milieu; and each culture will tend to have certain 
unifying traits in its monsters.  Likewise for magic. The presentation 
and use of what is identified as "magic" in a medieval Italian tale will 
be notably different from that in a medieval Irish tale, for example.  In 
one culture, magic workers may be seen generally as admired, "clever" 
figures (e.g. Gwydion in the Mabinogi), while in another culture they 
may be seen as inherently anti-social or evil.

There is never any good substitute for beginning by learning the medieval 
material thoroughly -- until it becomes a natural part of how you think 
about things. And if you do that, you will probably find that it improves 
your "modern" fantasy stories. One of my commonest rants at work (at 
MZB's FANTASY Magazine) is about the scarcity of writers who actually 
_know_ the literary and cultural sources of the material they are using; 
and how many are working from fourth-hand derivative material. (But if 
you want to know my opinion on this topic in detail, you can check out my 
column in issue #30, which will appear in about a month.)

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn

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