Tuesday, 28 January 2014

How To Write HF

Sword and Sorcery is heroic fantasy (hf). Swords are wielded by heroes and sorcery is fantasy.

Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), pp. 159-177, presents advice on how to write hf.

(i) Hf can be set:

in a historical period;
in a preglacial civilization;
in an altered timeline;
on another planet;
in a remote future;
in an invented universe.

(ii) In some of these cases, the author is free to invent geography, history, theology and natural laws. However, if this freedom is interpreted as license to ignore details, then the fiction becomes unconvincing.

(iii) Most, though not all, hf cultures are a combination of Roman Empire with Dark and Middle Ages plus fragments of Egypt, Asia etc. Oriental, Near Eastern, North and Black African, Amerindian and Polynesian milieus can also inspire.

(iv) Peasants, laborers, artisans and merchants are necessary to support nobles and heroes and it matters how these productive classes live, which in turn depends on social and technological conditions. Even a hf author should convey an idea of society as a whole.

(v) Hf should acknowledge afflictions like famines and pestilences.

(vi) Medieval city streets were open sewers, pitch black at night.

(vii) Fear of arsonists, spies and new skills could restrict movement into cities.

(viii) Hf politics should be more complicated than absolute monarchism.

The advice continues and becomes increasingly difficult to summarize in a list. I advise any aspiring hf writer to read the article.

Having abbreviated heroic fantasy as hf (clear enough), Anderson then abbreviates historical fantasy as h'f (very unclear). And how should we abbreviate historical fiction? This abbreviation system needs some basic revision. I am surprised by Anderson's next abbreviation: Wf for "Western fantasy." Westerns can be fantastic but they are not fantasies.

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