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Green Gogol

On realism, grimdark and childishness

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Ironically, many of the things associated with the middle ages were at least as brutal in the early modern era. The 17th century was almost certainly worse for most people in Europe than the 13th.

There were no (or if very few, as grooms for horses or such things rather than for actual fighting) drafted peasants in the MA, there was plunder and pillage (but as you say, this is universal from the dawn of time until today) But most of the time wars were local and armies smallish compared to both antiquity and later times.

Anyway, my point was that wrt diseases, life expectancy and quality of life there was not all that much of a difference for many people between 1200 and 1800 when compared to 1920 or 2019. But we don't consider ca. 1800 extremely rough and cruel times (although they certainly were for some people in some places). Quite to the contrary, if someone today writes a historical novel set in the 18th or early 19th century the focus is more likely to be on Austen-style upper/middle class people and their mores and problems, not on how cruel life was on some plantation or whatever. Very similarly one could focus in a fantasy setting on idealized knightly courts instead of rape and pillage. There are some writers who do something like the former (or focus on religion, like "Paladin of Souls") but not all that frequently.

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3 hours ago, Green Gogol said:

From what I have read over the years, this notion that life was cruel, unpleasant and short in the middle ages is wildly exaggerated. It comes from myths and misconceptions that became widely circulated during the renaissance.

Knowing the importance of religion in the middle ages and knowing it’s teaching, I find it highly implausible that most individuals would be dangerous psychopaths bent on murder, rape and pillage. 

 

If you want a good idea of what life was like in England, in 1390 or so, try The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer.

There was much to enjoy about life in that era, if you were at the level of Master Mason, Yeoman farmer, blacksmith, successful shopkeeper and above.  You would live in a good quality house, be well-clothed and fed, and have money to spare to educated your children.  Many inns were of good quality, and the Church provided a good social life.  England, after the Black Death, underwent an economic boom, as the shortage of labour drove wages upwards, and caused landowners to enfranchise their serfs in return for ready cash, and then switch to efficient methods of farming that required less labour, like grazing sheep. Real incomes pretty much doubled between 1350 and 1400.

But, life was much less agreeable if you were a journeyman labourer in a town, or had just a couple of acres to farm.   And across all classes, deaths in childbirth, high infant mortality, and sudden death from illnesses that would be easily treated today, were rife.   And above all, there was the Black Death.  It drove economic change, but it killed about half the people born between 1330 and 1400.

England in 1390 was certainly more violent than England today, largely due to having a much more youthful population, no police force, and easy access to drink and weapons.   The rate of homicides was about 10 times higher than today, although that would still make it far less violent than much of Latin America and the Caribbean today.

 

Edited by SeanF

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Who is responsible for that preposterous, utter failure of a term for what it wants to express, 'noble bright?'  Every time it appears somewhere I think the poster is talking about an auto detail shop.

Quality of life in the medieval era depended so much on where and when one lived.  Nobody who wasn't the ruling class of the Church, royalty and money lenders and merchants owned much of anything, whether furniture or clothing, and certainly not books and other luxury items -- which held until at least the great revolution that began in France in the 17th century, in which more goods could be available to people who were not out-and-out rich.

But if the harvests were good, the ruling lord's steward rather reasonable about taxes and there were no invasions and epidemics, food could be ample, and life could even be interesting.

Few people lived individually, but in multi-generational situations in communal sorts of villages, so alienation and loneliness were far less for the average person, most likely.  Of course those people didn't get to leave records of their lives.

Certainly life in Italy could be very good for very many -- think of working in Venice in the armory in the 13th century.  People did create and invent what we now call 'folk arts' there were festivals -- a lot of them as the Roman Church is a constant round of saints days, celebrations, etc.  Innovations in agriculture, building, textiles and other artisanal crafts and skills took place, presumably by people who were actually interested and fascinated personally.

There were also levels of constant discomfort -- and even pain, thinking of dentistry, though teeth didn't get so bad across Europe until the cheap sugar out of the Caribbean slave plantations began spreading it in the 16th century -- that we can't begin to imagine, so there is that.

IOW, it's all far more complicated than any fantasy or fiction of any kind ever manages to integrate

Edited by Zorral

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All of which Is kind of what I was saying, namely that a fantasy world full to the brim with horrible jerks, psychopaths, bloothirsty tyrants, assholes, murderers and rapists is a bit over the top. 

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Yea, it's all pretty complicated as it always depends on "who, what, where, when and why." It's one of the reasons why people braying about "historical accuracy" and getting pissy about 'things that don't belong' are irritating to me. I just ignore it and do what I want anyway. I'm sure others have done the same. 

I think Grimdark came about as a result of being tired of the same, predictable things. I suspect that some of them were tired of the idealized view of "the past", of monarchs/nobles, religion, of well, anything really. They were trying to say things like "good" doesn't always win(which is true), life is "shades of grey/many colors", things don't have to be "that way", life isn't always "a happy ending", but it got a little too far. The ironic thing is that having a bleak view on life is just as "naive" as the pollyanna view. As for being "adult", well for once, I agree with CS Lewis. And even if say, "noble bright" is childish, so what? Adults watch My Little Pony. If they like it, so what?

Then, you have people like me who are hard to please and anything can set me off. I do, however, agree that "gritty realism" doesn't mean that the story is any better than anything else and it's not always a good excuse either. 

 

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Who did come up with 'noble bright' anyway? For one thing it makes one's tongue go blaweachoohabaka and one's eyes lose focus.

None of the who, when and where does change the facts that life repeatedly got grim and dark:  wantonly cruel, bloody and short --  very hungry and cold -- constantly desperate -- for a huge number of people, somewhere, all the time.  Just as it is now.

But now there are far larger populations everywhere and lots more stuff -- and just at least as much to makes us miserable and kill us, just starting with famine and starvation, man-made, climate-change made etc. -- except for some reason we call it 'food insecurity' now, instead of what it is -- death from lack of food. 

This happens right here in our own most wealthy cities at a rate nobody wants to admit or allow the knowledge of to be public.  Life expectancy is falling even in the richest countries (except among the richest) and infant mortality, and maternal deaths are rising, at least in the US of the richest countries.  And generally, somebody, somebody already rich, is benefiting lavishly, both in the past and presently, while for most of us, these conditions make that of more marginal even worse. 

Yah, talkin' income inequality here.  :commie: :cheers:  As an economist I heard speak today put it: "The objective of capitalism is to reduce, and hopefully, erase all together, the cost of labor."

Edited by Zorral

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3 hours ago, Zorral said:

Who did come up with 'noble bright' anyway? For one thing it makes one's tongue go blaweachoohabaka and one's eyes lose focus.

None of the who, when and where does change the facts that life repeatedly got grim and dark:  wantonly cruel, bloody and short --  very hungry and cold -- constantly desperate -- for a huge number of people, somewhere, all the time.  Just as it is now.

But now there are far larger populations everywhere and lots more stuff -- and just at least as much to makes us miserable and kill us, just starting with famine and starvation, man-made, climate-change made etc. -- except for some reason we call it 'food insecurity' now, instead of what it is -- death from lack of food. 

This happens right here in our own most wealthy cities at a rate nobody wants to admit or allow the knowledge of to be public.  Life expectancy is falling even in the richest countries (except among the richest) and infant mortality, and maternal deaths are rising, at least in the US of the richest countries.  And generally, somebody, somebody already rich, is benefiting lavishly, both in the past and presently, while for most of us, these conditions make that of more marginal even worse. 

Yah, talkin' income inequality here.  :commie: :cheers:  As an economist I heard speak today put it: "The objective of capitalism is to reduce, and hopefully, erase all together, the cost of labor."

I have no idea where "Noble Bright" came from. I just think of "Rainbow Bright" when I see it. Oh, are you an actual socialist? I hope so...I just want to know I'm not alone...I know I'm not on reddit. 

Anyway, yea, I get what you're saying, but at the same time, I don't think it's that bleak or grim for as many people as you think. I know it's a LARGE number, but the point I'm trying to make is that it's not necessarily an absolute unless you're destitute/trapped/dead. I know the US has a lot of problems, but that doesn't make it THAT bleak. At least not yet. Then again, a gilded cage is still a cage.

Even if you're right, those sorts of things don't necessarily make for good stories nor are they necessarily mature.

 

 

Edited by Dora Vee

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8 hours ago, SeanF said:

England, after the Black Death, underwent an economic boom, as the shortage of labour drove wages upwards, and caused landowners to enfranchise their serfs in return for ready cash, and then switch to efficient methods of farming that required less labour, like grazing sheep. Real incomes pretty much doubled between 1350 and 1400.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, plague-driven population decline meant that English real wages were the highest they would be until the Victorian era.

Of course, from then on, it was population increase and wage decline. The all-time low point of wages for the last millennium was 1603, at the end of the reign of Elizabeth. Which fits with the general narrative that the seventeenth century was a shitty time to be alive in Europe.

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13 hours ago, Jo498 said:

Is there any fantasy genre writer that is truly "realist" in the sense of 19th century literature, e.g. like Flaubert?

I think that already with LotR critics realized the tension between the framework that seems like a 19th centuy realist novel but is really closer to a medieval Romance. Until now many fantasy novels hover uneasily between these (and more) influences. Among my favorites are the ones that largely avoid the realist style in favor of a "fake" saga or romance style, like "The broken sword" or several of Jack Vance's

If you tried writing a fantasy (or science-fiction) novel that is realist in the Flaubert sense, it would simply be a realist work with a very strange backdrop. Fantasy and "real" realism are at cross-purposes.

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21 hours ago, Green Gogol said:

Cynism does seem to be going strong at the moment, and not just in fantasy litterature. And I find it unfortunate. Nihilism also seems to be quite popular. That makes for quite a bleak combo.

Part of the problem, I think, is that people confuse existentialism with nihilism. A Song of Ice and Fire is very existentialist at its heart ("all men must die, but first we live"). The TV version by contrast cheerfully slides into nihilism in the hope of wowing its ever more jaded audience.

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5 hours ago, Zorral said:

Who did come up with 'noble bright' anyway? For one thing it makes one's tongue go blaweachoohabaka and one's eyes lose focus.

None of the who, when and where does change the facts that life repeatedly got grim and dark:  wantonly cruel, bloody and short --  very hungry and cold -- constantly desperate -- for a huge number of people, somewhere, all the time.  Just as it is now.

But now there are far larger populations everywhere and lots more stuff -- and just at least as much to makes us miserable and kill us, just starting with famine and starvation, man-made, climate-change made etc. -- except for some reason we call it 'food insecurity' now, instead of what it is -- death from lack of food. 

This happens right here in our own most wealthy cities at a rate nobody wants to admit or allow the knowledge of to be public.  Life expectancy is falling even in the richest countries (except among the richest) and infant mortality, and maternal deaths are rising, at least in the US of the richest countries.  And generally, somebody, somebody already rich, is benefiting lavishly, both in the past and presently, while for most of us, these conditions make that of more marginal even worse. 

Yah, talkin' income inequality here.  :commie: :cheers:  As an economist I heard speak today put it: "The objective of capitalism is to reduce, and hopefully, erase all together, the cost of labor."

Yes, but at the same time, having a harsh life doesn’t mean you end being a bloddthirsty jerk.

 

As an aside, like most people, I used to think that not taking a bath once in a while and never brushing your teeth resulted in a nasty smell, and horrible teeths. However, during my travels in Namibia I had the chance to spend some time in a Himba village. They live in huts made of cow dung, they wear goatskin clothes and they never wash since the region they live in is arid. When I was invited to visit a hut, I was full of apprehensions. I was thinking the smell inside would be horrible. Big surprise, the inside had a faint odor of woodsmoke and that’s it. The people living there didn’t stink at all, and they had nice teeth.

So harsh conditions doesn’t mean horrible individuals, and it doesn’t mean filthy either.

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1 hour ago, Green Gogol said:

Yes, but at the same time, having a harsh life doesn’t mean you end being a bloddthirsty jerk.

 

As an aside, like most people, I used to think that not taking a bath once in a while and never brushing your teeth resulted in a nasty smell, and horrible teeths. However, during my travels in Namibia I had the chance to spend some time in a Himba village. They live in huts made of cow dung, they wear goatskin clothes and they never wash since the region they live in is arid. When I was invited to visit a hut, I was full of apprehensions. I was thinking the smell inside would be horrible. Big surprise, the inside had a faint odor of woodsmoke and that’s it. The people living there didn’t stink at all, and they had nice teeth.

So harsh conditions doesn’t mean horrible individuals, and it doesn’t mean filthy either.

Exactly!

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14 hours ago, Jo498 said:

The danger of diseases was very similar in 1100, 1600 and 1800 and even in 1870 their deadliness was probably not even halfway between 1800 and 1950 (in the developed world) as the big medical advances only came in the late 19th/early 20th century (although it has been argued that the spread of hygiene and sanitation since the mid 19th century had an even larger impact than Pasteur, Koch etc. somewhat later). .

Nevertheless, central Europe or Britain were in many respects very different in 1100 vs. 1700 (at least in the upper/middle classes).  Diseases don't simply make the whole world cruel. How cruel daily life was depended on lots of other factors (mainly war and peace, not so different from today although many wars in the past were not "total wars", fairly short and had little impact on those not directly in their way). And compare how relevant death from disease is in narrative literature from former times. It seems almost irrelevant in medieval and early modern literature whereas in the 19th and early 20th century you get all those consumptive youths and damsels.

The "grittiness" hardly ever comes straight from a realist setting. Some things are always idealized, deemed irrelevant, explained away. E.g. very few fantasy writers bother with the minute social distinctions (usually we get caricatures informed by 21st century attitudes) or elaborate (but probably extremely boring) courtly or religious ceremonies etc. all of which were extremely important and shaping past societies.

Other aspects can be wildly exaggerated or distorted. Even considering the obvious idealizations and that there is more rain in Scotland compare the rural scenes in a contemporary depiction like the Book of Hours of the Duke of Berry and how the villages look in the "Braveheart" movie.

Disease is only one example though; there were plenty of other ways in which their lives were worse than ours. For example, they lacked our relatively unified society with its means of quickly redistributing needed resources across practically entire nations so local disasters (floods, droughts, storms, etc.) were far more devastating than they are today. Furthermore, modern methods of conflict resolution either did not exist at all or were very rough prototypes so the fallback method (i.e. violence) was a great deal more common at all levels.

All of that said, their lives obviously had good aspects as well as bad ones and it is possible to go too far in portrayals of the latter. However, given that fantasy revolves mostly around conflict on a grand scale which is awful in any era, I'd expect things to be, on average, darker than what we're used to.

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3 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

By the middle of the fifteenth century, plague-driven population decline meant that English real wages were the highest they would be until the Victorian era.

Of course, from then on, it was population increase and wage decline. The all-time low point of wages for the last millennium was 1603, at the end of the reign of Elizabeth. Which fits with the general narrative that the seventeenth century was a shitty time to be alive in Europe.

It's a good example of how the growth of high culture can go hand in hand with barbarism.  After 1500, literacy exploded, and many of the greatest works of art and literature were produced.  And this was combined with unprecedented levels of religious persecution, a big increase in the use of torture, genocidal warfare between Christians and  Muslims in the Mediterranean and Balkans, witch hunts, and finally, a war that killed two thirds of the German population.

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9 hours ago, Zorral said:

Who did come up with 'noble bright' anyway? For one thing it makes one's tongue go blaweachoohabaka and one's eyes lose focus.

None of the who, when and where does change the facts that life repeatedly got grim and dark:  wantonly cruel, bloody and short --  very hungry and cold -- constantly desperate -- for a huge number of people, somewhere, all the time.  Just as it is now.

But now there are far larger populations everywhere and lots more stuff -- and just at least as much to makes us miserable and kill us, just starting with famine and starvation, man-made, climate-change made etc. -- except for some reason we call it 'food insecurity' now, instead of what it is -- death from lack of food. 

This happens right here in our own most wealthy cities at a rate nobody wants to admit or allow the knowledge of to be public.  Life expectancy is falling even in the richest countries (except among the richest) and infant mortality, and maternal deaths are rising, at least in the US of the richest countries.  And generally, somebody, somebody already rich, is benefiting lavishly, both in the past and presently, while for most of us, these conditions make that of more marginal even worse. 

Yah, talkin' income inequality here.  :commie: :cheers:  As an economist I heard speak today put it: "The objective of capitalism is to reduce, and hopefully, erase all together, the cost of labor."

In many ways, the past 40 years have been extremely good for humanity.  Hundreds of millions of people in East Asia have been lifted out of dire poverty, and some very nasty dictatorships have disappeared, or. Have become less repressive.

despite that, huge numbers of people still inhabit a Game of Thrones -type world, in which violent death is a very real possibility.

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7 hours ago, Green Gogol said:

Yes, but at the same time, having a harsh life doesn’t mean you end being a bloddthirsty jerk.

 

As an aside, like most people, I used to think that not taking a bath once in a while and never brushing your teeth resulted in a nasty smell, and horrible teeths. However, during my travels in Namibia I had the chance to spend some time in a Himba village. They live in huts made of cow dung, they wear goatskin clothes and they never wash since the region they live in is arid. When I was invited to visit a hut, I was full of apprehensions. I was thinking the smell inside would be horrible. Big surprise, the inside had a faint odor of woodsmoke and that’s it. The people living there didn’t stink at all, and they had nice teeth.

So harsh conditions doesn’t mean horrible individuals, and it doesn’t mean filthy either.

There is a romantic view of the Middle Ages of courtly lovers, happy peasants, jolly squires, and country inns.

There is a "realistic" view of the Middle Ages where everyone stank, rape and torture were the norms, the only occupations available to women were wife, nun, or prostitute, and at banquets, people picked up great joints of meat and bit chunks out of them.

 

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What I meant is that it is not so simple. As far as disease and pain is concerned the upper/middle class of the early 19th century (like of the Austen novels) was not in a considerably better position than the people in 1300. The role of women was maybe even more restricted in some respects. But other aspects are sufficiently different that you get people with habits that are more refined than ours, not rougher. Sure, this will not apply to someone living in the London slums of 1800. And today people in certain parts of Western cities do have access to all modern amenities but they are very rough because of criminality, gang warfare etc.

There is no simple correlation between such factors. So it is usually always an artistic choice what gets idealized away or fades into the background. As the writers of medieval romances were often simply not interested in some of the rougher aspects or took them for granted (think of someone living idyllically in a forest, you don't wonder about his latrine or how he survives the winter etc.), so the modern fantasy writer has every right to pick and choose. But s/he should also admit that it is choice. If someone wants to write "torture porn" that's his choice and responsibility.

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2 hours ago, Jo498 said:

What I meant is that it is not so simple. As far as disease and pain is concerned the upper/middle class of the early 19th century (like of the Austen novels) was not in a considerably better position than the people in 1300. The role of women was maybe even more restricted in some respects. But other aspects are sufficiently different that you get people with habits that are more refined than ours, not rougher. Sure, this will not apply to someone living in the London slums of 1800. And today people in certain parts of Western cities do have access to all modern amenities but they are very rough because of criminality, gang warfare etc.

There is no simple correlation between such factors. So it is usually always an artistic choice what gets idealized away or fades into the background. As the writers of medieval romances were often simply not interested in some of the rougher aspects or took them for granted (think of someone living idyllically in a forest, you don't wonder about his latrine or how he survives the winter etc.), so the modern fantasy writer has every right to pick and choose. But s/he should also admit that it is choice. If someone wants to write "torture porn" that's his choice and responsibility.

Life for women from minor gentry backgrounds, like the Bennett sisters, would have been especially dismal c. 1800.  They would have been shunned if they had sought any kind of career in trade, while they lacked the money to live in the manner expected of them unless they made a lucky marriage.  Men from the same background did have the chance to make careers in the army, navy, and church.

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