0283 - Dragon-nobility - 2023.03.06
"Fantasy", in pop culture, unless otherwise specified, is almost always based on medieval European folktales and mythology, as filtered through Disney, Tolkien, and formulaic "hero's journey" narratives. A big problem with that is that medieval Europe sucked.
I'm white, I can say that. After the Romans fucked off, we bathed in sewage and burned witches for a solid millennium, my people were dipshits.
Now, of course, market pressures and modern sensibilities have sucked a lot of the suck out of these medieval-esque fantasy worlds. Elves and goblins went from boogeymen in the dark to just another type of wacky ethnicity you can be. Magic went from inexplicable superstition to a menu for fireballs and portals that can be ordered from by anyone with enough mana points. Plagues and serfdom and torture and public executions and having twelve kids because ten of them won't make it to adulthood... well, all of that is usually omitted completely.
One thing that made it past the filter, though - something that Disney happily brands itself with! - is hereditary monarchy.
Of course, kings are not unique to twelfth-century Europe, but the particular nature of medieval aristocracy is self-evidently unjustifiable, and that leads to a problem for modern fantasy authours. Do you sanitize your royal family, and pretend that extreme wealth inequality and de facto slavery of the populace is somehow nice? Do you concoct some squishy version of royalty that's somehow a democracy-esque meritocracy with plenty of vertical mobility? Do you drink the king's mead-ade and buy into the inherent divine right of certain special families?
OR... do you make feudalism itself your bad guy, and, if so... how violent do you let your populace get in their quest for self-determination? Few monarchs in history were deposed with plaintive sentiment and logical arguments, after all. And, if you do allow your fantasy citizens to enact a revolution, what sort of primitive government do they erect, and how do they prevent the revolution from continuing to revolve once they're on top of it?
Could you write a story in which your protagonist goes from peasant to princex, leaving the power structure otherwise intact and unquestioned, and still expect your audience to be on board with your main character being a good person? Would you want to?