Friday, November 19, 2010

UF: Endless Wars

Dear Diary,

Today I start a short series on unrealistic fantasy. The first point brought up was:

1. The endless war where everyone fights. If everyone is a soldier, how are soldiers being fed?

Endless wars come, unfortunately, straight out of our own history. One need only read the Old Testament to see that one conflict was constantly being traded for another, and that this went on for thousands of years. Egypt, a land rich in resources amid people who were less fortunate, kept a standing army to protect its borders. Rome's economic model was based on the constant growth of the Empire by military means, and funded by the plunder taken from conquored civilizations. The Middle Ages, the basic source for Fantasy, was a time when petty princes tended to enforce their policies on their neighbors violent means. The Vikings raided the coastal areas of Europe for more than a hundred years. Moving into later times, there was the 100 years war and the 30 years war, both in Europe, and frequent flareups of smaller wars in the meantime. And the formative years for modern fantasy took place during the last dredges of the Vietnam War, which wasn't all that long, comparatively, but seemed to drag on forever.

However, this constant state of war which is the backdrop for Medevial-based Sword and Sorcery fantasy was much different from our current concept of warfare. The strongest weapon of mass destruction was fire, which tended to leave the ground more fertile afterwards, not less. battles were fought hand to hand, mostly, with air support coming from arrows. Battles stayed local to the fields on which they were fought, and most of the surrounding fields and farms left untouched. and as far as manpower was concerned, most armies were raised at the time of conflict, not kept standing in readiness. Except for the knights, the warriors were also the farmers and tradesmen of the castle.

In addition, even if _Everyone_ went off to fight, a lot of people stayed behind. Women, children, older men. The typical workforce of the time.

The eternal war works if it is not global, if it's not destructive to the environment, and if the peasants are smart enough to plant potatoes. One good thing about potatoes is that they are not destroyed when the rest of the crops are burned or trampled by an invading army. Unfortunately, there is just one teensy little problem with potatoes in Sword and Sorcery Fantasy. Potatoes came from the Americas, and although some came to Europe in the century following Columbus's famous Renaisance-era, they weren't eaten for food for another hundred years. But that's not an insurmountable problem, for peasants ate the other white tuber -- turnips!

The trick for answering the criticism, I believe, is to acknowledge that even while a war is taking place, much of life is continuing as normal. Or as normal as life in the Fantasy Middle Ages could be, what with all those wizards and female warriors in brass bras running around...

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