December 10, 2019, 01:49:39 AM

Author Topic: A thousand years here, a thousand years there  (Read 10266 times)

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Big Wee Hag
  • ******
  • Posts: 7004
  • Total likes: 4770
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« on: December 30, 2014, 03:18:33 AM »
A thousand years here, a thousand years there... Pretty soon we're talking real time.

Does it bother anyone else that in medieval culture fantasy worlds, people talk about 1,000 years ago or 5,000 years ago like it was just a few years back? Take this example from Mistborn: The crew is strategizing how to deal with a 25,000 soldier force controlled by a ruler who hasn't been challenged in 1,000 years.  One charcater says: well, historically, the best way to deal with a large army was to have a larger army.

Ok, call me picky, but these are thieves in a world of an oppressed and uneducated slave class.  Sanderson establishes no sense that people have histories of the days before the Final Empire came into being, nor any sense that these particular folks read those histories.  (The line is amusing and the point is obvious without deep knowledge of history, but that's not what the fellow says.)

This is just one example.  We seem to take it for granted that history as we know it exists in all these worlds.  More realistically, pre-printing press people start to misunderstand and misremember what happened 25 years ago, no less 1,000.  (OK, maybe Mistborn world has printing press, but I did say I was being picky.)

I bet I could find example after example of all this.  Tolkien, bless him, started it, with his three ages, etc.  But somehow it all works in LOTR, where it always seems easy and trite to me in other works.

What say you?
« Last Edit: December 30, 2014, 03:21:33 AM by Jmacyk »
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline cupiscent

Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2014, 03:39:21 AM »
Oh my yes. And one of my biggest niggles with fantasy is often that we've had a thousand years of history, but there seems to have been no development over that period of time. Just look at how far human development and technology has come in a thousand years, and then substitute magic for "technology"... why don't these worlds have magical equivalents of everything we have? If there's one thing that stands out about humanity, it's our ability to go, "How can I take this thing and make it a tool for either making my life easier, or that other guy's life harder?"

I presume it's because a lot of fantasy comes first from myth, and the entry-level myth (as it were) is the creation myth, which is of course dealing with "always" or "this is all the time there is". Just as ancient kings and great men are "giants", so "a long time ago" or "before anyone's grandparents can remember" becomes "thousands of years". There are ways in which that sort of thing can be made use of in fantasy, but I think it's stronger if you do it consciously.

Offline Raptori

  • Barbarian who does not use the Oxford comma and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Dragonrider
  • ***
  • Posts: 4054
  • Total likes: 2111
  • the prettiest kitty cat in the world
    • View Profile
Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2014, 04:00:36 AM »
Definitely something that gets on my nerves a lot, and it's something that my partner and I have been spending a fair bit of time working out for the world we're building together.

However I'd say that Mistborn isn't the best example of this, since in that case there is a reason for the stasis: the Lord Ruler causes it. The Skaa are uneducated and oppressed, but the crew have access to knowledge that is generally kept to the nobility alone, including historical texts. It's mentioned later on that he actually hadn't been completely unchallenged for the entire 1,000 years, and that the society as they knew it had only really existed for a couple of hundred years. The skaa are probably told that it's been the same for the entire 1,000 years to help keep them beaten down.

The reason I think it's worth mentioning all that is that the Mistborn series is a great example of an author doing the right thing. The moment that the Lord Ruler's influence was removed, their society started to change and grow. In the trilogy he's currently writing, they're in the midst of an industrial revolution. Sanderson plans to write books set in times with 1980s technology and then more in a space age, all based on the Mistborn world.

It shows how much more interesting a dynamic and evolving world can be than the static places a lot of fantasy inhabits.

Actually the best example I can think of is the Long Price Quartet. The world and the magic are really well connected, top the point where one couldn't exist without the other. The series shows the society changing over time as well. Love those books.

I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.

Offline Yora

Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2014, 11:37:10 AM »
Ususally you can clip of at least one 0 from the number of years in fantasy story. With lots of fantasy stories, you generally can remove two or three 0s from every count of planets, people, and ships.

A common mistake seems to be that people assume that humanoids who live 10 times as long as humans also live at one tenth the speed of humans. I like the approach that 80 years ago is just as blurry to an elf as to a human. What they remember about 200 years ago is mostly as detailed as what is found in historic record because they memorized the narrrative, not because they really remember how things happened. (Which is how human memory actually works.) Though in my world, elves only three times as long as humans, which can still be amazingly long.
I don't have a lot of history for that world, as my interest is more in Sword & Sorcery than epic fantasy, but human-like people only show up as more than smart apes 4,000 years ago (they copied the ideas of farming and metal from the Ancients they had observed, so the neolithic age was only half as long as on Earth), and the historically recoreded period really only covers the last 400 years. Anything before that is tribal legends. There are some extremely old elf-witches who are that old, but even for most elves that was a time well before the birth of their great grandparents.

If something is dated several thousand years ago, than I think it should be things that had been burried for most of that time and is only known through very vague ancient legends.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Nyki Blatchley

Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2014, 01:39:54 PM »
Oh my yes. And one of my biggest niggles with fantasy is often that we've had a thousand years of history, but there seems to have been no development over that period of time. Just look at how far human development and technology has come in a thousand years, and then substitute magic for "technology"... why don't these worlds have magical equivalents of everything we have? If there's one thing that stands out about humanity, it's our ability to go, "How can I take this thing and make it a tool for either making my life easier, or that other guy's life harder?"

I call it the Perpetual Iron Age. I'm a little guilty of that - in my world, it takes around 4000 years from the development of iron technology to the start of the industrial age (as opposed to a little under 3000 in ours) though I have written in some explanations for that, and of course, as in our world, different regions progress at different rates. But they had bronze and stone ages before that, and things do eventually move on to gunpowder and industry.

I think one of the reasons the history works in LOTR is that it's not the same to everyone. To the Hobbits, the fall of Arnor, around a thousand years before, was incredibly ancient, and the War of the Last Alliance is lost in semi-legend, whereas for the elves it's a blink of the eye. Whether or not it would be like that, it gives multiple perspectives on the time, so it doesn't seem so unrealistic if some people remember thousands of years back.

Offline Skip

Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2015, 05:54:42 AM »
One thing to keep in mind about historical memory. Pre-literate peoples had way better memories than we do. There are methods for remembering things, methods that we have largely ... well ... forgotten.

Historians are constantly trying to find ways to verify ancient facts. What might surprise you is how often we have found that Herodotus or Arrian or Polybius or You-Name-Him gave an account that can in fact be independently confirmed.

I'm not saying that their memories were perfect, but I am saying that we should not take our own very poor memories as the model. Tribes could and did pass down accurate genealogies that stretched seven and even ten generations. Rather famously, the accounts of Troy recorded by Homer were considered entirely fictional, until Schliemann dug up Troy. And so on.

In story-telling terms, this means the author can assert his characters have some tradition of the Long Ago that is more or less accurate. It also means the author can pick just exactly the inaccuracy the story needs.


-= Skip =-
Visit Altearth

Offline jefGoelz

Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2015, 06:10:29 AM »
people have always had an oral history.  And then they wrote it down once they had the means. The bible was supposed to represent the history of the world up to that point.


Offline Raptori

  • Barbarian who does not use the Oxford comma and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Dragonrider
  • ***
  • Posts: 4054
  • Total likes: 2111
  • the prettiest kitty cat in the world
    • View Profile
Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2015, 07:58:15 AM »
One thing to keep in mind about historical memory. Pre-literate peoples had way better memories than we do. There are methods for remembering things, methods that we have largely ... well ... forgotten.

Historians are constantly trying to find ways to verify ancient facts. What might surprise you is how often we have found that Herodotus or Arrian or Polybius or You-Name-Him gave an account that can in fact be independently confirmed.

I'm not saying that their memories were perfect, but I am saying that we should not take our own very poor memories as the model. Tribes could and did pass down accurate genealogies that stretched seven and even ten generations. Rather famously, the accounts of Troy recorded by Homer were considered entirely fictional, until Schliemann dug up Troy. And so on.

In story-telling terms, this means the author can assert his characters have some tradition of the Long Ago that is more or less accurate. It also means the author can pick just exactly the inaccuracy the story needs.


-= Skip =-
Another example is the insane level of detail that the more "primitive" people have about their environment and surroundings. I think it's mentioned in Jared Diamond's Collapse, where he talks about the highlanders in New Guinea. They had encyclopaedic knowledge about thousands upon thousands of different species of plants, how they best grow, how to tend them, what farming techniques work best in different situations, and so on.
I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.

Offline JamesLatimer

Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2015, 10:10:41 AM »
This is a classic genre problem, and I think a lot of better writers recognise it.  It can be OK to preserve a 'dark ages' for a few thousand years IF you give it some sort of justification.  The key is to have a society in constant flux, rather than stasis (unless enforced stasis a la Sanderson).  If you have empires rise and fall, and cataclysms and such, then you can 'reset' technological progress a bit every time.  The monolithic multi-millennial year Empire that doesn't change at all is the problem trope.

This 'stasis' has been one of my biggest problem with immortal (or very long-lived) elves, but I suppose you just have to put it down to a difference between them and humans--they may not be as inquisitive or as determined to bend nature to their will as we are.  After all, if they live hundreds or thousands of years, they are probably less obsessed with survival, power, wealth, etc and live a more contemplative existence.  (They must also have much less urge to procreate or the world would be teeming with elves because they don't die!)

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Big Wee Hag
  • ******
  • Posts: 7004
  • Total likes: 4770
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #9 on: February 11, 2015, 11:47:07 AM »
So, yes, to everything Skip said.  Though I think oral history is very susceptible to corruption and embroidery if the society in question is no longer adept at it.  I'm probably theorizing quite a bit (and I'm not trained in this topic) but I suspect early Christian communities would be an example.  The Torah, prophets, etc were all there and communities were expert at remembering them and analyzing them.  Though these had started as oral histories, there were, scholars believe, several versions of many events, which had been brought together over the centuries.  (Note the two versions of the creation of woman and man, among others.)

Into this we have Jesus (Jeshua, Joshua) and those who believe in Him.  Most of us know there are tens of "gospels" and the church that emerged over time had to sift through them and argue about them until we have the four that have been declared official.  And these disagree with each other on many points, even though the "history" of it was just a few years old when the bones of these were developed.  This, even though we are talking about a society in which the Text was all-important.  Perhaps the Text had become so important that oral history was no longer a competency.

Now let's go a little more modern: George Washington never threw a gold dollar across the Delaware, and never chopped down a cherry tree.  (I love the book "Lies My Teacher Told Me".)

History is a mess and goes to the winners: we know this.  I also believe that most of us don't like our Fantasy all that messy.  We love tidy, and fully answered... after 1 to 12 books, but still, fully answered.

Can we have fun and still leave things messy?



Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7210
  • Total likes: 762
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Purple Dove House
Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2015, 12:25:11 AM »
So, yes, to everything Skip said.  Though I think oral history is very susceptible to corruption and embroidery if the society in question is no longer adept at it.  I'm probably theorizing quite a bit (and I'm not trained in this topic) but I suspect early Christian communities would be an example.  The Torah, prophets, etc were all there and communities were expert at remembering them and analyzing them.  Though these had started as oral histories, there were, scholars believe, several versions of many events, which had been brought together over the centuries.  (Note the two versions of the creation of woman and man, among others.)

Into this we have Jesus (Jeshua, Joshua) and those who believe in Him.  Most of us know there are tens of "gospels" and the church that emerged over time had to sift through them and argue about them until we have the four that have been declared official.  And these disagree with each other on many points, even though the "history" of it was just a few years old when the bones of these were developed.  This, even though we are talking about a society in which the Text was all-important.  Perhaps the Text had become so important that oral history was no longer a competency.

Now let's go a little more modern: George Washington never threw a gold dollar across the Delaware, and never chopped down a cherry tree.  (I love the book "Lies My Teacher Told Me".)

History is a mess and goes to the winners: we know this.  I also believe that most of us don't like our Fantasy all that messy.  We love tidy, and fully answered... after 1 to 12 books, but still, fully answered.

Can we have fun and still leave things messy?
I think there's the whole issue of history being written by the victors. In Wicked the Wizard claims that in our world we call what the Ozians refer to as lies history (that's the musical, not the book) David Wingrove explored that in Chung Kuo. There was a book I read as a kid (cannot remember the name of it for the life of me, or the author) in which the protagonist (a kid in his early teens I think) discovers a genie in a magic lamp and thinks all his prayers have been answered. Unfortunately the genie is a bit of a walking (floating?) disaster area and when the kid asks him to do his homework (something on one of the Crusades) he of course, being of Arabic origin, writes it from the opposite point of view and sees the Crusaders as the villains of the piece. The hero gets a failing grade because his teacher is so outraged, the principal of the school sees the merit in arguing the other side of the coin and laster passes him, although also advises him not to make a habit of it just because he got away with it that one time. Anyway, history can be all about points of view. There are still plenty of people who strenuously argue that no one ever landed on the moon, it was all done in a TV studio somewhere in Burbank.

For the point made about the elves, I think a few books have advanced the theory that the reason we're the worlds they operate on are not overrun is that they are not especially prolific, so any child is a cause for celebration. Basically it looks like to compensate for the fact that the non human races live longer, the humans outbreed them.

To get back to the original point. I have often found myself reading various fantasies and raising the eyebrows when the 1,000's of years of history comes up, and comparing that society's level of advancement over a millennium with our own and wondering what happened to stifle technological and societal progress for that long a period of time. Even reading works like the Bible, does anyone really think that the biblical characters like Methuselah and Noah really lived for 100's of years?
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline Not-So-Bloody-Nine

  • Coreling
  • ***
  • Posts: 49
  • Total likes: 0
  • Gender: Male
  • I lie a lot, and that's the truth
    • View Profile
    • Reality Infringement
A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2015, 06:44:02 AM »
I've actually always liked the idea of "thousands of years ago." Perhaps it's the child in me, but I always feel a sense of wonderment if a story (done right, of course) includes an element of ancient history.

I agree, though, that the lack of technological progress needs to be addressed. Unlike the OP, I actually feel Tolkien was most guilty of this, and not less. LotR takes place in the Third Age, and has thousands of years long history behind it. In fact, the original fall of Sauron is itself something that happened, what, 3,000 years ago? So why has society not progressed appreciably in this time? Men, elves, dwarves, all are living almost exactly the same kind of life they were before.

A book like Mistborn explains this fairly well, by demonstrating that the Lord Ruler had enforced stasis. Another series that did it well, I think, is The Wheel of Time. The Aes Sedai have limited applications of the One Power out of lack of knowledge and fear of the taint. Eventually, when the characters start using more weaves later in the series, we witness some pretty cool magical equivalents of technology. Like the viewing portal in the sky that Mat uses to direct the army, in lieu of satellites. I thought that was quite clever.
Currently reading - Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

Offline Nyki Blatchley

Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2015, 12:34:34 PM »
I've actually always liked the idea of "thousands of years ago." Perhaps it's the child in me, but I always feel a sense of wonderment if a story (done right, of course) includes an element of ancient history.

There's no reason at all why a world shouldn't have thousands of years of history. In our world, civilisation has been around well over ten thousand years, and and written records go back well over four thousand, so it's perfectly plausible. The real issue, as you say, is the kind of history - have things changed, and if not, why not?

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Big Wee Hag
  • ******
  • Posts: 7004
  • Total likes: 4770
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2015, 12:54:28 PM »
The problem of change, yes.  But the more important one to me is the problem of accurately remembering or having an accurate history of those thousands of years.  Hell, we don't even remember that it was really the illuminati that had JFK assassinated, and that just only 50 years ago.
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline Raptori

  • Barbarian who does not use the Oxford comma and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Dragonrider
  • ***
  • Posts: 4054
  • Total likes: 2111
  • the prettiest kitty cat in the world
    • View Profile
Re: A thousand years here, a thousand years there
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2015, 01:34:33 PM »
The problem of change, yes.  But the more important one to me is the problem of accurately remembering or having an accurate history of those thousands of years.  Hell, we don't even remember that it was really the illuminati that had JFK assassinated, and that just only 50 years ago.
I actually don't remember reading anything where they do accurately remember thousands of years of history (unless there's a valid justification). I'm probably not thinking hard enough though. On the other hand it's great when authors explore different time periods in the same world, since they can slip in references to the past and we can see just how distorted it has become :)
I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.