The neccessity of history

Most high-fantasy authors, particularly those who write epic fantasy, understand that their books could be called a form of history book.  In a way, all fiction writing is telling of history, because they are telling the story of something that has happened, real or imaginary.   But high-fantasy authors write stories that really do require a very serious telling of history.

When a fiction author writes a story based in the real world, there are several millennia of history behind his writing.  The fiction author assumes that his reader is familiar with the history of days past, so he does not need to tell it.  He knows that most, if not all, readers will know what he means by WW2.  He knows that he does not need to explain Christmas or Thanksgiving, Sunday or summer.

All of those things are already known to the reader, reinforced by their existence in our real world.  But the high-fantasy writer…………….he has created a world that is entirely new.  The week may consist of twelve days, rather than seven.  The holidays may be restricted to the commemoration of certain military victories, or the birth of the current king.  The history of the sword may be completely different than that of our world, or not existent at all.  The enmities between kingdoms have reasons, but that reason is not already known to the reader, as the enmity between the American Indians and the English might be.  The reader most likely knows the history of the colonization of America and understands much of the antagonism of a story based in that time.

But the high-fantasy author………..though he knows all the little details of his world, all the reasons, his readers do not.  This means that the author must find a way, to tell the relevant history of his world, in a way that seems part of the story.

This is easy enough in stories like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy.  The history is a massive part of the story, for the characters themselves know little of the history and must unravel it in order to claim victory.  But what of the smaller, less over-arching stories?  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was of much smaller scope, dealing with the concerns of a single nation, indeed, almost a single family.  The history does not directly affect the characters overmuch, but the reader wishes to know all about the world, in order to believe in it.

We go about our daily affairs, already knowing much of the history of our own world.  As a matter of fact, we are very nearly immersed in it.  But when we take the plunge of imagination, we enter an entirely new world, one with which we have no such familiarity.  We look about us, deprived of all the knowledge in which we were so comfortable in our own world.  This new world has no history, has no past, at least not yet, and at first we are disinclined to believe in it.  We are used to the firm foot-hold of history and we don’t like being deprived of it.

To make a fantasy-world truly gripping, truly believable, it must have that history.  We want to know why, where, how, and when each piece of the plot was set into play.  The history may be blatantly told in many pages, or carefully buried in each paragraph, but it must be there.  The high-fantasy author is the historian of imagination.  It is his job to see that events are faithfully recorded.

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