Monday, September 24, 2012
I suppose this is why some have claimed that fantasy is a fundamentally conservative genre -- conservative in the non-political sense of viewing the world as "fallen" in one or more ways. That's admittedly a viewpoint for which I have a lot of personal sympathy, so maybe it's all too easy to accept it uncritically. Still, as I say, D&D has all these dungeons lying about, so it's hardly a stretch to think of the kind of fantasy it presents -- and thus with which most gamers are familiar -- is colored in shades of red, orange, and brown.
Mind you, it's not just D&D that presents fantasy in this fashion. Three seminal influences on the game and its players do so as well. Robert E. Howard's "undreamed of" Hyborian Age is explicitly a time after a great cataclysm. The Third Age of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, though a time of great ferment, sees the waning of the elves and a general decline in the strength of Men. In the 21st Aeon of Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, the Sun is, literally, dying and, along with it, much of man's accumulated knowledge. I could probably name many other examples, but my point (to the extent I even have one) isn't to "prove" that fantasy must view the present with some pessimism compared to the past, only that it's a very common and influential theme.
It's worth noting, too, that quite a few gaming settings are post-cataclysmic. Greyhawk's Oerth, Dragonlance's Krynn, and Dark Sun's Athas all clearly are, as is Empire of the Petal Throne's Tékumel. As eventually developed later, The Known World had an apocalypse in its past, as even the Forgotten Realms is filled with the rising and falling of civilizations as the result of periodic cataclysms (though few of these seem to have had any lasting effecst on the setting).
I'm not really going anywhere with this post; I'm simply thinking out loud. The weather has been quite chilly lately and the leaves of the maple tree on my front yard are starting to change color and fall and I've found myself musing about fantasy even more than usual.