I wrote a new story, The Dance, at Dragons of Night - Medium. I hope you like it.
You don't have to be around fantasy for a long time before you realize that the roles of men and women are portrayed very differently in fantasy fiction. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, but I've often felt that is to make up for the frightfully asexual characters that inhabited the Lord of the Rings.
I also wonder if this is a result of the odd stereotype of a fantasy fan as a socially inept, over weight male who had no idea of what it felt like to be touched by members of the preferred sex. Oddly enough, most of the fantasy fans I have met are women, but I suppose that is of little interest to the marketing types who love this image of their audience.
Sex sells, or so they tell me, and I fear that Fantasy costumes are the way they are because of an antiquated and misogynistic porn aesthetic that needs to pass away.
Women are dressed in scant wisps of fabric and metal because, simply enough, heterosexual males find them pleasant to look upon, as well as fantasize about. That part of the mystery is simple enough, but what about the men.
Men are dressed in covering, if form fitting, clothes and armor that often mimics the ripped muscular forms they cover. Why depict the gorgeously masculine bodies of men with coverings that match that same form? The only reason I can think of is to protect the heterosexual male ego.
Metal breastplates in the form a muscular male body replace the unattractive male porn star to insulate the heterosexual male psyche from the possibility of being turned on by the image of a handsom male body. If, perchance, they are aroused at all by the image, well, everyone loves a fine piece of metal work. It is a macho, even if only in their own minds, to be aroused by the elements of war. What could be more masculine after all?
Once I realized this, I felt a strange pity for the heterosexual male. They seem to be such delicate and fragile things. I understood what a Victorian man must have thought when he looked at a woman. I never really wanted to understand that feeling, but nevertheless, here I am, wondering how to toughen up these poor, fragile, heterosexual men so they could bare the realization that man can be sexy too.
The comic I included in this post is from Dueling Analogs at Dorkly Comic. It reminded me of this problem, and interested in a solution.
I doubt that neither hyper-sexualization of the male form, or modest portrayals of the female form will amount to anything more than a cosmetic mask, easy to wash off. It is difficult to strengthen a fragile thing, and I am sure quite a few people will be upset with me bringing this subject up, but I feel like we need to talk about it if we are ever going to remedy it.
Maybe this is just something that time will fix on its own, but I doubt it. Perhaps I should just go my way, and let this sort itself out. (Everyone who knows me knows that won't happen)
I suppose I feel that it just needed to be said.
To Wainscot or not to Wainscot– that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the tale to create
The beings and world out of nothing but my page,
Or to take with some of its history
And, creatively change them. To write, to make...
Ok, that's enough at that, but as a genre writer, it is a question that crops up from time to time, and when it does, oy, what a headache.
If you don't know what wainscoting is, it is creating a paneled off world within our real world. Think Harry Potter, or Bleach, or
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Dead like Me
- Percy Jackson series
- Stargate SG-1
- Stargate Atlantis
- Stargate Universe
- Underworld movies
I think you get the idea. The basic idea is that in a Wainscot story there is a secret world which is kept from the eyes of the average person.
When you are writing a sci-fi or fantasy world you have the choice between a wainscot world and a secondary or new world. The decision is not always as easy or clear-cut.
Could Lord of the Rings take place in a wainscot world? Yes, it honestly could. The only part of the story that would be changed is that the story would no longer be a prehistory, unless it was set early in Earth's history. Honestly, if you set the story during the time of Rome, and made Mount Doom into Mt Vesuvius, then the story would be just as poignant.
So why Wainscot?
Honestly, the only reason to choose a Wainscot world over an Invented world is control.
When you create a new world/cosmos, you have total control over every aspect of the world. You get to decide what is and isn't natural, as well as extremely precise control over the cultures and histories of the people who populate your world.
A Wainscot is helpful when you want to call up cultural, ethnic, or historical references.
Why is Harry Potter a wainscot?
- It is easier to understand quidditch when you can reference soccer.
- Rowling didn't have to explain wizarding education or politics, because she could reference its British equivalence.
- It was easier to hide Harry outside the Wainscot than within it.
Think about it: Terry Goodkind had to put up a magical barrier in his world to hide Richard. That is a lot more work than dropping him off with a group of muggles.
So which is better?
It depends on your audience. Genre readers are used to flipping back and forth from between fantastical worlds, but the average reader is not. If you look at the best sellers charts (granted they have their own problems), you will see that most of the best seller are Wainscots.
I might be suffering from a perception filter, but it really does seem that way. Just because it is easier to mainstream a wainscot world than an invented world is not a great reason to choose to write one, but it is something to consider?
Do you have any thoughts? Questions? Comments about wainscot stories? If so, leave me a comment, and I will do my best to answer them.