Medieval European Fantasy

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
"Fantasy, for us, is a knight on horseback running around and killing things."
Todd Howard, Game Informer Issue 138

No matter where a fantasy story may be written, whatever rich history the author's homeland might have, most fantasy stories take place in Medieval Europe (or a facsimile thereof, possibly reasonable). People will fight with swords and shields, and the government is usually vaguely feudal: it may not map well to any real-world political system, but it usually has hereditary monarchs and nobles (which many other cultures also have, but if European titles are used, you're in a Medieval European Fantasy). Medieval European Fantasy settings are sometimes littered with Schizo-Tech, although there may well be Fantasy Gun Control.

The modern age's Ur-source for Medieval fantasy is Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien based heavily on European folklore. This trope also has its roots in the tendency for pre-Tolkien fantasy works to outright take place in the Medieval era, especially if they were connected to or influenced by the tales of King Arthur.

Christianity can occur, but is fairly rare. Mythopoeia is possible, as well as Crystal Dragon Jesus. This will partly depend on whether it's a High Fantasy or Low Fantasy setting, as religion and magic are often closely associated.

This is also frequently the setting of Japanese RPGs, Wutai aside. And mostly Western RPGs in between Sci-Fi games. And the first settings of Dungeons & Dragons are perhaps the most well-known example (even though most D&D setting avert this trope, the sheer popularity of the Faerûn setting makes this trope almost synonymous with D&D). Notably averted however in Wuxia, which is a sister trope (Chinese fantasy with a long literary tradition, set in a pseudo-historical Alternate Universe China, featuring magic, wandering errant martial artists, legendary artifacts, Dragons and the rest). Played straight in Japanese Anime, oddly enough, except for works like Princess Mononoke.

Often depicts the setting as more Arcadia and the Ghibli Hills than the actual medieval Europeans viewed it as, though not always.

Prone to People of Hair Color.

May be imported in a Feudal Future, with or without advanced technology.

See also Heroic Fantasy, Standard Fantasy Setting, Fantasy Counterpart Culture and Hermetic Magic, all of which may overlap with this. See Urban Fantasy and New Weird for alternatives fantasy fans, who were getting tired of this setting, came up with.

Examples of Medieval European Fantasy include:

Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings popularized the setting in modern times.
    • Even though the world they are set in bears only minute resemblance to actual Medieval Europe; for starters, Feudal governments seem almost nonexistent.
    • Actually, Middle-Earth is distinctively medieval, but is based on early medieval concepts, not the more popular 'high medieval' setting.
    • It feels more like Dark Ages almost. Especially when one looks at the artwork of Alan Lee, there is a distinctly ancient look about certain elements, like the late roman inspired Gondor.
  • William Morris's The Well at the World's End and its other related novels, which helped inspire the above.
  • The Deryni works of Katherine Kurtz feature feudal governance and a Christian Church to rival the secular government.
  • The Kingdom of the Isles from The Riftwar Cycle, although it's implied this may be because its people are directly descended from European refugees fleeing the Enemy, in the same way that Kesh is of Asian stock.
  • Being based on the setting that gave birth to RPGs, more or less any book universe based off of Dungeons & Dragons. Especially Dragonlance.
  • Averted by the Earthsea Trilogy: the people are various shades of brown (except for the barbarians, who are white), and the society seems more ancient than medieval.
  • Ranger's Apprentice is a young adult/children's series with this setting. Occasionally the stories move beyond "Europe", however.
  • Although George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is set in the fictional continent Westeros, there are a lot of references to tournaments, jousting, greatswords, lords, and bannermen, ale, and people calling each other "Ser..."
    • George R. R. Martin has pretty much admitted this - the Wall is, unsurprisingly based on Hadrian's Wall, the Red Wedding is based on the Black Dinner, where the chiefs of Clan Douglas were murdered in Edinburgh Castle.
  • A Wizard in Rhyme takes place primarily in a Fantasy Counterpart France.
  • Osten Ard, the setting of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, strongly resembles Medieval Europe in terms of society (though not so much geography) with a number of direct Fantasy Counterpart Cultures and an obvious Catholic Church-analogue.
  • The Cup of the World by John Dickinson is set in a world that strongly resembles Medieval Europe, albeit one in which some sort of magic exists. It's also mentioned that the ancestors of most of the world's inhabitants arrived as settlers from an unidentified land to the North.
  • Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy is set on the mythical island of Hybras, off the coast of France, and shares a style and approximate era with many ahistorical Arthurian romances.
  • Averted in the Powder Mages trilogy of books, which is set in a fantasy world roughly around its equivalent to the French Revolution.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The most famous gaming examples are, of course, the majority of settings for Dungeons & Dragons.
    • D&D actually subverts this trope big time. Only Greyhawk and Faerûn truly qualify. Maztica is Mayincatec, Kara-Tur is Far East, Rashemen/Thay is Darkest Africa, Zakhara is Qurac of Arabian Nights variety, Athas is based on Ancient Mesopotamia/Egypt , Ravenloft is Anachronism Stew with strong hints of 19th century, Dragonlance, despite its chivalric orders is vaguely pre-medieval and don't even get me started on Planescape multiverse...
  • Justified in GURPS Fantasy with the world of Yrth, where a massive magical backfire several centuries before the current date transported in large numbers of humans from medieval Europe, who then did their best to build themselves a new home that looked and worked more or less like what they came from. Simultaneously double subverted by the nation of Sahud—first, it was populated with medieval Asians, and second, they were mostly peasants from four or five different cultures, who tried to do the same as the Europeans but ended up with a society that looked less like any actual Asian nation of the period and more like The Mikado on acid, as written by Monty Python.
  • Most countries in 7th Sea, although the ruins of the ancient Syrneth civilization mix things up a bit.
    • Again, only Ussura is truly medieval. Other countries are well into mid-17th century Renaissance, with Age of Exploration and Thirty Years' War playing key roles in the world development.
  • Ars Magica even calls its setting 'Mythic Europe' and is set in historically correct settings with many folklore and religious fantasy thrown in for the good measure. In a nutshell, it is the actual medieval Europe with all fantastic beliefs made true.
  • King Arthur's Pendragon, as the name suggests, is based on Mallory's version of Arthurian England, mixing high-medieval setting with magic and Celtic paganism.
  • Das Schwarze Auge, has Aventurien, a rough equivalent of Europe with Mittelreich modeled after the Holy German Empire. Other countries and lands also fit the role of Fantasy Counterpart Culture.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has Old World that is late medieval/early Renaissance although Kislev and Bretonnia (at least from 2nd edition onwards) play this trope straight. High Elves and Dwarves also fit the feudal mindset pretty well.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The vast majority of western RPGs (as shown by the page quote). Listing exceptions would probably be easier.
  • Many eastern rpgs and adventure games as well.
  • Chrono Trigger subverts this by starting out with two time periods that fit this trope, then taking you to a high tech future.
    • 1000 AD seems to be pretty schizoid, though, seeing as how they have refrigerators, stoves, apparently large-scale power plants that would be necessary to operate both, guns, mechanized warfare, and steam power (the ferry,) but there are no cars or paved roads, and Guardia's standing army has no firearms. On the other hand, Guardia is the sole world power in 1000 AD, so it's not like they need firearms.
  • The first five Final Fantasy games go in and out of this. The seventh, eighth, and thirteenth games are very much not examples, but most of the rest have some degree of this. The tenth has anti-technology, but that turns out to be the Big Bad's plan.
  • The Breath of Fire series.
  • The Dragon Quest series.
    • Dragon Quest VII is the only one that doesn't play this trope straight, adding in robot NPCs.
  • The Tales (series).
    • Some tend to have an Anime-like blend of Technology (mostly Abyss) but that still doesn't keep them from having royalty.
  • The Rance Series is either an Indecisive Parody or an Indecisive Deconstruction of this genre. It's honestly hard to tell.
  • The Fire Emblem series.
  • Ogre Battle
  • Cadash is a textbook example, except for the Ninja character.
  • The Witcher, and the books it's based on.
  • Majesty, though it's an affectionate parody and set out to be a Cliché Storm.
  • The Sword Coast from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Unfortunately, most videogames set in the Forgotten Realms take place in the Sword Coast.
  • Most of the Star Ocean games attempt to avert this by setting up a sci-fi universe, but fall right back into it by leaving you stuck on an 'undeveloped world' (which are mainly Medieval European Fantasy worlds) for most of the game.
  • The Warcraft series, at least as far as the human kingdoms are concerned. The third game and the MMORPG add a slew of other settings, such as the vaguely Asian nightelves, the Native American-ish Tauren, Caribbean Trolls, the Steampunk gnomes (and goblins), the Magitek-using draenei, vaguely Persian-ish Blood Elves, and the nordic vyrkul.
    • Not all the human kingdoms are medieval either, as Gilneas seems to be based on 19th-century London.
  • The original Diablo has this in full force. Act One of the sequal takes place in the same medival region, but quickly departs it in favor of Qurac, Mayincatec, Hell, and the a scary snowy place in that order.
  • Sonic and the Black Knight
    • Justified in this case, since it's based around the Arthurian myths.
  • Guild Wars nails this trope in all other aspects but subverts it when it comes to geography: The tutorial level of Prophecies (pre searing) looks like the game would be something like this, with medieval castles, green Ghibli Hills and otherwise European geography. Then the Charr summon their Earthshattering Kaboom. Ascalon ends up as a broken wasteland and every other locations tries to avoid this trope. The rest of Tyria is (in order) Death Mountain, a Beach Episode, Jungle Japes, Shifting Sand Land, Slippy-Slidey Ice World and Lethal Lava Land / Mordor. The continent Cantha in contrast is the Far East while Elona has heavy African and Middle East influences.
  • One map in Backyard Skateboarding, Merry Old Englandland, fits this trope perfectly.
  • The Legend of Zelda heavily features elements of this, though the games also have Japanese and Greek influences.
    • The Wind Waker arc however, is slowly drifting into early modern period with elements of Steampunk.
  • Thief is part this and part Steampunkish Film Noir.
  • Super Robot Wars NEO has you visit Earth Tear from Lord Of Lords Ryu Knight.
  • Mount & Blade, which tries to keep as close to a realistic medieval setting as is physically possible, has this trope as its entire point.
  • Dragon Age games and books take place in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture setting, where most countries/cultures having a prototype in our history. The nations of Ferelden and Orlais are based on Medieval England and France, respectively, right down to the accents. Antiva, though never shown, is described like Rennaissance Italy, although Antivans have a Spanish accent for some reason. Other parallels are less Clear. Interestingly, Dragon Age: Origins does not include any horses or mounted warriors, reducing the image of a knight a little. The novels, on the other hand, have them in spades. The Orlesians, for example, fight mostly using their heavy cavalry troops known as the chevaliers (French for "knights"), while the Fereldans prefer infantry, with a mix of magic and war dogs thrown in.
  • Castlevania takes place at various points in history, including the Middle Ages, The Renaissance, the modern age, and even Twenty Minutes Into the Future, though the overall aesthetic is Gothic Horror.
  • Phantasy Star III has a variant: it turns out that the entire medieval-style world the game takes place in is in reality an Arc-like spaceship that was fleeing the destruction of a very technologically advanced planet, and all the inhabitants are descendants of the ship's original population. After about 1,000 years and a lot of conflict, they lost their ancestors' technological advancements as well as the knowledge about the real nature of their world.
  • RuneScape
  • Most of The Elder Scrolls games plays this more-or-less straight, the main exception being Morrowind, which has as one minor theme the Culture Clash between the Empire's Medieval European Fantasy-ness and the Dunmer's native traditions. There are also elements of Steampunk with the Dwemer ruins.
  • Medieval Mode in Team Fortress 2 and the cp_degrootkeep map, which surprisingly has modern-day computers hidden in the castle.
  • Averted in the Golden Sun series, where the world of Weyard has a variety of cultures corresponding to many real-world civilizations. There are Western European-inspired nations, sure, but you'll also find analogues of: China, Japan, Siam, Vietnam, Mongolia, Turkey, the Roman Empire, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, India, Australia, ancient South America, and Native North Americans—and most of these representations are more-or-less accurate when it comes to architecture, clothing, and even facial structure for the various ethnicities. And that's ignoring the more overt fantasy elements like the Atlantis analogue, the werewolf tribe, the town full of dwarves, and the race of scale-skinned people who are immune to cold.
  • For the most part the Shining Series is set here.
  • Dark Souls is set in a mix between Medieval European Fantasy and Dark Fantasy.
  • Like its source material, Total War: Warhammer subverts this with the Empire, which is decidedly Renaissance Holy Roman Empire in inspiration. Bretonnia (and to a degree, the Dwarves) plays it complete straight, however, while the followers of Chaos are Nordic in nature (along with various barbarian cultures).
  • Averted in Valkyria Chronicles, which is set in a world that used to be like this before its industrial revolution and the discovery of Ragnite's immense properties. Though that said, there are still quite a few traces of the aesthetic present, albeit given more "modern" touch.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]