Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder" is a classic essay on errors of fact in fantasy that detract from verisimilitude and may interfere with the reader's willing suspension of belief. I recommend it to all mythopoets, be they writers or gamers. One of our fellow Ramblers (thanks, Sarah!) pointed me to K. V. Johansen's "Five Things You Should Never Do in Epic Fantasy." Johansen's essay follows in the same vein. I recommend it for your consideration, as I know I will be rereading it.
Number one on Johansen's hit list is all you post-Enlightenment city-slickers out there who toss hay-bales into the scenery on the way from the keep to the dungeon. Many of us are so historically out-of-touch, we imagine the above is a traditional bucolic image. Why? Because all contemporary urbanites know that nowadays, bales of hay are rectangular for convenient seating or stacking and bound with tight plastic. Check the OED! thunders Johansen. Might as well ask me to eat vanilla ice cream or take a nap.
|Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Harvesters, 1565|
Historical linguistics and creative writing is a tough intersection. How far do we take things? Where are the lines? Johansen is lying in wait for me if I refer to the peasants baling hay, but I bet if I refer to the above as corn harvest (it's actual title, unless you want to call it August), then most of my readers, Americans of various stripes, I'd wager, are going to have heads filled with maize: a crop I am not going to put in my imaginary worlds unless you are on your way to dreaded Tamoachan (a one-way ticket to Xibalba!). But for the majority of the history of the English language, corn is the right word, so we had corn supply, corn laws, corn riots, and even corn rebellions. (Helpful hint: If you are the player playing Rome, never lose control of Egypt. Never.) So we have the history of language behind us, our mythopoesis churning within us, and the audience in front of us. From before and behind, we have relevant issues interacting with our internal process that demand the best of our judgment in mediating these issues. And remember, there's a few of us word mavens out there waiting, cudgels in hand. I hope the links help you think well about how to do this, even if they don't give you the bread needed to buy yourself OED access. Happy mythopoesizing!