Tod of Tod’s Worksop YouTube channel recently released a video wherein he discusses why filmmakers sacrifice medieval realism in movies. Today I want to share this video with you, partly because I believe Tod’s Workshop is a great YouTube channel worth sharing but mainly because I have some critique for this video that some medievalists and/or fantasy lovers might find interesting.
There’s a good reason why pedantic historians and enthusiastic students never cease to ask the question “why is the swordplay in “medieval” Hollywood movies still based off of 19th-century sports fencing and to-the-minute choreography when we have HEMA (historical European martial arts) and HAMA (historical African martial arts) practitioners and theorists promulgating translated combat treatises from the Middle Ages across the internet for the world to see?”
My brain quakes trying to understand why to this day we still don’t have a Hollywood movie that shows medieval sword fighting accurately. Now without mocking any movie that’s already been produced, let’s discuss what movies in the future will look like…
Everything has a polar opposite–everything!–and so if such things as LitRPG, where common sense and practicality are completely ignored, can reach the market of fantasy books then so will such things as LitHEMA, where common sense and practicality are praised. This is inevitable! In other words if I don’t work towards the fruition of LitHEMA then someone else will, and this new fantasy subgenre will win its place in the market by merit whether the vast majority likes it or not.
LitHEMA takes “realism” and “grittiness” one step beyond Grimdark. Like LitHEMA, much Grimdark may also be called low fantasy, dark fantasy or historical fantasy. There is something special about it that keeps certain readers with certain tastes coming back and back again. But what separates LitHEMA from all these similar genres?
Before you hit me with “realism in fantasy only means consistency”, consider that ancient and medieval people knew what they were doing and their armor looks the way it does for very important reasons. Here I will be taking a brief look at a few popular fantasy tropes and compare them to historical reality to show you why much fantasy armor is impractical in real life.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Thank you for that great truth, R. Buckminster Fuller, for that’s exactly what I intend to do with my precious time on this blessed earth!
When we were children it was easy for us to become enchanted by stories and films that were riddled with unrealistic scenarios and outcomes because stories designed for children and the wider audience are for the most part unrealistic on purpose. After all, fairy tales intentionally contain absolutes and one-dimensional characters because they’re important for the growth of our children’s moralities and identities. And many traditional fantasy novels, inspired by medieval fairy tales, continue this pattern of writing for children and the wider audience. If you’ve chosen the path of a medievalist or simply are passionate about medieval living you probably already know how easy it is to be dissatisfied with most medieval fantasy. There are of course gems like The Traitor Son Cycle and A Song of Ice and Fire which are intentionally inspired by actual history rather than fairy tales and these tend to grab a different audience.