Should Medieval Fantasy Be Historically Accurate?

Whether it’s fantasy book covers, tabletop gaming or cinematography, to ask artists to be realistic let alone historically accurate would take away the very reason why many of these artists enter such beloved trades in the first place–creativity. Now with that out of the way, I still want to argue that there should be more realistic and historically accurate medieval-esque forms of entertainment in popular media for those of us who do appreciate it. Currently there’s very little of this. Non-medievalists mayn’t be able to spot all the inaccuracies but pedantic ones who do might be more entertained by TV shows that get things right.

Magical Realism plus Medieval Fantasy equals What? Historical Fiction with Magic or Something Totally New?

It’s common for people to confuse magical realism with fantasy, but what, I ask, after understanding their differences, would they look like combined? Combined, would it simply be medieval historical fiction with some magic thrown in or would we be dealing with a whole new genre? You may find my conclusion very interesting.

First let me briefly describe what I find to be the extreme difference between the two genres.

Magical realism uses magic to bring the reader closer to reality, while fantasy uses the same to help the reader escape from it. Magical realism, in other words, brings us closer to truth. Fantasy, by its design, takes us away from truth. This is exactly why much magical realism is considered literature and why much fantasy is not. Literature, for reasons of academic growth, urges us to think in order to understand the meanings behind things in our own real world. Fantasy, though it may provoke thoughts now and then, wants us to escape from reality for reasons of pleasure.

What is Medieval Fantasy for Adults? (not for kids)

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.