The Curse of Knowledge

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Madeleine Cassier
Producer
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A COMPANION TO TBT EPISODE 05

51sT1gF5PTL.jpgIn our most recent episode of The Book Table (TBT), we discussed Stormdancer, the first novel in the Lotus War trilogy by Australian writer, Jay Kristoff. Marketed as a Japanese-inspired steampunk series featuring what Patrick Rothfuss called “a strong female protagonist” in his blurb, it elicited some very different reactions amongst our discussion participants.

In our online book club, many people specifically picked upon Kristoff’s use of Japanese language and culture, calling it anything from “random” and “uneven” to “frustratingly wrong” and a little bit rage-inducing. The appropriation that formed the foundation of this book drove those familiar with Japanese culture and language to feelings of annoyance and irritation. A few members of our book club didn’t even finish Stormdancer, and a few more said they were unlikely to pick up the sequels.

For my part, I rated the book a solid 4 out of 5 stars and said that, despite acknowledging problems, I enjoyed it. I made a point in the podcast of saying that I had read the entire trilogy back in April 2015 over the course of about a week, so many of the details of all three books often blurred together in my remembering. Though, probably most importantly, I also mentioned that Japanese history and culture are not my forte. My knowledge-base on that topic comes predominantly from media, so I shall never claim myself an expert…ever.

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Setting the Story: Medieval vs Early Modern

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Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
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Fantasy, as a genre, has largely been associated with the Middle Ages. While this is obviously not always the case, especially with those stories set in the real world (many of which, like Harry Potter, take place in contemporary times), there is some truth to this. The fantasy movement did grow out of the Romantic movement of the 19th century, which was, in part, a reaction against the science and rationalism of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. The “Medievalism” of fantasy is related the genre’s use of magic, awe, emotions, folklore and escapism, as alternatives to the increasingly rationality, homogeneity, and banality of modern existence.

Thus, most constructed fantasy worlds, both historical and mythical, are essentially Medieval European in nature. These can either be based off of the Dark Ages (500-1000) of early Medieval Europe, which gives off an “empty-world” sort of feeling, or the more crowded and better-historically documented High Middle Ages (1000-1350). Jump forward a bit, and you may or may not be in the fantasy genre anymore. This is when you get to Steampunk based off of the 19th century Victorian Era, or the slightly later Dieselpunk, based off of the “interwar period” (1918-1939) through the 1950s. Relatively little fantasy is set in worlds inspired by the ancient and classical periods of human history. 

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