This week: DiseasesEdited by: Robert Waltz
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The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey.
They certainly give very strange names to diseases.
With current events being what they are, I thought I'd take this editorial to talk about diseases in Fantasy writing.
My focus here this time is on pre-industrial, historical, or "high" fantasy - stories in the vein of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, without benefit of modern science, technology or medicine.
Historically, it's only relatively recently, with the invention of the microscope, that we humans knew the basic cause of many diseases; specifically, microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi or viruses. Many of our treatments - both preventative and curative - are based on this germ theory. Before then, the causes weren't very clear; treatments were derived from trial and error, and prevention wasn't as reliable. Outside of germ theory, you also had things like lead poisoning, such as in Roman society, when the link between high levels of environmental lead and human illness wasn't well-understood.
Now, in fantasy, it's certainly possible to substitute magic for what we now view as technology, so it's not impossible for a fictional magic-centered culture to have developed germ theory. But in general, high fantasy settings try to be tied to the knowledge and practices of that pre-industrial era.
Consider, for example, the historical Black Death, or bubonic plague, which struck Europe in the 14th century (though other instances of plague cropped up at various times). We are now fairly certain of the cause and treatment of this disease - it's a bacterial infection, usually responding to antibiotics - but at the time, it seemed to many people to be the work of the Devil or a punishment from God. It's said, though I haven't been able to find any definitive source to back this up, that the pandemic was exacerbated by mass killing of cats, which were widely believed, in Europe at least, to be agents of the Devil - but the general effect of such genocide was to decrease the natural predators of rats, which harbored the fleas that hosted the organism responsible for bubonic plague.
Ignorance and superstition aside, the human desire to understand, control, and treat disease seems to be older than history. In historic times, there were ancient Egyptian medical manuals that have been deciphered, and our modern Western philosophy of medicine can be traced back to ancient Greece. Consequently, diseases and their treatment can easily find a place in Fantasy stories.
One common trope is the Quest for the Cure. Someone has fallen ill, and the only thing that can cure them is the flower of a plant that only grows in a particular place; it's a good excuse for a variant of the Hero Quest. But there are plenty of other ways to incorporate disease as a background thing, or as some other sort of plot point.
The Cure Quest has been abused, too. Maybe you have magic-users who can, conveniently, cure any disease - except, of course, when the plot requires an incurable disease. Such a trope is, at least to me, quite obvious and overused.
Regardless of how it's done, diseases and their cures / treatments can be incorporated into fantasy literature. While some might argue that the whole purpose of fantasy is to escape from the realities of illness and possible death, including some can lend an air of verisimilitude to the plot and setting. Since disease has been with us from the beginning, it only makes sense for it to be a thing to include in one's stories.
Just some fantasy for your entertainment:
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Last time, in "Unloved" , I had nothing good to say about Valentine's Day and love.
Melisscious : “Love is all right for those who can handle the psychic overload. It’s like trying to carry a full garbage can on your back over a rushing river of piss.”
Ah, the great poet himself.
Write 2 Publish 2020 : In every fantasy movie or book, the successful ones have a bit of every genre in them;A Action/adventure, romance and mystery. Using that as the guide to success, make sure they are all accounted for in you MS
Fantasy, and also science fiction, are what you might call meta-genres: there's room in them for mystery, romance, adventure, comedy, and countless other genres. Indeed, I tend to think of F&SF as settings and tropes, while the genre is related more to the plot.
So that's it for me for March! See you next month. Until then,
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