Friday, May 20, 2011

The Uncanny Valley of Faerie

I am still tantrumming.

I recently finished a couple of Tam Lin-inspired books sent to me by a friend, one of which was very good, technically speaking, the other probably self-published or put before a very apathetic editor. Both, however, drove me up the wall due to mixing 1) Scottish balladry 2) English scenery and 3) North American wildlife.

The first two an are insulting combination to the British reader, yet tolerable since the ballad did indeed make it down to England, with Janet tamed and renamed Margaret and the fairies' teeth drawn to make it more palettable to the Sassenach. The third kept throwing me out of the story like a kid from a car crash. Which set me wondering - at what point does fantastic ecology become jarring?

My thought was that an 'uncanny valley' exists for fantasy settings as much as in more acute/visual media. A completely alien ecology that still has human(oid)s wandering around is easy to swallow, likewise a clearly well-researched, fact-based alternate history setting...yet somewhere nearer the latter there's a deep well of wrongness, where bears and hummingbirds roam mediaeval Scotengireland and the desert folk are mysteriously white...where's the line? What would make you go "gah, no wizard could do that," and set the book aside, unsettled? Are there other corners of setting, character or culture that are subject to this effect?

Thoughts, anyone?

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