‘If your castle really was that impressive, it’d have a shower’

typed for your pleasure on 23 November 2020, at 8.00 am

Sdtrk: ‘Sketch for summer’ by the Durutti Column

You’ll have to forgive me, as half the reason I’ve written this post is because I finally figured out, while in a state between wakefulness and sleep, the answer to a question that I’ve had for years, and was lucid enough to remember it, which really means I was more awake than asleep. What was that question, you ask? Why can’t I get into epic medieval fantasy, like, at all?

I’ve famously not played Dungeons & Dragons since probably about sixth grade. Franchises like Skyrim, Neverwinter, and Conan hold zero appeal for me. I’ve never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones, or watched anything past the first ‘Lord of the Rings’ film. Dragons make me shrug, elves kinda get on my wick. I am, by all accounts, averse to the fantasy genre of fiction. Although I was keen on The Chronicles of Narnia until I learned that CS Lewis was a god-botherer; having said that, ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ remains my favourite book out of that series. Plus John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ is always pretty fucking awesome. Now that I’ve mentioned that film, you’ve probably got ‘O Fortuna‘ in your head now, and rightly so. But I digress!
Really, the answer to my question made so much sense and was so #OnBrand that it makes no sense that I didn’t realise it up until now. Why am I not keen on sword and sorcery fiction? Because the world that the characters inhabit is filthy, everywhere.

As astute readers of ‘Shouting etc etc’ are already aware, I’m a semi-recovering germophobe (please refer to No.17 on my ‘85 things‘ page). I say semi-recovering, as I was doing relatively well until the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 went into Turbo mode in March. Prior to that, with the exception of vigorously wiping down any shopping trolleys before using them when buying groceries and sundries, it wasn’t an issue. But on the occasions where I absolutely can’t avoid having to leave the flat, I cram about five or so pairs of disposable rubber or latex gloves into my trouser pockets, strap my mask on, take a deep breath, and head out to do everything I have to do as quickly as I can so I can get back inside. Yep, 20fucking20. But before I go on in detail about how this year has been objectively the worst in the lifetimes of anyone with a conscience and a functioning brain, that picture I’ve painted should be enough to give you a sense of how I feel about uncleanliness. It’s gross!

Between fantasy and science fiction, it should come as no surprise that I prefer SF much, much more. For one, fantasy doesn’t have Gynoids in it, so that’s a tipoff right there. Take the prime example I always have at the front of my brain for something that approximates a futuristic Utopia: Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A space odyssey’; specifically, the space station Heywood Floyd was bumming around in.

Save for the fact that there’s a complete lack of Gynoids in it, and the populace is under threat of nuclear annihilation, that sort of environment has much greater appeal to me. Everything’s clean and shiny, the architecture, design, and fashion are smooth and modern, the temperature is regulated, there’s daily flights from Earth to Space station V and back, people wash on a regular basis… Whereas with medieval fantasy, it’s best exemplified in this image:

That’s from Aleksei German’s film adaptation of ‘Hard to be a god’ from 2013, by the way. It could be said that having that be my only example could easily be seen as a smear campaign, ah heh heh. But it’s worth considering: imagine tumbling headlong through some convenient time portal that whisks you back to, say, 1066, the year in which the culturally pivotal Battle of Hastings occurred. The French Normans invade England, English King Harold Godwinson gets shot through the eye with an arrow (disputed, but he definitely died on the battlefield), and England winds up with a dialect of French as their national language for roughly 500 years. Why do I know as much as I do about the Norman conquest? Blame an issue of National Geographic from the Sixties that my parents had containing an article that detailed the Bayeux Tapestry. It’s a comfort to know that if the bottom ever falls out of Synthetiks culture, I have my knowledge of the Battle of Hastings to fall back on! Which isn’t much.
Anyway! Back then, you were either royalty, or Peasant Scum™. If you’re the latter, your house is made of wood, thatch, or reeds, and every day, all you can smell is livestock. If you’re the former, you’re in a drafty castle, more than likely dying of gout whether you know it or not, and you don’t have indoor plumbing because outdoor plumbing doesn’t exist. No regular bathing, no deodorants of any sort, no shaving, no proper waste disposal, no proper medical treatment, nothing. Technically speaking, you’re more outside than inside! Try not to freeze to death, or die of heat stroke, or sepsis, or a thousand other murderous things! It is patently impossible to spin a romantic viewpoint on that style of day-to-day existence. Sure, you can argue that ‘medieval fantasy is fiction’, but even if I were in Darkest Mordovale or wherever wearing a full set of armour with a broadsword in hand, you couldn’t ask me to overlook the fact that the complete environment is stinky as fuck.

Right; I’ve just thought of another entry in the medieval fantasy genre that doesn’t repel me: Kentarou Miura’s long-running manga series, Berserk. In the interest of full disclosure, what attracted me to the series was the Lovecraftian aspect to a lot of the monsters and adversaries — God Hand, baybeee — but due to the fantastically insane brutality that the series portrays, the world the characters live in is not exactly hygenic. And that’s not counting all the bandit-led skirmishes, or wars between armies, or beings from an alternate plane of existence sacrificing thousands of people over a single night in order to fulfil an eldritch prophecy! Sure, you can say that after walking round day after day up to your shins in blood and corpses, that you’d simply get used to it, but… would you want to??

On the opposite end of the spectrum would be something like the telly shows produced by the creative mastermind that was Gerry Anderson. Series such as UFO, Captain Scarlet, Space: 1999, and Thunderbirds, amongst others, displayed worlds with technological advancements as well as adventure, and for the most part, they were clean. Granted, there were still pressing concerns such as disasters both natural and man-made, or a cold war with an alien race that could replicate any object or thing, or the Earth’s Moon being blasted out of orbit, or the threat of having your organs harvested by beings from another planet, but nothing’s perfect! At least things are clean, for god’s sake; that’s one less thing to worry about.

Going momentarily back to the real-life horror that is 2020, I’d seen a link in my Twitter feed months ago to a product called AIR, by a company called MicroClimate. What it is is a much-better, more futuristically-minded alternative to just donning a cloth mask over one’s face. AIR (their caps, not mine) is an acrylic helmet that covers the front half of one’s head; the back of the head is covered with a comfortable microfibre cloth that extends to the wearer’s neck. A combination of a fan and four HEPA filters keep the air (heh heh) inside the helmet fresh and fog-free. In short, wearing it makes you look as if you’re an astronaut, and that’s fucking amazing. Really, the only downsides to AIR are
+ the name (it’s lazy)
+ it doesn’t have an LED strip inside for lighting, so you can look like Sean Connery in ‘Outland’
+ the only available colour choices are black or white. Those suit my colour pallette fine, but there’s a lack of Factory grey, and
+ it’s USD$300. BOOOO.
It’s my hope that other companies will see MicroClimate’s product and make versions of their own for sale, at lower prices and with additional colour selections, ahem hem. Who wouldn’t want to be an astronaut?

A clever third-party retailer would go ahead and start designing cat ears you could pop on these bad boys

Maybe my praise of a product like AIR also exemplifies my extreme dislike of medieval fantasy. In those types of settings, physical strength will get you far, unless you’re some sort of wizard, whereas in science fiction, technology grants advantages to people across the board. Being a person who values intellectual prowess over physical ability, it’s little wonder why futuristic environments appeal much more to me. If the choice is between spending months training and working out for years, versus buckling myself into a powered exoskeleton or having my body augmented with cybernetic enhancements, I’m obviously going to spring for the quicker and much less sweat-producing option.

So that’s a revelation! You can keep your longhaired musclebound barbarians, and your shire-dwelling hairy-footed dwarves (disgusting), and your knights clad in armour that looks alright until you realise that armour is just barely containing a stench that’s enough to kill a dog. If you need me, I’ll be booking a flight from this orbiting space station to Clavius, but before that, I’m off to make a quick phonecall.

Hmm. Apparently it’s USD$1.70 for a two-minute call from an orbiting space station down to Earth. That’s $1.70 in ‘2001’ money, which was 1968 money, and this is why the economy is in the toilet

Random similar posts, for more timewasting:

This was the Future, Vol.35 on August 16th, 2007

Well, I think it's newsworthy, Part II on October 27th, 2005

4 have spoken to “‘If your castle really was that impressive, it’d have a shower’”

  1. GooseLooney writes:

    I had never thought of the difference in cleanliness between medieval fantasy and sci-fi settings. I suppose it is because I lived in a spotless house as a kid while watching Transformers, Voltron, and the Mighty Orbots. At the same time, my dad would take me camping, fishing, hunting, and pretty much places where there were no showers for days, no plumbing, and gutting fish and animals was pretty standard. A very “unclean” movie that comes to mind is Braveheart, which is probably one of my favorites. Even the castle of King Edward Longshanks seemed filthy. I agree most sci-fi movies with shiny, glistening bulkheads such as Flight of the Navigator are very different. The inside and outside of Max’s ship were spotless! The one sci-fi movie that I think goes against the “code of cleanliness” is Dune. Dust. Worms. Rubber bodysuits that absorb sweat, urine, and feces. Baron Harkonnen! You get the idea. I think your reasons for not getting into medieval fantasy movies are valid. Hopefully, as we move closer to a world with Gynoids, synthetics, and AI, the world will become a cleaner place!

  2. Davecat writes:

    Now that you mention it, yeah; Dune does kinda butt up against the idea of ‘clean SF’. I mean, who will vacuum Arrakis?? I’m sure there’s other titles and franchises in science fiction that are dirty, but I can’t think of any. But not only is Arrakis such a contrast to the decadent (and clean) architecture and design of Salusa Secundus, but the desert planet takes such front and centre stage that one forgets that even wearing a stillsuit, you’re going to end up with sand in your… everywhere.

    It’s also occurred to me there was a castle in Voltron! According to this, it was capable of transformation, but that’s early Eighties anime for you.

    And speaking of ‘unclean’ yet interesting period pieces, Peter Watkins’ ‘Culloden’ from 1964 has been holding my attention since I saw it round at a mates’ over a decade ago. It’s a documentary-style film about the Battle of Culloden in the 1700s, wherein loads of Scots clansmen were basically slaughtered by the English, cos, well, that’s what they did. It was not tidy on any level.

    Mmm, Bo and Boo from the Mighty Orbots.
    Sorry, what was I saying??

  3. claire writes:

    oh my goodness, you must not be able to stomach monty python & the holy grail or life of brian or terry gilliam’s jabberwocky!

    i’ve read a couple different fantasy series where they have alchemists down around the corner who make magical cleaning potions or powders. and msg once wrote a fantasy novel about a scrawny wizard’s apprentice who only knows like 3 spells and one of them is for cleaning things. maybe you’ve just tried the wrong ones!

  4. Davecat writes:

    Maybe you’re right, and I’ve just been reading/viewing the wrong fantasy shows or whatever. Apparently Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is listed as fantasy, and I quite enjoyed the telly series adaptation. And technically speaking, one could argue that the Dishonored series of videogames has fantastical elements, and that’s a series I love. On the other hand, though, the predominant theme of (at least the first) Dishonored is that it’s in a country equivalent to England, which is experiencing something equivalent to the Black Plague. There’s so many corpses littering the streets and houses that you don’t even acknowledge them after a certain point. Not to mention the swarms of rats! Again: gross.

    And Python’s ‘Holy Grail’ and ‘Life of Brian’ are classics! But I think the humour of those films propel me past the fact that people are walking around in literal shit (‘Bring out your dead’, etc).
    I’ve not seen ‘Jabberwocky’ in over twenty years, but I recall thinking it wasn’t up to the Python standard. I mean, it’s sort of a Python film without most of Python, right?

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