Tuesday, April 3, 2012

York Minster, and rebels in fantasy

Hopped on the train on the weekend to visit York. (That's down in the middle of England, for those who don't know. Kind of halfway between Northumberland and London.)

And look, it's spring! Sunshine! Daffodils beside the wall! Leaves on the trees! ... well, there aren't. Not yet. But we can pretend!

Here's a pic of York Minster, or part of it. it's too big to photograph with a little digital camera.

It's actually the Cathedral of York -- the archbishopric of York is second only to Canterbury in seniority, apparently. But it's called a Minster because it has an Anglo-Saxon connection -- the existing building was built on the site of an old Anglo-Saxon church, before the Normans barged in and did for them. There are also Roman ruins beneath. Old Stuff. Yeah.

And an odd thing occurred to me, while I was inside York Minster, marvelling at Old Stuff:

The English (on the whole) aren't proud of their Civil War.

Granted, this occurred to me as I was listening to our tour guide tell the story of the Minster's stunningly beautiful and acoustically perfect Chapter House, which only narrowly escaped being sold off and pulled down for stone by a bunch of Commonwealth Puritans, who had abolished bishops (as all good Puritans would) and therefore saw no need for a Chapter House.

This tour guide was an Anglican. He didn't like Puritans. But even so, it struck me that you don't hear many English people waxing nostalgic for the good old days of Cromwell and the Protectorate. Sure, it was a while ago. There aren't many 400-year-old English people. But you know what I mean.

Still, it put an odd taste in my mouth. I come from a culture -- and so do Americans -- where rebellion, hell-raising and civil disobedience is lauded. Eureka Stockade. Mutiny on the Bounty. Rum Rebellion. The Wild West, Confederates vs Yankees, the civil rights movement. (Unless you're one of those Marxist fellows, of course, in which case off with your heads! etc.. But never mind about that.)

Fact was, Charles I was an astonishingly bad king with godly delusions. The system needed fixing. They fixed it -- made the monarch accountable -- and it's still fixed today. I think that deserves at least a small round of applause.

Anyway. Obligatory writing-related musing: in high fantasy, we love hereditary monarchies. Mr. Grimy Goat-Herder is the 'rightful king', so he's our hero, no matter what kind of moron he is. The throne is 'his by right'. Why? Because the prophecy says so. And we'll cheer for Grimy while he starts horrendous wars to get his hands on that crown.

Whereas in urban fantasy, we generally 'root' for the rebels. The lone wolves, the kick-ass vampire hunters, the cure-is-worse-than-the-disease law-enforcement types. They're anti-establishment, even if they're part of the establishment they're fighting against. The ones who rebel against authority and never do what they're told.

I also notice (at least it appears this way to me) that there's very little UF on the shelves in England.

Just saying.

Perhaps someone needs to write a kick-ass flintlock-punk UF. Solomon Kane with a purpose. A Puritan Anita Blake who hunts down Royalist vampires and dirty Popish witches for Cromwell's Commonwealth, whilst shagging dashing Cavalier werewolves on the side and secretly flirting with the old religion.

Dunno about you, but I'd read the hell out of that...


  1. Hey! I didn't realise you were visiting us in the UK! York is actually very close to where I live now! Well, close in Australian terms (where 'next door' is 200 miles away :) ). Had I known I would have invited you over for a visit!

    1. Actually, I'm here for a while... temporary move. Will definitely have to catch up sometime!

  2. I LOVED York when I visited back at the turn of the century. Have you done the snickle and alleyways walking tours? There's a great ghost one! :-) Wishing I was there with you, E! :-(

    1. Love me some ghost tours... didn't get the chance this time. Will have to go alone, as the boy doesn't appreciate spooky stuff :)

  3. Gorgeous place, York. And that does sound like a book to be a written :)

    1. Indeed :) file that one away with all the rest...

  4. I second the above comments entirely, living quite literally just a few miles away from our friend above!
    The UF section is a reasonable size in our stores where I am, but only yesterday I was reading this:
    I was quite amused, because if you tried getting shelves with that many sub-genres into our bookstores, well, I just couldn't see it. So I think everything is either lumped under sci-fi/fantasy as a whole, or if you're lucky and go somewhere big like Waterstones, you can find an Urban Fantasy section, and perhaps even one for Dark Romance. Good luck beyond that though...
    For the record, this flintlock-punk concept seems quite cool. I think I could do that quite well too... :)

    1. They do lump everything together. That's okay :) as you say, to separate everything out would only confuse people! I visited the big Forbidden Planet in London and they had UF in with fantasy, but a separate shelf for paranormal romance... sometimes their choice of placement didn't make a whole lotta sense, but hey, they made an effort :)

      I see a lot of UF/paranormal books imported from the US, and UK editions of US-published books. But there's not a lot of locally published UF that I can see. Maybe it's more of an American trend?

    2. Yeah, whether it's a more American trend or not, I don't know. I do know it's been interesting figuring it all out. The London FP is one of THE big ones over here if I remember rightly, and have the rare luxury of shelf space!
      But I think it's a reflection of the fun and games our publishing industry appears to be having as a whole here. The E-book has definitely changed the rules a bit...

  5. "The Protectorate" - if that doesn't sound paranormal, I don't know what does ;-)

  6. Well I guess there's the Parasol Protectorate series, right? Which is odd, because the Queen is in it, isn't she?