The beauty of true fantasy is that there are about three rules. You need magic, you need a magical world, and you need a bad guy. Beyond that, there really isn’t a whole lot to restrict the story. But…(yes, the dreaded “but”)…there are three things that are the equivalent of talons on the chalkboard for me.
Okay, okay, so I admit that technically I can’t take off points if a fantasy book isn’t historically accurate, but these are things to do with the weaponry and lifestyle. So they count, right?
1. Knights being hoisted onto horse’s back via a pulley system
I haven’t seen this one in awhile (I think the last time I saw it was in The Once and Future King), but I will mention it anyway. In reality, a knight’s armor was heavy and uncomfortable, but it wasn’t so heavy that they couldn’t mount their horses. If it had been that heavy, ground combat for knights would have been a death-sentence, particularly if they were going up against lighter footsoldiers. There was the problem of knights easily expiring from heatstroke because metal, of course, doesn’t breathe, but that’s a topic for another time.
2. Boiling oil poured from castle during siege
I’m sure we’ve all seen this one, right? The bubbling-hot, pitch-black goo sent raining down on the heads of screaming invaders and then set on fire with a flaming arrow. I think this one was in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance, though I’d have to check. Boiling oil looks really intense and scary and, let’s face it, morbidly cool. But I’ve found mixed reports on this one. Some say that it was used while others say that oil was too expensive for it to be literally thrown out the window. Boiling water was sometimes used, as well as animal fat, heated sand, resin, pitch, and they would have a similar effect. But oil was something that needed to be saved, especially if you were in a siege and didn’t know when you would be able to resupply.
3. “Fired” an arrow
This one bugs me the most and I can thank my former-Marine, Naval Academy-graduate father for ruining this term for me. A number of writers use this term. Heck, The Lord of the Rings movies used this term a number of times. But I started thinking about it one day and asked my father if it was accurate. He confirmed my suspicions that the term “fire” in reference to volleys, did not come into use until the advent of firearms. Up until that point they said “loose,” which makes more sense, right? I think they did sometimes use fiery arrows, but not enough to make the term “fire” stick.
Any writer could get away with any one or all of these things. They’re all subjective to how “accurate” the writer wants his/her fantasy story to be. But they still drive me bonkers! Now the question is: Are they going to bug you?