Now that The Hobbit movie has brought Middle-earth back to the top of our minds, along with the Game of Thrones and the new show about Vikings, I think the medieval time period is about to experience a resurgence in popularity.
Tolkien’s vision of Middle-earth was of a place before the Industrial Revolution, before machinery and factories and the dark satanic mills that so disrupted the pastoral beauty of the England he cherished. A medieval society, in fact; a place where things were simpler, slower, and more real. Nowadays, thanks to Tolkien’s vision, the world of high fantasy is generally portrayed as a medieval society with magic. The steampunk genre has pushed the boundaries of the magical realm to the pre-electronic era — mechanical technology, yes, but that is it.
Apparently, magic and modern science really can’t co-exist. Tolkien managed that problem by creating a place in which machinery and industry never happened — no guns, no factories, that sort of thing. JK Rowling put magic in a kind of special “bubble world,” secret and separate from the everyday world. Jim Butcher’s wizard, Harry Dresden, has so much magical power in him that he short-circuits every electronic device he comes near — computers, telephones, even cars don’t work right around him.
Why is this? Why can’t there be magic and science? Maybe because as our own technology speeds up our lives, we have a harder time figuring out what’s “real” and what’s “not-real,” and the longing for security leads people to favor stories that take place in an environment where we’re all closer to the earth.
So, if you’ve been longing to write (or read) a tale of knights and wizards, of mysterious power and arcane lore, now’s the time. My money’s on the medieval era as the new cool place to be.