I am sitting at the moment on a beach watching dawn brighten over the mountains in the east, without another human or (barely) anything built by same in sight. There is no electricity here, no landline or cell phone service, nothing that we didn’t bring in ourselves. (And since a 100-year-old alder tree came down in recent weeks near the turnoff from the main (one-lane, gravel) road, we had to hump everything we brought in a fair ways.) Tiny fish are feeding out on the nearly glass-smooth ocean, looking like raindrops, a couple of otters are arguing and splashing on the little islend across the way. A woodpecker has waked up and is rattling in the forest behind me. It’s so quiet I can hear a seagull complaining on a reef two miles away.
A great deal of fantasy takes place in non-technological settings very different from those most who write and consume it live in. I’ve been spending a part of every summer since I was 8 or 9 on this beach, and it serves as a reference when I read or write such fantasy. One thing that is on my mind at the moment is how much work simple things require. Getting a drink of water, for example…. This year the pipe from the well seems to blocked, so we had to fetch water from the nearest reliable source. In this case that was a hand pump at a provincial park a half-hour’s drive away, and we only had to haul it the last quarter mile by hand. OK, I got my drink. Now I’m weighing the pros and cons of using some of that water for personal hygiene (which might mean having to make the trip again today), or waiting to wash until the well issue is addressed. The well water is icy, and to take a warm shower (I usually go for cold) you have to heat it on the propane stove, then drag that into the bathroom.
Long ago I read that to achieve the level of comfort in a modern middle-class household in medieval times would require over a hundred servants. One thing significant in this for story-telling and world-building purposes is not just that, lacking a hundred servants devoted solely to your personal comfort, you have to do it yourself, but that if you do it yourself you have then used up your day. To cook and clean up a meal requires firewood (we didn’t always have the propane stove), starting the fire, water, fetching the water, ingredients… did you grow them yourself? Then you spent a big part of your day in the garden. The chores are rarely done. If you are also taking care of your children, they are never, ever done. The great appeal of running away from the farm, I am thinking at the moment) to become a mercenary or quest after mystic power is that you can take, or be offered, or conjure out of thin air, the products of other people’s time and labor for your own. But reading, or learning magic, or practicing the sword, is something that requires leisure…. which is why the folks in the hero’s initial situation so often frown upon the same.