One of the things I’ve noticed in a lifetime of reading fantasy literature and playing sports is that the twain seldom meet. For some reason, the inhabitants of fantasy worlds are apparently not much drawn to games of leisure; I don’t claim to know why that is, but I do have a theory.
If you have ever attended a convention or a book-signing, one of the things that will strike you first about the literary community is that it is not comprised of particularly athletic individuals. If one were to choose a word to describe the average fantasy author, “sedentary” would probably be among the first to spring to mind. Now, there are no shortage of overweight couch-potatoes who follow sports on a regular basis, but in general, the more interested in sports an individual happens to be, the less sedentary he is. I therefore conclude, on the basis of mere superficialities such as BMI, that the average fantasy author is less interested in sports than the average individual.
Supporting this idea is the most famous fantasy sport to appear in a fantasy novel, the inimitable game of Quidditch concocted by JK Rowlings. Quidditch is indeed fascinating, as it is an almost perfect example of a faux sport designed by an individual who has never played a sport nor spent more than thirty seconds thinking about what the purpose of a sporting event might be. This may sound extreme, but consider, for example, if the game of basketball was structured according to the rules of Quidditch.
Basketball-Quidditch would look very similar to basketball, albeit with one exception. In addition to the usual game being played out on the court, an additional player would be added to each side, both of whom would stand behind the out-of-bounds line armed with a bucket of tennis balls. These additional players would launch tennis balls at the far basket during the course of play; when one finally went in the game would come to an immediate end and 100 points would be added to his team’s score. Needless to say, since basketball teams seldom score 100 points more than the other team, this additional factor completely removes the value of the rest of the team’s actions; indeed, there is no point to even having the rest of the team take the court in the first place. One can only conclude that Quidditch is an appallingly stupid sport, rivaled only by cricket for sheer implausibility and lack of entertainment value.
It is a pity that sports are so ill-represented in fantasy, especially when the usual medieval environment is perfect for ancient sports such as the insane Sienese pallo, which is little more than Roller Derby on horseback, or the world’s most famous game involving dead goats, buzkashi. If writers devoted one-tenth the time they normally spend creating new orc and elf languages to thinking about what orcs and elves do at play, they might find that the fantasy worlds they create are more believable.