I don’t think I’m surprising any of you when I say the plots of many well-known fantasy epics are lifted from real history. The most recent case is Game Of Thrones, which started as a retelling of the English War of the Roses. Not just that but you can easily place a map of Westeros over Europe and see what’s what – King’s Landing is so obviously London, for example. This pilfering of / inspiration by history goes further back than J R R Tolkien basing Middle Earth on Europe: The Shire is southern England, the elves are
faggots Scandnavians, and Mordor is the Ottoman Empire. Fuck it, it even goes as far back as the first great fantasy land, Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, where Conan plied his trade. Aquilonia is medieval France, Cimmeria is Scotland, Zingara is Spain and so on.
This came to mind when reading The European Emergence, a history of the world covering AD 1500-1600. It covers the Reformation that Martin Luther kicked off, the Conquistadors laying the smack down on the Aztecs and Incas, the birth of England as a world power under Elizabeth 1st, the rather entertaining Ivan The Terrible of Russia, and then caps it off with the peaking Ottoman Empire under Suleyman 1st and the Mughals marching out of Afghanistan to try it on with the Indians.
Lots going on that century. Most of it warlike. I was struck by how any one page of this book could form the basis of an entire epic fantasy novel. Take this passage from Ivan The Terrible‘s reign:
The lawless last decade of Ivan’s reign was reflected in the chaos and violence of his personal life. His second wife died in 1569 – poisoned, Ivan was later to insist. Two years later he took a new wife, but the marriage was never consummated and the Tsarina was dead within a month; again Ivan suspected foul play. His fourth and fifth wives – both called Anna – were dispatched to nunneries within the space of two years. A brief sixth marriage in 1574 left Ivan widowed again. in 1581 he took a seventh and last wife, Maria Nagaya; this marriage did not prevent him from proposing the following year to Mary Hastings, an English heiress. Queen Elizabeth of England – “the old virgin”, as Ivan called her – had prudently refused his hand in marriage 15 years earlier.
That makes Prince Harry’s marriage to mystery-meat former-whore Meghan seem tame in comparison. Ivan’s personal life sounds like Silvio Berlusconi’s. So should we wish to write an epic fantasy yarn, we’ve got all our court intrigue handled there. But how about some violence, eh? You want some violence? Coming right up. Next paragraph….
In 1581 Ivan came upon his pregnant daughter-in-law in a palace room at Alexandrovskaya Sloboda. Furious to see her wearing only one dress instead of the three dictated by court protocol, the Tsar savagely beat the girl, causing her to miscarry. When [his eldest son] young Ivan dared to remonstrate, his father furiously raised his long wooden staff and stuck him on the head. The Tsarvevich died a few days later, leaving his father crazed with grief.
That’s a scene you could pull straight from Game Of Thrones. I suppose George R R Martin one-upped reality by having old man Lannister shot with a crossbow by his dwarf son while taking a dump. Here’s how Ivan bought it:
On March 18, 1584, feeling refreshed after a long bath, Ivan sat down to play chess with Prince Bogdan Belsky. Suddenly he lost consciousness, falling backwards to the floor. A crowd of anxious officials attempted to revive him, but the rule of Ivan The Terrible had finally come to an end.
Look, all those above quotes come from a single page in this 168-page book, which is but one of twenty volumes. There’s a ton of real life inspiration here. So, I’m sure we are agreed that we’ve got the court intrigue and family squabbles handled for our mooted fantasy novel. But royal courts are big places, so lets weave in another few plot threads, this time inspired by the Ottomans. So, their empire peaked with Suleyman but when he died his successors were rather less competent and more taken with the pleasures of the flesh and the cup.
Selim the Sot [so named for his alcoholism] died in 1574, following a drunken fall on the wet marble floor of the Topkapi baths. [His successor] Murad III is reputed on occasion to have changed the companion of his bed two or three times in a single night , and his demand for beautiful slaves is said to have grossly inflated the prices in the women’s slave market. [Grand Vizier] Sokollu Mehmed was stabbed to death in 1579 by an assassin hired by his enemies. In the remaining 16 years of Murad’s reign the grand vizierate changed no fewer than 10 times.
Is that enough drama for you? Did you know Suleman had used the ‘Law Of Fratricide’ to have his two brothers murdered upon his ascension to the Sultanate, in order to ensure no counter-plotting? It seems Mehmed III saw him and raised him.
Murad’s death in January 1595 occasioned the worst fratricidal massacre in the history of the Ottomans. All 19 brothers of his heir, Mehmed III, were strangled, and in addition 15 slave women who were pregnant by his father were put to death.
Medieval history is fascinating for how brutal and warlike it is. Now, I get that all the highlights are compressed into a single volume covering the whole world in under two hundred pages. Naturally, it’ll focus on the big stuff. Still, I haven’t even gotten into Cortes sneaking into Montezuma’s chambers in his Aztec capital and holding him hostage, then their late-night escape across the wooden causeways over the lake surrounding the city. Or the southern trek by Pizarro to have at the Incas, and the backstage plotting by rival Spaniards in Cuba and Vera Cruz to have King Phillip replace him. Fascinating stuff.
So, should any of you
dickheads readers be struggling for a plot in your next novel, I suggest you peruse one of these Time Life History Of The World books and it’ll be brimming with suggestions.
If that’s all too complex and you’d rather just read about shagging, try my memoir serious. You could even do some of that shagging yourself if you buy Daygame Infinite or Daygame Overkill. Check them out here.
 Well, I’ve done that several times. Meh! I should be a Sultan.