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Monday, September 19, 2011

The Eager Peasantry

The Eager Peasantry

In a whole lot of fantasy, you will see a prince or a nobleman saying a few words, and rallying all the peasants and merchants under his banner in a few minutes. These commoners will leave behind crops, families, homes, and livelihoods and march off to death, but, for what? These are people who often live in small villages, far away from the grand palaces and castles, and live quiet, honest lives. If a nobleman suddenly popped up from nowhere and said,
"Hey, everyone, the throne has been usurped by an evil sorcerer, and the king is in the dungeons. Let's go free him and restore the crown to the rightful man!"
Do you think they would all drop their plows, grab a pitchfork, and go? I don't think that's realistic. Here's an example from Red Sea Rising of a very different sort of peasantry. Berwyn is the son of a nobleman, Korenthel is a former servant of Berwyn's father, and Marthos is the villain.

///Berwyn soon learned that the work on a farm was extremely hard; his muscles ached at first, unused to the labor, but after a while he became accustomed to it.
However, it was even more difficult to get anyone to pledge their support to an army that had less than fifty men, few weapons, and a leader that was only sixteen years old.
Berwyn and Korenthel tried to persuade the farmers and villagers of Marthos' treachery, but they only said,
"He won't worry us. We are small and hidden, and are no threat to him."
Berwyn quickly became frustrated.
"If these people were truly subjects of their rightful king, they would rise in arms at once. We would have to restrain them from attacking the palace, instead of pushing them to think about joining us."
"Sir," said Korenthel. "That may be, but they're simple men: farmers, bakers. They see us, six men on the run from Marthos ourselves. Yes, we tell them we have a few others elsewhere, but they don't see them. And fifteen or twenty is not a most inspiring number, is it?"
"But we will never have more, if they only look at our small number now, and say it is hopeless even to try!"
"We must persuade them. They are loyal to the king, as far as that goes. It would take threats from Marthos to turn them against us, but they are not soldiers, they do not think in terms of bravery, or courage. They measure a man by how large his farm is, or how fair he is in his dealings."
"You seem to know a great deal about them," said Berwyn.
"You forget, sir, that I've lived and worked with them for years. I almost consider myself a farmer."
Berwyn sighed.
"Then what are we going to do? If we cannot convince them, then we might as well give up the endeavor."
"Nay, sir! Have you nothing of your father in you? I told you that it might take a long time before we are ready to challenge Marthos, but great things take time and work. We cannot expect farming men to drop their plows, leave their families, and go to their deaths all in a moment, simply because we told them they should, can we?"
"No," said Berwyn. "I suppose not."\\\

The people of this village are not so ready to listen! And I think this is much more realistic, as well. Berwyn, as a nobleman, really does expect them to drop everything. He knows the king, he knows the prince, and his own father was murdered, so it is easy for him to feel the importance of it; but the farmers probably know very little about the royal family or Marthos, and perhaps do not even believe Berwyn or Korenthel. They are, above all, very practical; why should they die for some nobleman whom they don't even know?
So, does anyone have any other ideas of how to write common people so that they don't seem like automatons that will just do whatever the 'good guys' say?

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine has said that there are three kinds of people in the world: Sheep, Sheep Dogs, and Wolves. Wolves are the villains and predators of the world. Sheep are the ones the wolves victimize and prey on. Sheep Dogs are the ones who stand up and fight the wolves to protect the sheep. Unfortunately, the vast, vast majority of people are sheep. Not only are they helpless to fight if need be, they don't want to fight, they refuse to acknowledge a need for fighting, they think the Sheep Dogs are ridiculous for choosing to fight, and most of the time they're even scared of the Sheep Dogs. That's just the way it is.
    It looks to me like your Berwyn is a Sheep Dog trying to persuade a bunch of Sheep to become Sheep Dogs... which is a very realistic situation. It happens in real life all too often.
    Excellent post, Laura. I love all the thought you're putting into the issue of realistically portraying human nature in fiction. Keep up the good work!