[Ed. Note: I'm on vacation till Saturday, July 30th, so I'm publishing some old posts I drafted but never published. Some of these might be rough around the edges. Also note that it may be difficult for me to respond to comments. But feel to discuss!]
A brief detour into pop culture.
I haven’t seen the recent HBO miniseries Game of Thrones, although I read the first book in the series on which it’s based. I have been told, however, that the television adaptation continues the tradition whereby all characters within a fantasy milieu must speak with British accents. This disappoints me slightly.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book, but I admired the fact that it had a more contemporary (and maybe even American?) sensibility. The series has a mostly British cast, but why need we create yet another British fantasy world in the first place? It’s completely subjective of course, but something in the novel read very American to me. Other experiences may differ.
Don’t get me wrong: I know there are some aesthetic reasons for not using American accents in fantasy. We never had castles in North America (outside of architectural curios built by wealthy 19th-Century magnates). Nor have we had armored knights, kings, lusty tavern wenches, or any of the other staples of fantasy literature. I can see why it would be jarring to hear American accents within such a medieval milieu.
But at the same time, nobody spoke anything approaching modern British accents in medieval times either. Or, for that matter, anything like modern English, period. So why the Britishness?
Tolkien might have something to do with it. He rooted much of his world on the mythology, languages and history of the British Isles (indeed, borrowing from Welsh to construct several of his languages). Middle Earth resembles a pastiche of imagery close to the heart of British identity, and we’ve perhaps never let go of fantasy’s association with that corner of the world.
Interestingly, when fantasy breaks out of the sword and sorcery mold, the unspoken rule that fantasy must sound British seems to relax a bit. The New Zealand-filmed Xena and Hercules shows from the 1990s had actors speak American accents, despite a fairly low percentage of actual American actors in the cast. But the tradition has never quite died out in other works. (And I’m not even mentioning the related use of British accents in movies set in ancient Rome).
Must fantasy be spoken with a British accent?