On Thud and Blunder (1978)
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Categories: Ancient, Medieval

On Thud and Blunder (1978)

a screenshot from a historical drama. The clothes are dark browns, greys, and blacks with light blue hose, the shields are black and faded yellow, the tent is blue-white, and the sky is a faded blue
In medieval films and TV, bright colours are forbidden on the battlefield and colours other than black, grey, brown, and blue are strongly discouraged. A clip from a Flemish historical drama on the Battle of the Golden Spurs from 1302 (The Story of Flanders / Het Verhaal van Vlaanderen (Bert Ceulemans and Filip Lenaerts directors, 2023)

Something elsewhere made me think of Poul Anderson’s classic essay “On Thud and Blunder” about sword-and-sorcery authors who don’t bother to consider the how and why as well as the what. I wanted to check when it was first published and link to the online text.

It was first published in Andrew J. Offutt (ed.), Swords Against Darkness III (Zebra Books, 1978) and reprinted online by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Association. Anderson’s essay was the predecessor to Diana Wyne Jones’ book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (first edition 1996, revised 2006 – Wikipedia).

In a retrospective essay, Bill Ward notes that Anderson unleashed his frustration at heroic fantasy just when Tolkienesque or high fantasy was becoming the dominant type. Niven’s Warlock stories (main series 1969-1982) are also aimed squarely at sword and sorcery with battles between warriors and wizards. Since then, grimdark and romance have become even more popular. I think there is always going to be tension between readers and viewers who cry “none of that works that way!” (or get tired of visual cliches) and readers who don’t mind.

PS. Kari Maaren has filk songs parodying these fictional and folkmore tropes such as “The Prophecy Hotline” https://piped.mha.fi/watch?v=dqnvxiHu_Oc

(scheduled 1 March 2023)

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4 thoughts on “On Thud and Blunder (1978)

  1. dearieme says:

    I wonder when the dingy colours rule came in.


    1. Sean says:

      I wonder too. As I said in a talk last year, the Technicolour films and 90s epics like Dragonheart and Braveheart have lots of colour, but around the time of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator directors decided that their battles had to look dark or faded. I don’t watch a lot of films or TV. Monty Python and the Holy Grail has Dennis the Peasant but that is about “medieval mud” more than “medieval gloom.”

  2. Pavel Vaverka says:

    I think this fashion of dim colours is absence of knowledge from directors or what is worse even intention to make it dark (to induce rough hard medieval times…) Yet Ridley Scott made Last Duel pretty colourful https://www.csfd.cz/film/749685-posledni-souboj/galerie/ But in Czech Republic where we have many books and museums for Medieval, Renaissance fashion, Žižka time’s last movie seems like really bad fantasy https://www.csfd.cz/film/372834-jan-zizka/galerie/ I’m offended by everything in this Žižka adaptation, sadly no billions on my account do it right.

    1. Sean says:

      That Russian film 1612 (Vladimir Khotinenko dir., 2007) did not do the “Gloomy Middle Ages” (but it was set in the 17th century). Maybe Russian propagandists will run out of things to scream about queer people, trans people, and Christianity and start telling their audiences that they need to protect the Rodina from the cultural imperialism of Hollywood visual tropes 🙂

      Or maybe art designers are all red-green colourblind.

      Adorea Olomouc mostly avoids this trope but they focus on the 16th century https://piped.mha.fi/channel/UCpKmU3wa3d05ZIUAC7ZXnCQ

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