Hoffman on Hard Fantasy and the Absence of Law

Hoffman on Hard Fantasy and the Absence of Law.

It turns out that Dave Hoffman and I have more in common than just being corporate law professors and bloggers. We also both like fantasy. In an interesting post, Hoffman looks at the turn towards what he calls “hard fantasy.” Several of the writers he discusses are new to me, so I’m going to be adding some of his suggestions to my summer reading list.

Dave then turns to a question that also interests me; namely, the absence of law in fantasy:

Finally, it is worth briefly thinking about the relationship between epic fantasy and law. Although the legal aspects of fantasy role playing games are now well-marked out, there has been little work (outside of the Potterverse) on how fantasy authors imagine legal rules’ role in society. If epic fantasy is read largely by adolescent boys, this missing attention makes a great deal of sense. You don’t see law review articles about Maxim. But, if fantasy, or hard fantasy, has become a literature for the rest of the population, it is worth thinking about the complete and total absence of civil law in these books, and the light touch of criminal law more generally. Is it impossible to imagine lawsuits and magic coexisting in the same society?

In fact, it’s quite easy to imagine them coexisting. The Lord Darcy series combined mystery and police procedural with fantasy. In one of the early Anita Blake books, a zombie is raised to give evidence on a disputed will. Yet, as Hoffman points out, it is rare. In contrast, as Paul Joseph discusses in an interesting essay, law is common in science fiction. (Does that suggest that fantasy is less concerned with “social, religious, moral, and cultural consequences” than SF?)

The absence of law from fantasy is especially curious given that most fantasy takes place in a vaguely Middle Age, vaguely English setting. Law was pervasive in the Middle Ages. You had a substantial body of common law (especially dealing with property disputes), constitutional law (Magna Carta), statutes, canon law, and even transnational law in the form of the Law Merchant. Since many in those same era also believed in magic, why should one not be able to combine them?

Some good fantasy author ought to sit down with sources like Maine’s Ancient Law or Hale’s History of the Common Law of England and see what they come up with. [ProfessorBainbridge.com®]

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