How Fantasy Romanticizes the Concept of Royalty

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One of the staples of fantasy literature are royalty. Royals are so prevalent in both Adult and YA fantasy that it’s harder to look for a book without them than a book with them. You would find the latter in the synopses of nearly every book you come across while the first would need a bit more effort. In itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there’s still a lot to be said about the concept and it can still be explored in various ways, especially by POC authors. Those are the takes on the concept that I find to be refreshing or enjoyable as they put a different twist on it.

In this post, I’ll be tackling the concept of royalty in fantasy specifically in the context of the Medieval European type fantasies we are used to seeing in bookshelves. I’m aware that POC haven’t explored the concept as much as white authors have and so it wouldn’t be fair to compare the two. Meanwhile, there is an over-saturation of Medieval European fantasies and a lack of deeper analysis on its governance, systems, and how flawed it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my royals in fiction as much as anybody but I just want a deeper analysis of the concept and systems that surround and enable it.

Nowadays, political machinations and intrigue are a core staple of fantasy. I’ll be the first to admit that those are my guilty pleasure in the books I read and I tend to be disappointed when it’s lacking. And yet, for all the machinations and intrigue present, I am still hard-pressed to find a fantasy book with a proper parliament or constitution or laws. Or some semblance of actual ruling aside from war. War is always prevalent- the monarch always gives military orders and we see how they’re conducting military campaigns but less is said about domestic and foreign policy (aside from marrying the royalty of neighboring kingdoms).

What this results to is a fixation on absolute monarchy. There are lords and ladies sure, and an aristocracy, but they mostly exist to either: 1) prop up the absolute monarch and give them their unconditional support or 2) plot against the monarch in order to get their throne. The question of what to do in case of a terrible monarch is then simplified into: find the rightful heir/someone who could replace him/her as king/queen. It’s simplistic and turns the issue of despotism into find someone else to wear the crown and sit on the throne.

We don’t actually end up questioning the systems that caused the predicament in the first place. We just accept what we’re given and move on. Even in a historical European context, this actually shouldn’t hold much weight. Historically speaking, monarchs and the aristocracy held the most power when the citizenry are downtrodden. In most fantasies, this happens. But when the citizenry are more empowered, when they are educated, they revolt, they protest. They do the kind of things that lead to the creation of parliaments and constitutions. And in the long run, an actual democracy.

In fantasy, many of our heroes happen to be the royal. “But that’s okay!”, the narrative tells us. They’re good and different from the bad royals. They’ll fix things and everything will be fine. Again, no analysis of the structures that got them there in the first place or of the flaws within that particular system of governance.

On a certain level, maybe we don’t actually expect our fantasy books to do that. We just want a good story where the heroes win and the righteous and good rule. But what happens after? In a monarchical system, their children will rule after and their children after that. There is no guarantee they’ll be good and righteous and the system will just repeat itself.

In many fantasy books, there are no checks and balances to speak of. The monarch’s will is absolute and whatever they say goes. This kind of absolute power is challenged in the form of going against the person in charge instead of the system. This distinction in framing is very important.

I wonder why the systems are almost never challenged? Is it because it makes for a happier ending when our heroes end up on the throne with near-absolute power as opposed to them ending up on the throne but with the added checks and balances of a parliament and a constitution?

The concept of royalty has always been romanticized in the minds of hearts of many. It’s part of their allure, their propaganda. It’s what kept the system going for so long and yes, the idea can be very romantic and seductive. However, recently, I noticed that fantasy has served to somewhat aid in the propaganda of the concept of royalty.

There is a certain sense of satisfaction we get when our heroes win and get their happily ever afters. However, it can sometimes feel that there’s a narrow understanding of what happily ever afters should be. Often, they could end with heroes on the throne and/or married with kids etc. Why aren’t heroes allowed to be mundane, normal after their adventures, content and happy with the people who love and accept them for who they are?

Should good deeds be rewarded with power regardless of how well a person could actually wield said power?

For me, the idea of power as a reward is a romantic notion we could do away with. Power is a burden imposed on those who could wield it, who could utilize it. It’s not something which should be given to some inexperienced teenager because they have a bloodright to it. The obsession on bloodlines and right based on blood and inheritance is ever-present in fiction. However, without deeper analysis on what it really means, the trope can get tiring, trite, a tad over-used.

Personally, I would love to see more fantasy monarchies tackle change, reform, and revolution. History doesn’t stay stagnant, nor does it move in a linear line. Change is a constant in history and it’s something I’d love to see reflected in the systems of fantasy worlds. If fantasy and science fiction do hold up mirrors to reality, I’d like to see it through the systems that permeate their own worlds.

8 thoughts on “How Fantasy Romanticizes the Concept of Royalty

  1. Yessss I agree with everything you said! Royalty, specifically the Medieval European type we always get, is so romanticized! And a lot of the times, actually I think all of the time, it’s the absolute monarchy type, which isn’t that popular in our times today for a very good reason. I just think that authors should think about that before romanticizing the themes the monarchs in their books. But another trope that really irks me is when the long-lost royal heir reclaims their throne and then they declare that they’re gonna change the system to a democracy and everybody supports their decision?? Like they would just agree with some lost descendant of their (probably incompetent) former monarchs? Plus, a lot of the times this long lost heir is just a teenager, so idk why nobody would riot against that decision. It’s also very unrealistic that that change would just occur in a short span of time like their shown in most series epilogues. Anyways, great discussion with such well-articulated thoughts!

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  2. Your Tita Kate

    *slams fist on table* THIS IS THE CONTENT I CAME HERE FOR.

    Personally, I need more explorations of royalty systems as used by POC cultures. It was part of why I was so fascinated by Black Panther – the government system of Wakanda is clearly a monarchy, but it’s one that has thrived and avoided the usual pitfalls and problems. I’m pretty sure the answer is in Marvel comics somewhere lmao but this is why I want fiction to explore that more!! How would power dynamics work given different cultural norms? What exactly would ‘royalty’ entail? But anyway I am done done done DOOOONE with white power fantasy entirely caucasian medieval Europe esque monarchy systems in fiction!

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  3. I more so think the royalty obsession in fantasy in particular comes from the obsession of the middle ages and before that even, and that’s the real problem because it creates so similar and uninspiring settings. Also it’s the «easy» thing to do, with elections that would have to take a part of the story and author build up a complete system around it, as you’re suggesting for monarchs. I completely agree that I love more politics in my fantasy, but I do think it’s not something everyone is interested in, especially if they’re reading for escapism.

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  4. This is such an interesting post! I totally agree, monarchies are romantizes in fantasy and I would love a book about a revolution that didn’t end with a new person on the throne, but that actually brough a change in the political system. I don’t think I have read any fantasy books where at the start is a monarchy and at the end changes to something else, but I would love to read one!

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  5. I agree that the obsession with the medieval ages is part of it. I also get that not everybody might be interested in politics, but I do wish more books don’t shy away from such discussions, unlike nowadays when there’s supposedly a lot of “political intrigue” but no discussion of actual legislation or policies. Thank you for reading!

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  6. Thank you! I agree so much about royalty in POC cultures. There’s a whole lot of difference between the class systems that I really want to see explored a lot more, especially as it’s bound to be pretty different from what we’re used to in current monarchical systems and class hierarchies.

    As for medieval Europe-style worlds, I don’t think I’m done yet but I personally want to see the various revolutions tackled in fantasy fiction.


  7. Thank you for reading! I agree so much. I feel like so many teens in fantasy act like young adults and it drives me insane. It isn’t even historically accurate as teens in history often were disregarded (even monarchy!) for their youth and inexperience. Some long-lost heir has a long shot at best at reform and a far greater chance at failure. Also, I can’t really care for them much as oftentimes, they’re just not prepared for being a ruler and everyone just goes along with it.

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