* Merrie Olde England is the quintessential medieval kingdom. (Cue Robin Hood, jousts, chicken legs, friars, & c.)
* London is its capital.
* Therefore a realistic medieval city will follow the same planning logic (or lack thereof) as London.
First of all, this isn't even true of the medieval world, where most urban dwellers by numbers lived in Chinese cities built on a grid system. All right, it isn't even true of medieval Europe, where the Mediterranean world had Roman city planning to build around -- although as this lecture points out, the original grid often got clogged and complicated for reasons very different from cows needing to find water. None of these reasons enter into Tolkien's world.
|Another totally unrealistic fantasy city.|
The city, in fiction, endured for a thousand years without any of the economic burgeoning or social decay in Tolkien's world that the real European Middle Ages experienced. Again, you can bust Tolkien's world for its assumption that vital goods are dutifully brought by silent farmers to the real scene of the action, where kings and knights rule steadily and wisely unless interrupted by Sauron's evil meddling. But Osgiliath's design in that Middle Earth Roleplaying product, its rational avenues and small size, fits perfectly with those assumptions in Tolkien's very low population density world.
The military critique is another thing, and you can surely see how Osgiliath fell --five hundred orcs in canoes floating downstream would be enough to cause serious havoc. Consider, however, that the place was founded as a refuge on a seemingly peaceful continent, and there might be room for the kind of planning hubris that plagues purpose-built capital cities ("But you must live on both banks of the river so I can build the BIGGEST BRIDGE THERE IS!")
- Yes, there is room for a materialist analysis of fantasy literature and gaming.
- That analysis, however, has to proceed from the terms of the fantasy world itself.
- So, internal contradictions raise the most problems.
- External contradictions are problems only if people think they are not -- like the popular view that Tolkien's world embodies "the medieval" (instead of what it does, which is to completely skirt around the medieval with an 18th-century bucolic society's view of the sanitized sub-Roman Dark Age in which it finds itself)
- Analysis from original sources will always beat received ideas. I mean, the next fantasy city I design is at high risk to be, like Florence, a rational avenue-planned city now dominated by the blocked-off compounds of warring clans, arrow towers and all.