Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Day to Day in a Primitive Fantasy World

Creating a primitive fantasy world offers writers the challenge of incorporating amenities provided in ways foreign in today's culture. Amenities include things like:
  • bathing
  • using the privy
  • sources of drinking water

To garner details to create a realistic primitive setting, it helps to look at history, back to times when harsh circumstances greeted individuals each morning. Imagine waking without running water. No bathing, flushing a toilet or adding water to the coffee maker.

Bathing In a Primitive Fantasy World

Do people in your fantasy world take baths? Is it a luxury? Fantasy writers have options. Characters bathing in lakes or rivers can be found out by passersby. Another bathing option includes a wooden tub hidden beneath a canopy or tent for privacy. During the summer months, this tub could be found outside in a garden setting. In the winter, it would be found beside a raging fire indoors. Either makes for a setting spilling over with possibilities.

In most primitive fantasy settings, wealth separates classes. The wealthy have more amenities available because they have servants to do the work. One such servant would be the bathman. This servant readies bath accessories and helps their lord or master to get dressed.

Other than the wooden tub, a lavabo makes for an interesting bathing scene. A lavabo is "a large stone basin equipped with a number of small orifices through which water flowed, used for the performance of ablutions." Some of these lavabo were rather ornate. Fantasy writers can carve a lavabo into a shape of a creature relevant to the plot. Although such a tub is historically tied to rituals, it's existence makes for an interesting possibility when designing your fantasy's amenities.

In the Old Testament the Jewish priests washed in a laver. This large basin sat on a pedestal of ornate bronze oxen statues. This bath set outside the Hebrew tabernacle, and represented a spiritual cleansing. Fantasy writers can add an element like this for cleric-like characters.

Growing up, I visited my great-grandparents before they had running water. A basin sat at the door for washing hands as each person entered the house. Such a washbasin can be included in a primitive fantasy world for washing before and after meals. In fancier settings a refillable tank can be placed above the basin to help keep wash water clean, but remember it is someone's job to fill the tank.

The Privy or Latrine In A Primitive Fantasy World

Where do fantasy characters go when it's time to relieve themselves? Privy and latrine are names for toilet commonly used when writing fantasy. Remember, primitive times were crude. Chamber pots were a common household item, used to collect urine and feces and later dumped. For this article we'll look at the more aesthetically pleasing privies that were often used in castles. Much like an indoor outhouse, privies consisted of stone or wooden seats that emptied via a chute into water like a moat or stream. As primitive as this sounds, a privy was a bit of a luxury and unfortunately had to be cleaned. People with this job were called gong farmers.

Another consideration when designing your fantasy privy is lighting. Is there a source of natural light or do characters have to carry a lantern, candle or torch? Is it drafty enough to blow out the light? Also, consider information from the above section and think about whether your privy is equipped with a washbasin. How advanced is your society?

When designing the privy, think about the chute. Is it a way for enemies to gain access, or is it equipped with bars to keep invaders out? If so, who cares for the condition of the bars? Do they rust? Do they need cleaning?

For wealthier fantasy characters, you may want to add a chamber privy. This is nothing more than a seat protruding out form the wall of a private sleeping chamber, but such a convenience may make for an interesting setting in your fantasy novel.

And what about privacy? Do all your characters use the same facilities? What about the guards? As a writer, you can develop facilities that work for your story. Historically, large castles built special towers so guard privies could be located in one place. These emptied into a pit in the basement that made invasion to overcome the guards more difficult. Another common location for guard privies would be within the castle wall construction. Check my article on castles for more information.

Wells As a Source Of Drinking Water

When writing fantasy, strategically place clean water sources to make sense in your plot. Capture the source of drinking water and you capture the people. In primitive cultures wells were a common, essential source of drinking water. When creating larger castles, fantasy writers can dig more than one well in the courtyard or bailey. It may be located within a wooded structure known as a well house or if the society has the technology, the pump house. Wells can also be placed inside a castle setting. If you do this in your fantasy writing consider logistics and keep it near the kitchen or other places where water is often needed.

Because wells are necessary in a primitive setting, another idea when developing your fantasy is a secret well. If you create it, give it purpose. Hide it in the basement or dungeon as a secret way into the castle, or give it magical properties like something that could be used by a healer or in a wizard's dorm.

You've most likely seen buckets tied to ropes to pull water from a well. This method was even used to draw water from one floor to another within a castle as buckets pulled through trap doors from one floor to the next helped avoid carrying water up long staircases. Biblically, in nomadic societies, wells were conquered and filled with large stones so they couldn't be used. Women draped cloth over the mouths of wells to dry grain, which biblically was used as a way to hide men from those searching for them. Be creative. Wells should exist in your primitive fantasy world. Use them in your plot.

Don't Forget the Sense of Smell

With all that we've learned about amenities, consider the sense of smell when writing about a primitive fantasy world. Where do characters draw water? How does the moat smell? How about within the castle? And just think, we didn't even talk about garbage or livestock.

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