Question of the Week: Food & Fantasy

Fantasy novels are stuffed with food references. I don’t think it started with Tolkien, but the hobbit propensity for feasting is certainly a cornerstone of the phenomenon. And hobbits aren’t alone. The elves chow down, too. Two words: lembas bread.

At this point I confess that my wife and I throw an annual Hobbit party, with of course seven meals. (This year might be abbreviated to potluck.)

George R.R. Martin gets ribbed (har!) about the long passages of description he devotes to feasts in his Song of Ice and Fire epic. But those books have inspired cookbooks, official and unofficial,and people buy them. Hell, people throw Game of Thrones dinner parties, too.

What is it about fantasy fiction that attracts so many food references? Are fantasy fans simply more likely to be gourmands? Is it because of the “periods” in which fantasy novels are thought to be set? It occurs to me that┬áMedieval or Renaissance feasts are popular well beyond the membership of the SCA.

As a reader, do you look forward to such descriptions?

As a writer, what compels you to include them?

As a gamer, do you find there’s a similar effect in your campaign? I remember a few players who’ve lingered over the “menu” in the PHB.


4 thoughts on “Question of the Week: Food & Fantasy

  1. Partly a touchstone of realism – people can relate to food and the atmosphere it conjures (the groaning board of a feast or the nasty stew of rundown tavern). Partly to reinforce the fantastic if they’re eating something strange (Temple of Doom monkey brains!)

  2. It can certainly bring some flavor (the puns, oh god, the puns) to the world and even the characters who might have some food-related quirk. As a writer, it’s a solid way to add sensory details to a scene, plus hint at some of the odd creatures in your secondary world or highlight a unique cultural element. As a reader, I can enjoy them so long as the food doesn’t distract from the plot. Though I do recall one of Stephen Brust’s Jhereg novels having the “action” scenes parallel scenes where the main character sat through an enormously involved feast–but it worked for the story structure in that specific instance.

    Have you run across Fran Wilde’s Cooking the Books series?

    It’s a fun bunch of posts she’s done where she covers all sorts of food-related topics in the context of fantasy and science fiction. Lots of fun recipes too.

  3. Every character I seem to play in the past few years, cooks, obsesses about food, and make sure it comes up in play. Including last night as I was packing a pony with food for a long trip across a mountain pass (rice, salted dried fish, and tubers with a little fresh food for the first few days). I may have a problem.

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