Friday, January 25, 2013
Medicine and Healing in Fantasy
Now, as a writer, there's a definite silver lining to this otherwise-unfortunate circumstance. That is to say, if I ever need to write a character who develops an infection and has to have surgery or is anesthetized, then I'll know what it's like! And, what's more, it got me thinking about medicine and healing in fantasy. So let's explore that topic in today's blog post.
Fantasy stories are by their very nature dangerous. Whether your hero battles a fire-breathing dragon or your heroine takes up swordfighting, the chances are quite high that one of your characters will be injured in the course of your story. (If no one gets injured in your entire story, well, maybe now's your chance to re-think your strategy.) What, then, is your poor bleeding character to do? Below, I'll explore several options for types of medicine and healing that you could use in your story.
1. Herbal Lore
Pros: This is really the quintessential fantasy healing method. For example, in Lord of the Rings, Aragorn's athelas or kingsfoil plant brings healing to people who have been hurt by the Nazgul. It can be quite effective in medieval-style fantasies in particular.
Cons: On the other hand, it seems to me that so many fantasy stories abound with strange herbs with interesting properties. If you are going to use herbal remedies, then make them unique somehow. Beautiful flowers, meaningful symbolism, deceptive appearance--the options are almost unlimited. Another thing to keep in mind is that it takes quite a lot of knowledge and training and skill to find and administer herbal cures. In other words, don't let just anyone plaster plants on your characters!
2. Magical Healing
Pros: Again, this is a method of healing that feels quite natural in most fantasy stories. Plus, in some cases, you may have situations where characters aren't affected by regular diseases or wounds but rather by dark and evil forces at work. In such situations, magical healing may be the only cure. Remember Radagast the Brown in the Hobbit, when he heals that tiny and absolutely adorable hedgehog Sebastian? That's a situation in which magical healing works wonderfully.
Cons: Magical healing can't be a cure-all for any problem. Even in a magical and fantastic world, there needs to be pain and suffering and loss in order to make your story meaningful. For example, again in Lord of the Rings, when Frodo returns to the Shire, he feels the pain of the sword-stab he received on Weathertop. In the end, the pain of his wounds (physical and, perhaps, spiritual) makes him decide to leave Middle-Earth forever.
3. Modern Medicine
Pros: Using modern medicine like painkillers and antibiotics and stitches is quite an unusual choice for a fantasy story. Because it's so rare, it's always very interesting. And, too, if you introduce some sort of epidemic like the plague, then modern medicine can offer quite effective cures. In an old version of a fantasy story I was writing, teens from earth get transported to another world, and they are carrying modern medicines that they use in the story.
Cons: Obviously, modern medicine would not work in every novel. Some fantasies are so historical in nature that using modern medicine would be out of place. However, sometimes you can borrow concepts and ideas from modern medicine and translate them into your story in ways that would work. Also, don't forget that modern medicine requires a whole lot of training. To become a doctor or a nurse, you need to go through years and years of rigorous schooling. Even in a fantasy story, don't cut corners--make your healers work for their medical skill.
Medicine and healing in fantasy is such a broad topic that one blog post can't begin to cover everything. What about medical schools? Hospitals? Apprenticeships? Well, maybe that will be a post for another day. In the meantime, let me know what type of healing you use in your own stories or particular forms of medicine you've noticed in other books. Stay healthy, and keep writing!