This month's topic is Food in Fantasy, and since I proposed that, it's my turn to host. Welcome one and all!
Stay Me With Apples, Comfort Me With Flagons
Lacking food storage, the now idealized Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers were little safer. As for Neolithic farmers, those enormous stoneworks speak as much fear as reverence: they were at famine's mercy, and they knew it. When the climate changed in Orkney, they opened the top of the Tomb of the Eagles and filled in the centuries-old community temple, a mute testament to the despair of people who felt themselves abandoned, literally, to death.
Before the Industrial Revolution, very little changed. William Langland’s great medieval poem, “Piers Plowman”, is vague if dour about vanity and lust, but to the sin of gluttony it speaks with passionate and specific detail, invoking a society where spring doesn’t mean admiring the pear blossom but hunting desperately for the first green vegetable shoots.
Nowadays, at least in the First World enclave, our food fetish has gone negative: for most of us, food is far too available, far too tempting, far too dangerous. Our bookshops swarm with delectably illustrated cook-books, opposite shelves of diet-books. Our TVs bristle with celebrity chefs and celebrity dieticians attacking red meat, dairy products, processed food. Yet every December, Australians, having largely excised religion, and often present-giving, from their major food-based festival, embark on an orgy of food-buying, preparation and consumption calculated to send their nearest and dearest to an early grave.
Ironically, this Desire-Taboo attitude brings us right back beside the oldest (Western) fantasy stories, of the Judeao-Christian apple and Persephone’s six pomegranate seeds. Unsurprisingly, if from our differing angles, Elsewhere’s food has always been the easiest and most tempting way to get lost precisely where you DON’T want to be.