Friday, April 6, 2012
F: The Foxfire Books
I'm a crafter, and in addition I just like to know things, so I bought several of the volumes. But as I was working my way through them, I began to ask myself how much these skills would have changed since medieval times and how applicable they would be to your average fantasy world.
Certainly there has been some impact of scientific knowledge -- where exactly is hard to say, since a lot of this stuff is very basic chemistry, physics and math. The chemical reaction that creates soap hasn't changed since it was discovered. What did change was where the fat and the lye came from -- and these books are basic enough that they talk about creating lye from (alkaline) wood ash and water. That hasn't changed in a thousand years, I would bet.
Other things like weaving baskets or building log cabins change with the availability of materials or the needs of those using them, but the underlying principles are the same whether you're in Appalachia or Gondor.
How much bearing these things have on a fantasy story depends on the characters, of course. Princesses and knights probably won't be churning butter or building chairs from scratch very often. I'll confess that I've always taken an interest in the more common folk, in fantasy worlds. The ones that do all the work in the background so that the noble-born main characters can eat a hot meal, get a good night's sleep and a jump on a fresh horse in the morning.
There are many books in this series, and they've been collected and re-collected with different themes -- cookbooks, wine making, etc. -- so they are not difficult to find. I bought the ones that were of most relevance to me (#1, 2, 5 and 8) and they have a place of honor on my reference shelves.