Fantasy · Features / Articles

Accents in fantasy are mostly British. Does this make it more authentic?

I’ve been pondering this BBC article since yesterday and I think there is a rather simple explanation. Arguably, Tolkein invented the modern fantasy saga in The Lord of the Rings. It is widely acknowledged that the people and races that populated the series were based very much on specific periods of English history.

The Hobbits, who live in the ground and have a simple approach to life are generally considered to be a quasi mix of Iron Age Briton and post-Roman Briton (the areas not occupied by the Saxons in the early part of their migrations and conquest).

There is no doubt that the Dwarves are Vikings. They are portrayed as having Welsh accents in the films. This is because the Vikings colonised a great deal of the Irish Sea area, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

The Elves are influenced by contemporary views of the high society of the Iron Age, the Druids and the leadership and the Shamanistic approach to the immediate pre-Roman society. The language of the Elves too is based on the Celtic dialects. Thankfully we know a lot more now about these fascinating people than we did then despite that a lot of nonsense about the Druids has made its way into the vernacular (a subject for my other blog in the summer methinks!)

Then onto the world of man. The people of Rohan are quite blatantly a mid to late Saxon people with the Germanic artwork and fashions, social structure and beliefs that entails. They also bury their dead in the barrows which was common practice for the pre-Christianised Saxons. Finally, the men of the White City have a distinct high medieval society with enormous cities, a large and well-organised military and clear and defined social structure.

We know that Tolkein took much of his inspiration from English epics such as Beowulf and Germanic folklore such as Nibelungenlied. Also, many of the creatures we see in the books are from Anglo-Germanic folklore. When I consider all of this, it is no great surprise that we as an audience have come to expect English accents from fantasy is the tradition of LOTR. Looking specifically at the aesthetic of the Game of Thrones TV series, it too distinctly has a medieval-ish appearance and in the English speaking world we would automatically think of England and rightly or wrongly, English speaking nations such as the USA and Australia might arguably expect English accents to add to the authenticity (I would love some input here from my American readers on this).

Game of Thrones is on my Kindle. I’m fussy about fantasy and this is the first one in a long long time that I’m looking forward to reading.


6 thoughts on “Accents in fantasy are mostly British. Does this make it more authentic?

  1. I wish I could comment, but I suspec that an English accent is quite strange to Americans particularly. They are so isolated in their media. So it helps to shape a fantasy world if everyone is speaking a little strangely

  2. I love Martin’s series, but they all speak with an American accent in my head. But with Tolkien, yeah, that was definitely a mash of European accents in my head. However, frankly, if you asked me to pick out one from the other – I’d have a hard time (she says while ducking under the table…cheeky American…).

    1. lol, I guess we all sound the same to you. I must admit that there’s only a handful of American accents I can tell apart from each other.

      Though I am one of only a few Brits who can pick out a Canadian accent (ain’t that aboat right eh?)

  3. It’s funny you bring this up. I was always sensitive to the fact that almost any kind of historical period or fantastical film automatically was peopled with British. Personally, an English accent helps “remove” the American audience from the story’s time and place, and automatically makes it a “foreign” and a tiny bit more “authentic” while still being in a language we can understand. It’s as close to Greek as we care to get when watching a movie taking place in classical times without making it difficult to understand, or be forced to read subtitles through an entire film.

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