This was a blog post I wrote in Turkish 9 years ago. I wanted to discuss these with you, so I imported it here as well.

Firstly, I know that when specific examples are brought up, counterarguments can be presented. I am attempting to discuss based on an average of various fantasy settings.

In today’s post, we will brainstorm a bit. I’m curious about your comments on this topic, especially from those knowledgeable in biology and anthropology, as I’m looking for feedback.

Let’s start with the classic argument: the presence of magic eliminates the need for technology, thereby keeping technology in fantasy worlds at a medieval level. Instead of producing airplanes, there’s flying magic; instead of atomic bombs, there are meteor shower spells; instead of cars, there are summoned magical horses. This reason is why technology has not advanced.

At first glance, this seems like a reasonable thought, but it’s not a good one. Firstly, it feels like we’re oversimplifying by relying on a single factor when we actually have more information at hand. Moreover, it doesn’t explain why thousands of years would be spent in the medieval era in worlds where not everyone has access to magic. You’d think all fantasy worlds have flying carpets instead of elevators and conductors (or should I say, serpent-summoners?) summoning giant snakes instead of trains. But no. What do we have? A vast majority have Tolkien-esque races.

Without discussing the reasons behind our world’s technological success, talking about the stagnation in technology seems incomplete. What are the differences between our world and fantasy worlds? To me, the most obvious difference is the absence of “natural predators,” intelligent beings competing with humans for resources and hindering their expansion. With unlimited and irresponsible access to all the world’s resources, humans began to advance their technology beyond daily survival struggles, leading to uncontrollable population growth, resource consumption, and technological enhancement.

Considering this, we see that humans have had nearly unchallenged access to the resources needed for technology (excluding other humans). The coal needed for the industrial revolution, the trees for construction, vast lands for feeding a high population, and seas that don’t explode in your face when tested with atomic bombs… The list goes on.

In fantasy worlds, there’s a diversity of intelligent beings dense enough to establish a status quo. Races capable of exploiting nature and advancing themselves keep each other in check through conflicting interests, which is actually plausible. You need to mine mountains for large metal war machines, but there are dwarves; the woods where you need wood for cities are inhabited by elves; various monsters and vile races dwell in the swamps you wish to tame; and the plains you wish to cultivate and domesticate are the homeland of orcs. You have to share the flatlands for farming and housing with gnomes, halflings, and other humans.

It’s not just humans affected. If elves wanted to rule the world from their mystic forest homes, they’d face the same issues. When dwarves emerge from their mountains, they encounter humans, elves, and others. Thus, descendants of races that fought with swords, shields, and magic thousands of years ago are still fighting with the same means.

Even more striking is the example of global warming. In recent years, it’s claimed we’ve been destroying nature at an unprecedented rate due to rapid resource consumption and industrialization. The stable increase in atmospheric temperature over millennia has spiked dramatically in the last century. Access to resources is crucial.

When considering the role of magic alone, it seems a bit abstract. However, magic is a more efficient field than science for personal career advancement. Despite making incredible inventions, many scientists in our history didn’t receive the recognition they deserved until decades or even centuries after their deaths. Science is a cumulative process, passed down through generations. Yet, no mage powerful enough has failed to receive the fame, fear, or respect they deserve. Or, in worlds trying to resemble ours, where mythological gods walk among the people distributing miracles or (the evil ones) destroying accumulated culture/science, things get much harder.

Considering that even an average cleric can cure nearly all diseases once a day and provide water to dry villages with just their daily magic (not everyone needs to prepare a shield of faith, after all), this is another argument against the progression hindered by magic. While valid, it’s not sufficient to simply say, “Because, magic!” and move on.

Looking at our world; centuries, even millennia of scientific accumulation and the ability to exploit resources without competition have given us high technology. In contrast, the high competition for resources in fantasy worlds, along with the interventions of magic and magical beings making most innovations obsolete more quickly, keeps technology at a primitive level. A man unable to wait thousands of years for the evolution from fireworks to rockets to attack his enemy with a Scud missile instead studies to become a wizard or sells his soul to become a warlock and drops magic on his enemy’s head.

In summary, in my view, the reasons fantasy worlds remain in the medieval era within their stories extend beyond just magic. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Subscribe to our newsletter!