Fantasy in the Age of Enlightenment

Happy Holidays all!

As I enjoy a well-needed break from work, I have been spending the vast majority of my free time preparing for a campaign that I’m getting ready to run, which takes place during an enlightenment era-inspired setting.

I like to get into a headspace to land the vibes for a campaign, and engaging with relevant media tends to help. So I figured I’d ask our community: what are some of your favorite pieces of media which engage with the enlightenment? Specifically ~1650s-1800s. They could be books, movies, tv shows, or video games, I just want to hear some recommendations!

Thanks much :clinking_glasses:

1 Like

The first that comes to me for that is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. A young man tasked by Queen Elizabeth to stay young forever, and the story of his and later her life through history. Tilda Swinton does an excellent job in the movie too, if you’d rather watch that than read a classic.

1 Like

Bit of an off-the-wall pick here but the first two Vampire Chronicles books set in the 1700 and 1800s fit the bill here. Interview with The Vampire and The Vampire Lestat are as much about the freedom and possibility and terror of rejecting piety and superstition as they are about being hot and immortal.

Seth Dickinson’s Baru Cormorant trilogy engages with plenty of heavy Enlightenment ideas around colonialism and Enlightenment era justifications for slavery, conquest, eugenics and so on. The second and third books delve even deeper into the author’s Marxist politics. It’s a fully realised fantasy setting though and one in where the protagonist is a savant but for maths and economics. Trade is the weapon as much as bloodshed (while recognising that both are inextricably linked).

Well worth a read, imo, but also worth being aware it can be a heavy read!

1 Like

FFIX feels like it’s set during the era of Enlightened Despots in 1700s Europe, and most of the world is still largely unknown (but thankfully not currently planned for mass colonization settlement).

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. Its a lot at each book in the trilogy clocking in at almost 1000 pages, but I never felt bored reading it. (Granted its been a few years since I read them). The novels take place during the enlightenment and feature a lot of historical figures of that time, including a lot of famous philosophers and scientists like Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. It has some light fantasy elements too surrounding many of the characters obsessions with alchemy, and some light SF as well around creating computers. It also features some of the most fun adventuring and heist writing I’ve read. Yeah, there’s a lot going on in that trilogy. Wonderful series that has stuck with me.

1 Like

It’s not quite the same thing as Fantasy in the Age of Enlightenment, but I remember Paul J McAuley’s Pasquale’s Angel being fantasy-adjacent clockpunk in an alternate 16th C Florence. (So, a century earlier than you’re looking for, but still early Enlightenment.)