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Anachronism Stew / Literature

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King Arthur stories

  • More often than not, the Knights of the Round Table are portrayed in plate-and-mail armor with big chargers that didn't get to Western Europe until hundreds of years after these myths supposedly took place. This dates back to Malory.
  • Knights living in huge stone castles. There were no new stone fortifications built in Britain between the 6th century and the 11th century. Most of the old Roman forts were abandoned, dismantled for their stone, or repurposed. All of the great castles were built following the Norman Conquest.
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  • The Knights of the Round Table themselves, as feudalism had not yet arisen in the Roman-era Britain when the historical Arthur is believed to have lived.
  • The majority of the anachronisms in the Arthurian mythos came from French poets reading the History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth and changing society/technology to coincide with medieval French society/technology.
  • The Once and Future King carries this farther than most, even apart from those anachronisms introduced by backwards-living Merlyn.
    • Arthur meets Robin Wood as a child (totally different guy).
    • The narrator tells the readers at the beginning that some of the anachronisms are done just to give them the general feel for what is going on. For example, the first chapter tells of Sir Ector and his friend drinking Port. White explains that it's not really Port that they're drinking, but he uses that name because readers would be familiar with it.
    • Actual monarchs of the 14th century are referred to as mythical figures. Which places it after the 14th century, or an alternate 14th century where Arthur and the historic monarchs swap places or something. And Tom Mallory (1415-1471) appears on the eve of the final battle. White once said that if you piece all the references from the different books together, you will be forced to the conclusion that the end of Arthur's reign came centuries before its beginning.
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  • White's book was, in turn, referenced by Terry Pratchett's story Once and Future, where Mervin, a time traveller stuck in the past, adds to already anachronistic setting of the Arthurian mythos. He ends up re-enacting the King Arthur legend... except for that final twist...
  • The "courtly love" mythos — including the very existence of Sir Lancelot — and the Grail legends were introduced to the Arthurian legends by remorseless retcon.
  • The all-time champion of Arthurian anachronism was Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival, his version of the Grail Quest, adds sixth century Africans who worship Jupiter and Juno while practicing high medieval courtly love.
  • Peter David's Knight Life Series of Arthur in the modern era. Percival, who gained immortality by drinking from the Grail cup while healthy, is portrayed as a Moor.
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  • King Arthur Pendragon deserves mention for resolving the Anachronism Stew of the Arthurian legends by having King Arthur's reign magically feature technology advancing at super speed from Dark Ages to high medieval, until history re-asserts itself after the Battle of Camlann.
  • Justified and lampshaded in A Hard Day's Knight, in which the shiny armor is worn by Arthur and his vassals was forged by armorers acting under the explicit instructions of Merlin, who'd peeked into the future to see how later generations of warriors were kitted out. This also explains why Arthur could kick ass on every other military force in 6th century Britain: his guys were more or less invulnerable to the weapons of his rivals.


  • Daniel Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events:
    • The film, deliberately. The characters, environments, and vehicles seem to be early 20th century, but fax machines and reel-to-reel car tape decks and carphones seem to be 80s, and Olaf mentions a cell phone in a deleted scene. Given that Poe actually has to feel himself to check, one assumes that giant 80s-style cell phones aren't common at the time.
    • The books keep the time period as vague as possible, easily taking place any time in the 20th century, and the only real definite is that it takes place in the past but whether it's a hundred years ago or last month, it's never certain.
    • What with the computer in "The Austere Academy" being small and able to display a picture and may or may not be able to fake photographs, it definitely takes place sometime after the 50s, or at least at a point when computers did not fill a room.
    • Handler has way too much fun with this. At one point a location is mentioned to have three shops. One is a computer repair shop. Another is a blacksmith shop. Have fun figuring out what time period those two establishments could coexist in.
    • There is a story that goes when Handler was asked when the story took place, he simply answered, "The year of the rat."
  • The Canterbury Tales has the Knight's Tale, which ostensibly takes place in Bronze Age Thebes under the reign of the legendary hero Theseus, but borrows a lot of terminology, social norms, and technology from medieval courtly-love stories. This is one of the reasons it's often assumed to be something of a parody.
  • In Johannes Cabal the Necromancer and related works the time period is deliberately vague so as to accommodate numerous different contradictory facts-the Germanies are a thing as opposed to one German nation-but its implied World War 1 is over. Cars don't seem to be a thing, but fairly fantastic aeroships are. References to Al Capone and media of the 1960s are tossed about, but the settings largely resemble early 19th century Europe.
  • Michael Crichton's The 13th Warrior is remarkably true to real history, aside from the obviously fictional and fantastic nature of the "Eaters of the Dead" themselves, and the fact that the real ibn Fadlan never traveled all the way up north to help the Vikings fight Neanderthals, given that much of the book is based on a historical figure's travelogue. As a result, it's so much cooler. However, there's one minor anachronism... in the basic premise. The plot of the novel is obviously meant to be a "real life" inspiration for Beowulf, a poem that most scholars think was written at least a century before ibn Fadlan lived.
  • Also used by none other than the poet Homer. The Iliad and The Odyssey were set in Achæe (Mycenæan-Era Greece), but contain a wild mixture of elements from the Archaic and Classical periods with a few Mycenæan leftovers thrown in for good measure. For example, boar-tooth helmets were Mycenæan, but funeral pyres belong to a later era.
  • The ancient Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge features chariot warfare, but there is no archaeological evidence that chariots were ever used in Ireland. This suggests that the tale (or parts of it) is very old indeed, dating to the time when the Celts still lived in continental Europe.
    • Although the description of Cuchulain's chariot as being festooned with hooks, blades and scythes on the wheels so as to rend and cut down the foe had one surprising consequence. Victorian translations of the Irish mythology were taken as fact by period historians, who assumed all Celtic chariots had scythes on the hubcaps. Thus, Boudicca acquired the courtesy detail by default, as was only fitting. In fact no chariot, at least in the British Isles, ever had scythes and the Romans never mentioned coming up against them...
  • Chris Elliot's novel, The Shroud of the Thwacker, set in the 1890s, features gas-powered cellphones, among other things.
  • One for the Morning Glory, where it is lampshaded as well; when Sir John drinks tea, he wonders whether it is really suitable to be drinking tea, and the Duke dismisses that as a consideration only for those lands that are merely actual.
  • Gene Wolfe's New Sun series of novels take place a looong way in the future (the techno-fantasy "post-historical" era where Stone-Age Man, the Modern Era, and the Galaxy-Spanning Imperial Era are all lumped together as the "Age of Myth"). The basic technology and society are late medieval. But at some point time travel had been commonplace, so remnants of all eras of history are common - military energy weapons right along with swords, antigravity craft and ox-drawn wagons, sabretooth tigers and starships, electricians organized like a medieval craft guild, medical men just as likely to use genetic engineering as an herbal infusion, etc. One of the appendices even points out that there are three separate levels of technology: the "smith" level (medieval), the "Urth" level (roughly 20th century plus some genetic engineering) and the "stellar" level (highly powerful artifacts that can only be obtained from extraterrestrials.) It's all justified by the fact that the planet has been exhausted of most resources and can no longer sustain a technological society or educate most of its inhabitants, but the old knowledge remains in a few places.
  • The Aeneid features Aeneas, fleeing the destruction of Troy, landing at Carthage... which wasn't founded until hundreds of years later.
  • The Mistborn series is built on this. While at first glance it appears to be your standard medieval setting, it turns out there are working pocket watches, gunpowder (though it isn't used), and a knowledge of metallurgy and medicine that rivals our own. Turns out this was intentional: What do you think happens when the world is ruled for a thousand years by an immortal god-emperor who doesn't like change? Said god-emperor, while deliberately stagnating many technological developments, also develops the canning process (metal cans were invented in 1810) and other advancements but keeps them strictly under his own control.
    • As well, the knowledge of metallurgy is a Justified Trope given that the magic used by the world's nobles is run on specifically mixed metals.
  • The Bible, especially in some versions/translations, has been known to contain a few anachronisms since often the "books" composing it were written some time after the events were supposed to have taken place. For example the descriptions of armor, especially that worn by Goliath, in 1 Samuel 17 are typical of Greek armour of the 6th century BC rather than of Philistine armour of the 10th century BC.
    • The original Hebrewtext is, however, a surprisingly accurate descritpion of the 11th century BC maryannu.
    • The Tribes of Israel are Ret-Conned as having extensively used iron weapons - Deborah is given a battle chariot protected by iron plates - even though bronze would have been universal for all peoples - including mighty Egypt - in this time period. And ignoring that in another passage Israel was unable to defeat an enemy army because the enemy possessed iron chariots.
    • All of the Hebrew Bible from Genesis through 2 Kings wasn't written down and in its final form until around 500 BC or later, so descriptions such as the above would be based on contemporary examples.
    • The Apocrypha— books written between the Old and New Testaments not found in Protestant Bibles (but found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, and considered inspired Scripture) often have these. Whether or not this is deliberate is debated. Some, like Judith, are so riddled with anachronisms that they are essentially the Israelite equivalent of a Tarantino film (only with more morals).
      • The book of Tobit takes place in the 8th century BCE but uses quotes from the books of Chronicles (which many scholars date to the 4th century BCE.)
      • The Book of Judith begins by declaring Nebuchadnezzar as the king who "ruled over the Assyrians", though he actually ruled over the Babylonians. A Catholic Bible commentary suggests that this was an Assyrian king that went by this name that was a contemporary of King Manasseh of Judah, and thus should not be confused with the Babylonian king.

  • George MacDonald Fraser's The Pyrates is a colossal Anachronism Stew, with seventeenth century pirates riding around in catamarans and using face cream. Fraser was a diligent researcher and knew exactly what he was doing, even lampshading it in a few places.
  • The Princess Bride actually uses the invention of stew to clarify its chronology. Most definitely Rule of Funny and metahumor. William Goldman often states that the time he's talking about is before one thing, but after another — often putting them in ahistorical order, as when he says it's set "before Europe and after America".
  • Secret of the Sixth Magic by Lyndon Hardy has an in-universe example (for another universe's history) — the sorcerer Farnel is said to have lost out in competitions against other illusion-crafters, because his simulations of famous historical events succumbed to Anachronism Stew. Apparently this trope isn't just universal, it's multiversal.
  • The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists by Gideon Defoe, is set in the 1800's and yet there are things like tap water onboard a pirate ship, crazy golf, after eight mints, and Coco-Pops. It's not as a jarring as other examples though, as it's all played for laughs.
  • This is the signature style of Andrei Belyanin, whose novels are deliberately filled with anachronisms. Justified in several cases due to magical settings and/or Time Travel. Since his books tend to be humorous in nature, the readers don't mind it in the least. The attempts of a modern-day cop at lecturing a medieval tsar on the concept of "innocent until presumed guilty" (instead of the tsar's usual Off with His Head! approach to all suspects) and the need for a proper investigation are downright hilarious. Sometimes, though, it makes no sense, such as in Jack the Mad King, where Jack is talking with a giant using modern-day street slang.
  • This is generally averted for historical settings in Time Scout, as the authors attempted to be as accurate as possible. However, the time terminal that forms the main setting is deliberately a stew, and justified, as every time gate is surrounded by a lot of shops and restaurants based on that time period's theme, and the time terminal's residents wear whatever they want and tend to wander. Connie Logan, proprietor of Clothes and Stuff, is walking Anachronism Stew, wearing multiple articles of clothing from multiple periods as she tries out new designs for comfort and wear. She switches out multiple items over the course of a conversation. As for the historical destinations, the authors tried, but made a few mistakes. Not egregious.
  • While the main setting of Septimus Heap is a classic Medieval European Fantasy, it also features doorbells, submarines, elevators especially in the fifth book.
  • Invoked in Return to the Willows, a fan-written follow-up to The Wind in the Willows, when the characters must dress in armor to disguise themselves, but in order to get everything to fit have to mix 17th and 18th century armor, which one of the characters notes normally shouldn't be done.
    • The Wind in the Willows itself places a medieval-style dungeon in the Edwardian setting, in an example of bedtime-story logic at its finest.
  • The children's book Koziołek Matołek. Matołek encounters brigands straight out of a fairytale, visits a medieval castle, ends up in feudal China, later travels by plane to Poland and drives a car...
  • The Mummy or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice. It's set fifty years after Verdi wrote Aida, which makes it The Roaring '20s, but the fashions are Victorian, no-one mentions the First World War, and the Egyptian Department of Antiquities (founded 1858 to ensure that Egypt got first claim on their own treasures) doesn't appear to exist.
  • Most adaptations of The Great Gatsby, especially the 2013 adaptation its and paraphernalia of depicts cars, clothing, and architecture coming from the second half of The Roaring '20s despite the novel itself being set in 1922. It takes this to extremes, much like in Moulin Rouge!, with clothing fit for 1927 instead of 1922, taller skyscrapers, streamlined Art Deco themes, and Hip-Hop. Especially Hip-Hop.
  • New Arcana. The setting is inspired by fantasy Role Playing Games, and the characters use swords, armor, and other medieval-style equipment. Their world, however, has trains, skyscrapers, electric lights, and factories; technology seems to have been developed to about the point of the early 20th century. The characters themselves have early 21st-century attitudes and speech patterns.
  • An in-universe version in Sixty Eight Rooms. Ruthie finds a pencil in an eighteenth-century French room and a late seventeenth-century American mug with a plastic barrette inside in a sixteenth-century English room. These are shown to be clues in a mystery for her.
  • Spectral Shadows could be this, what with the Towns in Serial 11 having ideals and being modeled after things from different eras.
  • The Spell Singer fantasy novels, while taking place take place in a Dung Ages Medieval Fantasy setting with wizards, dragons, fairies and anthropomorphic animals. The later books seem to imply that that world is slowly becoming one. As Jon-Tom gradually brings over our world's technology and influences (Though not beyond personal use within friends and family) such as Mudge's kids who are anthropomorphic otters grew up watching Disney movies and Anime, and being fans of rap.
  • The most glaring anachronism in Jane Gaskell's Atlan series is ostensible humans coexisting with a variety of animals described as dinosaurs—actual dinosaurs, flightless birds that were not contemporary with Homo sapiens (and were indigenous to a different continent than the novels' setting), and giant reptilian monsters the heroine refers to as "dragons." The scene that best underscores the series's inconsistent sense of time is the heroine comparing a T. rex's arm motions to a robot's as she watches said T. rex mate with another member of its species.
  • There's a lot in the Ruby Redfort book series by author Lauren Child. You could assume it's set in the 40's but the mentions of Ruby's snarky t-shirts don't fit, you could assume it's set in the modern day but there's no mention whatsoever of any kind of modern technology. The later books place it in 1973, but some of the characters talk like they're in a 30s film noir.
  • Half World's titular purgatory is a mishmash of various eras and technologies. It's Justified in that Half World is influenced by the memories and the lives of the people who enter it.
  • The Last Unicorn, intentionally to create a feel similar to The Once and Future King; for example when a bandit expresses a hope to be immortalised in the Child Ballads, thereby simultaneously dating the story to both the medieval period, when the ballads were written and set, and the 19th century, when Francis Child started collecting them.
  • In The Iron Teeth web serial most of the world is set in a medieval period, but the mage guilds have somewhat advanced chemistry, given that they know what nitrogen and sulphur are, and can use them to alter properties of crystals.
  • Used for laughs in To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure, a Gamebook adaptation of Hamlet that includes (among other things) Ophelia inventing indoor heating, Hamlet signing to Ophelia "YA SERIOUSLY WTF" and the characters occasionally discussing the sexism inherent in the time period.
  • Iron Winter shows the Northlands developing steam railways, guns, clockwork devices, etc. in the Mediaeval period, even with the Wall having support systems inside driven by steam engines, all extrapolated from the Antikythera device in real history. The geopolitical structure of Europe is completely scrambled. There is still a Carthage, and there is (less now due to the impending global disaster) routine contact with the civilisations of the New World.
  • Graveminder has Byron enter a tunnel under the funeral home with his father, leading to a strange place where a hopeless scramble of architecture, costumery, transport and weapons exist, where whitewalled model Ts and Thunderbirds share traffic with horse-drawn vehicles, cowboys carrying openly walk about amongst girls in flappers and pinstripe-suited gangsters, and the skyline starts with colonial miners cottages and continues through castles, Gothic cathedrals and brownstones to Art Deco skyscrapers and Streamline Moderne diners. It is eventually revealed to be the land of the dead, and the stew is caused by the lives of all the dead who enter.
  • In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, the story itself is set in a time reminiscent of the Roman Era and the action itself happens in a fantasy equivalent of the African continent, where warriors use spears and swords are an exotic thing. However, the language the brothers use among themselves is flat-out modern hip-hop slang — or modern French, in T-Jawn's case —, and not only is Demand knowledgeable in modern genetics and medicine, there's mention of existing, practical faster-than-light and interplanetary travel.
  • In William Morris' utopian novel News from Nowhere characters dress like they are Renaissance peasants, or at least how Morris understood Renaissance peasants dressed.
  • The Gatling novels are meticulous in their research regarding the automatic weapons that are the series focus. However, they often use other elements from The Wild West without regard for their historic context. For instance, in Outlaw Empire, Gatling uses a Skoda machine gun; a weapon not in production till 1909. However, he is fighting the Sydney Ducks; a san Francisco gang whose power was broken in 1854.
  • The third Wings of Fire arc centers around an authoritarian dystopia- complete with security checkpoints and identity-confirming "collars"- although the setting is medieval and hasn't developed the printing press yet.


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