|Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) and Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) in the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood|
Each era and culture imprints itself on fiction. Even when a piece of fiction takes place in a previous time or other land, an echo of the author’s world shapes it.
Some authors are brilliant about writing styles that existed a hundred or more years ago. Some writers use such care with their facts that even experts on the time cannot find fault in the worlds they describe, but for today, we’ll explore speculative fiction in general with the understanding that there are exceptions to every rule.
For the next few Wednesdays, we’ll take a look at some of the ways our culture has subtly or not so subtly influenced speculative fiction. For today, let’s first take a look at headgear.
With rare exceptions such as Mat Cauthon’s hat from Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, the occasional jeweled hair net such as Sansa wears in George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, or the naval headgear in David Weber’s Honor Harrington, in speculative fiction headgear of any sort is rare. At best, someone lifts the hood of a cloak or a ruler of some sort wears a crown, circlet or tiara. But for some reason, the modern era seems to reject the use of head coverings in most fiction.
My theory for this is that most of us don’t wear hats very often any more. A baseball cap or a hat while working in the garden are usually about as far as most of us go. Any other sort of hat comes with a major stereotype like cowboy hats or veils. One makes us think country and the other wedding. Or a headpiece simply looks a little odd to our modern eyes.
Yet, before the modern era, headgear was often the norm. From hoods of various types, hennins, fedoras, to bonnets, rules of etiquette, propriety, and class have surrounded headgear for centuries. But these days, most people bother with hats more as a costume accessory than a typical article of fashion.
Beyond the fact that our culture generally does not embrace headgear or incorporate it much into the complex social structure, I suspect that a few styles of headgear are avoided partially out of their bizarreness to modern eyes. Few people these days would wear a hat covered in ostrich feathers. Few men would wear a hood with a tail or liripipe several feet long. Yet in certain circles at certain times, these fashions were extremely popular.
One of the best visual examples of this that I can think of is Robin Hood. In the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, medieval style headgear is so prevalent that every character sports some form of it at some point in the film. Olivia de Havilland even pulls off the most attractive version of a veil and wimple that I’ve ever seen. But the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves portrays Maid Marian with her hair scandalously often uncovered and many other characters wearing little to nothing on their heads. In the 1930s, hats were still common. By the 1990s, they had faded mostly from general use.
In the surge of science fiction and fantasy over the past few decades, headgear has never taken a strong hold. Star Trek never really used any. Most fantasy heroines sport braids rather than veils or hennins, despite the genre’s liking for taking inspiration from the historical. Their occasional use is, like our modern perception of hats, a rare event worthy of notation for its uniqueness.
Next Wednesday, we’ll take a look at how the role of women has changed in science fiction and fantasy.