Every country gets the fantasy it needs, it seems, whether that’s elves and wizards in the UK, US and Australia, or fantasy more rooted in the real world in Germany and Greece. I always thought fantasy was pretty much a universal genre, with many of its tropes based in ancient story-forms.
But a correspondent, Julian Wilson, pointed me in the direction of the Uncertainty Avoidance Index used in cross-cultural communications theory to map a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
The index indicates how much a society tolerates the new, the unknown and the different. Germany, which has a relatively high uncertainty avoidance index, is a society which relies on rules and regulations and tries to reduce its risks to the minimum. The US and particularly the UK have relatively low scores on the index.
In Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind, Geert Hofstede says, “Marieke de Mooij has pointed out that cultural values can be recognized in both the subjects and style of literary fiction produced in a country. As examples of world literature from high-UAI (Uncertainty Avoidance Index) countries, she mentions Franz Kafka’s The Castle from Czechia and Goethe’s Faust from Germany. In the former the main character is haunted by impersonal rules; in the latter the hero sells his soul for knowledge of Truth. Low-UAI Britain has produced literature in which the most unreal things happen: Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.”
Later in the book he suggests that countries which have low uncertainty avoidance are more likely to have “literature dealing with fantasy worlds” and those with high uncertainty avoidance are more likely to have “literature dealing with rules and truth”.
So if you live in Greece, Portugal or Guatemala (high UAI) or Denmark, Jamaica and Singapore (low UAI), let me know if this is just another example of Academics Gone Mad or if it has some bearing on the tastes of fantasy readers around the world?