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Saturday, April 02, 2016

Inns, Pubs, Spaceport Bars In SF And Fantasy


They appear in so many fantastical adventures, often at the beginning of the quest. They tend to serve "stew". They're the site of brawls because that's what you do in these places, in fiction, anyway. The cliched innkeeper tends to be big and red-faced, as Terry Pratchett noticed when he had a character in Witches Abroad arrested by a story-loving ruler for not being big and red-faced.

They appear even in films and TV shows.

There's the cantina in the original Star Wars movie, of course. It's the typical spaceport bar where many different races mingle - and fight. A lot. It must be a lot, because when Obi-Wan kills an obnoxious being who is trying to start a fight, there's a brief glance in his direction, then the music starts again and everyone goes back to whatever they were doing. Likewise, no one makes a fuss when Han Solo shoots Greedo, not even the barkeep, who will have to clean up. A place like that must be the site of so much fighting that there's nothing special about it. Maybe he employs a cleaning firm to tidy up the bodies. 

The bar in the latest Star Wars movie is very different. It's run by a thousand year old non-human woman(probably older, because that's how long she has been in business) and is much more than a pub. Nobody misbehaves in her pub and from what we see of her, nobody would dare to start a fight. She's pleasant but firm, and seems to be a Jedi of sorts; you don't mess around with these folk. 

Another pub we see run by a woman is the Three Broomsticks in the Harry Potter series, whose owner is Madame Rosmerta. Nothing happens there, or at least not publicly(Katie Bell is grabbed and Imperiused in the sixth novel, in the bathroom of the Three Broomsticks). It's the respectable pub in Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts teachers and students go there. Madame Rosmerta has been running her business for a long time; she remembers the Marauders with fondness. 

The less respectable inn, which is more like the kind you'd imagine in general fantasy fiction, is the Hog's Head. It's where Hagrid won that dragon's egg in a card game. It's grimier. Strange beings prefer this pub to the nice, family-friendly Three Broomsticks. But it can't be all bad, as we discover that the innkeeper, who rescues Harry and his friends in Deathly Hallows, is Albus Dumbledore's estranged but decent brother Aberforth. It's also the place where rebel Hogwarts students hiding out from the Deatheaters come from the Room of Requirement when they need to get out of the school. In any case, I can't imagine Aberforth allowing fights to happen; he'd knock heads together and throw out misbehaved patrons.

And of course, there's the Leaky Cauldron, the entrance to Diagon Alley, which serves everyone in the wizarding community including folk with special needs. It's family-friendly, though I suspect the host, Tom, would be able to stop any fights before they got far.

Star Trek has its share of spaceport bars and fights. Captain Picard was nearly killed in a spaceport bar fight(which I think he started)as a young man, and had to get an artificial heart. 

But the first time we saw a spaceport bar fight in the series was in "The Trouble With Tribbles" by David Gerrold. Space Station K7 has a bar, though not an inn, and the barkeep is tall and thin, not fat and red faced. But it's a spaceport bar and there's a fight, when one of the Klingons insults the Enterprise. There's no doubt he's trying to start a fight. When insulting the captain doesn't work(Chekhov wants to fight over that, but Scotty doesn't let him)he insults the ship, infuriating Scotty, and the fight is on for young and old. It's a typical fantasy barroom fight, actually, although nobody uses weapons and nobody seems to get hurt. 

Terry Pratchett has fun with the cliched fantasy pub brawl in his novel Going Postal. The hero, Moist Von Lipwig, has agreed to meet a woman he fancies, Adora Belle Dearheart(aka Spike)at the Mended  Drum pub before taking her somewhere much fancier. As he is entering, a group of barbarian warrior types are rehearsing their planned fight, because, let's face it, that's what you do in a fantasy fiction pub. 


The Mended Drum is not the only pub in Pratchett's city of Ankh-Morpork - there are others, such as the policemen's pub, which is quiet because, well, policemen drink there, and because after a day of chasing (unlicensed)thieves and pickpockets, they just want to relax and not talk. There's Biers, the pub where the undead go for a drink. The barkeep, Igor, keeps a club with various things that discourage undead from starting a fight. In one of the novels, The Truth, two genuinely nasty characters arrive and realise that this is not a place where they're likely to be able to stand over anyone. They leave hastily. 


But the Mended Drum is the fantasy fiction pub. It started life as the Broken Drum, in The Colour Of Magic. It, along with a large part of the city, burned down when tourist Twoflowers told them about what he does for a living, selling something called in-sewer-ants, then reopened as the Mended DrumIt's the pub where epic fantasy barbarian heroes gather, where throwing an axe at the entertainment is considered friendly. The fact that the owner has started offering cocktails with umbrellas in them doesn't make much difference. 

Of course, we all know of that wonderful inn, the Prancing Pony, in the town of Bree in Lord Of The Rings, and the Green Dragon, local pub at Michel Delving, where farming hobbits go to drink. The Green Dragon is where Bilbo met up with the Dwarves and Gandalf in The Hobbit and rode off into his life changing adventure. We do see inside it early in Lord Of The Rings, when the locals are gossiping about where Bilbo's money might have come from. 

But the Prancing Pony is where Frodo and his friends really begin. That's where they meet Aragorn and their adventure starts properly. 

It's a respectable inn. No barbarian warriors here, thank you! The food is good, solid English cuisine. The rooms are clean and the innkeeper makes sure there are rooms for hobbit comfort. The patrons are local farmers; any passing Nazghul in search of a drink would leave quickly, though they do try to get the hobbits there.  

But I can't help feeling that this is the kind of inn that inspired a lot of other fantasy inns. 

What do you think?

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