The Noble Peasantry: Reimagining Class
"If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself."
—Henry David Thoreau
Though not fantastic in itself—far from it—a clear division of class into the land-owning nobility and the land-tending peasantry is a near-ubiquitous trope of fantasy fiction. And throughout the vast majority of real-world human history, all around the world, this same essential difference has been near-ubiquitous in one form or another: lords and serfs, capital and labor, masters and slaves, landlords and tenants, bankers and borrowers. Haves and have-nots.
In fantasy fiction, though nobles bear ultimate responsibility for managing their holdings, they still find themselves with ample free time to pursue scholarship, music, art, and extravagant amusements; and ample wealth to flaunt flamboyant dress and to feast routinely on lavishly-described meals of exotic game and exotic berry wines.
Peasants, on the other hand, do not have the luxuries of free time or comfortable margins of survival, so as they focus on the day-to-day needs of food, water, shelter, clothing, fuel, transportation, and security for themselves and their foppish lords and ladies, to find any joy they must learn to savor life's simple pleasures—good work, meaningful work, good dogs, folk music, storytelling—or else in the course of a fantastic adventure become noble oppressors themselves.
In the real world we also have a middle class, though this is a relatively new phenomenon. From a social justice standpoint the emergence of the middle class is certainly an improvement, but the lifestyle itself often fails to live up to its promises. Like the peasantry, the middle class is utterly at the mercy of the upper class (the bankers and bosses that make continued middle class existence possible). Like the nobility, the middle class is utterly dependent on the lower class (and on its ongoing exploitation) for food, water, shelter, clothing, fuel, transportation, and security—the members of the middle class for the most part having no idea how to provide these things for themselves. Like the peasantry, the middle class has little free time for the high noble pursuits of art, music, philosophy, and self-motivated scholarship. Like the nobility, the middle class spends a fantastic amount of coin on shallow gratifications while remaining largely oblivious to the joy to be found in simple work and simple gratitude. Like the peasantry, the middle class feels worthless and star-struck next to the upper class. (Thus the middle class finds itself extremely vulnerable to marketing and other exploitations of its fragile self-worth.) Still, like the nobility, the middle class feels itself inherently superior to the lower class, deserving of its gentler circumstances whether by aptitude or bloodline or skin color or providence or simple inertia.
The premise of my semi-real, semi-imaginary ten-acre woodland realm of Habdur is the here-and-now marriage of the magical and the mundane, the high and the lowly, the grandiose and the tiny, the special and the routine. In the mythology of Habdur (literally hab dur, the "just right" "here and now"—think of Goldilocks savoring porridge), and in the reality of my little life, I seek a different kind of middle class existence marrying the noble and the peasant into one integrated being enjoying the satisfactions of each and suffering the pitfalls of neither. And like Thoreau, "to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning", I must brag that I'm finding it. (Of course, I'm neither the first nor the last to do so.)
In the semi-real, semi-imaginary realm of Habdur, I belong to the Noble Peasantry. As a Peasant-Lord of Habdur, day by day my inner Peasant and my inner Lord dance together, feeding one another, protecting one another, cherishing one another, celebrating one another, strengthening one another, and again and again becoming one another.
As a noble, I own and manage my land, free of the chains of excessive debt. As a peasant, I work the land and make my livelihood by my own sweat and skill. As a noble, I enjoy ample free time and mental space to read, to learn, to ponder, to make art, to socialize, and to engage in frivolous hobbies. As a peasant, all of my happiness comes from noticing and appreciating simple things: smiles, jokes, natural beauty, quiet, manual labor, simple food, walking, and breathing. As a noble, I enjoy extravagant feasts. As a peasant, I cook extravagant feasts. As a noble, I dress to flaunt my beauty. As a peasant, I dress to save money and work comfortably.
As a noble, my success enriches my own estate. As a peasant, my success enriches others. As a noble, my spirit is free of the stress of poverty. As a peasant, my spirit is free of the injustice of wealth.
Finally—as a noble, I hold great worth. As a peasant, I'm not superior to anyone else. As a noble, my worth is intrinsic and inseparable from my Self. As a peasant, I'm but one mortal member of a place that will live on happily without me as I am forgotten to time. My poor bones will nurture this soil and my nobility will manifest again and again in a tree, a turkey, a fox, a mushroom.