Food in Science Fiction and Fantasy

J. Dianne Dotson – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer – Food in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Yes, those are Game of Thrones cookies. Specifically, they are the dragons of Daenerys, aka Mother of Dragons: Rhaegal (green), Viserion (white), and Drogon (black—or chocolate chip coated in this case!).

I’m using these cookies as an intro to a blog post about food in science fiction and fantasy stories. I love food, and I love reading about food. But I adore most the unexpected little moments in genre fiction that involve both food and drink. Let’s do some time travel.

J. Dianne Dotson – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer – Food in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Dalek Cookie. Photo by J. Dianne Dotson Copyright 2019.

Yes, that is a Dalek cookie. Of course I have Doctor Who cookie cutters. The cutest cookie cutters in all of time and space.

Moving on, I first noticed otherworldly food in stories such as Star Trek (Romulan ale), Star Wars (blue milk, and Yoda’s apparently not-great food on Dagobah), Alice in Wonderland (mushrooms, tea, and “beautiful soup”—eek), and the Oz books by L. Frank Baum.

I’m going to talk about the Oz books in depth for a moment. Have you ever read all 14 of Baum’s Oz books? They are the wildest journey. But there always seems to be a food element in them. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy encounters food beyond her wildest dreams in the Land of Oz, but early on in her adventure, she’s eating bread with butter from her fallen house. She goes on to eat grandly at a rich Munchkin’s home, and to her this is a great transition away from her dreary Kansas culinary experience. In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy is on another adventure in the Land of Ev, where she finds a lunch-box tree and a dinner-pail tree. To my young reader’s mind, this was the best thing I had ever heard of. Each pail was full of a broad assortment of foods, and even included a drink, dessert, and napkins. But one of the most endearing and hilarious references to food in the Oz books regards Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter (in The Road to Oz), a sky fairy who subsists on such diaphanous foods as “dewdrops, mist-cakes and cloud-buns.”

As I grew older, I began reading J.R.R. Tolkien and Frank Herbert. Now, Tolkien was a man who clearly enjoyed his food. You can see references to food all through The Hobbit and each book of The Lord of the Rings. If you were invited into Bilbo Baggins’ home, you weren’t going to leave hungry. Likewise the strangeness of the Elvish waybread, lembas, becomes something of a plot point in the Rings series. Had the hobbits not packed the durable and highly nutritious lembas, they might have starved or been weaker in the moments they needed it most.

In Frank Herbert’s Dune, it is not food that is the focus so much as it is water. Arrakis (aka Dune, the desert planet) is a world in which water is a precious commodity. Early on, the Atreides family is considered “water-fat” as they come from Caladan, a planet with vast amounts of water. Another reference to food in Dune is that of mélange, “the spice” which serves as the most highly prized substance in the known universe. It is described as having the color of cinnamon, but the Lady Jessica also declares that it tastes like cinnamon as well. It is no simple spice, of course, but rather a drug and a substance used to aid folding space, among other useful attributes.

In the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, the ordinarily innocuous hot chocolate takes on a sinister and frightening aspect in the hands of Mrs. Coulter, who uses the drink to lure young children to their doom. Of course, many classic fairy tales relied on this same trick, with Hansel and Gretel coming to mind most notably.

The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling are stacked with comestibles and potables: butterbeer, pumpkin juice, treacle tart, chocolate frogs, and the endless array of seasonal treats offered at Hogwarts. A major draw for Harry, Hermione, Ron, and friends to the village Hogsmeade is the candy store Honeydukes. Again, we see the theme of having suddenly an extraordinary array of tasty foods for an orphan to enjoy. Rowling added the fantastical aspect to many of the foods in her Wizarding World.

In the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (adapted into Game of Thrones by HBO), food is again mentioned repeatedly. There’s even a character named Hot Pie. Clearly the penchant for pies is something Martin and I share. Stay away from the Frey pies, by the way.

In my series The Questrison Saga, food features in every book. In Heliopause, the first book, Mandira Research Station offers a number of food options. There is a conservatory with plants used for food. There is also a limit to what foods can be made on the station. Meredith, for example, becomes resourceful in making her pies for her coworkers. Coffee gets its own subplot in the book. I can assure you, the food theme continues in Book Two (out late Spring of this year).

The point of writing about food in science fiction and fantasy is that these remarkable other worlds need something to ground them in our own realities. We all have to eat. When we read about characters needing, wanting, or enjoying food, we feel that connection. I am a little biased, but I think having food and drink in one’s stories gives them a depth, a flavor, if you will forgive the pun, that makes them a little more believable.

Though I sometimes get distracted while dreaming up my worlds, I like to weave a little bit of real life into them. And it’s a good lesson that if things don’t always go the way you like, you can maybe just make some muffins or maybe some eclipse cookies to share.

J. Dianne Dotson – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer – Food in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Eclipse cookies, photo by J. Dianne Dotson Copyright 2019.

 

Image Credit: Dragon Cookies, Photo by J. Dianne Dotson Copyright 2019

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