Friday, January 8, 2016

Hospitality - a Dive into Worldbuilding Hangout Summary

We had a great time discussing hospitality, which has a lot more consequences in a great many more stories and experiences than it might appear at first glance!

Hospitality, of course, is that thing where you invite people into your home - or welcome people to a place you control, as when you find people entering airline "hospitality suites." Hospitality can be voluntary and involuntary. When British Royalty are coming to your house,  you don't have any choice but to be a host.

Cliff noted that Hospitality drives many sections of Tolkien's The Hobbit, as in the opening when the dwarves arrive and Bilbo is forced to deal with them. Also, in Game of Thrones, many events are set in motion when the king's court shows up at Winterfell. A large portion of Nicola Griffith's Hild is driven by the fact that the king and his court must move from place to place, eating the hosts out of house and home as they go. Hospitality is also a key issue for Shakespeare, as in King Lear. It's also critical to many plot points of Wagner's Ring Cycle, and in Dante's Inferno there's a special area of Hell dedicated to people who have been traitors to their guests.

People who fail as hosts are often marked permanently as evil people. When hospitality fails, bad times are coming.

There are hospitality holidays. These include Halloween, where you are supposed to prepare for strangers to come to your door and demand candy, and Passover, where you are supposed to invite people to come in and join you for your meal. There are hints that Christmas also used to have a strong hospitality element associated with caroling, as in "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" where the carolers demand to be taken in and fed.

Hospitality rules have changed in modern life, but they are still critical. The Syrian refugee crisis is about hospitality.

In general, the more isolated and dangerous the location, the stronger the rules that say you have to help one another, and take people into your care.

The Christmas story is about a failure of hospitality that landed Mary and Joseph out in the stable. The Bible and the Torah are filled with hospitality-based stories. In the Torah you can encounter angels who disguise themselves as guest. Even older traditions have similar stories, as when Odin (Wotan) travels in the form of an old man to test people's hospitality.

Such a test of hospitality is essentially a test of the host's moral character. As such, you as an author could do a lot with hospitality to indicate the characteristics (good or bad) of your protagonist. After all the dwarves have arrived and been taken care of, we end up feeling quite strongly that Bilbo is a good guy.

Morgan mentioned international student exchanges as a good example of a hospitality-based activity. Adoption is also a form of hospitality.

In Star Wars, Lando is a bad host and has to make up for it.

There are also stories about dishonest guests. Vampires must be invited into the home, but once there, don't carry out the traditional duties of guests! They are predators taking advantage of hospitality rules.

Morgan noted that in cities, it can be risky to take people in. This leads to culture clashes where people coming in from desert (or forest) environments expect hospitality but can get none. There are circumstances in cities where people end up sitting in dangerous or unsafe circumstances because asking for aid might be worse.

Conflict can also come from different cultural expectations surrounding the roles of host and guest. In the Netherlands, the host is supposed to serve food until the guest stops eating; in Japan, the guest is supposed to eat until the host stops serving. This could make a Japanese guest in a Dutch home rather uncomfortable!

Hitchhiking is a form of hospitality. There are stories about ghost hitchhikers, and predatory supernatural hitchhikers.

Rules surrounding the host's role vary based on circumstance. When guests from far away come to visit, do they stay at your home? They most often do at ours. When we have gone to Europe, friends have often hosted us in their homes. However, when we go to Japan, we typically get help from our hosts finding an inn not from the house, because the houses are too small to accommodate extra residents.

In Japanese history, there was another twist on hospitality, where the Shogun required his vassals to live with him for half the year. This kept local leaders from consolidating their power in their places of origin and from conspiring with each other against him.

In English history, feudal lords would gather in London to play politics and display wealth. As in the Japanese example, this expenditure for travel and showing off was good for the king, and bad for their own power.

We also talked about fostering. When children were fostered, they could be hostages or brainwashed (conditioned?) by the hosts as well as being welcomed. There are instances of this in Game of Thrones, and also in Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. The Pern example was particularly interesting because of its association with craft guilds. Fostering served to keep skills from dying out in the isolated locations where they were practiced.

An Irish king called Niall of the Nine Hostages kept women of his subject kingdoms hostage in his court, and also used them to spread his DNA through the population. This would mean that rape was involved, as a breach of hospitality.

Some stories have featured travelers expected to sleep/have sex with a host's female relatives.

In Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro, much of the plot revolves around the lord's attempts to have sex with Figaro's fiancée before they can get married. We talked about whether Droit du Seigneur was a real thing, or just a rumor.

Slave traders can pose as hosts who then drug and chain up their guests and sell them.

Morgan brought up the question of the purposes of hospitality, and its limits. Passover hospitality is for a meal, not for an indefinite period. There is also that expression "guests are like fish - they smell after three days."

We discussed the question of children moving back in with their parents, how college was expected to help kids (in America at least) transition out of the home, and how children moving back in encounter the tricky situation of not quite being a household member, not quite being a guest.

Boarders are often called "paying guests" so they lie close to the borderline as well.

Bed & Breakfast places are sometimes hotel-like, but sometimes are also instances where people invite you into their homes.

There are a lot of potential plot and conflict ideas that can grow out of the expectations surrounding hospitality. I hope you have found this discussion interesting!

Thank you to everyone who attended. I hope you enjoy the video.


1 comment: