Tough Travels – Travelling Folk

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: TRAVELLING FOLK

TRAVELLING FOLK are quite common. They are of two kinds: Land travellers and River travellers.

These people are merry, colourfully dressed, dishonest, and knowledgeable…they will cheat you, cure your wounds, and hustle you off to the cart of their oldest lady who will tell you something about the future you need to know.

The first group that comes to mind are the The Tuatha'an of The Wheel of Time, also known as the Traveling People or simply Tinkers. They hold to the Way of the Leaf, vowing to do no violence, regardless the cause or provocation, going so far as to be vegetarians. Given their unfair reputation as thieves and kidnappers, they avoid the cities, sticking largely to the Aiel Waste. As for why they travel, they are searching for The Song that was lost to them long ago.

Another that comes immediately to mind is the Tsingani of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel novels. Stereotypical Eastern European traveler, they're known as much for their bright clothes and dancing as for stealing and breeding champion horses. Hyacinthe, a half-Tsingani boy who befriends Phédre in the first book, spends most of his time soliciting business for his mother's fortune-telling, He works along side Phédre to discover the truth about her past, although his mother warns them both that they'll regret it.

One of the more unusual depictions I can remember of travelling folk is the Gypsy Nation that Elric encounters in Revenge of the Rose. They are enormous caravan of travelers who live in (quite literally) a traveling wooden village, circling the world on a mile-wide pathway that is constantly repaved by the trash they leave behind and then roll over on their next pass. I remember them as much for their insistence that life is about either moving or dying as I do for that globe-spanning road of trash.

Finally, it's not fantasy, but how can you talk about stereotypes of the traveling folk and not mention Stephen King's Thinner? Here you have a fat, arrogant bastard who has just escaped a vehicular manslaughter charge when, on his way home, he gets distracted by his wife's handjob and runs down an old Gypsy woman. When he uses his legal connections to get the case dismissed, the old woman's father lays a Gypsy curse on him, caressing his cheek and whispering the word "Thinner." Billy tracks down the old man, following him to the dirty, chaotic, colorful traveling gypsy village you'd expect, but a cure doesn't come easily.


  1. Ok that seals it. I must read more Moorcock i there is a trash road in later titles.

  2. The Gypsy Nation sounds crazy, just going over the same path again and again.

  3. Gypsies still travel like that and live nomadic in many parts of the world :) In my language we even have words for their travelling settlements :)

  4. Yeah, the Tuatha'an did strike me as extremely pacifist - to the point of *dying*. Not sure if I'm totally down with that, especially in a violent world such as theirs.
    The "Tsingani" sound a lot like the actual Romany people - in Slovenian, the (slightly pejorative) name for their nation is Cigani (pronounced tsee-GHAN-ee).

  5. Yes, more love for the Tsingani. I love the Kushiel series, they remain one of my favorite fantasy books. Always glad to see someone else who has read them, I wish more would pick them up.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

  6. I feel like I've really done myself a disservice - at least as far as tropes go - by not reading the Wheel of Time books. There are just SO MANY of them...and I've heard that after book 5 everyone just becomes annoying.

  7. YAY for including the Tsingani! That was the first that came to mind for me too :)


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