creating worlds

February 25, 2020

All fiction is about creating worlds, of course, and each of these worlds is distinctive, personal. Take Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens. Their versions of Victorian England are quite different, even when they’re talking about the same kinds of thing. Dotheboys Hall in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘Lowood Institution’ in Jane Eyre are both highly unpleasant schools – both even contain abused, tubercular pupils who befriend the main character and later die in their arms – but they inhabit totally different fictional universes. You can’t imagine taking a journey from Bleeding Heart Yard to Thornfield Hall. Mr Rochester’s mad wife is no Miss Havisham. And no matter how I try, I can’t imagine Jane Eyre meeting Mr Micawber.

So all fiction is about creating worlds – but fantasy writers come straight out and admit it. We don’t even try to deceive you. How could we? You know that unicorns and dragons, werewolves and vampires, orcs and trolls and elves, do not exist and never have existed. So what’s the point of it all? Why on earth do we write it? Why do some of you – quite a lot of you, actually – want to read it?

Surely because fantasy is no more and no less a pack of lies than any other type of fiction. Or to put it the other way around, the truths of good fantasy are exactly the same as the truths of all good fiction: emotional truths about characters, about situations, about life.

Katherine Langrish
creating worlds

tell you LEGENDS by firelight

February 13, 2020

PANCELTS are frequently red-haired. They wear plaids and have NAMES you must consult the glossary in order to pronounce. By the Rules (pronounced GEAS) which govern them, they have to call ELVES Shee (pronounced Sidhe) and refer to the ENEMY as Shadow. Otherwise they are nice people who drink a lot of the water of life (pronounced Uisce) and love to tell you LEGENDS by firelight. They also fight a lot and rather well, since both men and women train hard from the age of ten. But there is no such thing as an ordinary PANCELT. Each of them is either a MAGIC USER or a BARD or a Druid (pronounced like a sneeze), or sometimes all three (in which case you pronounce it Merlin). They are governed by strong and beautiful QUEENS called things like Maebdh Aeiolaien (pronounced Mad Eileen) or strong and serious KINGS called, for instance, Daibhaeaidhaibh MacAeraith (pronounced Dave Mate), and they appear to worship the Welsh Bard Taliesin. It is in this Bard’s honour that they all sing so much, even more than the Shee/Elves do. And, like the Elves, they are prone to go on about how very much better things were in the Old Days, when a HERO could walk in one day from Caer Dibdh to the sea by taking a shortcut through Tir n’an Og (pronounced The Many-Coloured Land).

Diana Wynne Jones
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

‘Very well, very well, Master Elrond!’ said Bilbo suddenly. ‘Say no more! It is plain enough what you are pointing at. Bilbo the silly hobbit started this affair, and Bilbo had better finish it, or himself. I was very comfortable here, and getting on with my book. If you want to know, I am just writing an ending for it. I had thought of putting: and he lived happily ever afterwards to the end of his days. It is a good ending, and none the worse for having been used before. Now I shall have to alter that: it does not look like coming true; and anyway there will evidently have to be several more chapters, if I live to write them. It is a frightful nuisance. When ought I to start?’

Boromir looked in surprise at Bilbo, but the laughter died on his lips when he saw that all the others regarded the old hobbit with grave respect. Only Glóin smiled, but his smile came from old memories.

‘Of course, my dear Bilbo,’ said Gandalf. ‘If you had really started this affair, you might be expected to finish it. But you know well enough now that starting is too great a claim for any, and that only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero. You need not bow! Though the word was meant, and we do not doubt that under jest you are making a valiant offer. But one beyond your strength, Bilbo. You cannot take this thing back. It has passed on. If you need my advice any longer, I should say that your part is ended, unless as a recorder. Finish your book, and leave the ending unaltered! There is still hope for it. But get ready to write a sequel, when they come back.’

Bilbo laughed. ‘I have never known you give me pleasant advice before,’ he said. ‘As all your unpleasant advice has been good, I wonder if this advice is not bad. Still, I don’t suppose I have the strength or luck left to deal with the Ring. It has grown, and I have not. But tell me: what do you mean by they?’

‘The messengers who are sent with the Ring.’

‘Exactly! And who are they to be? That seems to me what this Council has to decide, and all that it has to decide. Elves may thrive on speech alone, and Dwarves endure great weariness; but I am only an old hobbit, and I miss my meal at noon. Can’t we think of some names now? Or put it off till after dinner?’

JRR Tolkien
Lord of the Rings

fairies

May 28, 2019

This beautifully titled novel is, I suppose, a fairy tale, since there are fairies in it, or, anyhow, beings called fairies. They aren’t visible to everyone, yet can affect the lives of people who don’t see, or don’t believe in them. In that, they play in modern industrial England something like their role in the folklore of the past. They don’t, however, fit conventional notions of what a fairy looks like: they aren’t the tall, fair ones who carry you off under the hill, nor yet the tiny Peaseblossoms and sprites the Victorians loved, and they are most definitely not Tinker Bell. Walton’s descriptions suggest that the great illustrator Arthur Rackham was one of the people who could see them: “In the same way that oak trees have acorns and hand-shaped leaves, and hazels have hazelnuts and little curved leaves, most fairies are gnarly and grey or green or brown, and there’s generally something hairy about them somewhere. This one was grey, very gnarly indeed, and well over towards the hideous part of the spectrum.”

Mori, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, has always seen and known the fairies. Though she’d like them to be Tolkien’s Elves,  they aren’t gracious and powerful,  but frustrated, marginal, somehow diminished. Some of them are probably ghosts. They are untamed, uncivilised, and unpredictable. They speak Welsh, mostly. They don’t answer to any name, but if asked properly they can grant wishes. They are like fragments of the wild, surviving only where a trace of woodland survives, haunting whatever remains of the unhuman: old parks, pre-industrial, untilled places, forgotten roads out past the edges of towns and farms.

Ursula K Le Guin
Review of Jo Walton’s Among Others
The Guardian 30th March 2013

while others are sleeping

December 4, 2018

I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it’s hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so – this has always been my dream – so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep.

Dave Eggers
A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius

I am definitely now exploring what science can do to create a new biological body for a ghost or a spirit. I am certainly asking whether or not newly created humanoid entities have souls. I do have my own pantheon of ghosts, elves, werewolves, vampires, mummies, witches and the like. I have loved creating this. And I’ve had wonderful fun exhuming these horror clichés and doing my take on them. I think there are certain concepts that unite my work, and the main one, of course is that the monster, particularly the vampire, is a metaphor for us, a metaphor for the outsider and the predator in each of us. Good horror fiction as I see it is always about us, about the human condition. It is always allegorical and metaphorical. I love writing these books. They are about my reality, my moral and social obsessions.

Ann Rice
Interview 14th February

More on Halloween…

October 23, 2015

Halloween3

Magic…

May 9, 2015

girl&ivy

“I want to be magic. I want to touch the heart of the world and make it smile. I want to be a friend of elves and live in a tree. Or under a hill. I want to marry a moonbeam and hear the stars sing. I don’t want to pretend at magic anymore. I want to be magic.”

Charles de Lint