Legends and Lore: creating the past
There is something wonderful about fantasy novels in that they evoke a sense of ancient history, as though when turning the pages we rediscover a forgotten part of our world. In turn, these stories often refer back to even more ancient times, where the foundations of that world began and the seeds of the story were sown. Gods, myths, magic, ancient heroes whose legacy casts a shadow upon the ‘present’ day. Fantasy worlds must have that texture and richness to suspend our sense of disbelief and become real.
With Warlords of The Dreaming God the seeds of the story began with this past, rather than the present events of the book. It was also my distant past. When I was 12 I wrote a short story about holy knights caught up in a civil war, with dark powers manipulating the outcome. In time this snapshot became a building block of a much larger story, but it too was in the relatively recent past as far as Teth-Kiran’s timeline is concerned. So to achieve a true depth I had to go right back to the beginning.
The ingredients of this primordial soup were varied. As a writer you have to be lay foundations like what your world looks like, geography, magic, religion, technology, what makes the world unique. Cultural influences play an important role, you have to look at real world history, how civilisations rise and fall, how they lay foundations for the next people. What cultural baggage they carry, why they think the way they do.
This process helped me to decide, for example, that due to the short crossing between the north of Teth-Kiran and the northern continent (particularly Arkavia and Tiragar, see map), the region had in the distant past been invaded by tribes from across the sea, expanding the ancient empire of the North King. Gradually that empire fell, leaving petty fiefdoms in its wake. In Arkavia, tribes warred with each other, preyed upon by a dragon called Ferrakai, until an enterprising tribal leader called Ehrvik found a way to kill the dragon and assert himself as king of a newly united Arkavia. This heroic figure cast a long shadow over the new kingdom, and the tale of Ehrvik and the Dragon gradually became legend. But this isn’t by any means the most ancient story I have brewing, there are many more to come.
I never cease to be amazed by the skill that great fantasy writers show in weaving their founding legends, and in drawing them inexorably into the story. The Valheru and Chaos Wars in Raymond E Feist’s Riftwar Saga. The dark story of Turin Turambar in Tolkein’s The Silmarillion. And a new favourite for me, even though I still only part way through the book: the tale of Lanre and Lyra in The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. These tales spur me on as a writer, can I create mythologies as strong as these greats? A tall order indeed, but we shall see in the fulness of time… You must be the judge.
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September 21, 2010 @ 2:47 pm
Patrick Rothfuss showed up in my tag surfer, and then your first paragraph really grabbed my attention. . . can’t stop. . .reading. . .
I only recently got into what’s considered fantasy about 2 years ago. always considered myself a hardcore SF fan. But I LOVE mythology. I read mythology textbooks for fun, one of my favorite movies is the original Clash of the Titans, my favorite part of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was looking everyone up on Wikipedia to find the myths.
Once I realized how intertwined mythology and fantasy are, fantasy stories were easy to get into.
September 22, 2010 @ 12:20 pm
Hi Redhead, thanks for your kind comment. I love reading books on mythology too, I should have mentioned that in my post… I have a collection covering Celtic myths, the Vikings, Arthurian legends, ancient Greece, Roman and Byzantine empires, Babylon, Mesapotamia, Japan, Australian Aborigine people and Native Americans. Not sure if I left anyone out. These stories are both treasure and inspiration, fuel to start the fires of my own mythology.