Someone’s been reading my unpublished novel

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Actually I think there are two main kinds of cliche fantasy settings. The first, which this map is going for, is probably ultimately derived from Middle-earth. The main cultures are vaguely Dark Ages northern European (although this map has one ‘exotic city’, just as Middle-earth has Southrons).

The other main kind of setting is the ‘kitchen sink’ setting where each area is a different thing that the author thought was cool. The original of this is probably Robert E Howard’s Hyborian Age, where you have one country of chivalrous knights, one that’s ancient Egypt, one that’s vikings and so on. This is a science fiction version of the same idea:

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Published role-playing settings seem to tend towards ‘kitchen sinks’, such as Rifts and D&D’s Mystara. I suppose this is partly a commercial decision, so they can keep putting out setting material.

Jewish epic fantasy

I recently found this book review which argues that “there is no Jewish Narnia”.

The author seems to mean two things:

  1. There is no major Jewish writer in the ‘epic fantasy’ tradition of Tolkien.
  2. There is no fantasy world which is Jewish in the same way that Narnia is Christian.

There are major Jewish writers of fantasy in the broader sense (for example Neil Gaiman), several important people in comics (Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), and of course lots of science fiction writers (Isaac Asimov).

The essay is interesting, but I think it might be needlessly complex, and possibly inaccurate, to argue that Judaism is inherently oriented towards the real world and modernity while Christianity is inherently oriented towards imaginary worlds and the past. How does Kabbalah fit into that theory?

It seems to me that the most likely reason for point 1 above is that (as the author points out), Jewish people are going to have problems overlooking the problems with medieval chivalry. You’re probably going to have problems writing ‘orcs’- near-humans that are there to be killed by the heroes- when your ancestors were forced into that historical role.

I can’t, however, think of a similarly simple explanation for point 2.

Middle Africa

A while ago I read The Real Middle Earth: Discovering the Origin of The Lord of the Rings (unfortunately there’s a documentary about the films, and a book about ancient European tribes, with almost the same name).

This has the quite interesting theory that many of the elements of The Lord of the Rings that aren’t in The Hobbit – for example Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor – are inspired by the history of medieval Abyssinia (now Eritrea and part of Ethiopia).

I have no idea whether it’s true or not, but it’s worth thinking about if you’re interested in such things.

Planning a series is a bad idea.

I’ve noticed that a lot of other amateur fantasy don’t plan to write books, but to write a whole series.

This makes sense given the popularity of Game of Thrones, the Wheel of Time and others.

However, I think it’s a bad idea.

In practice, writers don’t decide whether there’s a sequel. Readers do. And having the original written with a sequel in mind doesn’t make a sequel more likely.

The Hobbit, for example, is obviously not written with The Lord of the Rings in mind. The Hobbit makes no mention of Gondor, Rohan, Mordor, or rangers. The elves and goblins/orcs are very different, and so is the ring: in fact one chapter had to be rewritten to remove a blatant contradiction between the two books.

Star Wars is another prominent example (despite George Lucas’ claims to the contrary). Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are obviously different characters in the first film (Ben Kenobi specifically says so). Equally obviously, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker aren’t related.

I’ve sometimes heard people justify particular elements because “this has to be there for the next book”. If you have enough of these, there probably won’t be a next book- and if the book is good enough people will be OK with some inconsistencies.