In Another World
In This Series
Do you remember what you were reading the first time you totally lost yourself in a book? I’m speaking of that kind of total immersion in which hours passed without notice and your familiar surroundings faded away to be replaced by scenery both wonderful and somehow terrifying. What genre was that novel, do you remember?
I remember mine clearly and no, it was not “Lord of the Rings” although I would come to love that one equally, just a few years later. Until that remarkable day, the books in my bookshelf (at least the fiction ones) were what is now generally called “classic” or “hard” Science Fiction. “Against The Fall of Night” and “Childhoods End” by Arthur C. Clarke, “Nightfall” and the “Foundation” trilogy by Isaac Asimov, “Mission of Gravity” by Hal Clement , “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein and what is still my favorite “novel” of all time, “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury. Mixed in with these were a smattering of Gothic Romances (which at that time were referred to as “Gothic Mysteries”) by Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. Those were what I read for pure escapism(??). As if Science Fiction wasn’t “far out” enough! All of these, of course, engaged in world building to some degree but I don’t recall being overwhelmed by any great visual impression.
Then one day while walking home from school, I stopped by a small street fair and picked up a paperback called “Three Hearts and Three Lions” by Poul Anderson, a fantasy loosely based on the Holger Danske (or Ogier the Dane) legend seasoned with a dash of King Arthur /Excalibur. That novel, short though it was, hit me like a ton of bricks and, for the first time, I became totally immersed in the story world. It took me a couple of weeks to find my way back home and then it was with great reluctance.
My second excursion, a few months later, was in the company of Aragorn and company in “The Fellowship of the Ring”. I totally bypassed “The Hobbit” and would not return to it until years later, after my disgust with “The Simillarion” had faded. I was immensely impressed with the lengths to which Tolkien went to pull his readers into the world of his story. That someone would actually create an entire language for his creation just astounded me. This was before I knew that Tolkien was a linguist. Even after I found out, I was still impressed. This was long before I ever entertained the thought of #writing myself.
But it was “Three Hearts and Three Lions” that prompted me to switch my primary reading interest from “hard sci-fi” to fantasy, seeking again that special projector that would “let me see movies in my head”.
And I found it in “LOTR”. I knew Middle Earth so well, much better than I knew my own “reality”. Oh, I knew that there were no such things as Orcs, Elves and Hobbits, but Tolkien made them so tangible to me that I had no doubt there could have been. I could see the towers of Minis Tirith, the Shire, the slopes of Mount Doom, and, while hiking the trails of Mount Tamalpais, I would not have been surprised to meet Treebeard along the way.
Which, at last, brings us to the topic of “World Building”, which is incredibly important when you are writing fantasy. Isn’t this “presence of place” what we are all hoping to achieve with our writings? Isn’t our goal more than just to tell a story? Isn’t our true goal to have our readers experience our story; to show them that magic portal that separates mundane reality from wondrous possibility, to offer them the key that will allow them passage to experience the adventure at the side of our hero? We are the directors of that “movie in their heads”.
Next time we will begin the journey of pre-production on that movie.