In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Bags of Bones

   Last time, I said I'd explain more fully why I use historical societies and cultures as a backdrop to my Fantasy novels.Now's a good time, because the TV series of Stephen King's Bag of Bones is about to air in the UK, and if you've read the book you'll know the quote from Thomas Hardy; "Compared to the dullest human being walking on the earth, the most brilliantly drawn character in any novel is nothing but a bag of bones." In other words, even the finest author can't hope to capture the complexity of even a simple, ordinary person.

   How much more true is that for a whole world?

   Take Lord of the Rings. Not counting the three books of the series, or The Hobbit, there are still at least another 16 novels in the series, from the Books of Lost Tales to The Road Goes Ever On. All that's been done because try as Tolkien did, there were holes in the background, things he didn't have space or time to tell - or which he hadn't created yet. He was trying to invent a new world from scratch, writing every myth, every page of history, naming all the previous kings and crediting them with achievements or failures. J R R Tolkien has been dead for nearly 40 years and still the new books keep emerging, some of them grown from a single note on a scrap of paper.

   Creating a world is a never-ending task. Robert Jordan did a similar thing even without finishing the Wheel of Time series - he wrote a novel to fill in the story of how Moraine met Lan, and then a compendium detailing the history of the world right back to the Age of Legends. As with Middle Earth, this only scratches the surface. The work is never done.

   But if an author takes an ancient culture as a model, half his work is done. People already know a little about the Celts (see The Risen King), or medieval Europe (forthcoming Songs of Sorrow duology), and so on. All I have to do is mention a few little things and the reader's mind will fill in the blanks, creating a world of sound and scent all on its own. As an extra bonus, where there are gaps in our knowledge, or arguments between scholars, I can pick what I want to fill the hole, morphing the culture into something new. Playing with history like that is fun for me, and I hope for the reader too.