Landscapes and World-Building

The English language is rich with terms to describe the outdoor world (many of which have been borrowed from other languages), such as coteau and coulee, jaral and jetty, savanna and sawtooth. The worlds of most fantasy novels use natural settings where the features of the landscape may help or hinder the protagonists, or set the mood for the plot. When an author is creating a fantasy world where she needs to construct these settings, how can she find the best descriptors?

Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (2006, Barry Lopez, ed.) is essentially an encyclopedia of terms to describe geographical features. The book includes a number of illustrations. I guarantee, if you browse through Home Ground you will find many things you've never heard of before, as well as accurate descriptions to accompany terms you always believed you knew but might not have quite right. (Note, the focus here is on the American countryside; I recently wanted to look up "moors", but since we don't have moors in America, it wasn't listed.)

Glaciers, Bogs, and Ancient Ruins in "The Ban of Irsisri"

In less than a week, The Ban of Irsisri will go up on Amazon! The release is set for July 17. The experience of having my book published is sooooo cool. Please mark the date on your calendar and go online to look at it, if not buy it! It will be available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Over the past few weeks, I've shared a number of different inspirations for the landscapes that form various settings in The Ban of Irsisri. Here are three more:

  1. The Cana Glalith is a glacier that appears in the story. Within the ice, someone long ago created a small armory and placed spells on it so only certain people could access it. It turns out that the armory, Icefast Hold, contains more than anyone ever knew. My inspiration for the Cana Glalith came from seeing glaciers like the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska.
  2. Not too far from the city of Kophid, a Saerani warrior, Visylon, is trying to find his friend, Enkinor. The trail leads him to a bog, up in the hills, where he is confronted by outlaws, a powerful man-like creature called a krylaan, and a huge monster that comes out of the water to indiscriminately attack everyone. I was inspired to create this setting by the many bogs one can see in upstate New York and the Adirondacks.
  3. The abandoned temple of Qirik was a site of demon-worship sometime before the events taking place in The Ban of Irsisri. The sorcerer Raethir Del must travel to Qirik in order to obtain otherworldly aid in obtaining the Gauntlets, a powerful artifact owned by Enkinor. As I constructed Qirik I was inspired by two different landscapes. One was Angkor Wat in Cambodia and ruins, choked by trees like the strangler fig, appearing in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The other inspiration was the ruins of Chichen Itza, the pre-Columbian Mayan city in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Rock Music and "The Ban of Irsisri"

My recent posts have pointed out real-world inspiration for the exotic landscapes found in my fantasy novel, The Ban of Irsisri (due out July 17!). Much of this inspiration came from the Tennessee countryside, including lakes, waterfalls, caves, and mountains. But some of my inspiration came from album covers for 1970s rock music.

In The Ban of Irsisri there is a chapter where the protagonist, Enkinor, has been transported by the Dreamtunnel to the volcanic island of Tari Nar. When Enkinor wakes up on the shore of this island, the horizon seems unnaturally near. Once he climbs through the jungle to a higher vantage point, he can see that a vast upwelling of water surrounding Tari Nar is actually flowing over the side of a larger crater within which Tari Nar sits. (A geologist might be able to speculate on the geothermal causes of this.) This landscape was inspired by the inside of the cover of an album by Yes, titled "Close to the Edge."

The Ban of Irsisri also presents some rather exotic-looking people and creatures. For example, the real villain in the story is a shape-shifting sorcerer named Raethir Del. Early in the novel, Enkinor witnesses Raethir Del's shape-shifting firsthand when the sorcerer transforms into a fish. Not long after, however, Enkinor is witness to a more spectacular feat of metamorphosis when Raethir Del transforms into something that is part man, part wolf, and part butterfly. This image was inspired by the cover of the album by Uriah Heep, titled "Demons and Wizards."

The artist behind both album covers is the imaginative Roger Dean.

A Mountain and a Grave in "The Ban of Irsisri"

I've been sharing some of the real-life geography that inspired the landscapes in my novel, The Ban of Irsisri (release date T-24 days and counting!). Many of these landscapes were inspired by geographic features in Tennessee.

Visylon, one of the main characters in The Ban of Irsisri, begins his search for his friend Enkinor in the Parthulian Hills. There, as the sun sets, he is approached by Anquilon, the ghost of a historic warrior. Anquilon points to a nearby double-peak in the hills, and explains that on that peak Visylon will find the grave of an ancient king, and a small cedar growing from the grave. Visylon must cut down the tree with his sword in order to draw into his sword some important power critical in the development of the story.

The double-peak was modeled after the Chimney Tops, a prominent geological feature easily seen from the parkway crossing the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and accessible by a steep 3.7-mile hike. In the early 1970s, my father and brother and I made the climb. The trail at that time ended at the base of the rocky pinnacles and a sign (long since gone) warned hikers about proceeding further. Naturally, having inherited a bit of my mother's rebelliousness, I scrambled up the first of the two peaks. I was rewarded with not only a view across the "saddle" to the second peak, but also a breathtaking view of the Sugarlands valley through which the parkway climbs on its way from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina.

The tree growing from a grave was inspired by a real-life grave in the woods of Jackson County, Tennessee. My step-great-great-grandfather's first wife, Lucinda Deatherage Matheny, is buried in an unusual above-ground brick-encircled grave. A tree once grew from the top of this grave. I always felt the grave was unusual; to see the tree growing from the grave, drawing nourishment from the dust of human remains, felt very Gothic to me.

Waterfalls and an Underground Lake: Settings in "The Ban of Irsisri"

Last week I shared how exotic landscapes are said to be a hallmark of epic fantasy, and how the opening scenes of my fantasy novel, The Ban of Irsisri, occur on and along the shores of a large lake surrounded by forested hills that was based in part on Center Hill Lake in Middle Tennessee.

The Ban of Irsisri, scheduled to be published next month, was originally self-published under the title The Dreamtunnel Sequence. Readers may recall the cover of that first "edition" depicted a very high waterfall. (See the Amazon page for The Dreamtunnel Sequence to see this cover.) The artwork on the cover is a watercolor, titled "The Challenge," by an artist named Richard Akerman. I purchased a print of this many years ago. I was always struck by Akerman's use of shades and tints of blue to show depth, the way he gave movement to the art through his depiction of mist at the bottom of the falls, and the way he included riders leading horses at the bottom of the falls to give the falls scale.

This watercolor was the inspiration behind the Falls of Mist on the Esolasha River in my story. The tower Tura Iaphon stands in a hidden grotto near the falls, and the Rivertree, a gigantic red cedar, straddles the Esolasha River upstream from the falls. In my novel, Visylon, a Saerani warrior, must retrieve a prophetic document from its hiding place within the Rivertree. To do this, he must successfully paddle down the rushing waters of the Esolasha and enter the base of the Rivertree without being swept over the falls.

Early in the novel, Enkinor, another main character, is racing ahead of a forest fire. He reaches a very tall bluff, next to a different waterfall, and has no choice but to do some non-technical rock-climbing to reach the bottom. That waterfall was inspired by a real-life waterfall, Fall Creek Falls near the town of Spencer in Middle Tennessee. Fall Creek Falls is the highest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi. Enkinor finds a cave and an underground lake behind the base of the waterfall. This underground lake was inspired by a lake in Sweetwater, Tennessee, called The Lost Sea. The Lost Sea is the largest non-subglacial underground lake in the US and the second-largest in the world.


Exotic Landscapes in "The Ban of Irsisri"

Michael Moorcock, in his book Wizardry and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy, says that exotic landscapes are one of the hallmarks of epic fantasy. I think I've known that on a subconscious level, having read so many works in this genre. Certainly my epic fantasy, The Ban of Irsisri, is chock-full of exotic locales. (If all goes according to plan, The Ban of Irsisri will be published in mid-July by Cobble Publishing.) I thought readers might enjoy seeing some of the real-life locations that inspired the locales used in my novel.

This week: Center Hill Lake in Middle Tennessee. Center Hill Lake was formed by the construction of a dam by the Army Corps of Engineers on the Caney Fork River in 1948. If you check the photo on the Corps of Engineers website, you will see low, tree-covered hills. This was the inspiration for the scenes at the beginning of The Ban of Irsisri, where two rival tribes engage in battle, first on the water and then along the shore of a lake where the tribes live. One of the main characters, Enkinor, is positioned on top of one of the hills surrounding the lake and, seeing the approaching attack by his enemies, uses a primitive kind of hang-glider to turn the tide of battle. As far as landscapes go, Center Hill Lake is hardly exotic, but it served as an important "model" for the setting at the beginning of the novel.