Sunday, March 11, 2007

Some Where, Some Time, Pt 2

Where were we?

Oh, yes. I was afflicting you with my Opinion regarding Place, or Setting, in writing.

The spell that Place casts upon the reader is different from that cast by a character; more subtle, the Place exerts its powers on the characters as well as the reader, so that character and reader share the same world. What makes the characters afraid makes the reader afraid, or joyful, or tense, or relaxed.

Setting is marvellous in creating tension, mood, atmosphere. Read the first page or two of Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror, or the opening paragraph of Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, and you will see what I mean. Yes, I know, those are dark examples. It helps to read them at night. Really.

Place can also help to define or delineate or explain a character. Narnia cries out for an Aslan, and the description of Hobbiton tells us much about Samwise Gamgee. And we intuitively understand why both the characters in the tales feel they are places that must be saved; just as we know Barad Dur must be destroyed, along with Giedi Prime.

For Places may be Good, or Evil.

One of the reasons I write speculative fiction is that it is a genre that has perhaps suffered less at the hands of a PostModernist ethos that eviscerates fictional Heroes than some other genres. It is quite acceptable to find Heroes in Fantasy, though in deference to the Zeitgeist they may have more flaws than in the old days. You know, before nylon.

The reason Reepicheep wants to go Further In and Higher Up is that the Place really is worth it; it answers the (often inarticulate) yearning in our breasts for something nobler, richer, purer. The reason Barad Dur must be destroyed is because everything that instinctively feel is Evil thrives there, nourished by a fallen Maia, Gorthaur the Cruel, who perverts all that is good. As he learned from his master Morgoth, so he influenced his pupil Saruman; the Orcs that were made by Morgoth in mockery of the Elves were bred into the Uruk-hai...

The Place, therefore, requires much thought, at least as much thought as the main characters. And they may change over the course of the book, or across a series. Dune comes to mind, since we mentioned Giedi Prime earlier.

Someone once asked Mallory why he climbed Everest. "Because it's there," he said.

That's why we build worlds. To go there, even if 'there' is a place no one has ever been before. Gene Roddenberry understood; where did the Enterprise go?

To create a Place so real, a Setting so captivating, that the reader's primal yearnings and fears are touched, that they want to go and live there, or run away from it as quickly as possible; a Place they almost really feel and touch and taste and smell -

Now that would be Writing.