Monday, September 17, 2012
Location, location, location...
In Ireland, Cinderella is a boy named Becan, and the glass slipper is an old boot. When the stepmother and sisters move in, they banish him to the fields, not the kitchen. There are no dresses and magical coaches, but a dragon to slay and a princess to rescue with the help of a magical bull. Before the princess can thank him, Becan runs off, leaving behind that old boot I mentioned. Can you guess how it ends?
The locations we choose as writers dictate the details of our stories. Whether we use the European-based, medieval setting we all know and love, or something more exotic, a reader is going to expect the culture to ring true. I thought about this because of Mark's post on taverns last week; taverns and pubs are as universal as Cinderella, but they vary by culture. They look different, sound different, smell different. The thing they have in common is alcohol...and, of course, the drunken songs.
When I needed a "tavern" in Finder, I couldn't call it that. I couldn't make it look like the Prancing Pony. My world has a Middle Eastern, desert setting. I called it a doovah, borrowing very loosely from an old Arabic word. I gave it one open wall whether the others were cloth, hide, or stucco/stone. The characters didn't drink whiskey; they drank sambi (again, borrowing from an old Arabic word.) I did, however, let them drink beer and wine. They are as universal as Cinderella.
Blending cultures, languages, even physical characteristics speaks of conquest, an efficient and successful method of transportation over vast distances, migration. I play with this sort of thing in A Time Never Lived, using this blending as a way of showing the clash of cultures. If you do have a cornfield in an Italian setting, or a pagoda in your village square, you'd better have a reason, and you'd better know that reason, because someone will call you on it.
Do we have to borrow to create fantasy worlds? In my opinion, yes, and in doing so, we have to be diligent about being consistent about it. Trying to create something that doesn't touch on a culture in our own world doesn't seem possible. I am open to being shown I'm wrong! I never pass up the opportunity to learn something new.