Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aslan's Land, The Other Place, Foo and The Grey Havens

When a writer attempts to describe an "Otherworldly" world, it can be difficult not to sound like the description of just another foreign city. There has to be something unique beyond sights, sounds and accents.

Okay, usually accents aren't our first thought. But what would the accent in Heaven sound like? Brittish? Americans love an English accent.
"G'day, Guvna," the firey angel said. "Just mopped that bit of Golden Street. Kip around that puddle." 
Irish would be even better (If you don't believe me, watch "P.S. I Love You"), but they wouldn't say "Guvna."

Sailing to The Grey Havens. It is shockingly easier to find LOTR art in comparison to my other examples.
You'd think Narnia would have some art, but I couldn't find any.
So, straight from some of my fav books, scenes from other worlds:

From "The Last Battle"-
"Those hills," said Lucy, "the nice woody ones and the blue ones behind--aren't they very like the Southern border of Narnia?"

"Like!" cried Edmund after a moment's silence. "Why they're exactly like. Look, there's Mt. Pire with his forked head, and there's the pass into Archenland and everything!"

"And yet they're not alike," said Lucy. "They're different. They have more colors on them and they look further away than I remember and they're more...more...oh, I don't know..."

"More like the real thing," said the Lord Digory softly.
From "Ptolemy's Gate" by Jonathan Stroud-
She found herself in--well, in did not seem quite appropriate: she found herself part of a ceaseless swirl of movement, neither ending  nor beginning, in which nothing was fixed or static. It was an infinite ocean of lights, colors and textures, perpetually forming, racing, and dissolving in upon themselves, though the effect was neither as thick or solid or as a liquid nor as traceless as a gas; if anything it was a combination of the two, in which fleeting wisps of substance endlessly parted and converged.
Scale and direction were impossible to determine, as was the passing of time-since nothing remained still and no patterns were ever repeated, the concept itself seemed blank and meaningless. This mattered very little to Kitty and it was only when she attempted to locate herself, with a view to establishing her place in relation to her surroundings, that she grew a little disconcerted. She had no fixed point, no singularity to call her own; indeed, she seemed often to be in several places at once, watching the whirling traces from multiple angles. The effect was most disorienting. 
I love this cover and these books. I think the swirls might be essence from the Other Place?

From Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo-
The front door to Amelia's house opened without anyone touching it.
"How did--?" Leven asked.
"Doors know what to do here," Geth explained.
Leven slipped out of the house and into Foo and knew, without a doubt, that he was dreaming. He had never seen anything like what he saw now. Not only that, but he could see it clearly; his sight was perfect. Mountains and Valleys and rivers and foliage filled his view, but they were nothing like what he had left behind in reality. The sky was bright yellow near the ground and purple at its crown. Creatures he had never seen, and would have been unable to imagine, ran across prairies of long orange grass that blew in the wind. He could see incredible darkness to the north, and behind that, thin pointed mountains that loked as if they were moving. A river of deep blue water spilled across his view, creating waterfalls in at least twenty different places. The clouds were shaped differently, the air seemed to glisten, and if Leven wasn't completely wrong, he could have sworn he saw a person flying at a distance. 
"Wow,"he gasped.
...Leven went back into Amelia's house and to a short couch that sat in front of a roaring fire. The fire was not only burning but singing softly...The fire sang softly and the windows dimmed nicely as Leven experienced his first dream in a place where there was nothing but.
You miss a lot of the detail in this small file, but this cover is gorgeous. The drips of water running out of Leven's hair are amazing, as is little monkey guy on his back. I love this book, and sadly, book two was on the floor in the bathroom during our recent flood. :(

And from "The Return of the King"-
The sails were drawn up and the wind blew, and the ship slowly slipped away down the long gray firth; and the light of the glass of Galdriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
I don't know about you, but I've got some goose bumps. The thing that struck me about these examples is how different they are, in purpose and in description.

Stroud's description's of the Other Place make it seem kind of scary, an alarming place to be, while Lewis' description of the New Narnia reminds the reader of the longing that is still felt even in your favorite places in this world. Foo is a land of dreams and infinite possibility, a place where the ridiculous must be accepted. And The Grey Havens is a place of endless rest for the weary.

The hard thing about describing other worlds is that we are limited to the words that apply to this one. Often authors will refer to dreams- either to say the new world is the dream, or to say that the world they left was the dream and the new world is reality. Or they will compare it to sublime experiences in this world- to moments of disorientation like waking from sleep. In the New Testament, Paul gives a beautiful description that is too perfect not to bring to your attention:

1 Cor. 13:9-12
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

I love that.

A key to selling a new world to the reader is the character's reactions to it. All of these characters have deep reactions to what they are experiencing, and their reaction becomes the reader's reaction. I'm right there with Frodo, longing for peace and a good nap!

What have I missed? And what's your favorite "Other World?"


  1. There's a looking into heaven scene in Peace Like A River by Leif Enger that's wonderful. I'd type it out here, but I borrowed and returned it to the library.

  2. Thanks, Connie. I'll have to check that out.

  3. World building is tough for me. I often write out a bunch of long, flowery descriptions of new places in my earlier drafts, but I usually delete most of them by the time I'm done revising. I tend to skim those descriptions in other books, so I figure I ought to take them out of mine.

  4. Long flowery descriptions is how I begin world building, too, and then I edit out all but the very best parts. I've been told by one beta reader that the descriptions aren't full enough, but no one else has commented on that, though it's on the question list I've given readers. If only one person wishes for more, I'm guessing it's about right:)

    And the above examples weren't terribly long, I didn't think, although together they made a rather long post... Thanks Krista!

  5. It must be difficult to form a new world. Science Fiction and Fantasy is a great resource book from Writer's Digest/Orson Scott Card.

  6. I loved the ones you mentioned. The only one I haven't read is the series by Jonathan Stroud.

    Have you read anything by Robin McKinley?

  7. Hey Jen- I've read Card's book and it's really good. It convinced me not to name any of my characters H'lki'fgt'ranid'l, ever. lol

    Hey Myrna- I haven't read Robin McKinley- putting her on the list right now:)

    And I LOVE the Jonathan Stroud series. they're the perfect mix of clever humor and seriousness. And the ending! Wow!

  8. I love that quote from Corinthians - I used it in a high school essay, actually. I'm trying to remember what it was about now.

    As for other worlds, how difficult it must be to invent something without making it sound like something else? Because if it's too strange, too out there, how will readers be able to picture it? I'm sure no one wants a book that is all about description. When I read Her Majesty's Dragon, I loved picturing the dragons and ships, but had the hardest time picturing how the dragons were supposed to carry the crew, where the captain was, the rigging, etc. Yet it was fun to imagine anyhow.

  9. Hey Steph- the quote from Corinthians is talking about how differently we will see things after death and resurrection, when we see our lives as God sees them.

    Have you read Leviathan? It sounds similar in some ways to Her Majesty's Dragon, based on your review, but its a midgrade book about giant helium breathing whales that are used as an airforce in a steam punk/alternate history of WWI. Scott Westerfeld does a great job explaining everything and setting the stage without getting overwhelming. Thanks for commenting!

  10. Oh, DO read Peace Like a River. Lewis's description of heaven was the very first thing that popped into my mind when I read it. As I mopped all the tears and snot off my face.

  11. Thanks Gypmar. I'll check it out. Thanks for stopping by:)