Today, NA author Helen Lowe is visiting. This is part of her online tour for her new book. I love her writing and am very happy to have her drop in today. I met her at AussieCon and instantly thought "This is someone I can respect." Since then I've discovered she's not only worthy of respect, she's a wonderful writer and a good friend and deals with earthquakes better than almost anyone.
Historical Influences on THE WALL OF NIGHT Series and The Gathering of the Lost
On January 26 I was a guest on Orbit, here, with a post about the shaping of The Heir of Night – and THE WALL OF NIGHT quartet – through myth, legend and history. In terms of history I discussed the classic epic fantasy world with its debt to medieval Europe, the youthful age of the protagonists and the Derai people’s elitism and militarism, with a specific nod to Sparta as much to societies like the Teutonic knights. I also noted that although historical understanding, particularly of societal division, conflict and discrimination, informs THE WALL OF NIGHT series, it is not based on any one period or incident in history. This is a deliberate decision on my part, because the closer one comes to real history, the more historically accurate the story has to be—and often the magical and sense of the fantastic become correspondingly difficult to sustain.
I believe there is a place for both kinds of storytelling in epic fantasy – but the WALL series is very much a mythic and magical story, as well as a swashbuckling and adventurous one, a tradition that continues in the second novel, The Gathering of the Lost. For this reason, although there are several strong historical influences on the new book, I have kept them broad-brush – the ‘frame’ rather than the ‘painting’ itself.
Some of the historical influences I have most enjoyed working with include giving something of the cultural flavour of Italy in the late medieval and early Renaissance period to the River, with its independent city states and great princely and merchant trading families. Ij is even a city built on islands between the mouth of the great river, Ijir, and the sea. When looking at geographic influences, however, readers could as well look to Bangkok with its khlongs, or Stockholm on its islands between Lake Malar and the Baltic, as to Venice and its canals.
Another equally strong influence is that of medieval France on Emer—which like historic Burgundy is a duchy and famous for its heavily armoured knights. The training of the Emerian knights, as well as their capabilities, have been very much influenced by the Burgundian knights—although the reference to such traditions as springtime love with its song cycles, is derived from the earlier period of the troubadours and courtly love. The names of many of the characters, such as Raher, Girvase and Hirluin, are based on a more distant period again, that of Old French. There are also references to the Norse influence through Normandy, for example Audin and Hamar, and also further afield, to the Holy Roman Empire, with names such as Ghiselaine.
The historical influence is not limited to people’s names, but also to the geography of the Emerian duchy, where regions are named for both heraldic colours, such as Argent (silver), Azur (blue) and Vert (green), and also heraldic beasts, including Allerion (an eagle variant) Lyon and Griffon.
I believe the use of historical influences, not just on themes and societies but also on names and geography, gives colour and texture to fantastic world building, But because this is fantasy and not history, the decision to draw influences from across time periods was an informed and deliberate one.
Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and interviewer. She has twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for achievement in SFF, for Thornspell (Knopf) in 2009 and The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night Book One) in 2011. She is currently the writer-in-residence at the University of Canterbury. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and you can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we