Of flowers and world-building

I am no J.R.R. Tolkien. The thought of even trying to create something as deep and profound as his Arda makes me want to give up.

Still, world-building is important even when one is not writing about a fictional world. If I write about my home city, I still have to build it into the story for the benefit of people who do not know it.

But the truth is, I am not writing about my home, or even my world. A while back I made the decision, rightly or wrongly, to not fear using elements from Earth. This may cause confusion (and a major re-write) later on, but my thought-process went something like this:

I am writing in English, with the characters speaking English, which means I am already acting as a translator (because it would make no sense for these people to speak English).

Moreover, these people are human, which begs all kinds of questions on a world which is not Earth.

I borrow from cultures around me (one must begin somewhere, and “write-what-you-know” applies to fantasy and sci-fi, too).

It makes sense to borrow ecology, weather-patterns, geology and other world aspects, as well, for two reasons: 1. I am not clever enough to come up with a working world whole-cloth  and 2. if I manage to make it all up, I lose all of the rich symbolism and cultural significance that already exists in our world (and therefore needs a lot less explaining).

Ok, then, I will go ahead and write the story around what I know and go from there.

My reasoning might be quite flawed. I would love for you to chip in and discuss it with me, if world-building interests you.

So, what has this to do with flowers?

Floriography is a word for a tradition found in several cultures in which plants or flowers are used to convey meaning or even a message. It’s fascinating, though not very reliable. Even in the same culture, some flowers have very different meanings, and when a flower’s meaning relies on its color or variety, things get even more complicated.

In the cultural history of my home state, both indigenous and colonial, this symbolism sometimes reaches the level of belief or superstition. Instead of symbolizing something, a flower or plant is thought to be a vessel of the thing itself. That kind of superstition has bled into my writing and is becoming a significant thread in the narrative.

The thing is, I don’t agree with many of the “meanings” given to flowers in the past. That isn’t an indictment of tradition, but a mere matter of taste. For my story, different significances and superstitions may be needed, and to that end, I am creating a new floriography as I go along. If this ever happens to be published, such a list will probably be in Appendices for those who are interested.

So, you see, my world-building is rather haphazard. Some things echo Earth (oh, hey! There’s an oak-tree and some raspberries, and is that person singing Wildwood Flower?) and some things diverge (there are several fictional plants already, plus, you know, mythological beasties and stars and more than one moon…).

Why am I telling this to the internets? Well, I am looking for thoughts and opinions on this matter. I can’t make a good, informed decision on anything without input. So, what are your opinions and preferences when it comes to world-building? Are you a stickler for consistency? Do you try to science out if the place you are reading about is Earth (past, present, future, parallel)? Do you like fictional worlds to be completely new and interesting? Do you like familiarity? Do you even notice when there’s an oak-tree in T’naké’lorilin’arpa’liél?

For me, I think what is most important is whether or not the world, in and of itself, makes sense/works. I am not above or beyond changing my opinion, though.


Akallabêth

According to Pages Unbound, today marks the anniversary of Sauron’s downfall! I am not great at such calculations, so I will take their word for it. To celebrate the occasion, the Tolkien Society is holding a Tolkien Reading Day.

The ways of participating are:

  • Grab the event button from Pages Unbound and put it on your blog.
  • Read a book by J.R.R. Tolkien this week and post a review!  If you do, Pages UnboundTolkien Society, and I all want to know so that we can read it!  (Find reading suggestions on the Tolkien Society’s Bibliography.)
  • Spread the word on social media.
  • Link to any past posts you may have made about Tolkien, his writings, or even the movies in the comments on this post.

 

To fulfill the second option, I am going to yammer about the Akallabêth, that short history of the Númenoreans tacked onto the end of J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkiens’ Silmarillion like an afterthought.

There is a great deal to be found in this story; far more than I am capable of finding as I am poorly read in comparison with J.R.R. I suggest you go digging for yourself.  The tale offers a deeper understanding of Aragorn, from The Lord of the Rings, as well as of his people. Echoes from the third age are given context and a deeper poignancy.

“Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three.
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree. “

This verse pulled at me before, but now it nigh brings me to tears. I know what Aragorn’s ancestors built, and what they lost, and why that white tree, just a seedling, was on board. The emblem of Aragorn’s family, a white tree crowned with seven stars, has a long history behind it.

Isildur, who used to be, to me, a mythic figure who cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand, but then fell victim to its snare, is now a man who made sacrifices, suffered immense loss, and persevered. I have learned that his was not the original line of the kings of Númenor, but only an offshoot. Knowing more of them, again, increased my appreciation of who Aragorn is, and what he must mean to his people.

There are other revelations, too, most of which I will leave alone. Part of the joy of reading the Akallabêth is the discovery of connections and new information. I will mention one more thing, however. Umbar, later to fight for Sauron in his final confrontation with the Free Peoples, was founded by the Númenóreans, and the Harad were among their conquests during a time of brutal expansionism. This story can be found elsewhere, but the Akallabêth tells us more of why they settled in Middle Earth at all, and adds yet more depth to all of Tolkien’s stories of Arda.

There is more to the Akallabêth than a deepening appreciation for the mythic tapestry of The Lord of the Rings, however. It is its own complex myth, woven together from threads of many other human stories.

Avalon hidden in the mists, echoes of Old Testament kings, the search for eternal youth and life encompassing an obsession with death, and most of all, a retelling of the legend of Atlantis.

After all, the name “Downfallen,” which is “Akallabêth” in Adûnaic, is said to be “Atalantë” in Quenya.

This story is relatively short, and, as one might expect, it is beautifully told. If you have already read it, it deserves revisiting, and if you haven’t, I suggest you wander off and find a copy. If you like audio books, Martin Shaw’s rendition of the Silmarillion contains the Akallabêth.

Hope rather that in the end even the least of your desires shall have fruit. The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Ilúvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose.
-Akallabêth, by J. R. R. Tolkien


The Great Iconoclast

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Images of the Holy easily become holy images- sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.
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All reality is iconoclastic.
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-C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
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Happy are Those Who Struggle

jubilare:

A thoughtful and beautiful post on spiritual struggle couched in an examination of The Lord of the Rings. Stephencwinter’s blog has many great posts like this. You should go check them out!

Originally posted on Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings:

If Sauron were leader of the Fellowship, setting out from Rivendell in possession of the Ring, what would he do? Gandalf knows that it is a question that Sauron has asked himself. Sauron knows that the Fellowship left Rivendell and that they possessed the Ring. He knows something of each member of the Fellowship and that there are hobbits among them. And Gandalf knows that he fears that the Fellowship will go to Minas Tirith and there one of them will wield the Ring, assail Mordor with war, cast him down and take his place. Boromir counselled  that they should go to Minas Tirith but not that one of them should wield the Ring. He hid this desire even from himself.  And Gandalf and Galadriel were tempted to wield the Ring as well. Remember the occasions when Frodo offered the Ring to them, first to Gandalf at Bag End in…

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Language and Perception

One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all. Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar, or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off-waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he’s not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Or it may be a much smaller sound, close at hand-a chuckle of laughter. And if so, there is a friend just beside him in the dark. Either way, a good, good sound. I’m not mad enough to take such an experience as evidence of anything. It is simply the leaping into imaginative activity of an idea which I would always have theoretically admitted- the idea that I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
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This could pass without comment, and for the most part, I will allow it to do so. I read this passage, this morning, for the first time. I am sure subsequent readings will reveal other facets, but for now, two things strike me.
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One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all.
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Someone whose writing I greatly value and respect feels the same restrictiveness of language that I do.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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Yes. Just… yes. If I could remind myself of this constantly, I would, and if I could teach others one fundamental rule for interacting with each other and the world, it would be this.

I am not dead yet, and a Liebster Award

Sorry for dropping off the map. I still have many posts I want to form for you, and many things others have posted that I want to read, but I may still be quite slow in catching up. Life = crazy at present.

Until I can get my act together, I will gladly accept the prompts of Evan, who has nominated me for Liebster Award. If you have forgotten what that is, see here. I will not nominate anyone new today because my brain is mush. But thank you, Evan!

  1. What is it that inspires you to practice your art?
    It’s hard to put into words. Sights and sounds, but more than that. Thoughts and paths of reasoning, but more than that. I write and I sculpt because there isn’t a way to capture or communicate these things and art and writing are as near as I can come to doing so.
  2. What is the one story or image you long to capture above all others?
    …you’re kidding me, right? The closest I can come to answering this one is to say that there is a feeling, or a series of feelings, that cannot be captured, as mentioned above, but I’d like to come close. As far as writing is concerned, I’ll just be content if I can open a window for others to see some of what I see. All the books I really love make me feel like I am looking through the window of another person.
  3. If you were able to choose your last words right this second, what would they be?
    Wishful thinking, or what I would actually say if I died right now, because I imagine there’d be a few expletives in the latter. How about “Run, you fools!”
  4. You have to choose one song, right now, to listen to for the rest of your life. What is it?
    In all honesty, I’d rather have none at all, because one song for a lifetime would get reaaaaaaaaally annoying after, at most, 50 listenings. It would have to be something instrumental, to lessen the sheer irritation. How about Bear McCreary’s theme for the Battlestar Galactica/Admiral Adama? Or, better yet, Roslin and Adama’s theme. It is a beautiful piece of music and, while shorter in some respects, has more variety in it.
    Here:
  5. Where do you want your work to take you?
    My job-work? Creative work? Yard work? I hope my job continues to pay the bills and be relatively enjoyable and fulfilling. It had better not try and make me move, either.  My creative work takes me lots of places, but I don’t see it as a vehicle, if that makes sense. I hope my yard work takes me on the path of having a great yard with lots of wildlife.
  6. In your opinion, what is the purest form of creative expression?
    You are making the Art History major in me militant. There is no “form” that is pure in that way. What is pure creative expression depends on the person, not the medium. ;)
  7. Wh0, in your tangible life, has influenced your path in writing the most? You don’t have to name names if you don’t want to.
    Probably my brother, from his own creative story-telling gift. He started telling me stories when I was a tyke and never stopped.
  8. Same question, except rather than just with writing, your entire life.
    So, Evan, how long did it take you to eliminate the only-sort-of-impossible questions until you had those perfect ten unanswerable ones? ;)
  9. You can spend the rest of your life in your dream location. Where is it?
    In this reality? The Smokey Mountains. In any reality? I’d like to try Middle Earth at certain periods and places too numerous to be easily named.
  10. Why is it that you do what you do, both in your art and in your life? Why do you keep going in the face of more immediate gratification, rather than just give in?
    There are a lot of things, from my family, to the beauty I see in the world and a few solid friends, but the linchpin is my faith. When that linchpin is removed, as it once was, the only hope I see for the universe, myself, or others, dies and all motivation within me dies with it.

While I Ruminate

There are several posts brewing in my brain. A couple focus on my experiences writing and my opinions on writing theory, one on my current theological study, my thoughts on the recent Tolkien Fanfiction film, and perhaps one on recent personal experiences.

None of them are ready for perusal, and so I plan to share a few random things and then bore you with my plant-nerd ravings. It is winter, here, and the coldest we have had in some time. In short, it is the time when gardeners dream.

But for those who are indifferent to plants, I will leave that until the end and offer you a few new links in my sidebar.

The humorous: From the makers of that Wolverine Music Video I posted, I give you Glove and Boots! If you need something light and silly, filled with puppets, and made for nerds (especially those spawned in the 80′s, like me), then you will want to spend some time watching.

Art: In the last post, I also linked a post about Joel Cooper’s Origami masks, but I failed to link his blog. It is filled with astounding!

For Writers: I’ve had the link to this rabbit-hole on my sidebar for a while, but one of my upcoming posts will focus on the subject of tropes and cliches, so it is worth pointing out. This is a very useful post for writers, storytellers, and story-lovers everywhere, but I warn you, it is highly addictive. Another useful link for writers and curious minds, a blog by someone in my own profession of Government Information Librarianship, is the Writer’s Guide to Government Information.

For Linguaphiles:  My fellow word geeks, I offer a link to the Online Etymology Dictionary and the Phrase Finder, which has more than just phrases.

For history and story-telling geeks, like me, there is a website (one among many) with collections of American folklore and stories. It is further broken down into sub-categories, and yes, it includes all of America, not just the United States of.

Do you like critters? What about photography? At work, I keep my desktop cycling through beautiful images, and I get a lot of them here, at the National Wildlife Foundation. A bit of plant nerdiness… If you like animals and want to help them survive the constant changes in our landscapes, consider turning your yard into a certified wildlife habitat. If that is too much for you to bite off, then you can still do little things, like keeping a clean bird-bath, adding some native plants (which do a better job of supporting wildlife than exotics) to your garden, or building a brush pile, which supplies both food and shelter for many.

Plant and story nerd combine: This is a book on the Folklore of Plants.  Fascinating stuff, at least to me.

Now I start talking about plants and gardening.

My interest in gardening (late to develop, even though my mother is a brilliant gardener) was born out of my fascination with my local ecology and the native plants it rests on. Thus my current obsession with the cooperative blogs Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens and Beautiful Wildlife Garden is no surprise.

This is what has me daydreaming.

You may or may not know that, apart from roofs and pavement, a lawn is one of the most barren areas created in our developments. It’s close-woven, often exotic, and is shorn to where it offers little food and no shelter to anything.

Basically, more lawn = fewer animals, arthropods, and birds. It’s a sad equation.

I’m not saying we should eliminate all lawns and cropped fields. I like playing on a lawn as much as the next girl, and my dog does, too. However, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t use much of my lawn, and that unused part could easily be turned into something prettier and more useful to critters.

So, this summer, I am going to start the process of eliminating my front lawn.

In order to prevent my neighbors from having a conniption, I have to keep things under some control. I am going to build a path and be very mindful of what I plant where. Both for beauty and wildlife-value, I need a succession of blooms. I want some things that look nice in winter, too. It’s easier on birds and bugs if I don’t cut down my plants for the winter, so things that look particularly messy are probably not the best choices.

I want mostly native plants, because my birds and beasts and bugs are adapted to them, but I have my favorite non-natives as well. Daffodils, cultivated iris, crocus, a peony and even a non-native morning-glory (there are native varieties).

I want to attract birds of various kinds, including hummingbirds (which, by the way, eat insects), and cedar waxwings. Also, I want to provide not only adult food, but larval food for various butterflies, moths and bees. I’m the sort of person who also loves spiders, snakes, lizards and other creepy-crawlies, so the more the better.

To this end, I have some things already planted. A southern wax myrtle, black-eyed susans, butterfly weed, false indigogoldenrod, Mistflower, and native honeysuckle among others.

My list of plants to acquire is long. I want more kinds of milkweed, for butterflies, yarrow, and most of all, yaupon hollies.

Hopefully, in a few years, I will have many more critters to see and enjoy in my yard, the good, the bad and the ugly. Then, I will turn my furious attention to my back yard, where I hope to install a small pond and a bat-box.

One more thing. If what I am talking about is all Greek to you, maybe this post will give you a little idea: Vivian’s Meadow.

I will now stop tormenting you with my musings. I hope you found something interesting in this post. Peace be yours!


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