Tag Archives: Brian Jacques

My own medicine

Well, I have been asked to take a dose of my own medicine. In accepting her nomination for the Liebster Award, BeKindRewrite  requested that I answer my own five questions. Considering her thoughtful answers, this request is perfectly fair. She didn’t even tack on any new questions of her own! Yet. Maybe I shouldn’t give her ideas.

For the purpose of answering these questions, I am going to exclude anything Tolkien. This should make my answers less predictable.

1. If you could walk into a book and make a home there, where would that home be, what would it be like, and what sort of people/creatures would you try to befriend? Specifics would be fun and you can give more than one answer if you like.

I would love to live in Brockhall, from Brian Jacques’s Redwall series (I have not read them all). First off, it is in a tree and partly underground. I’ve always wanted to live in a tree and underground. It is located in a woodland, it sounds quite comfortable, and contains delicious food and talking badgers. Sure, one has to face the occasional violent hoard passing through the woods, but that’s life. The world contains squirrel militia, friendly moles and hedgehogs, and playful otters.

I would also like to see P. G. Wodehouse’s stylized 1920’s, but I am on the fence as to whether or not I would like to live there. It might be just a bit too silly.

2. Name a food you have read about, but never eaten, that you have since wanted to try. It doesn’t have to actually exist. What, in the reading, piqued your interest?

Deeper’n’Ever pie. A savory pie made of veggies. It’s fairly mundane, as far as food from a book goes (it is from the above-mentioned Redwall series), but it always sounds so homey, comforting and satisfying.

3. Do you have a favorite plant? If so, what is it and why do you like it so much?

I do. I have several, in fact.

My favorite tree is the Eastern Hemlock. No, it did not kill Socrates. That was a different Hemlock. The Eastern Hemlock is not poisonous. In any case, it is shapely, feathery, smells like spicy, piney heaven, and has pinecones the size of a penny that open or close depending on the humidity. Magnolia Grandiflora and Juniperus Virginiana come in at close seconds.

It is hard to decide my favorite flower, but I will go with the old fashion daffodil. Early, bright yellow with a long, narrow trumpet and a smell unlike any of its compatriots. Sweet, but with just enough bitterness to avoid being sickening. This particular flower, whose cultivar I do not know, is tough as nails and it opens just when I really need some brightness and sweetness after the winter gray.

My favorite non-flower, non-tree, is the Venus Fly Trap. It is kind of creepy, but awesome. I wish #@$#$%#s would stop harvesting them from the wild, else we might lose them all together. If you ever think of buying an insectivorous plant (fly-trap, sundew, pitcher plant) make sure you know where it comes from. Buy only from dealers who make it clear that they propagate their own stock.

4. What fictional character is your favorite hero (male or female), and what villain really scares you and why?

Barring anyone from the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, I would have to say Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She may not do much that is “heroic” in the story, but she is telling the story, and that is a kind of heroism. I probably love Scout because I can relate to her. I was a similar mix of tom-boy, thinker and impulsive foot-in-the-mouther as a child.

Another hero of mine would be Henry V from William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. I know little about the real man, but the way he is portrayed by the Bard has oft caught my imagination. In his titular play, he shows a wide range of character, sensitive, thoughtful, courageous and stern. He makes decisions that are personally painful to him, because he believes them to be right.

As for a villain who truly frightens me, I would say Jack, from Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. It is telling that I read the book so long ago that I had forgotten his name, and the name of the protagonist. What I have not forgotten is the manipulative, violent, and vicious nature of this boy, that grows worse and worse as he deteriorates, carrying most of the other boys with him into murderous barbarism. Yes, he is only a child. In that sense, he may not be much of a threat, but the inhumanity within humanity that he represents is not to be taken lightly.

5. There is a crossroad at your feet. Behind you lies the path back to home and hearth (wherever that might be). The road directly ahead leads to a city, blue in the distance, settled among hills and on the edge of a bright inland sea. To your right lies a steep climb into old, low mountains clothed in forest and fern. To your left is rolling farmland that eventually flattens out into broad plains dappled by the clouds overhead. You can go as far as you like on any of the roads (even farther than you can see), including back home. There’s no wrong answer, only the where and why.

Ah yes. I know a little more about this theoretical place than the poor people I inflicted it on. It matters little, though, because ignorant or informed, I would go to my right. Mountains you say? Low, old, and covered in fern and tree? That is the road for me. I bet there are even hemlocks higher up, and staghorn lichen and moss.


Pitfall of T’naké’lorilin’arpé’liél

I make no secret of it anymore.

Most of my family and friends know that I am yet another would-be novelist. To make matters ten times worse, I am a would-be fantasy novelist! I am defiantly proud of this fact, but then that seems to be normal.

Writing, like all art forms, has many intricacies and pitfalls to claim the unwary, and occasionally the wary as well. Fantasy, like all genres, has its own unique precipices and bramble thickets.  Today I explore the dangers of place-names.

Naming is far more complicated than it seems. There is a fine line between iconic and obtrusive, original and over-wrought, simple and boring, and between fitting and cliché. Whatever is a writer to do?

Pitfall 1:  Pretension

Sometimes pretension works. Not often, but it does happen. When I see  “Doom” in a name, my first impulse is to say “not another one…” and yet “Mount Doom” in the “Land of Doom” (from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) lives up to its impressive title.

Pretentious names come in all shapes and this pitfall is often combined with others (I never said I could only topple into one at a time!). To move away, briefly, from place names and bring in a character-name example, consider Mr. Furious from the super-hero spoof film “Mystery Men.” When Mr. Furious is asked his real name by a woman he likes, he fidgets and tries to come up with a suitably “awesome” name:

Mr. Furious: “It’s Phoenix… Phoenix Dark… Dirk. Phoenix Darkdirk. I was christened Dirk Steele, and I changed it to Phoenix.”

His lady-friend is unimpressed. Finally, he admits that his name is Roy. Her reaction to his “cool” names is mine when a place or character has a pretentious name and fails to live up to it.

In short, with great pretension comes great responsibility, and an author had better deliver not only up to, but above the standard. If your “Dark Lord’s” kingdom is called “Doomland” or “The Deadlands” or “Domain of Darkness” (alliteration is fun!), make sure it can out Doom or Dead or Darkness the competition. Otherwise it will simply be “Moderately Doomful Deathland that is Not Quite as Dark as that Other Dark Lord’s Dark Domain.”

Pitfall 2: Other Languages

Tolkien was a linguist. Most of us are not. Why are “Minas Tirith,” “Orthanc,” ” Lothlorien,” and Tolkien’s myriad other non-English-based place names so awesome? Because he created  languages behind them. Numerous authors who are not linguists succeed in making up good names from fictional languages. “Narnia,” of C. S. Lewis comes to mind.

The pitfall here opens when these names are over-used and over-wrought. T’naké’lorilin’arpa’liél is not a cool name… it is horrible eye-bleeding gibberish. Accent-mark, umlaut, and apostrophe abuse are good warning signs. If every other word in your made-up language has an apostrophe in it, please start over. If your strange place-names are hard to pronounce or read, you should consider simplifying them.

In other words, this can be a good naming scheme in moderation, but overdone it is cliché if not unreadable.

Another option, of course, is to use real language. George MacDonald’s city “Gwyntystorm,” from The Princess and Curdie is Welsh. The same readability rules apply.

Pitfall 3: The Cliché

I may write a post just on clichés one day. Not all  are bad. The trick is to be aware of them and to avoid or use them depending on the situation. Be Aware. A Cliché is most dangerous when the person using it does not recognize what it is. It’s the gun that can kill a story in the hands of someone who doesn’t know it is loaded or hasn’t learned to take aim.

Writer A thinks herself so very clever in naming her elven village Greenleaf Dell.

Writer B glories in his extra-awesome city name of Wizardhome.

Either of these could be put to good use, but their cliché leanings make care essential. Another cliché, not easily avoided, is being too-flowery or overly-dramatic with names. See pitfall 1.

Pitfall 4: Mundanity

I feel this becomes a problem if all the place-names used are uniformly ordinary and therefore boring. Brian Jacques’s “Redwall” works very well. It is descriptive and mundane, like naming a child after its eye color, but the personality of the place fills it out and makes its name iconic. If, however, my towns are all called Greenwood, Red River, and Brownfield, then they fail to differentiate themselves and the people who live there  seem two-dimensional as they can only think to name their homes after colors of geographic features. In short, ordinary is ok, but ordinary without variety makes for a bland world.

Then there is the allegorical-name problem. Such names belong in an allegory, like “Glome,” from C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. They do not work well in a non-allegorical story.

Pitfall 5: Out of Place

No matter how wonderful a name is, if it does not fit in the world it belongs to, and fit seamlessly, then it is the wrong name. There is not much else to say about this one, but it does lead me into the process of…

How to Find the Right Place Name:

If you have other strategies, please tell me about them in the comments!

1. Start with the place.
Brainstorm on what it looks like, what kinds of resources (or lack thereof) it has.  Are there myths associated with it or great historical events? The time spent doing this should be in proportion to the importance of the place to your story. That said, if it is an important place, like the central country, or a primary player in events, go into depth. Sometimes names spring from the details.

2. Follow up with the people.
Places pick up names over time. Who has named this place? Flesh out their culture. This is where research comes in handy. Study real people-groups from our world. Find ones that are similar to the fictional people you want to create and begin modeling the fictional people on real people (multiple real groups can be inter-woven to create new and interesting fictional groups!).

3. Combine the two
Now that you have the people and the place, what would these people call that place? Again, look at real people-groups and see how they name places. Brainstorm until you have some options to pick from.

4. Details
Sometimes it is the details that matter. Two real places I know are called Shiny Rock, and Tongue Springs. The first is so-named because it is the last place the sun hits before it sets over the valley  Shiny Rock overlooks. The second is so-called because railroad workers in the area were given salted buffalo tongues to eat, and they would soak the tongues in the spring to make them palatable. It is details like this that fill our world, and details like this that make a fictional world solid. Even if the reader never knows why a place bears its name, the uniqueness of a name with a story behind it creates more atmosphere and believability than a random name chosen because it “sounds good.”

5. Variety
Don’t stick too close to one pattern. Each place on earth contains a variety of place-names. A well may be named for the person who dug it, and a mountain for its funny shape, a castle may be named for a betrayal that took place there or a relic contained within.

Conclusion:

Think. Don’t slap names down hap-hazard, for then you risk a cliché-ridden and shallow world regardless of how rich or original your characters and plot may be. Also remember that the real world holds many names that are fun, weird, elegant, disturbing and beautiful, meaning you neither have to, nor should use the most mundane choice you come up with while brainstorming. Have fun with it!

And now, for a finale to this stupidly-long post, enjoy some real place-names. These are a map of the cultures, history, geography/natural resources, religions and ideas of an area.  Every place and every culture on earth has a wealth of names.  I would love to read some of your favorites in comments.

Accident, Acadia, Acedemia, Acorn, Adamsville, Alexandria, Alpha, Antioch,
Baneberry, Barren Fork, Bass Hollow, Bean Station, Bell Buckle, Big Frog Mountain, Bledsoe’s Fort, Buggytop Cave,
Calfkiller River, Castalian Springs, Celina, Creech Hollow, Crossville, Coal Creek, Copperhill,  Cottontown, Couchville Cedar Glade, Clear Fork, Covington, Cumberland Plateau, Cypress Inn,
Del Rio, Denmark, Dismal Swamp, Dyersburg,
Elora, Etowa, Eva, Fall Branch, Fiery Gizzard, Five Points, Flag Pond, Flint River, Fort Assumption, Fort Defiance, Fort Louden, Friendsville, Frozen Head,
Germantown, Ghost River, Gilt Edge, Grand Junction, Grimsley, Gruetli-Laager, Guild
Harpeth River, Helenwood, Heiskell, Henry, Hickory Withe, Hidden Passage Trail, Hidden Springs, Hiwassee, Hoenwald, Hollow Rock, Horsepound Falls, Huron, Hurricane Mills
Idlewild, Jasper, Jellico, Joelton, La Follette, Laconia, Laurel Bloomery (I wish I was kidding), Lebanon, Lexington, Liberty, Little Emory River
Manchester, McKenzie, Medina, Memphis, Midway, Milan, Miller’s Cove, Moscow, Moss, Mount Carmel, Mount Juliet, Murfreesboro, Mousetail Landing,
Nameless (no joke), New Hope, Niota, Normandy, Obion, Obed River, Ocoee River, Oldfort, Only (yep, there’s a town called Only), Ooltewah, Ozone
Paris, Parker’s Crossroads, Pikeville, Pioneer, Pinson Mounds, Pistol Creek, Pleasant Shade, Poplar Creek, Possum Creek (not Opossum Creek…), Prospect, Pumpkin Town, Puryear,
Quebeck, Readyville, Red Boiling Springs, Reliance, Ridgeside, Roan Mountain, Rutherford,
Saint Joseph, Saltillo, Salt Lick Creek, Scotts Hill, Sevenmile Creek, Sewanee, Sharon, Sherwood, Shiloh, Signal Mountain, Smoky Mountains,  Smyrna, Sneedville, South Carthage, Sparta, Stinking Creek,  Sugartree, Sunbright, Summitville,  Sweetwater,
Tallahassee, Tazewell, Ten Mile, Three Way, Thompsons Station, Thorn Hill, Townsend, Tracy City, Troy, Tullahoma, Tuscumbia River, Twin Falls,
Unicoi, Vanleer, Vonore, Wartburg, Wartrace, Westmoreland, White’s Fort, Wilder, Winchester, Wolf River, Woodbury, Yorkville,


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