Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Bridges in fantasy
Bridges are interesting even in the context of reality. I like looking down from them, especially if they’re above water. But they can be really fascinating in speculative fiction.
There’s a story called “A Thing of Beauty”, set in a future where Japan is the dominant world power and the United States is reduced to selling off national monuments. The main character sells a visiting Japanese businessman a famous bridge – yes, you guessed it, the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s got a happy ending for both involved, though.
In a fantasy, a bridge can connect lands – or worlds. Prehistoric people traveled to the North American continent via a land bridge, after all. Whether a river or a chasm separates two lands, a magically built bridge could still cross it.
Of course, it would probably be guarded at both ends and people or shipments traveling over it would have to be screened. Such bridges might also have cultural and/or political significance. Maybe the two nations built them as signs of alliance or peace. And if such a bridge was the only means of travel and trade for an isolated land, it would make an even more important target for terrorists or for an invading enemy.
Bridges could be made of unusual materials. Salt, ice, cobwebs, bones. In a role-playing gamebook I once read (Blood Sword 5: The Walls of Spyte), the characters traverse a chasm by crawling through the dessicated exoskeleton of a giant insectile creature that lies with its head on one side of the chasm and its tail within the ruined city wall on the other side.
Or the bridge might still be alive – for instance, it could be a huge worm or serpent that’s continually fed to keep it quiescent, so that people can walk into its propped-open mouth and travel the twelve kilometres to the other side.
Bridges don’t necessarily have to lead to the same place each time. One thing I enjoyed about the original Doctor Who series was that the Doctor was rarely if ever in control of where he was going. He could end up anywhere. I’d love to see a bridge like that, with one end disappearing into fog. People would be simultaneously afraid and fascinated by it.
They might try rituals and practices supposed to influence the bridge into taking them where they wanted – and it would be up to the writer to decide whether or not those worked.
Bridges could connect two times, rather than two places – if different parts of a city were medieval, industrial or modern, (like the TV show The Crystal Maze), there might be no way to travel from one to another except over the Zonebridges. And in a dark fantasy, who’s to say what might live under the bridge, emerging only to drag down anyone who didn’t drop the required price of passage?
Finally, a bridge might be perfectly mundane in and of itself and where it goes. But it could cause subtle changes in anyone who crosses it – and those would be limited only by the writer’s imagination.