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.


DRC said...

As always, such an inspiring post. Thank you...

Margo Benson said...

Thank you for such an interesting post. Bridges can be creepy, romantic..such food for thought!

Marian Perera said...

DRC - Glad you enjoyed it. :)

Margo - Thanks for mentioning the romantic aspect as well. The Bridges of Madison County came to mind at once.

Anonymous said...

There was (and still exists but it is not used) the Bridge of No Return, that connected North and South Korea on the DMZ. The idea was that once you crossed it (mostly prisoners of war) there was no turning back.

Also bridges within cities can serve as demarcations lines and there is the fact that bridges can create geographical separation in the vertical (as opposed to walls, streets and other terrain features that do so in horizontal).

The proverbial troll under the bridge being a good metaphor for the separation between rich/poor or the normal vs. the magical.

DuskRose_Dreaming said...

This post gave me a flash of inspiration practically every paragraph. Great ideas to ponder for my WIP!

Shannon said...

Not to mention the sheer amount of information a bridge can give. I'm surprised more people don't start novels on bridges rather than castles. A sense of going somewhere, a chance to reveal high fantasy or low, borders and what-not. Make for a very neat beginning. Personally I have a thing for drawbridges and moats ... don't know why.