Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Borders in fantasy
Politics and geography are not my fortes, so I first became interested in the borders and boundaries of fantasy lands when I read about Ravenloft.
Ravenloft is divided into domains, each of which has a ruler. The ruler can’t leave the domain, but wields a great deal of power within it, including the ability to close the borders of the land at will. When the borders are closed, supernatural effects prevent anyone from leaving. I love this, because it’s so varied and imaginative.
When Caleb wants his borders sealed, an army of tornadoes whirl to life all across the desert, throwing up sandstorms…
When Játiva wishes to close Ricoba's borders, thousands and thousands of rats swarm from the shadows themselves to gather at the edges of the domain.
Another magical border – albeit not a temporary one – is the Raraku Whirlwind in Stephen Erickson’s Gardens of the Moon. A border could also take the form of a great abyss around a city or land. Falling into such a chasm might be instant death, it might result in falling forever or it might drop a person into whatever subterranean settlements have sprung up inside such a fissure.
As this article points out, many such borders in fantasy worlds are geographical barriers such as mountains and rivers. But constructed borders are fun too. There’s the Wall of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels – a slab of ice hundreds of feet tall that “defends itself”. When raiders from the north try to climb it, part of the ice breaks off and they fall to their deaths.
There’s the Great Wall, which seems to have made an appearance in every Civilization game so far. Granted, that wasn’t so successful, but there’s no reason things can’t be different in a fantasy world, though the logistics of having many troops to man the wall will have to be taken into account. Martin does a great job of that. Because of political issues in the south, the Wall is becoming neglected, and fewer and fewer men are being sent to patrol and watch over it.
Organic walls would repair themselves and might enjoy nothing more than to snack on whoever’s trying to cross without authorization. Or a wall could be not a solid block but instead a mass of cylindrical-esque pieces joined at random and with lots of odd angles, like a demented pick-up-sticks game.
And some walls are there to prevent the people within from leaving, rather than the ones outside from getting in. Though some of them will cross regardless…. because where there’s a wall, there’s a way.