Monday, September 12, 2011

Five kinds of houses in fantasy

From fairytales to epic fantasies, this genre has some of the most mind-stretching concepts when it comes to houses. Children’s stories have the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel, which uses an easily adapted concept – use one’s living quarters to attract prey. Then there’s the chicken-footed cottage of Baba Yaga, and it only gets better from here…

1. Living houses

One of my favorite paintings in The Alien Life of Wayne Barlowe depicts a Villar, which looks like a gigantic human hundreds of feet tall… from the waist down. Its torso is a castle, complete with turrets and battlements (it has no head, adding to the alien look), and inside the torso, the Dwellers ride the nomadic Villar.

What I like most about living houses is that they take care of waste management and food supplies. Living in the fruiting body of a giant fungus, for instance, means breaking off a chunk of the wall whenever it’s time to eat.

2. Organic houses

Huge seashells come to mind, especially if they have many coils and turns within. Or what about the exoskeletons of giant insects or the skulls of ancient creatures? One of the most memorable things about China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station is Bonetown, which sprang up around the Ribs that are part of a giant skeleton. If the body of a dragon was preserved, people might only need to hollow out the interior.

3. Moving houses

Going a step beyond houseboats, houses might drift through the sky – either built on something which already floats (such as rocks in the Edge Chronicles) or soaring on their own power. People might never need to descend from a skyhouse if it has some means of catching food, perhaps trapping birds or snaring prey on the ground. And in an arid land, this would be a good way to follow the seasonal rains.

4. Segregated houses

Especially in cultures which practice polygamy, each wife may have her own house which the husband visits – though I wouldn’t mind seeing it done the other way around.

5. Sentient houses

In Ray Bradbury’s “There Shall Come Soft Rains”, a fully automated house goes on cleaning itself, cooking breakfast and running hot bathwater long after its inhabitants have died in a nuclear holocaust. I would love to have an apartment that cleaned itself. And a house which could communicate with me might be very convenient, not to mention excellent for security.

Unless intruders managed to foil its defences somehow, perhaps turning the house against its owners. Then it would not be so good.

And while the Bradbury story is SF, it could be easily adapted to a fantasy or horror setting, as the characters slowly realize their house is sentient or as they and the house work together against a common threat.

Which kind of house is your favorite?


Che Gilson said...

I love all of them but I feel intimidated about using any because I've seen them done before (very well) and despair of bringing anything knew.

Anonymous said...

Baba Jagga's Hut is a living, moving house that strides across the landscape in gigantic chicken legs.

Then you have houses made of candy or ever present empathic terrain that matches the mood/alignment of those who live there, but that ones has been done to death....

Sorry for the horrible pun.

Marian Perera said...

Che - I love them all too, although I haven't really used exotic houses before. Maybe if I played with the idea some new twist would come to mind. :)

ralfast - Oh, that's something I didn't think about - houses which match the mood of whoever lives there! Similar to the nursery in Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt", where the walls change to mimic whatever scene or landscape the children are thinking about and the entire room produces sounds and scents to make it all real.

colbymarshall said...

Hahahaha-- I, too, would love to see the segregated house the other way around. I think polygamy with female with multiple males might be a really interesting twist.

gypsyscarlett said...

I'm not sure which my favorite is, but this does make me want to give the book, Perdito Street Station, another try.

gypsyscarlett said...

Oh, and another vote for poly in reverse. ;)