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?