Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mountains in fantasy

The Misty Mountains. The Spine of the World. Mount Doom. The Frostfangs. The Mountains of Madness. The Goblins’ Teeth.

Mountains in fantasy often have evocative names. It’s probably best not to be too obvious — e.g. calling the villain’s stronghold Nightmount or Vultures’ Peak, because a little of this goes a long way — but such names can hint at a significant detail or two. You know the Frostfangs are likely to be in the Westeros version of the High Arctic.

On a map, mountain ranges should look natural, e.g. not crossing each other at right angles unless this is is done deliberately, to show some aspect of the world. I like the idea of a ring of impassable mountains guarding something at their centre. They form good borders and defenses, which always reminds me of Hannibal leading elephants over the Alps.

Plus, mountains can always be made even more dangerous than they already are. It doesn’t have to be something big like the stone giants in the first Hobbit film. Maybe mountains change ever-so-subtly, such that passes which were traversible last week will have mysteriously shrunk to the dimensions of a needle’s eye when travelers try to go back. Maybe solid rock occasionally crumbles away into a crevasse, millenia of erosion taking place in seconds. Or maybe the mountains grow much faster on your world than they do in reality.

Mountains play a role in myth and religion — there’s Mount Olympus in Greek mythology, Mount Sinai and Mount Ararat in the bible, as well as the Sermon on the Mount. Finally, there are mountain ranges on the Moon as well (though they don’t have the poetic names of the lunar seas), and even further out is the the equatorial ridge on Iapetus, the third largest moon of Saturn. I’m not sure if there are mountains of any kinds on the gas giants, but if there are, their size would be breathtaking.

Finally, you never know what you might find in a mountain—anything from cave paintings to lost treasures to an entire city. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a desert (well, a modern-day desert with air conditioning), but I’ve always found mountains exciting. And looked forward to reading about them.


DRC said...

I use mountains in my world, but it's not the mountains that you have to worry about, it's what's in them. There's nothing more tense than travelling through a silent pass, thinking you're on your own, and then a stone falls from above.

And, interesting fact, I once heard that if you took a nice smooth, polished snooker ball and enlarged it to the size of the earth, even the largest mountains and the deepest canyons we have would be nothing compared to what you'll find on that. Can you imagine...

Marian Perera said...

That would make a great story for an Incredible Shrinking Man-type premise. :)