Good morning, Friends! Sooooo I know I mentioned dungeons yesterday, but yesterday’s chaos swarmed upon my time like a plague of locusts and the chance to share all things dark and deadly was eaten alive. I won’t go into details, but if you imagine my three Bs at the auto mechanic and Biff’s gear-headed nature, I’m sure you’ll be able to draw your own conclusions. (No, no one was hurt. Just a very tiring afternoon making sure Biff didn’t go near the blowtorch.)
Let’s think on older things, shall we? Ancient things. Let’s think on one of the elements of an epic fantasy for Wyrd and Wonder.
I’m talking about the Legend.
Not THAT Legend!
I’m talking about a story-world’s history so often hidden among legends and ballads of old.
HISTORY is generally patchy and unreliable. Any real information about past events is either lost or contained in a SCROLL jealously guarded in a MONASTERY or TEMPLE. All that can be ascertained with any certainty is:
- That there once was an Empire that ruled the continent from coast to coast (give or take a few enclaves of ELVES, GOBLINS, and the like), but that this shrank to one CITY a long time before the era of the current Tour, leaving only a few ROADS, perhaps some of the less ancient ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS and much deserted country.
- That there was once a WIZARDS’ WAR which problbably occurred earlier still. The result of this is that large tracts of land are still magically devastated (see WASTE AREAS). See LEGENDS, as more reliable sources of information.
I can only imagine Diana Wynne Jones was thinking of a certain past teacher of hers as she wrote this entry in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. *cough cough TOLKIEN cough cough*
Ages can pass between the historical events that influence the current story, allowing for much information learned in the past to be lost to those in the present. The only echo of history seems to find protagonists in two forms: Legends, and Ballads.
LEGENDS are an important source of true information. They always turn out to be far more accurate than HISTORY. Listen and attend carefully if anyone recounts you a Legend. The person telling it may be an old HERBWOMAN, a BARD, a bad KING, one of your COMPANIONS, or just someone in an INN. But no matter how improbable the story, it will always turn out to be the exact truth, and only by following it accurately can you hope to succeed in your QUEST. The Management will never allow anyone to tell you a Legend unless unless it is going to be important for you to know.
When I was working on the history of my Fallen Princeborn universe, I realized I, too, would need a history lost to the legends. But how to do that when some characters are shapeshifters capable of living for millennia?
Consider human nature–not, you know, JUST humans. Sinful nature, then. The Old Adam. Our Old Selves. The Sinister Side of the soul. It’s the side that focuses strictly upon the Self’s wants and ambitions. It only considers what directly impacts the Self, and cares nothing for what can’t meet the Self’s desires. (I’m sure there’s a much more philosophically poetic way to say this, but I’m only on my second cup of coffee and Blondie is already awake because God forbid she miss Nova.) History doesn’t affect the Self in the present; therefore, History is dismissed and forgotten. History becomes nothing more than a story with which to entertain. Its bite of relevance has lost its teeth, but there is still something to be felt.
Hmmm. Perhaps this is why Legends and Ballads are more useful to the fantasy-storyteller than a well-known History. If the History is clearly established, then there is little to discover about the story-world. Uncertain History promises mystery to the characters, and therefore to the reader. Exposition-giving methods like Ballads allow the storyteller to do a little…sugar-coating? Rose-tinting? Mixing-upping? Call it what you will. The point is that the Ballad’s useful despite sounding nonsensical, as Jones explains in…
HOW TO COMPOSE A BALLAD
You need to start with some lines of well-known Wisdom, like this:
Why number the teeth of a stallion
you have just received for free,
Or swiftly assess and inspect with care
the gulf you must jump for me?
Know that an avian held in the fist
weighs more than the flock you see,
And among a great surplus of chefs,
your soup might burn’ed be.
Next, include a LEGEND (which turns out to be History and quite accurate), so:
There once was a monarch, his name was Cole,
who drank and laughed his glee,
For beside his throne on seats of stone
sat his lovely daughters three.
One was as fair as the dawn’s bright air,
the second dark to see,
And the third was lovelier still, my lads,
and a wicked one was she.
After this you will need a chorus, which seems to be nonsense but turns out to be Hugely Significant, like this:
And they fiddled and they twiddled
And they twiddled and they fiddled
And they fiddled all night all three.
Do this two or three more times and you will have your Ballad.
It’s okay if Ballads are silly, too.
I actually worked on a Legend/Ballad for Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, utilizing a small portion of it for a freaky little song to be sung as a girl is kidnapped.
Two more shadows appear behind the others. Anna recognizes the driver Mr. Smith and Jamie. They smile and start singing badly:
“Wish for sleep
Sleep and dream
Dream your wish
Your life we’ll keep.”
She should scream for Charlie. Her quarter falls with a weak ting on the ground. She turns to scream to Uncle Mattie for help. “Close enough.” She blinks. The squirrel sits on the well just inches from her, quarter in its paws. Its eyes are violet and silver in the night.
If you’re a fan of fantasy adventure with a smart-ass of a protagonist, I hope you’ll give my Young Adult novel a go. It’ll be just 99 cents starting tomorrow and all through Memorial Day weekend. To celebrate, we’ll talk dungeons and Dark Lords, swords and sorcery, and whatever else sounds good for an adventure. x
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!