Visualizing Mythology

aelianus-netThe key story from the mythology of Arveniem for my novel The Ring of Adonel (which I’m still working upon) involves the wounding of Adonel Aelianus and the consequent making of the Sun.

The Myth

The short version of the myth is that after Adonel had made his Ring from a pebble of the Step of Heaven (the mountain where the Attondar entered the World), Cadar saw the Ring and wanted it. When Adonel refused to give it up, Cadar seized Adonel’s Wind Sword and struck his fellow Attondar, blinding him in one eye. Adonel’s blood spilled onto the Step and burst into flame, such that it began to melt the world around it. Cadar fled with the Sword, and Adonel renamed him Caimcadar (meaning “bent Cadar”). And because of the danger to the world, the remaining Attondar lifted the burning mountain peak and cast it into the sky, where it became the Sun.

The Artwork

This piece of artwork was actually done on a gold foil background, but the scanner cannot  reproduce it as it is – it came through black. It still looks very striking that way.

This is the moment immediately after Adonel was struck, as the flames are leaping up.

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To Elve or Not To Elve (Do You Call Them Elves)

I’m being flippant, of course, turning “elf” and “elves” into a verb. But more and more it seems to be a rising issue for fantasy writers as to whether or not one should include them in one’s fantasy world.

I suppose it depends on what the writer wants his or her world to be like, of course.

But let’s consider the reasons why it is an issue at all.

J.R.R. Tolkien is a big reason all by himself. The world he created in Middle-earth is so well established in readers’ imaginations now that it has become the Mount Everest of fantasy-world creation. How do you make yours distinctive, even when you want to do something similar?

Added to the problem of “not being Tolkien” is the matter that Tolkien tapped into some very primal aspects of the Elder People. He avoided the diminutive pixie-types that had become popular in the late Victorian/Edwardian ages — such as Tinkerbell in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan  — in favor of the tall (adult sized) beings similar to the Celtic Sidhe or the elf-peoples of Northern folklore. When Tolkien has already absorbed the alternate options, it’s hard to do something different.


So what do we get? Lots of tall, exotically beautiful beings who look somewhat like ordinary humans who have “magical” powers. They may or may not be immortal, usually they are very long-lived at least. And they can do stuff we can’t. And author after author includes such beings because they are apparently “required” by the genre.

We’re talking about what gets called High Fantasy here, not the current trend of contemporary urban fantasy that seems to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix, from zombies and vampires to every species of magical being the author can lay his or her hands on.

I was talking with another author recently (at a writers’ conference where we were sharing a presentation on world-building and setting), who said he refuses to include “elves” in his fantasy population. He had, in fact, created a species that initially (in the first two books of his series) has all the presentation of being “elves”, but are in fact, something quite different (almost monstrous looking, given the cover art for the third volume). He was pleased with his choices (as any writer should be). But it amused him that a reviewer of the first volume had actually complained about the presence of the stereotypical “elves.”

"Drawings of elves" by French illustrator Jean-Baptiste Mange

“Drawings of elves” by French illustrator Jean-Baptiste Mange

This is the problem authors face in creating a fantasy world. There are some limits to your options in populating the world. If you get too “alien,” you start to move into the feel of “science fiction” and not “fantasy,” what with explaining and justifying the physical appearance of the “elves”. And you still have to deal with the creative impulse to include beings who are “like us but are not us.”

I’ve written of this problem before — I wanted to consider what worldly immortality might be like, if it were natural to at least some creatures of our world. It is, after all, what lies behind vampire stories: the desire to be immortal, to not die in this world, to continue our earthly existence. My interests in this question were similar to Tolkien’s, so I think it was inevitable that my creatures would end up being very similar to Tolkien’s elves. I’m certain I’ll be criticized for “copying” Tolkien, and that I’ve just transplanted Tolkien’s elves into my world and given them a different name.

I have my own well-thought-out reasons for including the not-Tolkien’s-Elves in my creation of Arveniem. But I will admit that I’ve read various fantasies, obviously influenced by Tolkien’s work, where I could not see the reasons why the author included elves, other than the “peer-pressure” of familiarity. There’s the Chinese Menu approach that has come out of role playing games of “types” of characters to include on a team, and some sort of “elf” is usually added to the mix for who knows what reason. It is these instances that generate the stereotype and the negative responses to the stereotype.

So, back to the original question: “to elve or not to elve?” Do you include elves (or whatever you want to call them – I call mine “Fynlaren”), or don’t you? What is their nature, if you do include them? What can they do? What can they not do? What do they add to your world that it did not have otherwise?

Fantastical creatures of any sort should have a point, for the author at least. Make it a good one.

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Dealing With Immortality In Fiction

(Originally Posted on Live Journal — Dec. 6th, 2009 at 7:33 PM)

There was a discussion on sartorias ’ LJ some time ago about Elves in current fantasy. What makes them different than being “ordinary humans with magical powers”? This led to mentions of Elves being immortal. (I’d meant to get this written and posted for weeks, but better late than never.)

scribblerworks-ghostsNow, one of the things that has always fascinated me is the huge differences between the experiences of immortality and mortality. And certainly, Tolkien’s choices in his works have something to do with my outlook. But I was always left feeling that he had not resolved the matter of what happened when an Elf had his or her body destroyed in some fashion. It wasn’t clear in Tolkien: there apparently was some sort of “reincarnation”, but it was not clear how it worked.

So, when I started constructing my own fantasy world, and chose to include a race of beings who were, well, cousins to Tolkien’s Elves and would be “immortal”, I had to consider what it meant to be Mortal — what was the ultimate fate of a mortal soul? Being Christian, I do believe in a “life eternal” — but for me, the eternal is outside the material world and outside time. Which meant, to me, that if I was to call someone “immortal”, they would need to be immortal inside the material world. Basically (using the terms of my own faith), the immortals in the world cannot die and “come into the presence of God”. Instead, they are still stuck in the world.

Which forced me to consider the matter of ghosts. Mortal souls don’t stick around (in my fantasy world, Arveniem), so they wouldn’t be ghosts. But if the body of an immortal were slain, what then? The soul becomes disembodied. But I didn’t like the idea of lots of disembodied spirits blowing around, so I decided they would become “refleshed”. The word “reincarnation” does actually mean the same thing, but it comes with the whole baggage of “being reborn as a baby”, and that was some place I did not want to go. For me, I believe that each new life is unique, which leaves me ambivalent about the reality of the general perception of reincarnation. So rather than drag that ambivalence into the fiction, I looked for a different solution.

My solution was that if my “elves” – I ended up calling them the Fynlaren – were somehow “killed”, that is, had their body rendered non-functional, separating the spirit from the body, the “dead” body would disintegrate (dematerialize) within three days. And in the meantime, the spirit would once again take on a material form. But this time, the form would reflect the reality of the spirit. So, if an adult “died”, the refleshed form would be adult. A consequence was that if the Fynlar’s spirit/soul had somehow become warped, the new body would reflect that. But that was a secondary consideration.

With that decided, I could then say that a Mortal’s spirit when his or her body was killed would go right out of the World, and into the presence of God, totally separated from those inside the world.

This very basic but crucial difference in their fates gave me grounds for much potential tension between the mortals and immortals. And yet, I don’t start the story with it blatantly evident. But it underlies a lot of what happens in my story.

Because so much fantasy I’ve encountered in recent years has “immortals” thrown into the story, but the authors don’t really seem to have considered what that means. In one book (by a friend, actually), her elves don’t seem to be immortal, but they are supposedly very long lived. Yet, it does not seem to play out that way – her heroine is taken into an “elven” family, and they all seem to be aged the way an ordinary human family would be, and they behave that way.

Even if the children of an immortal race go through the stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence at the same rate as a mortal race, once they reach adulthood, aren’t things going to be drastically different for them? For one thing, since they may have an indefinite expanse of time, matrimony is not something they would rush into. After all, what’s the hurry? As long as he or she is not marrying a mortal, of course.

Which is one of the main issues in my novel, The Ring of Adonel – one of the Fynlaren has married a Mortal woman, and they have a son, who has just reached adulthood. What happens next? Because Gwyric, the Fynlar, has been very much in love; he hasn’t considered what will happen as his wife ages or dies, he hasn’t considered the nature of his son.

That too was something I had to evaluate. What does happen to the children of a Mortal and Immortal? I made an arbitrary decision that any such child would be Mortal; that person would possibly have a much longer life-span than an ordinary Mortal, but that was all.

Anyway, the point of all this explanation is that having spent so much time working out the consequences for my own writing, I tend to get impatient when I read books where it is obvious that no thought has been expended on the issue of the differences between Mortal and Immortal.

I’m left wondering why that is so. If an author makes the statement that his or her “elves” are immortal, and yet does nothing to really make them different, what was the point? What do they get out of it? What does the reader get?


calimac wrote: (Dec. 6th, 2009 09:17 pm (local))

What are the authors trying to do? They’re trying to push buttons. Same as with authors who copy other aspects of Tolkien, like references to ancient lore and evocations of myth. They see it done well by other authors; they treat it like a plug-in feature that they can use to. The fallacy is in thinking this will automatically create the same effect.

The fate of Tolkien’s Elves is not discussed in LOTR, but it’s a lot clearer in the posthumous works. They are naturally immortal, this much we already knew; that they can be reborn if killed is newly-learned, but they retain their self-identity, so it’s different from normal accounts of human incarnation.

But what’s most critical is the ultimate fate. Elves are immortal, but only within the world. They do not have the kind of immortality meant by a Christian “life eternal.” They know the world’s temporal extent is finite, and thus so is theirs. Men die, but their spirits go outside the world. The Elves don’t know what happens to them there, but the Christian reader does.

Brilliant evocation by Tolkien of his own religious beliefs here.

scribblerworks wrote: (Dec. 6th, 2009 10:41 pm (local))

I agree.

This was one of the things that was very important to me – that issue that the Elves do not know what their fate is at the End of the World. They don’t know if they will get to share the fate of Mortals or if they will cease to exist entirely.

And again, I had to make a decision for myself about what will happen to my Fynlaren. But they don’t know what that is.

As a consequence of all this, for my characters, it led to the Fynlaren being very studious in avoiding war in general and the killing of Mortals as much as possible. They would rather move away then be responsible for ending the life of a Mortal. At least, that has been the way they have acted up to the point of this story.

As for other writers, again I agree that far too many use immortality as a plug-in, without considering the real consequences. It’s rather frustrating to me to encounter it. Especially when one can see that otherwise, the writer is actually rather competent.

degaston wrote: (Dec. 12th, 2009 03:46 pm (local))

I think calimac’s point about pushing buttons is well-made, and it’s likely you’d find comparable buttons or issues in any genre when the fiction gets generic.

I understand your frustration when you say “what’s the point,” but maybe you expect too much of us! After decades of D&D, video games, and best-selling fantasy novels, we all know what elves are like: tall, slender, blonde, good-looking. Good fighters when you push them. Rather snooty and stuck-up around lesser races. But it’s nice to have them nearby when the generic Shadow Wraith Spectre things attack, or when you have Scroll of Annoyingly Ambiguous Ancient Lore to decipher. Oh yeah, and they’re immortal. Did I mention that?

As for what we get out of it, for authors I’d say a shortcut and for readers an expected comfort level. I mean, you’re not asking us to think about this stuff, are you?

So I share your pain. A couple years ago I re-read the Silmarillion for the first time since the 1980’s. From this somewhat-more-mature perspective I was deeply impressed by the nuances of Tolkien’s portrayals of the elves, and even more so by the complexities of their relations with the Houses of Men in the First Age. So much ambiguity, resonance, misunderstanding, glory, and tragedy – in “real life,” as it were, nothing’s simple when mortals meet immortals and become their allies. And yet despite the conflict and anguish it was only through that fragile connection that Middle-earth was redeemed.

Of course, Tolkien had the advantage of studying ancient source materials for decades in the original languages. These days some might call that cheating.

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Late Night Ideas and Surprise Foreshadowing

I had some interesting thoughts on how writers come to include foreshadowing in their works. It isn’t always planned.

(Originally posted on Live Journal — Jun. 28th, 2009 at 8:17 AM)

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I got an idea for something coming up in my novel. I thought, “Oh, hey, that’s an interesting idea. I’ll write it down in the morning.” Of course, you don’t always remember in the morning things that occured to you late at night, especially just before sleeping. Happily, I remembered that point too. I went back into the living room, turned on the light, went to my desk and got out the notebook where I write down the odd out-of-sequence ideas that come to me about the current work.

I have to say that it is really, really tempting to explain the specifics of what this idea is, because the way it fits in with the story is very satisfying. But, because I think it will make a particular moment in the story even more emotionally powerful, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

But I do want to talk about it generally.

Part of the thing about this idea that came to me is that it pays off something set up in the early part of the novel. In an early chapter, I introduce something that (at least so far) has never been explained. Within the world of Arveniem, this Something has a very active role in some stories. It’s just that in The Ring of Adonel, it doesn’t. In RofA (as I call it sometimes), this Something doesn’t even come near to do what it is designed to do.

And I have to admit that that has always puzzled me. “Why doesn’t this come up in RofA?” I wondered vaguely, from time to time. On the one hand, there was the possibility of just deleting mention of the special nature of the Something, since it didn’t seem like there was going to be a pay-off inside RofA. Except that the special nature serves as a trigger for something else (in this early incident) that really is important to the story (and the characters outside RofA that will descend from my hero). But it just plain seemed that why it was a matter of concern was not going to be explained in this novel.

For a long time, I just ended up shrugging it off. It was what it was, and if it never got paid off in The Ring of Adonel, that’s just the way it was going to stay. It does have a HUGE pay-off in another story, and I was content with that.

So, when this idea came to me last night, i got excited! “Oooooo! If it gets that pay-off, it will also pay off this second incident over here too! That’s going to be so cool! It’s going to make this particular moment even more powerful!”

(It sucks to have to talk in generalities, because it’s so cool! But I really want to keep it as a surprise.)

scribblerworks-sayers-chess-setAnyway, the fact that it came together with another incident in the book reminded me of something Dorothy L. Sayers discusses in The Mind of the Maker. The point she makes is that in good writing, all the pieces hold together well, that they all work toward the satisfying end. The example she uses is from Gaudy Night, where two things she needed in the story for different reasons worked together for a more powerful impact. At one point, she needed to have Harriet finally relent toward Lord Peter, and allow him to give her a gift. Because she has been bristling with resentment of gratitude over the fact that he saved her life five years before, she has refused anything that looked like a gift from him. So, when she finally relents, she knows she has to choose something of meaning, something of value. It’s not about the expense of the gift, it’s about whether it is appropriate as a gift: something that will delight her, and something he would be delighted to give. She chooses a set of antique ivory chess pieces, and he is overjoyed to give them. Later, for plot reasons, Sayers needed to have the “villain” of the story destroy something of Harriet’s, in order to show the escalating violence of the Poison Pen culprit that has been harrassing the College. The culprit destroys the chess pieces, so thoroughly that only one pawn remained unscathed. Sayers describes how after the book had been out, she was at a function talking with a reader, and the woman said to Sayers that as soon as the gift was bestowed, she KNEW the chess pieces were doomed. Sayers was much struck by this observation on the part of a reader of a coherence that she as the author was unaware. As noted, the gift was given because Sayers needed to mark a change in the Harriet/Lord Peter relationship. The gift was destroyed because she needed the separate plot incident of the culprit turning on Harriet.

So… this confluence of ideas for me is similar to Sayers’ experience. I needed the Something to have the nature it does for reasons that are actually external to The Ring of Adonel. But there is also an important point about one of the characters that will be enhanced when the explanation of the Something finally does happen. There is a coherence of this creation that I had not anticipated. My instinct that the Something really does belong in this story was correct from the beginning — I just didn’t know the why of it.

I suspect that this is where many creators go astray in creating worlds. They get an idea for something in their world, and put it in. They know it fits, but they don’t know why. So they try to come up with the why, forcing explanations on it. Then they’ve committed themselves to an explanation that later on may not hold up (either within their story or within their world).

It is very, very hard for human creators to accept the inexplicable. “I don’t know why this is here, but it belongs here.” Nobody really wants to admit that, because it sounds like you don’t know what you are doing. Even though you KNOW the “rightness” of the presence of that inexplicable item. Outside readers (when the work is still in process) keep expecting your encyclopediac explanation of what this thing actually is, and why it should be present in this story.

But creativity doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you get ideas that just feel right, that feel like they are part of the weaving of the story, the weaving of the world, even though you don’t know why. The why may come a long time later than the initial idea. The creator just has to trust his or her sense of “rightness” in the face of the inexplicable.


calimac wrote: (Jun. 28th, 2009 09:19 am (local))

the woman said to Sayers that as soon as the gift was bestowed, she KNEW the chess pieces were doomed.

So how much more surprising and interesting a story it would have been if they weren’t?

scribblerworks wrote: (Jun. 28th, 2009 10:35 am (local))

How surprising would it have been if the chess pieces had not been destroyed? Not very, I think. But it also would not have been “more interesting”.

The thing is, I don’t think the reader’s intuition that the chess pieces were doomed was a case of “predictability” of the sort that is lame, cliched invention. It is, rather, a leap of the engaged imagination. The impact of the destruction of the pieces in the story carries so much more weight – Harriet’s initial reaction is “I loved them, and you gave them to me!” And it says so much about how far she still has to go in understanding to reach the point where she is ready to commit to the relationship. And Lord Peter remarks on it. It adds a layer to their relationship and the issues Harriet is dealing with.

If the culprit had destroyed something else of Harriet’s, it would not have had the same effect. Destroying Harriet’s own scholarly paper would just have been a repeat of the attack on her former tutor. And Sayers was too good a writer for that kind of redundency. There was nothing else available as target, at least nothing that had any significance for the reader or for the story.

I know from experienc the kind of “I just KNEW” reaction Sayers’ reader was describing. I’ve had such myself. Most notably when I was reading Patricia McKillips Riddlemaster books. [If folks have not read the trilogy THIS IS A SPOILER! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!] I got to the end of the first book, with Morgon captured, betrayed to Ohm by Deth, and when Deth tells him (after Ohm has declared that he is the High One), “I am his harpist.”

The final paragraph was the perfect ending —

“No,” he [Morgon] whispered. “Oh, no.” Then he felt the word well up from some terrible source, tear out of him, and the barred doors of the High One’s house split from top to bottom with the force of that shout.

As I read that last sentence, the revelation flashed through me that I KNEW that Deth was actually Yrth — a fact that would not be revealed until late in the third book. But knowing that thing did not undermine the power of the story — it increased it. It made me excited to read the story to get to the confirmation of the revelation.

It is an intuition based on meaning, not on plot predicability. Sayers’ reader did not know HOW the doom would fall, and that made the intuition exciting and enjoyable to her. But if the destruction came because of mere plot reasons (and I’ve read too many stories where such things happen because the plot requires it and no other reason), the predictablility of it is indeed uninteresting. There’s a lack of engagement when meaning is left out of the equation.

In fact, I can point to a specific example of where the author does turn away from the “predictable” ending. At the end of Eddings’ Belgariad, Polgara’s ordinary, mortal true love is killed, and the possibility of his resurrection is given to her. She begs for his return, and offers to give up her powers and immortality for his return. He is revived — BUT not only does she NOT lose her powers and immortality, HE is given powers and immortality!

That. Was. So. Wrong. It offended my story sensibilities, because it meant that the Good Guys achieved their victory At. No. Cost. To. Them. And it totally destroyed my enjoyment of the whole story. It was a cheat.

There are times when going against the “I just know” impulse really is the wrong thing.

What storytellers really want are surprises that when you get on the knowing side of them, you look back on the story and go “Oh! NOW I see how it fits in! Yes!”

(Heh. I think you touched a passion point for me. 😀 )

calimac wrote: (Jun. 29th, 2009 11:11 pm (local))

How very strange that you should cite that moment from McKillip, as I would name it the worst and most nonsensical moment in all her otherwise excellent work. Only Darth Vader saying “Luke, I am your father” surpasses it as a gigantic authorial CLANG.

I’ve been trying to forget about that for 30 years. Thanks for reminding me.

scribblerworks wrote: (Jun. 29th, 2009 11:47 pm (local))

How fascinating!

Huh. Interesting. Because I had that intuitive leap forward at first reading, I suppose I’ve never stopped to look at it more objectively. I was certainly thinking from the beginning of how some of her names were too obviously “portentious”.

Structurally speaking, it is a necessary moment of (apparent) betrayal, and has to have weight. But yes, looked at more objectively (pulling off that intuitive coloring), Deth’s delivery of the news and his attitude about it is far more … casual? than it ought to be, thus making Morgon’s reaction overly extreme.

Huh. You’ve given me something to think about. 😀

calimac wrote: (Jun. 30th, 2009 07:39 am (local))

“Necessary”? BS.


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Archeological Creativity

(Originally posted on Live Journal – Feb. 9th, 2009 at 9:29 AM) Or would it be creative archeology? scribblerworks-archeological-digThe last couple of weeks I’ve been transferring information from two notebooks into a program on my computer. Now, that might sound rather innocuous at the start, but it is, in fact, nit-picking and time-consuming. You see, back in the dark ages, when I was in high school, I got inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien. I had been doing some writing prior to reading Tolkien, but his works delivered that extra “umph” that really got me going in writing. I began a fantasy novel — which I did eventually finish after I had graduated! I even submitted it over the transom to Ballantine Books.

Thank God, it was rejected. I believe it is buried somewhere in one of my boxes of papers that have never been unpacked since I moved to California (Update 9/18/2016 – it is. All stowed away in storage for the present.). But I did finish it.

After I finished it, I lavished a lot of creativity and time building the world for it. Trying to write stories in that world. But they never really satisfied me. During this period, I was at college at the University of Houston, studying literature and training myself to be an even better writer. But I didn’t feel that my little created world (I had a huge world map I made, even!) was really gelling. So I stopped. Not writing entirely, but just working on my fantasy world.

Off I went to graduate school, which brought on additional considerations about my own creative process. Delving into Tolkien’s Silmarillion also made me look again at how I had been creating my fantasy world. I had started out with my initial novel, and had then tried to create the background for it, the mythology to fit the story I had. And that just had not worked. So I restarted while in graduate school.

I decided that I would just let it form organically. I would keep a notebook for ideas and write them down as they came to me. And – most important to me, it seemed – I would not impose names on characters and places until I was sure I had the right name. So, the early versions of some story ideas begin with things like “the daughter of the man who founded that city on that peninsula” — because nothing had a name yet. But it worked. The mythology started building itself, and it felt much more organic and (more importantly) mine.

Instead of feeling that I was borrowing or copying from Tolkien or John Milton (the two principle inspirations), I felt that I was just creating in their tradition – because I shared their outlook or impulse. The material grew from inside me, rather than pasted in from outside. The problem was – and is – that it did not come in any linear or orderly fashion.

I’ve come to believe that creativity does not want to be “orderly.” One day, I might be working on a mythological matters and the next scribbling down the idea for a story that would (in the created world’s history) occur a couple of thousand years into its history. With no names. Eventually names would come along and attach themselves to things and people.

Slowly, over the course of seven years, the key elements assembled themselves. (I can say seven years, because I dated all the entries in the notebooks – there are two of them). But now that I am working my way toward the end of The Ring of Adonel, and looking forward to actually starting writing out the other stories of Arveniem (the created world), I realized I needed to organize all that material. Thank heavens for Writer’s Blocks (the program I’m using). It helps me shuffle things around and add to sections easily. But even so, there’s a lot of opening and closing files going on, since I have topical files within the main Arveniem folder.

I started by working backwards through the notebooks, because I figure the later entries would have the most final version of stories and ideas. That way, as I come across the earlier, discarded versions, I don’t have to type them and then delete them. I am finding it interesting how some details have changed from their original concepts. But of all the changes, the one that most amuses me is one of terminology.

When I began, so deeply influenced by Tolkien, I called the race of immortals who were born in the world (as being distinct from the immortal angelic entities who came from outside the world) “elves”. When I’d written a few chapters of The Ring of Adonel, the invaluable sartorias  recommended that I not use that terminology – so as not to be so much a copy of Tolkien. I eventually “found” the term “Fynlaren”, which became completely organic to the material. So now, as I read through the notebooks, when I read the word “elves” or “elf”, my brain automatically translates it to “Fynlaren” or “Fynlar”.

I was doing some work on it yesterday, and I actually laughed at myself when I realized at one point that the translation activity had become so complete that I looked at the word “elves” and didn’t even SEE the letters e-l-v-e-s. I “saw” F-y-n-l-a-r-e-n. Heh.

Part of my mind regards all this work as “make-do procrastination”, because I’m not generating new sentences and getting either the novels, the scripts or the short-stories closer to their completion. But the other part of my mind says that this is work I do need to do, for the benefit of future work. But boy, it IS work.

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Adventures In Naming

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the naming of people and things when I’m building a world. An awkward sounding name will resonant lamely for years in the minds of readers. I want to get it right.

(Originally posted on my LiveJournal on — Mar. 26th, 2008 at 11:19 AM)

I’ve been nose-to-grindstone the last couple of weeks, working on getting the manuscript of The Scribbler’s Guide to the Land of Myth (plug, plug!) ready for BookSurge to do their magic on it. So, working on my fantasy novel has been simmering quietly on a back burner. And it’ll wait a bit longer. I’m almost done with the spell-check on The Guide, and then I need to beef up an outline for another project. But, I’m hoping in a few days to get back to it.

scribblerworks-signpostStill… in the back of my mind, I’ve been mulling over a minor problem. What shall I call my created world? Tolkien called his “Middle-earth”, but mine… isn’t “middle” anything.

Now… this might seem like an odd sort of problem: does it really matter? Well, it does to me. Because once I finish The Ring of Adonel, I want to get on with a few other stories — The Siege of Iren and The Drowning of Jernathien in particular (don’t know if those will be the final names, but they are two of the BIGGER stories waiting on me). So, I wanted some sort of umbrella title for these books. Like “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Except that Narnia is just one country within Lewis’ created world, and my stories don’t all take place in one similar country. In one sense, it’s all about the potential marketing. “The latest volume in the Chronicles of XXX!” And I’m planning to set up a domain for the fantasy titles. (I’m ambitious, if nothing else.) But I’m not planning a series, like the Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl books. So, no calling it by a character’s name either.

So, I’ve been mulling it over. I even prowled through what I call the “idea notebook”, looking at the lists of names, terms and words that struck my fancy, which might be woven into my work. But nothing was leaping off the page, proclaiming “Here I am!”

Then last night, I was making the trek from my work in Culver City all the way through Hollywood toward the Burbank area, for a meeting. On surface streets. So I had time to think of various things.

And suddenly, this word popped into my head.


I liked the sound of it. The feel of it. But I had no idea (at that moment) whether it was something I’d heard, read or otherwise absorbed from the world around me, or whether it was something spontaneously generated in that instant.

It seems to be the latter.

Arveniem. The Created World.

I think I found what I was looking for – or it found me.


(By Margaret Dean) Jan. 4th, 2009 09:18 pm (local)

I like the sound of it, but it does seem to echo Tolkien’s “Arvernien”.

(I answered) Jan. 5th, 2009 07:29 am (local)


I admit, I’m not that up on all of Tolkien’s names. So the name of Earendil’s residence (I had to look it up!) was certainly not in present memory. That may account for the sense of familiarity that came with “Arveniem” presented itself.

Well… too late to change now: it’s implanted itself and insisted it IS the “correct name”. Heh.


The Scribbler’s Guide, of course, has now been published and is readily available.

The Drowning of Jernathien – although still only at a conceptual stage, has gained the title of The Treasures of Darkness and will very likely be the next novel I tackle once I finally do complete The Ring of Adonel.

And, of course, I opted to make the Arveniem site just part of the ScribblerWorks domain, instead of a domain all its own. For one thing, it means I don’t have to track maintaining an additional domain name.

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Getting This Launched

I’ve been delaying getting this blog up and launched, because I was debating whether or not to give the fantasy works their own domain. But I decided not to. ScribblerWorks was always intended to have a lot to it, so this is just one corner of the place.

I’ll soon be recopying to this blog a number of posts from my LiveJournal that deal specifically with either my novel The Ring of Adonel or with the world-building for Arveniem itself.

When I get around to addressing the navigation bar menu, all of those will be for the main ScribblerWorks site. Special matters within the fantasy material will be sorted and indexed by way of the Categories and Tags the blog template uses. Beyond that? I haven’t decided.

But at least I’m getting started with this.

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More Poetry From The Ring of Adonel

(Originally published on LiveJournal)

I need to re-motivate myself to get back on track on various creative projects. And there’s nothing like “public exposure” to assist in that.

Much of the opening third of the book takes place on Midsummer. The ceremonies and mythology of the day are important to the story as a whole, which is the principal reason for that focus. The following poem was (inside the story) composed by Caoin Il-lyran (one of Darael’s sons) for the celebration.

Now, since Caoin is supposed to be an exceptionally fine poet, I’d really set myself a challenge here. I needed to create something that could believably come from a master poet, which meant I needed to find a sophisticated prosody to work with. In grad school, I’d taken 2 semesters of Old Irish, and had become somewhat acquainted with some of the forms of Irish poetry. One trait is that the first syllable, word or line of a poem is also used at the end of it.

So, I hauled out my trusty copy of The Book of Forms: A handbook of poetics by Lewis Turco. Therein I found the form for the Rannaigheacht mhor. Here’s the description of it —

Rannaigheacht mhor is a quatrain stanza of seven-syllable lines consonating, not rhyming, abab. There are at least two cross-rhymes in each couplet, and the final word of line three rhymes with a word in the interior of line four. The internal rhyme in the first couplet may be slant-rhyme. In the second couplet the rhymes must be exact. Two words alliterate in each line, the final word of line four alliterating with the preceeding stressed word.

Turco then gives a simplified schematic of this quatrain form, but I won’t copy that here. I did copy it in my work notebook, however. It was tricksey and required me giving various lines trial runs. On top of that, the whole poem needed to hint at the mythic narration that “inspired” it.

In the end, I’m pretty much satisfied with what I produced. Using the Irish form in the English language gives the poem enough of the difference I was looking for, to distinguish a serious work of a Fynlar as different from that of a mortal.

So, here goes. I’ll be interested in the reactions. (Ask questions if you have any.)

Light lay soft in dreaming gloom.
Darkness then did roam and drift.
No sudden shift in blue dome
Where morning-foam made light lift.

Softly sighing sleep of birth,
There the breaths of dark times slip.
Dorchaile walking whips his mirth,
Dearth of knowing gleams he grips.

Darkness deep in heart and mind
Bids him bind himself to dark.
Dart of envy, anger bends,
Rends til blood in streaming starts.

Aelianus struck in eye,
Streaming light in sky and smoke,
By the stroke in heaven high
Gave a cry from kindling cloak.

Flaming blood upon sky Step,
Down the steep streaming fire came.
Maimed, did Aelianus weep
That darkness deep should bear blame.

From grief came glory to glow,
From foul blow to mountain cleaved,
Brief earth-bound tor where flames grow,
Then sunshine shows to light leaf.

Dorchaile in flight sees gold sun.
None of shadows soothes his spite.
For the bright deed which was done;
As one, the Powers lifted light.

Well, there you go. I suppose it’s not really fair to toss this out without explaining the myth. But I can always do that in another post. 🙂


sartorias  – Oct. 14th, 2007

Some of those images are pretty in deed, but some puzzle me (I can’t make sense out of Dearth of knowing gleams he grips–and I don’t respond to a kindling cloak, or the repeated image of light lifting–it makes light sound heavy. There is so soar in that particular verb, no burst of incandescence. Also, ‘bright deed’ and ‘darkness in heart, etc’ are pretty worn in human terms, so I’d want to see something Gerald Hopkinsish with imagery from these higher forms of being. I did like, very much, the ‘dart of envy, anger bends’ and except for the dark bit again, I loved this line: Softly sighing sleep of birth, There the breaths of dark times slip.


scribblerworks – Oct. 14th, 2007

Well, in this case, you could indeed say that light was “heavy” – in the mythology, the Sun is the peak of the highest mountain in the world set aflame by the spilling of the blood of one of the Attondar, Aelianus (also known as Adonel) in this case. It was destructive to the world that way, so the Attondar took the top of the mountain off and cast it into the sky. Hence the Sun. In referencing the hymn I posted earlier, because it was set alight by the blood of Aelianus, it is called the Gift of Aelianus.

In the story, I have my “clueless newbie” ask what it means, so it can be explained some.

You did latch onto the line I’m least satisfied with, though — Dearth of knowing gleams he grips. I haven’t figured out a way around it though. Basically, it’s meant to signify that Dorchaile doesn’t understand some crucial things, and he proudly clings to his lack of understanding. I’ll have to give that one some more thought … and see if I can make it work in the prosody. (Now, that’s a challenge. Heh.)

sartorias – Oct. 14th, 2007

Ah, now I see! I like that myth imagery.

kalimac – Oct. 14th, 2007

The prosody is what interests me here. Some of the use of internal rhyme, particularly where the exact rhyme in the fourth line is on the second beat and there are no unstressed syllables between the third and fourth beats (e.g. the first and fifth quatrains) remind me of the Pearl meter and Tolkien’s employment of it in “The Nameless Land” (though that doesn’t use internal rhyme, the cutting of the end-rhyme line structure across the phrases gives a similar effect).

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From Text to Image

(Originally published on LiveJournal)

One of the things about being both a writer and an artist is that eventually, the artist gets an itch to draw something that the writer has written. Of all the possible scenes, characters, and events in The Ring of Adonel that appeal to me, however, I did not expect the first one to be the following one. Mainly because the character is quite fantastical.

But I’ve now done a preliminary sketch for an eventual pen & ink drawing. I’m not going to start on that for quite a while (at least, I don’t think I will be). But it amuses me to put the sketch before you, my friendly readers. 🙂

The text from which this comes follows. The setting is a big midsummer celebration, and my hero, Gidion, is performing a solo dance that is quite blatantly drawn from the Highland Fling (heck, I’m half Scottish, so I come by it honestly).


_____In the dwindling light, an earth-green glow was beginning to form before him, shaping itself into the form of a powerful man, one who danced with him. Gidion glanced at Caoin and saw a strange look on the face of the Rinden musician, as if he were compelled to play and could not stop. Gidion sensed that he too was caught in the compelling spell, which drew more and more from musician and dancer. He looked back at the other dancer and his eyes widened.

_____The other danced with his fists planted on his hips, for he had no need to suggest antlers. Sweeping back over his dark head was a pair of gleaming antlers.

_____Except for the sound of the bagpipe and drum, an utter silence had fallen upon the shian. Then, as if from far off, Gidion heard Narin’s voice.



End of chapter. Actually there should be an accent over the ‘a’, but I’m too lazy to go hunting it right now. The name is /fee – AHD/.

Hmmm. Antlers on a humanish head. How’s this going to work?

Head of FiadSo I did the following preliminary sketch —

This was based on working from some pictures of stags, and the proportion and position of the antler sweep to the rest of the head. I also discovered that human or Fynlaren ears weren’t going to look right with the antlers. Hence the stag’s ears.





Fiad dancingFrom there I went on to do a “thumbnail” (except that it’s about 2/3rds the sketchbook page) of Fiad dancing. Thus —






Eventually, when I do get around to doing the pen & ink piece, I want it to come out something in the style of an old picture I’d done from The Silmarillion – Elwing greeting Earendil.

Elwing Greets Earendil


sartorias     Aug. 17th, 2007 01:15 pm (UTC)

Ooooh, evocative!

kalimac      Aug. 17th, 2007 01:54 pm (UTC)

One of the things about being both a writer and an artist is that eventually, the artist gets an itch to draw something that the writer has written.

You do have a knack for reminding one of Tolkien, don’t you?

Is it OK to suggest a change of wording in your passage? One part might be rephrased something like this: “The other danced with his fists planted on his hips. He had no need to suggest antlers – for there the pair of gleaming antlers were, sweeping back over his dark head.” I think that suggests more the surprise of seeing them. (Also, compelled/compelling in the previous graf.)

scribblerworks     Aug. 17th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)

You do have a knack for reminding one of Tolkien, don’t you?

Heh. I guess I can take that as a compliment. But certainly, when I found out that Tolkien also drew pictures of his world, I felt very akin to him. But I’ll never be the linguist he was, so I don’t pretend to that.

And thanks for the rewrite suggestions. I should have said the passage was from the unrevised first draft, and needs some tweaking. I noticed the compelled/compelling chime when I typed it to LJ, but didn’t change it. But I do need the word once.

kalimac      Aug. 17th, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC)

Yeah, “chime” – that’s the technical term I needed. I was fixing on the chime in both passages. Using the word once each, though, is of course appropriate.

Don’t worry about clumsiness in your first draft, though. Tolkien didn’t. (I’m going to keep on making encouraging comparisons like that so long as they’re appropriate.)

jpantalleresco     Aug. 24th, 2007 08:11 pm (UTC)

Awesome pieces Sarah. I really like the last one in particular.

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Re-Entering a Subcreation

(Originally published on LiveJournal)

In between doing household chores this weekend, I have been rummaging through various notebooks connected to my fantasy novel (okay — it would be easier just to refer to it by its title: The Ring of Adonel – also abbreviated RofA). The most recent notes are ten years old. I know this because I have this obsessive habit of dating my manuscripts. I write the first drafts of many of my bits of writing long-hand. A habit begun in childhood, and continued in college. There’s just a different rhythm to the composition when writing long-hand than there is when composing at a keyboard. Anyway, whenever I sit down to work on a manuscript (long-hand), I date the beginning of the section. So I know when last I worked on it.

I won’t even go into how long ago the manuscript was begun — because I can’t possibly be that old! (What’s that they say? “You’re only as old as you feel”? So, don’t make me feel it! 😉 )

Gwyric & Darael look at the night sky.

The particular notebook I was looking at today is one where I would write down scenes as they occurred to me – well in advance of where I was in the actual manuscript. I mean, if a good, powerful scene occurs to you, you should not just keep it in your mind until you get there. You might not remember it by then. And in reading some of these scenes, I was struck by the fact that I had not remembered many of them.

One of the major issues I needed to work out for the novel – and for the world in general – was the nature of certain of the races of the world. The combined influences of Tolkien, fairy stories, and Norse mythology had led me to include a race of immortals in my world. That is, they are (as I call them) “Children of the World”, part of this creation, and not members of the angelic beings who entered it from “outside”. Like Tolkien’s Elves, and in fact, they were originally called “Elves”.

But way back when, “in the dark ages”, my friend Sherwood Smith (sartorias) was hearing parts of the MS being read to her, she made the suggestion that using “elves” would point far too much toward Tolkien. And she was right. My creatures deserved something more clearly “their own”.

After listening very, very carefully to my work, I “learned” that they were called the Fynlaren. And so they have been to me every since. To look back over the earliest parts of the MS and see the word “elves” feels very, very strange.

However, the influence of Tolkien also taught me something. For myself, the Fynlaren needed a more specific nature than I felt Tolkien’s elves have. Well, admittedly, the Elves may have had a specific nature to Tolkien, but I never quite felt it. And in my creation the “first generation” of the Fynlaren were created as adults, who “awoke” at the beginning of their lives (rather like Adam & Eve).  So, now I’m going to inflict one of those “advance” passages on you. This is one of those I’d forgotten I’d written. But it has such an interesting concept behind it that it struck me this evening. Just so you know the players, Gwyric and Darael are both of the “first generation” of the Fynlaren, and they’ve known each other for… oh, at least a thousand years, I think. A long time. Gwyric had wed a mortal woman 22 years earlier (his son is the hero of the book), and Moira had been murdered earlier in the story. What Gwyric is about to tell his friend, he has never told anyone.


At last Gwyric spoke. “There are the First Awakened, and then there is the First Awakened. All of you, waking in Kyradon, when you woke you knew and understood what you saw. The world had names. Everything had order. For you, that is all you have ever known.”

A silence fell between them and Darael was astonished by what he saw in it.

“Do you mean–?”

Gwyric gave a heavy sigh. “You cannot possibly know. When there were no words, how can there be words to describe it?”

Darael felt the pressure of the hidden listener’s attention. “Try.”

The pause was so long, Darael almost prodded again.

“Adonel woke me with a touch. Such glory. Such a bright scattering of pieces. My hands were empty, my mind empty. Yet through them tumbled everything. To be conscious without knowing. It is a terrible thing, li-delf. Perhaps if my living heart were ripped from my body and I still lived, perhaps that might be a faint experience like that first moment. Like this moment. Adonel, of course, realized what I lacked. His second touch gave me language. He had been too eager to greet the Children of the World. If he had not—”

Gwyric shook his head. “The flood of language, of knowing. Yes, it was a joy. But I alone of the Fynlaren have known … aloneness in such a way that none other has. And now it grows in me again. That moment swells in me. Like a dark wave, it rolls over everything in my memory. As Jernathien sank beneath the waves, the green hills and fair stones overwealmed by the dark, clear waters….”

He threw out a hand, trying to push something away from himself.

“She is gone. And I cannot see, and there are no words.”


I suppose some of this will be revised when I get to this point in the story down the road.  But in the meantime, I’m rather enjoying being surprised by my own work.


sartorias     Aug. 12th, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC)

Go for it!

kalimac     Aug. 12th, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC)

Had Tolkien written a similar concept, it would have been … interesting. But as I understand him, the Elves invented language on their own. Some other contrasts between you and Tolkien come to mind: I have this obsessive habit of dating my manuscripts. And Tolkien studies would be very different if he’d done the same. I “learned” that they were called the Fynlaren. And so they have been to me ever since. Tolkien had a hard time giving up on “Bingo” and “Trotter”. You’re fortunate.

jpantalleresco     Aug. 12th, 2007 11:37 pm (UTC)

“The pause was so long, Darael almost prodded again.” bothers me. Not because of the line itself. I get the impression you leave too much unsaid there. I get the feeling this should be a very sad scene. What is going on with Gwyric during the long pause? Why does it take so long? It feels like that line is the start of a missing paragraph, not the whole paragraph in itself. He’s reflecting on that time. What is in his eyes or face when he pauses? You don’t need a lot of detail here, exactly, but I think you need a line to showcase something is going on. Otherwise it sounds good. JP

scribblerworks     Aug. 13th, 2007 06:53 am (UTC)

Thanks, Josh! I’ll keep your observation in mind. And yes, this is part of a sad scene — only a part of it, mind. I wouldn’t want to give away too much this far in advance, but I will say that the scene takes place at night, and the “hidden listener” is in fact Gwyric’s son, Gidion. But “hidden” only in the sense of out of their sight, and supposedly sleeping. But I like your questions. They’re the kind of questions I would want a reader to be having at this moment. 😀

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