Category Archives: World Creation
I was recently listening to our own Donald Williams give an interview for a podcast. In the course of his talk he was discussing how today we have libraries of information at our finger tips, while in the time of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien they had to work harder to get at things. They had to read books, not just google them. In doing so, they came to know their books and the ideas in them intimately. He also mentioned why he thought this resulted in a better education–and this is my paraphrase:
The students I’ve seen who have the deepest insights aren’t necessarily the most intelligent ones. They are the the ones who are moderately intelligent and have to work at things a little more. They get to know what they’re talking about more deeply because they have to spend time with it. Lewis and Tolkien had that advantage, plus they were geniuses!
The more I think about that–this idea of slow, patient, intimate knowledge, acquired through hard work–the more this strikes me. We have such an emphasis on getting things now and getting them without effort that often times we often resent the idea of having to work for our knowledge. It comes to us so easily! As a result, we don’t think things through for the simple reason that we’ve been trained to believe that doing so isn’t our responsibility. Someone else will do it for us. Information takes the place of understanding and wisdom, and it is supposed to come at the click of a button (i.e. We shouldn’t have to actually read all those books for that paper! Who does that?!). We purchase the next big thing just because it’s new and someone said it’s better (Is it? Microsoft Anything, anyone?). We vote for the next politician because he/she promises to give us everything we want (“Trust me! I have your best interests at heart! Just don’t ask what you’ll be giving up in return….”). We are too often satisfied with wading in the tepid, muddy, mosquito filled shallows when, if we pushed farther, we could find the cool depth of a sea the end of whose grandeur we can never see.
Is it sometimes any different with our fictional worlds? Are we in such a hurry, so desperately busy, that we just try to reach in and grab what we can before rushing on to the next shiny thing and expect people to praise our work simply because it is our own? Do we live in our worlds and get to know every rock and pebble like an old friend, as Tolkien did? Do we see them in our mind’s eye so clearly that we get lost in the details of a scene, like Lewis did? If we ourselves don’t take the time to really dwell in our worlds, to speak with our characters, and to understand them as friends and family–if we simply “process” them and spit out fiction as a result–will we ever write anything really worth reading? Perhaps more importantly, even if it’s worth reading, will it be worth remembering?
I’m afraid not. But therein lies the challenge: Dwelling, abiding, understanding, feeling, etc. on that intimate a level–all of it takes time and is at points uncomfortable. We have to slow down and be willing to work at it. And that is becoming a more and more difficult thing to do. It takes sacrifice. Each opportunity we choose to set aside to write, even if it is just to “live” in our world in a story we know will probably never see light of day, we have to give something else up.
It all comes down to this: What am I willing to sacrifice so that my world and my creations might more fully live?
This post was previously published in June 2013. It was Part 3 in a series of posts on my journey through the Harry Potter series and the lessons the books have taught me.
Good morning, class
I have always enjoyed Rowling’s expansive world. She pulls from various myths, legends, and folktales to create her magical society. I have been thinking about the numerous authors that I have read after Harry Potter jump-started my affinity for reading children’s literature, and three authors stand out as writers who have had a personal impact on my own imagination. Basically, they have taught me everything I know….
I read The Chronicles of Pyrdain at the suggestion of a friend. I completed the first book during February 2011 but was not able to continue the series until the following summer. I was not immediately hooked in the stories like I was Harry Potter, but Alexander is a craftsman of detail and diction, and his enchanting storytelling kept me wanting to continue the story of Taran and his companions. My favorite book of the series is The Black Cauldron, mainly because of its exploration of the conflict between personal glory and self-sacrifice. But what really enchanted me about Alexander is his use of Welsh mythology. From his books, I learned not to fear myth as inspiration, and I began to see the influence of myth on well-received authors like Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.
I read A Wrinkle in Time in April 2011. I think this book ranks as one of my all-time favorites, and I definitely will be writing more about this book in the future. L’Engle has a different approach to storytelling, as her language seems more accessible to children than Alexander. However, I loved how she combined fantasy, science, religion, and social issues into one mesmerizing story about a young girl who learns to love even if she is not loved back. As I read further works from L’Engle, I began to notice that she uses science frequently in her stories. One might say that science is a “mythology” to L’Engle, and she adapts various theories and statistics to move and shape her worlds.
I think I’m stumbling onto a theme here….
A conservative children’s literature teacher told me to read The Graveyard Book and see if I would hate it as much as she did. This teacher disliked anything fun (Rowling Gaiman) and stuck to “safe” books like Lewis, L’Engle, and Alexander. Well, reading the book had the opposite effect. It freaked me out a bit (definitely not a book for little eyes), but I could not stop thinking about the story, the characters, and the genius of Gaiman. Really, if you want some good storytelling, pick up an audio recording of Gaiman’s books (make sure it’s read by the author himself) and witness the wonder of his craft. When doing research for a presentation on Gaiman, I found this video about his thoughts on creating the book. It all began with him watching his two-year-old son ride his tricycle around a graveyard. He then began to think of a story with a similar structure to Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and he developed probably one of the most imaginative (and ghoulish) worlds I have ever read. However, Gaiman said he borrowed heavily from Norse, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology to create his universe. He said, however, you have to own the myth–make it yours.
So, what did I learn from my favorite authors? First, for many of them, it all began with a picture: for Lewis, a faun carrying parcels and an umbrella through the snow; for Gaiman, watching his son play in a graveyard; for Rowling, a be-speckled boy appeared to her in a metro. Second, almost all of them use myth, or life experience, or observations of their world. Essentially, by taking myth and making it their own, they can create dazzling worlds to fix the characters and action. Thus, the stress of creating something original is gone. Just tell a story, even if it has been told before–only strive to improve it. If anything, you will at least see the mythology you have adopted mold and shape into something unique–something that is yours.