Mapping The Imagination

Maps are a subject I keep returning to again and again and for good reason. Ever since I was a child I’ve held a deep fascination for atlas’s, globes, maps and cartography in general. The mystery of distant countries with exotic names, far flung foreign lands, strange topographic features or intricate maps of fictional worlds have always captivated my imagination and I know I’m not alone in this passion. Maps, particularly when used in fiction, are more popular today than they’ve ever been.

Check out my previous map inspired posts: For the love of maps! & Mapping your fantasy

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In literary terms, the first map I’m aware of studying was probably E.H. Shepherd’s beautifully illustrated ‘100 Acre Wood’ for A.A. Milne’s glorious Winnie The Pooh, that was quickly followed by the maps in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Tove Jansson’s wonderful map of Moomin Valley and CS Lewis’s Narnia map.

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As all lovers of good fantasy fiction know, there is nothing as pleasurable as poring over a map of your favourite fantasy world, whether it be George RR Martin’s Westeros at the heart of his phenomenal Games of Thrones (Song of Ice & Fire) series, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in his Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 34c29aa5e22785787f24a35d580761c71

 

Now, as an illustrator and author, I create my own detailed hand-drawn fantasy maps for my books and for other authors and publishers. I’ve only illustrated 9 books to date so far but have several projects in the pipeline, and would like to share with you, my fellow map lovers, how I created my latest commission for fabulous fantasy writer, Juliet McKenna and her awesome new River Kingdom series.

Firstly, I cannot tell you what fun it is creating these beautiful objects – “The literal and visual distillation of an author’s imagination through graphite, pen & ink and paint.” It is true that not every great fantasy novel needs a map and some authors like NK Jemisin were initially not keen on them, but for me I love them as I think they create a tangible geographical point of reference from which the story weaves its magic. Funnily enough, Joe Abercromie who apparently wasn’t keen on fantasy maps for his First Law series then included 5 of them in The Heroes (to represent the battle movements)!

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At the end of July I was approached by Juliet McKenna who was looking for someone to do a map for her latest fantasy series, the River Kingdom. That started a really interesting month of creative exploration. Juliet, much like me, is a stickler for detail, which I love. The devil’s in the detail they say and that is particularly true when creating fantasy maps, the more information the better!

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The first thing I loved, is that her River Kingdom is landlocked i.e. set in the middle of a continent, much like my Fendellin map (see left), and avoids the over used cliché of a coastline and seas. This makes total sense to me – as much as I love coastlines, not every land is going to be coastal and yet if you follow the vast majority of fantasy maps they are all either islands or coastal regions! River Kingdom is inland and is all about the rivers and the regions and peoples they dominate.

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For a starting point Juliet emailed me a few pages of notes about her fabulous River Kingdom world, the main rivers (Tane and Dore) in her kingdom, what they are like (winding? straight? navigable? deep? shallow? rapids? maelstroms? etc), how they flow, the settlements and communities along their banks, the different administrative ruling centres and fiefdoms, what the Hill Country was like and forests, a description of the Nilgeh Mire, how the land lies and towns relate to each other, etc. It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be something rather special, as so few authors really fully imagine and realise the worlds they create down to the everyday detail.

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From this, we started a wonderful creative collaboration, back and forth. To ensure that my clients are 110% with the artwork they receive, I’m a great believer in asking questions rather than guessing, that way you are able to really crystalize what the author/client wants and are far more likely to deliver it.

More questions and details followed, the colour of the waters of the main rivers, their tributaries, what happens when the two great rivers meet, adding wharfs and quays for river folk to travel and ferries, the types of trees in the forest areas, how high are the mountains, how to represent the towns with different allegiances, motifs to be used to represent the Grainland and Grassland areas and lovely nuances like adding subtle terraces to some of the Downland hills and what the geology and terrain was of drier areas like the High Plateau. Discussions about the lovely maps of 15thC cartographer, John Speed and the red colour of towns depicted etc.

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Then, after the graphite and then inking stages were finished, a whole new conversation took place about colours and tones for the finished painted map. Mountainous regions in reality, vary hugely, another reason why I prefer to hand draw everything rather than using computer programs which just replicate the same mountain shape again and again, some smaller some bigger but none with any individuality. Were the mountainous regions alpine in nature, snow capped and grey granite or like the dry peaks of parts of the Andes or more like the Cairngorms and Snowdonia, greener lower peaks?

What about the woodland areas?

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Most forests depicted in fantasy maps tend to be one generic shape repeated infinitum and if they are coloured, one generic green shade. We decided instead to have individual shapes, colours and shades for the different tree types just like a real mixed forest canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees. Yes these are still stylised trees, drawing an accurate observational study of a tree with all it’s intertwining branches would look dreadful in a map context, like a mass of spider webs and would become too distracting to the overall effect.

captureThen you have the map’s compass. I like to do an individual compass for every map and client, so they are unique to that client’s work. In Juliet’s case, I really wanted to include some of the mythos present in her story, namely the fact that her market towns have shrines to the Sun Goddess & Moon God, so I wanted a compass rose with a sun and moon motif at the centre (lol, Juliet is apparently now thinking of using this compass rose as a cross-stitch design!).  🙂

compass

When painting the map, I found myself using some truly gorgeous pearlescent paints and gold inks for the details (there are amazing art products out there!), I only wish the sheen of these had fully translated into the final scanned map.

So, after a month and a bit of continuous work, we had a finished painted map for Juliet’s amazing new fantasy, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launches at *BristolCon in less than two weeks! Pop along and meet Juliet in person and grab yourself your own signed copy from the author herself! (check out the gorgeous cover by Ben Baldwin!)

*BristolCon – is a fantastic one day SFF convention in Bristol at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on Saturday 29th October! The programme of events is here. (Juliet will be there signing copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom and appearing on two panels & I’ll be there too supporting my publishers, Grimbold Books and doing a panel and reading – come along and join the fun!)

So, there you go folks…the process of actually creating and making a fantasy map, it ain’t easy but boy is it FUN!  🙂 xxx

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🙂 xxxx

Etymology – what’s in a word? Part I – Places.

Okay, I admit it, I’m a HUGE nerd and this particular post will probably only be of interest to me and about three other people on the planet! But I love etymology and the derivation of words.

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to places and place names.

I grew up learning that place names had a beauty and a power all themselves and that they weren’t just a string of random letters but actually meant something. Places had meanings. I spent my childhood in a small village named after a Saxon chief, Alwif, who came across the megalithic stones on the high hill above the village and named the settlement after himself and the largest stone, Alwif’s Stone, which later became Alves’town and then Alveston. Greenhill, just round the corner, was a green hill, Bodyce Orchard was named after the bodies supposedly buried there during the English Civil War (1642-1651). My tumbled down cottage (circa 1577) where I grew up dreaming of dragons and adventure, was on a wonderfully named road – Wolfridge Ride, named after the wolves that used to roam the area when it was forested hundreds of years before and the wolf pits that were dug to catch them along the high ridge.

Lol, I digress…but you understand my fascination with place names and the derivation of words, the inherent mystery and magic in them.

So, here I am lifting the curtain on my weird and wonderful world and some of the strange research I did for White Mountain and for the worldbuilding behind my Darkling Chronicles trilogy.

Despite White Mountain being an epic fantasy in the traditional ‘high fantasy’ sense, it is set now within our modern world, so in addition to my invented places I also wanted to include real places too, to ground the fantasy in reality and give the book an authentic feel for the reader.

I should state here, that having taught phonetics for the last 16years, I understand the basic structures of many Indo-European languages and syntax and so when I decided, like the true nerd that I am, to invent my own Dworllian language, I wanted to make sure that it actually worked…and yes it does!

(*My Dworllian language – actually a mixture of Maori, African Bantu & Ibo dialects, Old Norse, Old English, Celtic and Old Hindi).

Map of Fendellin (colour) (2)

The Locations of White Mountain:

  • The Arctic Tundra – location of Ïssätun*, the Ice City, high within the Arctic circle. An enormous hidden city made entirely of ice where all remaining elder tribes, dworlls and magic-casters etc., can meet, trade and gather news. A cross between a huge shopping mall, a bizarre and a covered market, full of haggling stalls, bridges and walkways, squares and forums for meeting…though it hides a dark secret.

(Ïssätun* – iss or issa meaning ‘ice’ in Old Norse + tun meaning ‘town’ in Old English and Old Norse = my Ïssätun, ‘Ice Town’)

  • The Siberian Boreal forest or ‘Taiga’ (snowforest) – location of the Grey Forest and Wendya Undokki’s home, within the magical Llrinaru* trees with their tree spirits or dryads. The boreal forest is the largest forest on earth and covers an enormous area, home to many indigenous tribes such as the Nenet, Chukchi and Evenki. Like the genus behind many ancient and Anglo-Saxon names, the Grey Forest is just that, literally a grey forest of larches, alder, spruce and ancient silver birch which appear grey when flecked with snow.

(Grey – grǣg in Old English. Llrinaru* trees or ‘The Elder Wood’ – llri meaning ‘old’ or ‘ancient’ in Dworllian + naru meaning ‘forest’ or ‘wood’)

  • The Alps (Alpes – Celtic derivation) – location of White Mountain (Mont Blanc), Mr. Agyk’s ancestral home and home of Gralen, the last Eurasian dragon in existence. (Although the real location which inspired White Mountain was actually Mount Cook ‘Aoraki’ in New Zealand during my epic four month backpacking trip there back in 1997/1998).

 

  • The Amazon – location of the ‘Oracle of the West’ (one of the nine oracles from the ancient world, which included the oracles at Delphi and Cumae) and its lair, deep within the Amazonian basin. From the aerial roots of the mangrove swamps on its Atlantic coast to the black ox-bow lakes that straddle its interior like giant boomerangs, the protagonists must follow a path deep into the heart of the jungle, past dangling lianas and bromeliads and the giant buttresses of its huge mahogany trees to a dark and dangerous power.

 

  • (Democratic Republic of Congo) Congolese Rainforest – location of the huge subterranean metropolis of Kallorm* known as ‘The City of Light’, largest and oldest of all Dworllian Kingdoms, known as Dwellum in Old Dworllish (similar to Sumerian cuneiform in its written language) and Silverden in the Ǽllfren tongue. Kallorm, with its three colossal underground mountains ‘The Three Pillars of Kallorm’ which support the ground above, was founded over 120,000 years ago but has been in steady decline since the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago when the human population exploded. Only the indigenous forest people, the Ba’Aka are aware of the city’s existence. Sapele and Iroko trees and hidden forest clearings called bai’s, dot the landscape and its red iron rich soils and the impatiens that blossom beneath the dappled canopy (bai’s were only recently discovered by Westerners, still hidden in the Congo’s mythic ‘heart of darkness’). Wendya Undokki grew up in the city as a child and used to play in these bai’s (open water meadows), before leaving for the Siberian north and the Grey Forest. 

(Undokki means ‘witch’ in African Bantu languages which is apt as Wendya is a witch!)

  • Himalayas – location of the hidden land of Fendellin*. Tibetan and Indian myths tell of a magical hidden land, lost in the Himalayas, called Shambhala. It was this Shambhala which inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon and the land of Shangri-La. Shambhala IS my Fendellin.

“Far East beyond heart’s lost desire

The birthplace of the eldest kin,

Through rising sun on wings of fire

Lies forgotten Fendellin.”

(Fendellin* – fen meaning a low-lying land, marshy or near watercourses from Old Norse ‘fen’ + dell meaning a hollow esp. wooded hollow from Old English ‘del’ or ‘delle’ = my Fendellin* rather simple and Anglo-Saxon in its meaning!)

  • Fendellin* – location of the mountain capital of Mund’harr* and the central plateau named after it. The capital, the Golden City, sometimes referred to as the Sky or Cloud City, sits at the top of Mund’harr, amongst its pinnacles.

(Mund’harr* – mund meaning ‘mound’ in Old English similar to munt meaning ‘mount’ in Old English + harr meaning ‘high’ in Dworllian and related to hār meaning ‘high’ in Old Norse.)

(The main river in Fendellin, ‘The Great Varuna River’ – Varuna from Hinduism, the ancient sky god, later the god of waters and rain-giver.)

(The Shudras, ‘The Silent Marshes’ – Shudras from the ancient Indian Vedas, the fourth varna from one of the sacred texts from the Rig Veda. Shudras was the lowest social class, also refers to swamps and the dark serpents who inhabit them.)

***

There…I think I’ve bored you all enough! But you get the idea.

Part II will look at myths and creatures – wargols, firewolves, oracles, fÿrrens (dragons), dworlls (dwarves), and the Gorrgos!

Below is a map of the world with White Mountain locations and the approximate routes taken to get there! 😀 xxx

White Mountain locations map with routes

 

 

The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

I don’t usually re-blog my own posts, in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it before, but I saw this post I blogged in May last year and just loved the subject matter – writing and the history of writing! Enjoy! 😀 xx

Sophie E Tallis - Author/Illustrator

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil... The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, circa 2nd millennium BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, the writing’s on the tablet and I’m not talking computer tablets here, in terms of writing and technology, it seems we’ve come full circle! 😀

Like many of us, when I was a child I believed that the ancient Egyptians invented writing. That hieroglyphics were man’s earliest endeavour at making sense of the world in written form.

Of course, we all know this to be untrue now, that actually Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) and the ancient Sumerians invented writing, Sumerian cuneiform by writing on clay tablets with a reed called a stylus, at least 200 years before the Egyptians.

"The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the mo...
“The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the most famous of all cuneiform tablets. It is the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Like…

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Han Solo, Passing 14,000 and The Liebster Award!!!!

Han Solo

Okay, first I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to all my amazing talented followers for pushing this little blog past 14,000 hits!!! That’s truly humbling and astounding. So, whether you’re regular visitors, weekly watchers, new to the site, fly-by, one-stop-shop, pop-in pop-out kind of visitors, or hang out pull up your chair and relax visitors, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! This blog would be nothing without your support! 😀 xx

Right, before I get too gushy on you, I’ll get on with the post.

As I mentioned in my last nomination, The Versatile Blogger award, I’ve been very forgetful regarding the awards which have so kindly been bestowed upon me, but, I’ve now caught up with this latest one, the Liebster Award. Again, huge thanks must go out to the gorgeous, talented and thoroughly lovely Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/), who nominated me for this award in May. Kay is an extraordinarily gifted fantasy author with a love of nascar, a gift for cooking and a huge heart!

Apart from being a fellow member of The Alliance of Worldbuilders – http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/index.html & http://www.facebook.com/TheAllianceOfWorldbuilders along with myself and a bunch of fantasy/sci-fi geeks, Kay Kauffman has also established the most amazing blog which I highly recommend you all checking out! http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/  – Thank you Kay! 😀 x

As usual, there are a few rules for this:

liebsterThe Rules:

  1. List eleven random facts about yourself.
  2. Answer the eleven questions that were asked of you by the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Nominate eleven other blogs for the Liebster Award and link to their blogs.
  4. Notify the bloggers of their award.
  5. Ask the award winners eleven questions, to be answered upon acceptance of the award.

Umm…I’m noticing a pattern in the number 11!liebster-award

Okay, so here is where I bend the rules a little…ahem…okay, break the rules again. Rules are made for breaking, right? The Liebster Award is supposed to be for blogs who have 200 followers or less. Well, as the lovely Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/) suspected, I am very lucky to have more followers than that, first rule broken. but since she was kind enough to nominate me, I’m gladly accepting!

Okay…er…first eleven random facts about me:

  1. I’m a terrible insomniac and have been since I was about 14.
  2. I’m petrified of spiders but okay with snakes.
  3. I’ve nearly died at least 4 times, drowning, car crash, decapitation, run over, and that’s not counting all the times I fell twenty feet out of trees with hardly a bruise or scratch – I’ve never broken a bone!
  4. I have dreadful eyesight yet can see amazing details close up, like microscope vision, great for drawing and I ADORE looking at maps!
  5. I could talk before I could walk and was writing and drawing before 3yrs.
  6. My first crush was on Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, I even posted an airmail love letter to Jackson Hole, Wyoming!
  7. I am very much a country girl, born and bred and love nature and wild landscapes – preferably with no people around, just the elements and me!
  8. I love animals and detest cruelty of any kind. I’m anti all ‘blood sports’ like fox hunting.
  9. I love green vegetables and have a real thing for runner beans! English: runner beans
  10. Star Wars was the very first film I ever saw at the cinema. It got me totally hooked on science-fiction and fantasy, but it also seeded a deep desire in me, ever since I was 4yrs old, to be an astronaut. To this day, I still have vivid dreams of flying my own spaceship!
  11. When I was 17 I went to Communist Russia on a school trip. Our plane was diverted to an airstrip north of Moscow due to a storm and the KGB boarded our plane and took our passports. It was very scary. I was frisked by one of the guards and we were all detained for four hours in a blizzard. It was an amazing trip though. We went to Lenin’s tomb – incredible. It was like a dream. Although he’d been dead for over 70 years at the time, he looked like he had just fallen asleep! Seriously freaky!

The questions Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/) wanted answered:

  1. If you could have lunch with any one person, living or dead, who would it be and why? Probably my personal hero, David Attenborough.David Attenborough 1
  2. What is your favourite song and why? Mull of Kintyre by Wings. It was the first record I ever bought and even though I know it’s cheesy as hell, I still adore it. Something to do with being a soundtrack to nature I think.
  3. What is your dream job? Besides being a writer? Probably a film director. I love telling stories and being a highly visual person that would be ideal. Weirdly enough, my career’s advisor said ‘writer or film director’ as two of my best most suitable jobs!
  4. What is your favourite season? Spring, everything awakening, coming back to life and the promise of Summer yet to come.
  5. Why did you start blogging? Oops…I read this as ‘when’ – 26th January 2012! Why? Umm. To be honest I don’t know, I just kind of fell into it and found I loved it!
  6. What is your favourite comfort food? Bread and Marmite.
  7. If you had a time turner like Hermione’s in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, what would you do with it? Sorry, I’ve never read any HP more of a Tolkien girl, so don’t know what that is. I’m guessing it’s a time machine device or something? Uh…I’d probably go back in time and undo some mistakes, do a few things differently given the choice. I don’t live with regrets, but I’ve often made choices for other people and not for myself.
  8. If you could have lunch with one of the captains from Star Trek or one of the characters from Star Wars, who would you choose and why? Ooh, that’s hard. The 12yr old me would definitely go with Han Solo, now though, I think I’d pick Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk, he’s kinda cute and I think he’s a funny guy. It would be a fun lunch!
  9. Do you use your cell phone mostly for talking or mostly for other things? Mostly for texting, but mostly not at all. I’m an email girl not a cell/mobile phone girl.
  10. What makes you dance? Most music.
  11. And the follow-up, what makes you sing? “You’re Just Too Good To Be True…” & “Sweet Caroline…ba ba ba”, the classic drunken sing-a-long songs!

There you go! Now for my eleven nominees, as always, these really are in no order at all!

  1. Tricia Drammeh – http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/ &  http://theclaimingwords.com/
  2. Lindsey Parsons – http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  3. Susan Finlay – http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com/
  4. Kate Jack – http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/
  5. Andrea Baker – http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/ & http://rosewallauthor.wordpress.com/
  6. Will Macmillan Jones – http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/
  7. Jane Dougherty – http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  8. Lisa Scullard – http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ & http://hardinkcafe.wordpress.com/
  9. Emily Mckeon – http://theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com/
  10. Joanne Hall – http://hierath.wordpress.com/
  11. Ashen Venema – http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/

Wow…there are a LOT of lists on this post! Okay, now for the last fun part…he he he!

Eleven questions I would like my nominees to answer, should they choose to accept the award. Here goes!

  • What was the first book you ever read, and the last one you read/are reading?
  • What superpower do you wish you had and why?
  • Better to burn like a comet or fade away? Quick and bright or slow and dull? How best you do live your life?
  • If you were transported into a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or one of G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones stories, which character would you play and why?
  • Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams?
  • Favourite movie and why?
  • Favourite all time character from fiction and why?
  • DC or Marvel?
  • Guilty pleasure?
  • If you were granted one wish, what would it be and why?
  • What book has had the most profound affect upon you and why?

There you go, a mixture of absurdly silly, shallow questions with a few sensible ones thrown in! 😉

How would YOU answer these? Eh? Huh? Wanna give it a try? Yes, you sitting there in the corner, yes YOU! Come on over here and ask yourself these questions, come join our little nerdfest! 😀 xxx

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Epic Tragedy of Love

Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)

Romeo and Juliet (1968 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Literature, history and mythology is littered with great heroes and heroines, those mystically imbued figures whose short poetic lives have enriched ours, and whose tragic and doomed love affairs have become the stuff of legend. As a child I was first aware of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet, and their struggles against a world so determined to tear them apart. Their torn loyalties of family, responsibility, duty, honour, and the forbidden love they held for each other, seemed to mirror the angst we teenagers inevitably felt. Luckily at my school, we had a rich diet of Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Anthony & Cleopatra (another doomed couple), Julius Caesar, Hamlet (unrequited & destructive love), Othello (jealous, possessive love) & Macbeth (the manipulation of love). I was fascinated by the interplay of characters, how each couple and individual reacted to the circumstances they found themselves in, the choices they made, whether destiny played a part, how love could be corrupted or could corrupt others. As a hopeless romantic, (Shh! Don’t tell anyone! I try not to admit it and refrain from reading any chick-lit, ‘slushy trash’ as I call it, hey…sci-fi/fantasy girl here!), I do see the allure of such characters and such stories and how they ultimately convey the human condition in all its absurdities, frailties, flaws and its glory.

The Lady of Shalott, based on The Lady of Shal...

The Lady of Shalott, based on The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up, my reading lists widened and as my love of the fantasy genre and its origins took hold, I began delving into ancient mythology. The wonderful Welsh sagas of The Mabinogion (based on tales from 1190-1350) and particularly Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (1485), is still a favourite of mine, and the eternal love triangle of Arthur, Guinevere & Launcelot. Somehow, you can still sense the searing pain of betrayal in Arthur’s heart, the conflict in the lovers and their guilt at their actions, yet their total inability to stop themselves falling in love. Of course, it is as true today as it was in 600AD, you cannot help who you fall in love with. I remember watching John Boorman’s mesmeric 1981 film Excalibur, with its incredible visuals and Carl Orff’s thunderous Carmina Burana spurring the horses on through the mists of battle. But still, through all the magic and heroism, it was the tragic love story that kept haunting me. As I’m typing this, I’m sitting looking at a beautiful print of The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (1888), based on the famous Tennyson poem and all that doomed heart ache just comes flooding back.

tristan and isolde

tristan and isolde (Photo credit: kairin)

When you think of the greatest and most tragic love stories you probably think of the ones I’ve mentioned and of Tristan & Iseult (Isolde), Paris & Helena, Orpheus and Eurydice and perhaps poor Pyramus and Thisbe. Having lived in ancient Babylonia in neighbouring homes, they fell in love with each other as they grew up. Their respective families were fervently against the match, so one night the two lovers hatched a plan. They decided to meet up under a mulberry tree in the nearby fields, and run away together. Thisbe reached the tree first, but frightened at seeing a lion approach with blood stained jaws, she ran and hid in some rocks, dropping her veil as she ran. The lion picked up the veil just as Pyramus arrived. Devastated at seeing Thisbe’s veil in the lion’s bloody mouth, Pyramus took his sword out and killed himself. When poor Thisbe eventually emerged from the rocks and saw her beloved Pyramus dead, she too took his sword and killed herself.  😦

Pyramus and Thisbe

Pyramus and Thisbe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then, you have the sad tale of Heloise and Abelard, which is perhaps the most tragic love affair of all, especially as it is a story based on an actual event. Being fact rather than merely myth, makes us all marvel at the power of sacrifice and the power of love. Heloise (1101-1164) and Peter Abelard (1079-1142) had their story immortalised by British poet, Alexander Pope in 1717, who turned it into a piece of classic literature, ‘Eloisa to Abelard’. Heloise and Abelard were ridiculously in love and doomed to a tragic end in mid 12th century France. Abelard was a well-known French philosopher, considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century. Heloise, was the niece and pride of the Canon Fulbert, who wanted her to have the best education possible. Abelard became the girl’s live-in tutor, 20 years her senior. A romance blossomed between them, a romance that so enraged her disapproving uncle that he had Abelard castrated shortly after they were discovered. Distraught, the lovers entered a monastery and nunnery and wrote a set of now-famous letters to each other up until their death, though they never met again.

Abelard and his pupil, Héloïse, by Edmund Blai...

Abelard and his pupil, Héloïse, by Edmund Blair Leighton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These tragedies both real and imagined have inspired such a rich tapestry of stories. As a huge fan of fantasy, from the world’s first ever story, The Epic of Gilgamesh to Beowulf to The Lord Of The Rings, Narnia and Game Of Thrones etc., I still like my fantasy to have that tragic element, that hint of doomed love or sacrifice. In the classic tradition J.R.R.Tolkien of course, being a scholar in ancient Nordic and Celtic mythology, was able to bring many of these elements into his work, particularly in The Silmarillion.

Cover of "The Silmarillion"

Cover of The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion, I book I still adore and one which I am very lucky to have a cherished first edition of, has two tragic love stories which really wrench at the heart. The first of course, is the heroic story of Beren and Luthien, later mirrored in the love story of Aragorn and Arwen in LOTR. Here, the story of Beren and Luthien (with similarities to Orpheus and Eurydice) tells of the love between a mortal man, Beren and the most beautiful immortal elf-maiden, Luthien Tinuviel and the struggles and obstacles they face in their quest to be together. But for me, by far the more tragic love story and the one which is the antithesis to Beren’s story, was the darker tale of poor Turin Turambar. Despite being a great hero, Turin Turambar, seems forever cursed with ill fortune and the very worst of luck. He battles valiantly against evil foes, yet whatever he turns his hand to seems to go wrong. Eventually both Turin and his sister Nienor are enchanted by a mighty dragon, Glaurung. Under its enchantment, they fall in love with each other and live as man and wife. But, when Turin kills the dragon and the spell is lifted, they are driven mad by the realisation of their sins and they both commit suicide. This perhaps, is Tolkien at his darkest, but still as a reader, you cannot help feeling such sorrow and sympathy for these two sad characters.

My personal favourite though, and a story that inspired Tolkien himself, has to be the story of Sigurd and Brynhild, from the Volsunga Saga. Sigurd (Old Norse: Sigurðr) and Brynhild from the Volsunga Saga (ancient Norse mythology

Sigrdrífa gives Sigurðr a horn to drink from.

Sigrdrífa gives Sigurðr a horn to drink from. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

c.1000AD), is a bittersweet tale of romance, heroism, greed, betrayal and tragedy. The later German hero, Siegfried from the Nibelungenlied (1180 to 1210) (The Song of the Nibelungs) and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, is based on Sigurd and the Volsunga Saga. Basically, urged on by Loki and Odin, Sigurd kills the dragon Fafnir and takes his treasure hoard. He bathes in the dragon’s blood to become invincible, and meets Brynhildr ‘shieldmaiden’, who in some incarnations of the story is a Valkyrie imbued with supernatural powers. They fall in love but Brynhild prophesies his doom and marriage to another. They part temporarily. Sigurd travels to the court of Gjuki, whose wife, Grimhild poisons him with an ‘Ale of Forgetfulness’ to force him to forget Brynhild so he can marry their daughter, Gudrun. Meanwhile, Gunnar, Gudrun’s brother courts Brynhild who is still waiting for her beloved Sigurd. To win Brynhild over, Gunnar devises a plan and convinces an enchanted Sigurd to help him. Unable to get near to Brynhild himself, but seeing that Sigurd can, Gunnar swaps bodies with him to seduce Brunhild and break her defences/powers, enabling him to seize his prize thereafter. Eventually, all deceptions come to light. Gunnar plots against and kills Sigurd, in some stories Brynhild then kills him, but the story ends with Sigurd and Brynhild finally reunited in death as she throws herself onto Sigurd’s blazing funeral pyre! What a way to go!English: A Christmas bonfire in Guelph, Canada.

 

The map to the human heart is a complicated route indeed, full of hidden perils, surprises and joyous heights!

Now…you may well ask, why on earth I am exploring tragic love affairs in literature, myth and history? Why the sudden interest?

Well…I’m glad to say I haven’t had a tragic experience myself, but…I am, I’m afraid, witnessing one as I write this. Yes, I’m not talking about my favourite tear inducing movie, or the howls of, “NO, GOD NO!” that I heard being cried at the TV screen from my friends who were apoplectic at the death of Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. No…I’m talking about a real life love tragedy unfolding before my eyes right now – a scene of unparalleled sadness, of unrequited love that makes all of the previous tales pale into insignificance.

Forget Romeo & Juliet, Heathcliff & Cathy, who cares about Tristan & Isolde? This is the sad sad tale of…Tolly & Mimi…

On the 1st August 2009, four years ago this very day, I was travelling back from Bridgewater having rescued two gorgeous white balls of fluff from the most hideous living conditions you can imagine. Four years later, my beautiful white wolves, brothers Korrun & Tolly, are happy and healthy and well…totally gorgeous. 349

Only one problem…Tolly is in love, deeply, passionately, unconditionally…an all consuming obsessional love and one which tragically, it is completely unrequited.

Wherever Mimi goes, Tolly follows, every move she makes he mirrors, no more than two inches from her face at all times, staring adoringly, gazing, dribbling, sighing with pensive longing when she retreats upstairs. Such desperate longing, such sadness…the poor boy just hasn’t realised that cats and dogs simply don’t…well, it’s a barrier greater than that of the Capulets and Montagues!

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Versatile, yes…but very forgetful – The forgotten awards!!!

Okay, to my regular visitors, you lovely shiny happy people, you’ll know that due to illness I have not been the consistent blogger I used to be, and have been rather sporadic in my posts over the last few months, something I hope to correct soon.

Anyway, to my delight I was nominated for two blog awards! –  The Versatile Blogger award and the Liebster Award. Amazing, yes, fantastic and humbling, definitely, but here comes the embarrassing bit…

The gorgeous and very talented writer, Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/), kindly nominated me for the Liebster Award back in May – thank you Kay! But it was, ahem…over a year ago when she nominated me for The Versatile Blogger award! *cringes* Oops, sorry!

I really am the definition of the absent minded blogger! So, VERY belatedly, I’m accepting The Versatile Blogger award first. 😀

So, here are the rules:

I have to say seven things about myself and nominate fifteen others for the award, so here goes! *gulp*

  1. I’m a complete nerd with a deep love of comic book superheroes, dragons, and basically anything to do with fantasy and science-fiction. Yes, I love DC and Marvel comics EQUALLY, how could I really choose between my spidey and batman? However, I hate Dr Who, I like my sci-fi/fantasy to be ultra high quality (BSG – Battlestar Galactica & Games of Thrones girl here). But I still have a fondness for the wobbly sets of Blake’s 7 and Red Dwarf! English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films
  2. The first film I ever saw at the cinema, was Star Wars in 1977, I was 4yrs old (yes, I am that old!). I screamed and ducked down in the seat during the opening titles because I thought the starship was going to hit my head! That was it – I was HOOKED!!!! I still have some of my original Star Wars figures!
  3. One of my dreams, other than being able to fly like Man of Steel or kick butt like Buffy, is to go to America at least once and attend the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, a feast for any fanboy and fantasy freak! I hear the marvellous Henry Cavill is attending a panel and signing autographs there Saturday 20th July…mmmm…sigh! 🙂

    A Comic Con sign.

    A Comic Con sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  4. I’m an avid film buff with an enormous collection of films, including some wonderfully obscure ones. My favourite actors are Al Pacino, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian Bale. My favourite actresses are Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Juliette Binoche and Judy Dench, though I think Jennifer Lawrence is great. Favourite film? …oh that changes so much! Betty Blue, Les Enfants du Pont Neuf, Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 1 & 2, Leon, Blade Runner, Three Colours Blue, The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2001 Space Odyssey, Gladiator, LOTR trilogy, Watchmen, Man of Steel, Insomnia, Memento (yes, I love Christopher Nolan movies) Frankie & Johnny – did I say I have eclectic tastes? Chinatown, London. Benedict Cumberbatch during...
  5. I LOVE New Zealand after having spent four glorious months there back in 1997/1998, just travelling around with my backpack and loving every second of it! Not only was it a life changing experience, the adventure, the freedom, the people, the amazing landscapes, but that 4 month odyssey also inspired my debut novel, White Mountain. Without that trip, my Darkling Trilogy would never have come to pass. A few years later, after I’d already begun writing the novel, I saw my beloved New Zealand again when watching the LOTR films. A truly mesmeric and freaky experience, as unlike the majority of the audience watching it with me, I had actually BEEN to most of the locations they filmed in, and the same extraordinary landscapes that inspired Peter Jackson, had inspired me! His Mordor was parts of my Fendellin, his Fangorn was my Grey Forest, and Aoraki itself – Mount Cook, WAS my White Mountain!  75
  6. I’d love to travel more as I used to, revisit Russia, Andorra, Italy and New Zealand. I’d especially love to do the world’s longest and wildest train journey, the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladisvostok. I’d also love to go to Tibet and Mongolia and rent a car and drive across America, road trip style. More adventures needed! 😀
  7. I ADORE my two white wolves, my family & friends, Marmite, my lightsabre, my ability to dream in 3 dimensions and cinema surround sound – which doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep but wow are my dreams vivid! (I’m an awful insomniac), my book collection, my gorgeous garden, nature, landscapes, the ocean, art, photography, chess, maps, the stars…life!

There you go! 😀

Right, now for nominating others, this is really hard as I know SO many great bloggers out there that deserve this award…in NO order whatsoever!

  1. Lindsey Parsons – http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  2. Tricia Drammeh – http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/ &  http://theclaimingwords.com/
  3. AFE Smith – http://www.afesmith.com/blog.html
  4. Kate Jack – http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/
  5. Will Macmillan Jones – http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/
  6. Andrea Baker – http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/ & http://rosewallauthor.wordpress.com/
  7. Gretchen Steen – http://www.gretchensteen.com/ & http://gretchensteen.blogspot.com/
  8. Ryan Holmes – http://griffinsquill.com/
  9. Jane Dougherty – http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  10. Susan Finlay – http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com/
  11. Debbie Young – http://youngbyname.wordpress.com/ & http://offtheshelfbookpromotions.wordpress.com/
  12. Emily Mckeon – http://theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com/
  13. Lisa Scullard – http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ & http://hardinkcafe.wordpress.com/
  14. Ashen Venema – http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/
  15. Lisa Weidmeier – http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.com/ & http://lisawiedmeier.com/
  16. Okay, I know I’m not allowed more than 15 nominees, but some of these were previously nominated for this same award so I HAVE to include a couple more. The wonderful multi-talented and extremely versatile, Morgen Bailey – http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/
  17. And the marvellous fantasy author, John Lucas Hargis – http://johnlucashargis.wordpress.com/

A HUGE thank you to fellow member of the Alliance of Worldbuilders http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/index.html, the wonderful Kay Kauffman – fantasy author extraordinaire, for her very kind nomination!

Please check out Kay’s stunning blog, full of heart warming poetry that leaps off the screen, tips on writing and her journey to becoming a published author and much much more! Thank you honey – http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/ 😀

The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil...

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, circa 2nd millennium BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, the writing’s on the tablet and I’m not talking computer tablets here, in terms of writing and technology, it seems we’ve come full circle! 😀

Like many of us, when I was a child I believed that the ancient Egyptians invented writing. That hieroglyphics were man’s earliest endeavour at making sense of the world in written form.

Of course, we all know this to be untrue now, that actually Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) and the ancient Sumerians invented writing, Sumerian cuneiform by writing on clay tablets with a reed called a stylus, at least 200 years before the Egyptians.

"The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the mo...
“The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the most famous of all cuneiform tablets. It is the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Like Noah, Utnapishtim was forewarned and built an ark to house and preserve living things. After the flood he sent out birds to look for dry land. ME K 3375.” In the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we grow and get older, thus our knowledge grows. What will we learn tomorrow? 😀   The reason for my focusing on ancient history, apart from the fact that I love it, study it and it continually inspires me, is simply the wonderment of the act of writing itself. That miracle of thought made manifest that we all take for granted.The Sumerians were this planet’s earliest known civilisation, although new discoveries are being made all the time so never let your knowledge be set in stone!

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script lis...

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script listing gods in order of seniority, 2400-2200 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As well as inventing writing, the Sumerians invented the round wheel, astronomy and agriculture as we know it. A truly amazing people, thousands of years ahead of their time. Yet we know so little about them. Their great ziggurats (pyramids) have not withstood the ravages of time as well as their later Egyptian cousins, many of their stele ‘stelae’ (huge standing stones inscribed with cuneiform) are but broken fragments. Of course, time has not been the only eroding factor. Sumer as it was, lying between the great river deltas of the Tigris and Euphrates, is modern-day Iraq, a country which has been ravaged by war for hundreds of years.

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancien...

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancient Nippur), Iraq, are said to be the site for the meeting of Sumerian gods, as well as the place that man was created. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sumer’s greatest city states were Uruk, Ur, Nippur, Eridu and Kish, though these are ruins now, their history overwritten by the Babylonian Empire which followed, the Akkadians, Assyrians, Hittites and a host of other invading and overlapping peoples. In such a rich environment, it was hardly surprising that the fertile ground of the Tigris and Euphrates would be a prize worthy of fighting for.

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Anti...

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Antiguas ciudades de Sumeria Magyar: Ókori sumer városok (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, the reason I’m focusing on the Sumerians in particular, is simply because they also gave the world its very first story, The Epic of Gilgamesh. A wonderful fantasy adventure story on an epic scale, with our hero Gilgamesh, along with his friend Enkidu, trying to defy the gods and find the secret to immortality.

Gilgamesh Sumerian King

Gilgamesh Sumerian King (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Think of it, the world’s very first story, long before the Bible, Torah, Qur’an (Koran), the ancient Vedic Rig-Veda (early Hindu sagas), Buddhist tales, Zoroastrian writings or ancient Chinese scrolls of Confucius, the Sumerians were writing about their lives and they were writing stories. We have SO much to thank the Sumerians for!

What made them first think of projecting their thoughts in written form? No doubt the need for trade pushed the need for communication between peoples.

Evidence suggests that it was this cuneiform, written on clay tablets, that travelled to Egypt and India and other parts of near/middle Asia as part of the ancient trade links of the time; and that these later inspired the Egyptian earliest proto-hieroglyphics and the written language of the Indus Valley Civilisation (centred around Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa), covering modern-day India and Pakistan.

English: Mohenjo-daro

English: Mohenjo-daro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose that is one of the contributing factors to my liking fantasy, particularly epic fantasy –  the fact that such sagas were written thousands of years ago, is certainly fuel for the imagination. The Sumerian King List for instance, a legendary text now where fantasy and fact certainly mix. The King List simply lists all the great rulers of the time, but it is not this which makes the record so extraordinary. It is the fact that this document cites many of those Kings as having lived and ruled for hundreds even thousands of years! Immortals? Talk about a feast for the imagination. If you’re looking for inspiration look to history.

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth ki...

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth king of Uruk, according to the Sumerian king list) by Urdun, civil servant of Lagash, Ur III. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The melding of fiction and fact is something I adore. Looking at history as we know it and daring to ask, what if this happened? For me, researching for an ancient forgotten people/culture that pre-date humanity, I had a lot of rich source material to draw from. Were these Sumerian Kings immortal exiles perhaps? Banished from their own Ǽllfren or Dworllian kin, to live amongst lesser humans? Perhaps it was these early sun-gods with their advanced knowledge and long life that seeded our civilisations? Are they the reason for the sudden unexplained jump in technology and culture all those thousands of years ago?

For me, my mind boggled with the possibilities. Certainly a rich pre-history from which to hang the tapestry of imagination.

But, fact and fiction aside, all we do know for certain, is that as readers and writers and lovers of the written word, we owe much to that ancient civilisation and their miraculous inventions!

😀 xx

Ziggurat at Ur

Ziggurat at Ur (Photo credit: jmcfall)