marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

Fantastic Settings

The forest, the Arcadian countryside, the city, the mountains -- ah, settings.  Let's leave aside the social and politics aspects for a bit (and why not?  The writers often leave them out entirely when choosing a setting) and consider just the physical aspects of the world, the archetypal settings and the contrasts between them, and the not quite metaphorical meaning of them.

Idyllic Arcadia:  rolling hills, stands of trees, sparkling streams, lambs frisking in the springtime, fields of crops. . . a likely location for the hero to grow up.  Unusually enough, you don't often get this as a bad landscape in fantasy, a countryside filled with ignorant, surly, willfully insular country bumpkins, though it appears in other genre.  The closest is the uninteresting backdrop to battles and campaigns in military stories.  Otherwise, once the hero grows up he tends to leave.  Often treated as a natural setting, ignoring the enormous effects agriculture and pasture have on the landscape.

The forest has several variations.  On one hand, if the hero knows it, and particularly if it's where he grew up, it tends not to have magic; if it's somewhere he happens on the way, on the other hand, it can hold marvels -- it can be replete with marvels.  And it can run the range from a comfortable refuge, through a strange, deep, ancient labyrinth of trees, to the utterly evil forest, radiating evil and populated by twisted trees and abominable monsters.

Though the later version often merges into the swamp, which is always evil, though often, oddly enough, passable.

The ancient city with its winding streets and fountains and towers, and walls.  And magic.  Many a hero grows up here, and when he does, often enough, he stays.  And why not?  The city is also the place of intrigue and politics, and heroes and villains can operate here without ever finding the stage cramped.  Though the city can also be a way station, especially for characters from elsewhere, where they stop to consult the Wise King or the Sage.  Or have a siege.  Obviously the best location for it, since it has the walls.  And deep underneath is a labyrinth of passages and rooms.  Sometimes verging on an underworld.

The wasteland.  This may be a desert, but not by nature.  The barren place, where thorns are the only thing that grows, the haunt of  goblins and other unpleasant beasties, kept withered and unpleasant by the malign presence of the Dark Lord.

What are some of the settings you remember best?  Do you recall other archetypal settings prevalent in your reading?

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Tags: bittercon, cliches, metaphor, setting (whole story), world-building: other
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