The indefatigable Mr. A. J. Walker and I are trading blogs today, each posting on the topic of Landscape as Character. While A. J. edifies you here, I’m over at his blog pushing random buttons and flipping unlabeled switches. I hope you’ll join me there when you’ve read his post.
Take it away, sir!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Landscape as character
Landscape shapes us—our feelings, our lifestyle, and the culture that raises us. As writers we need to understand how landscape shapes our characters and our stories.
My novel, Roots Run Deep, stars Kip Itxaron. Kip is a goblin, a second-class citizen in a world dominated by humans. The book opens with a description her Reservation:
Rain Street was the main thoroughfare through the center of the Goblin Reservation. At its eastern end, on the summit of a rocky hill on which grew only briars and a few stunted trees, stood the palace of Queen Tegla Ezti IV, nominal ruler of the Eight Tribes, but really just a puppet of the human King. The palace’s cracked walls and overgrown battlements stood as mute testimony to the poverty and degeneration of the ramshackle town.
From the palace, Rain Street ran downhill through a compact cluster of thatched huts, shacks, and tents housing nearly fifty thousand goblinkin. Human law dictated that the goblinkin had to live within the few square miles of wasteland of the Reservation, a half-hour walk from Vancian, the human capital. The Reservation’s lone town took up part of the area, but beyond the crowded buildings and refuse-filled alleyways, Rain Street ran through rocky fields where a few goblinkin families struggled to work the barren soil or hacked granite out of a large quarry. Continuing to the west, the street, now little more than a dirt path, wound through low hills before linking up with the royal highway, a major road that ran along the river before terminating at Vancian’s heavily guarded city gate.
The goblins have become what you’d expect people to be when forced to live in such a place. Some make their living as thieves and smugglers. Most drown their sorrows in alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Kip is no exception. Luckily she breaks out of this bondage and sees the world. Unfortunately for her, the first place she visits is the Great Forest, home to elves who have a deep hatred of goblins.
The forest crowded close upon the narrow path. The autumn leaves had all fallen, but thick underbrush obscured their view. Kip shuddered as she looked around her. This wasn’t a clean, open forest like along the river or near human settlements; instead it had close-set, gnarled trees and an undergrowth of bushes and briars. Sickly moss covered the stones, and choking ivy, apparently immune to the cold of winter, wound up the trees and crossed their path, tripping them up and at times forcing them to hack through spots where the trail had become blocked. She could barely see twenty paces. On the open wasteland of the Reservation she could at least spot what was coming. . .
A more pleasant experience was the journey to some distant mountains to search for the Lost Tribe, a legendary group of goblins who never bowed down to human tyranny.
Sheer crags of granite jutted into the air to either side of the long, winding column of goblinkin as they worked their weary way up a mountain gorge. Rising ahead of them, brilliant snow-topped peaks cut like shards of glass into a pale blue sky. A relentless wind lifted veils of snow off their summits before rushing down the gorge to batter the men and women struggling to ascend the steep slope.
Each breath made Kip feel like icy razors sliced up her nostrils and into her lungs, yet a sense of lightness and freedom she had never experienced before filled her with joy. The air smelled so clean, so pure. Until she had come here, she had never realized how much the Reservation and the city stank, how the sweaty bodies, piles of garbage, and animal droppings congealed into a miasma of unhealthy vapors. Even the elven forest, far away from the overcrowded human and goblinkin towns, lay oppressed under a thick, damp atmosphere of half-rotted vegetation.
She took another breath and smiled. These mountains, what was it about them? She felt as if she had come home, and not the same way as she had when she returned to the relative safety of the Reservation, that home of necessity in a world that offered no other, but a true home, as if she had been born in these mountains and, until now, had forgotten.
The landscape affects the plot and how Kip feels. The cultures Kip meets are all affected by the landscape. The elves are silent hunters padding through the woods. The mountaindwellers are tough survivors immune to hardship. The humans in their fine city are spoiled and corrupt. And the people of the Goblinkin Reservation have lost hope, at least until a certain Kip Itxaron decides to change things. . .
A.J. Walker is a medievalist and archaeologist. He’s the author of Roots Run Deep, a fantasy novel published by Double Dragon. Check out his popular Medieval Mondays series on his blog.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thanks, A. J. The book sounds terrific!
WRITING PROMPT: What was the landscape of your main character’s childhood? Did he/she had an imagined landscape as well? How did his/her childhood landscape, real and/or imagined, shape him/her?