I watched the first two episodes of MTV’s Shannara Chronicles the other night and this post resulted.
World-building is one of the best parts of science fiction and fantasy.
Ever since Tolkien neatly drew hand-penned maps of Middle Earth, fantasy authors have mined more than just verisimilitude out of rendering landscapes. They’ve gotten pleasurable dimensionality from cartography. It’s one of the joys of fiction writing to put to paper the contours of a fully lived-in world, even if the action only takes place in one corner of it. And now it’s something of a convention to open fantasy, especially epic sagas, with a map of Westeros, Seanchan and the Westlands, Earthsea, or Mallorea.
Another key element is naming. Naming characters and places makes worlds jump to life. Though fewer writers possess that *other* talent of Tolkien’s, to invent entire language families, science fiction and fantasy writers fill their worlds with new words.
Which brings me to the point of this post. When I watched the Shannara Chronicles (a.k.a. Game of Thrones for teens), I had anticipated that I might find a racially homogenous world jarring, especially after Star Wars: The Force Awakens populated the galaxy with badly-needed or controversial (to the trolls) diversity. And to its credit, the Shannara Chronicles did pass the Bechdel test.
But what surprised me was hearing the characters’ names: pronouncing Allanon as if he were named after the drinking recovery group—I’d always had the accent on the penultimate syllable; saying the last “e” in Amberle—which I’d always taken as silent. I’ve since learned that Shannara has the accent on the very first syllable—per Terry Brooks himself. For those of us who come to fantasy by reading, we hear the names first in our heads. Without glossary guides like the ones Robert Jordan provided, we are left to craft our own sounds, which I’d argue is one of the joys of fiction reading.