Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/3/20: Narnia I

Narsis, spoof of Narnia

One fan’s photoshopped spoof. Note the spelling of “Narsis” is not consistent.

British writer C. S. Lewis’s well-loved children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, began in 1950 with the publication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by publisher Geoffrey Bles (in the U.S. Macmillan was the publisher.) The book was, according to Lewis, inspired by a drawing of a faun — a satyr — hurrying through a snowy wood carrying a bundle of packages and an umbrella.  Intriguingly, it is not known whether he was inspired by an actual picture, or one that existed only in his head.  Said he, “Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’ ”

His story, begun in the late 1940s,  drew on the British style of children’s fantasy exemplified by author Edith Nesbit where young people in a contemporary setting encounter magical objects and other worlds.  As one of the Inklings, he was surely also inspired by Tolkien (and from him, E. R. Eddison) who was working on The  Lord of the Rings trilogy at the same time. The recent events of WWII also influenced the book’s setting, which begins in an old country mansion where the Pevensie children shelter to escape the bombing of London. It is in this sprawling house where Lucy, the youngest child, hides in a wardrobe and emerges into the fantasy land of Narnia with its mythological creatures and talking animals. But all is not well. Narnia’s Hitler analog, The White Witch, has made it eternal winter (“and never Christmas”) and tyrannizes the local populace with her wolf secret police force and a wand that turns victims into stone. A plot summary is here for those not familiar with the books (though you should be.)

I first encountered the book in 6th grade in parochial school, where an exceptionally hip and creative nun read it to us, aloud. I was completely mesmerized. At that time, I was familiar with myths and fairy tales and was starting to read some SF, and the concept of combining contemporary characters who were kids, like me, with magic and myth (what we might call urban fantasy these days) went off in me like a skyrocket. I attempted my very first first fanfic, Aslan’s Birthday Party, and a Narnia adventure of my own, The White Witch and the Heat Queen. Alas, neither were finished.

Part of the appeal of the first Narnia book lies with its title. How nicely it rolls off the tongue, how intriguing the images it generates. The mind starts wondering immediately how the three relate. The two W words at the end add a nice touch of alliteration, too. A more descriptive title, like The Eternal Winter of Narnia,  would neither have had the impact or the British sense of whimsy.

In some other universe, there were books produced that were like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, without being exactly like them. Here are some examples.

 

Variations on the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Knight, and the Knapsack

The Swan, the Queen, and the Quince Tree

The Serpent, the Rogue, and the Rose

The Falcon, the Witch, and the Windlass

The Lion, the Dwarf, and the Dagger

The Manticore, the Maid, and the Maypole

The Eagle, the Sphinx, and the Sphere

The Crow, the Warrior, and the Warden

The Otter, the Sylph, and the Strawberry

The Weasel, the Witch, and the Wood

The Vulture, the Farmer, and the Fen

Carnival Style

Carnival in Bolivia, with sumptuous masks and costumes.

 

The Mask is the Thing.

To mask or not to mask? In this time of Coronavirus, it is clearly to mask. Which has generated a richness of memes.

mona lisa mask coronavirus

This.

 

doctor mask

“Take off your face, recover from the trip you’ve been on…”

 

indians folklore masked

Indian folklore gets masked.

 

dog with mask

How long did this stay on the pup’s face?

 

easter rabbits masked

This Easter.

 

water bottles on heads

Extra protection.

 

water bottle on face

A woman wears a plastic water bottle with a cutout to cover her face. Ingenuity in action.

You may be thinking, these images aren’t so horrible, are they? True. But that is exactly why they are horrible. Because they make us laugh.

Worldbuilding Wednesday
5/27/20:The Best of Twittersnips
xxxx(Magic Items, Part 2)

It’s pretty hard to find artwork of fantasy characters using magic items, even wands. Most contemporary artists just picture them with blasts of energy flying from their hands, which is visual shorthand for “MAGIC!”

Rowena Morrill is one of the rare few who has depicted them. She actually read the books and took notes of exciting scenes, and hence incorporated them into her covers, like the one above. I don’t know what the heck this dragonish conveyance is, but it’s clearly not of this earth, and the friar is correct in hiding from it.

Here’s some favorite randomly-generated items from my twitter feed, 2017 – 2020.

 

Magical Items, Part 2

Lamp of Logic: While burning, it allows its owner to become a skilled debator.

Ledger of Cetacean Hospitality: Contains spells for making dolphins, porpoises, and whales feel welcome and at home.

Luvite’s Brown Journal of Preservation: Magic book containing spells to preserve many kinds of items (determine at random)

Minotaur Cheese: Made from the milk of lactating female minotaurs, this extremely rare item raises the eater’s courage and attack rate.

Neatdag’s  Silent Ejection: Enables the caster to be unobtrusively rid of any small item.

Notebook of Amassing Fortune: This magical book, when read front to back, enables the owner to receive 20% more profit from their next adventure.

Oblëruck’s Luminous Dust: When sprinkled on an invisible being or object it makes them glow and become easier to see.

Odyxia’s Sensual Lens: When peered through, it reveals which characters would be open to a sexual relationship with the wielder.

Otherine’s Fiery Wineskin: Enables a wineskin filled with alcohol to act as a colossal napalm bomb.

Plate of Thinning: Whatever food is eater from this plate actually subtracts the like amount of calories from the user. Great for dieters.

Quesnan’s Blasting Lute: Creates blasts of force when certain chords are played, damage created by how softly or loudly the strings are plucked.

Rod of Slow Bathtub Draining: Does just that.

Rod of the Comedone: Causes whiteheads to appear on the target’s face.

Rod of Universal Loosening: Loosens whatever it is pointed at – rope, clothing, bowels, etc.

Roscom’s Everfull Purse Of Kitten Snacks: Young felines, even magical ones, will be most charmed by the owner of this item.

Saltcellar of Blindness: When the contents are thrown into a foe’s face, their eyes will not only be irritated, they will become permanently blind.

Seashell of Memory: Holds and protects one of the caster’s memories. When lifted to the ear of another, the shell will replay that memory as if the holder was experiencing it themselves.

Sevenkip’s Squid Snuffbox: Contains black snuff the user is able to sneeze out into a camouflaging cloud.

Tamebat’s Enduring Contraption: This mysterious machine is inscrutable to normal examination. It is magicked to waste adventurer’s time as they try to figure it out.

Tarp of the Spellbinder: Magically expands or contracts in size to shield outdoor objects from rainy weather.

The Roc-Whisk of Plumtroth: Appears as ordinary fly-whisk made of straw, but contains a magic powerful enough to drive off huge rocs.

Toboggan of the Millipede: Looks like an ordinary snow sled, but when activated, thousands of little insect legs pop out and carry it smoothly down a slope.

Udaban’s Earthbound Flute: When played, causes terrestrial creatures to stop whatever they are doing and dance. Has no effect on flying or swimming creatures.

Wardrobe of the Phoenix: When this cabinet is filled with old clothing it self-immolates, then resurrects with a whole new set of clothing inside.

Wenzopathen’s Cauldron: This powerful relic can regenerate a deceased creature from one of its body parts if the part is boiled inside it.

And as long as we’re talking about magic items and Rowena Morrill, here’s some more of her work.

rowena morrill egyptian rods

Magic rods

Rowena Morrill artwork - The Blue Adept

Magic gem

Rowena Morrill artwork of wizard

Magic helix

Rowena Morrill - The Sorceress

Magic spellbook and ladle

Haute Couture

model mannequin textile factory

After the apocalypse, no one had much interest.

 

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday
5/20/20:The Best of Twittersnips
xxxx(Magic Items, Part 1)

Original D&D artwork by Erol Otus

There’s a very broad category, in gaming, of magical items that are not scrolls, potions, clothing, or weapons. They range from everyday objects like braziers or books to esoteric ones like church organs and actually body parts (like the hand and eye of Vecna.) These were always the more interesting ones too me. What could a magic bedpan do? Or a crust-crimper for a pie?

Here’s some favorite randomly-generated items from my twitter feed, 2017 – 2020.

 

Magical Items, Part 1

Alpha-Ina’s Interdimensional Water: Water that appears in more than one dimension. For example, a basin of this water in the material prime can be used for inhabitants to drink from in the Ethereal plane.

Amulet of Stolen Courage:  Enables the wielder to steal morale from one creature, and bestow it on themselves or on another.

Amulet of the Sea Serpent: Allows the wielder to converse with sea serpents, but not to control them.

Baton of Raptor Shrinkage: Decreases the size of any predatory bird it is pointed at by 75 percent.

Bedpan of Noisy Tumbling: This cursed item will always fall out of the bed when used, spilling its waste and making a lot of noise as it rolls over and over.

Blossomstrong Biscuits: When one of these magical items is crumbled into the soil surrounding a plant, it makes the plant grow healthy and strong and reach maturity ten times as quickly.

Boathook of Incineration: When thrown onto any boat, the hook makes it burst into flames.

Breathspoon: Allows the user to capture the last breath of a dying man, which can be used in certain necromantic spells.

Carafe of Villainous Breath: Makes the drinker’s breath so foul they can actually stun others with it.

Chain of Virgin Iron: The only thing that will hold a dark elf.

Chime of Self Verification: When struck, beings within 10’ of the wielder will see them exactly as they see themselves. (Be careful of your emotional state when using this item.)

Coffin Of Wondrous Shape: Magically sizes itself to contain the corpse of any creature up to horse size. More importantly, it magically locks so those inside can’t get out.

Compass of Assassination Orientation: Tells the user which direction assassins are approaching from, whether or not they have ill intent.

Crust-Crimper of Deadly Appetite: Any pies made with this kitchen tool instill a monstrous appetite in whoever eats them. Victims will keep eating until exhausted and/or vomiting.

Cube of Thunder: Lets the user capture a thunderclap as it occurs and play it back later.

Dragonfly pen: As light and agile as a dragonfly to write with, and never needs to be dipped in ink.

Eregan’s Squamous Organ: An organ with giant snakes instead of pipes that sing in human voices.

Erica-Ricah’s Helpful Salt: Dispels evil spirits when sprinkled in the corners of a house.

Gem of Basilisk Mummification: Turns a basilisk into a dried up mummy with all its petrification powers intact.

Granny’s Dirt Cube: One square yard of dirt magically compressed into a 1-inch cube. Useful for transporting soil or blinding foes

Grimoire of the Virtuous Spellcaster: Contains spells for good-aligned magic users only.

Halfling Glue: This colorless, odorless, textureless substance is undetectable by most creatures, but when a Halfling touches it, they will stick fast. Hilarious prank for parties.

Handmirror of the Fox: Any kitsune in human guise is revealed as what they really in this item’s reflection.

Hesjerine’s Arboreal Grease: When smeared on a tree trunk or branch, this prevents any being from climbing it, as they will slide off.

Ink of Widow’s Wrath: When a letter written with this ink is read by a female being, it causes her husband to die, if she has one.

Jewel of Humiliating Ecstasy: Whoever clutches this accursed jewel will orgasm over and over until foaming at the mouth, causing those witnessing it to laugh at them.

Jewel of the Gorgon: This expensive gem looks harmless, but when peered into deeply, it turns the looker into stone.

Karlatrin’s Magma Marbles: Marbles that can become red-hot pieces of molten glass.

 

Soft Dissection

Artist Sabine Feliciano’s fabric rendition of a biology lesson.

Worldbuilding Wednesday
5/13/20:The Best of Twittersnips
xxxx(Magical Clothing and
xxxxAccessories)

magic ring chart by matthew schmeer

The superb AD&D magic ring chart redone as a vintage comic book last page ad, by Matthew Schmeer. Graphic design for geeks at its most clever.

Magic clothing and accessories are a staple in fantasy. There’s the Tarnkappe of German legend, Cinderella’s glass slipper, and various gloves, cloaks, shoes, hats and girdles that helped the heroes and heroines of myth achieve their tasks. Tolkien played with that rift in The Hobbit, where Frodo acquires a magic ring by bumbling, less than honorable means; later, in the LOTR trilogy, there’s more rings (of course) and enchanted Elvish cloaks and boots, all of which became basal elements in the AD&D gaming universe.

Here’s some favorite randomly-generated items from my twitter feed, 2017 – 2020.

 

Magical Clothing and Accessories

Cape of the Unicorn:  Enables the wearer to assume the outward form of a unicorn. However, it does not grant unicorn magical powers or movement.

Pendant of the Magpie:  When worn, this bird-shaped charm makes the wearer experience a craving to steal small, shiny objects. Adds a +3 to thieving skills.

Ring of Dwarf Form:  When worn, the wearer becomes a dwarfed version of their normal self. Note that true dwarves probably won’t be fooled.

Ring of Monk Stance:  Enables the wearer to assume the threatening poses of a monk skilled in martial arts. However, it does not confer actual fighting ability.

Robe of the Gymnast:  When worn, the wearer can tumble, cartwheel, and caper as well as a professional acrobat. Highly prized by cat burglars.

Robe of the Prairie:  Makes the wearer blend in with wind-blown grasses and disguises their voice to sound like a grouse’s call.

Shoes of the Whistler:  When worn, enables the wearer to correctly whistle, note for note, any tune heard in its entirety.

Skullcap of the Elf:  When worn, this hat makes the wearer’s ears look as long and pointy as those of an elf.

Trousers of the Lamprey:  Causes the wearer’s legs to temporarily morph into two bloodsucking lampreys.

 

Give me a call.

Alfred Hitchcock in a publicity shot for Dial M for Murder, 1950

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/6/20: Let’s Talk About Princess
xxxx Irulan and Her Sisters

princess irulan

Princess Irulan, the stereotypical talking head.

I’ve always considered Dune and its many sequels more science fantasy than science fiction. Sure, there’s starships and other planets, not to mention sandworm biology, but there’s also a Catholic-like sisterhood with sinister mind powers, swordfights, a Chosen One trope, and a feudal society with emperors, princesses, and dukes. Herbert cribbed a lot from human history as well (the Hapsburgs, the spice trade, the rise of Islam, the Old Testament) so the books could, in a sense, also be called historical fantasy. Let’s add steampunk to the list too, for all the mentions of clockwork mechanisms and old-timey social mores. (If released today, they’d probably defy categorization.)

One character who has always gotten the short shrift is Princess Irulan, the eldest daughter of the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, one of the baddies of the original book. Irulan serves as the binding force that holds the novel together, her narrations beginning each chapter. She serves the same purpose in the David Lynch version of the movie, her talking head introduction easing the newbie viewer into Herbert’s convoluted fantasy. Storywise, she serves as the mighty brought low trope, the tall, haughty blonde (can you say WASP?) married off to Paul Atreides so he can claim the Emperor’s throne. But at the end of the story Paul is no prize. He’s tanned to leather as a Fremen and has freaky blue eyes, his mind permanently altered by spice usage. To add insult to injury, he never consummates his marriage with Irulan, keeping true to his Fremen sweetheart Chani, who bears the twins who are his heirs. Irulan is little better than baggage, and unwanted baggage at that.

How this affects Irulan is by turning her into a victim of Stockholm syndrome. From some point in the future she writes the texts that become the chapter headers of the past, and judging by them, she has become slavishly devoted to the very odd family she married into. In the Lynch movie, Virginia Madsen does a swell turn as Irulan, her chiseled yet sensual features matching the character.

In Children of Dune Irulan was replaced by her sister Wensicia as the scheming villainess, but by then I had lost interest in the series. The characters I knew well and had sympathized with were all going off into different directions that put the lie to the conclusion of the first book, and I wish I had ended the series there.

In the Dune universe Irulan had four younger sisters, who, though they were not featured in the first book, were featured in the glossary at the end of the first book… which, for me, was actually more fun to read than the actual book. Herbert had a way with names, perhaps second only to LeGuin. The sisters had names odd enough to stand out, but familiar enough to feel comfortable with: Chalice, Rugi and Josifa are only a few letters off from the old-fashioned Alice, Ruby, and Josephine. Going by the glossary alone I expected to read more about them, but only Irulan figured in the plot. I wish, in some alternate universe, the whole series could have been about the princesses. Ah well, off to AOC to look up some fanfic.

 

Irulan and her sisters, re-mixed

IRULAN

Erelan

Irushan

Idula

Irulynn

Irusa

Aeralyn

Idulin

Iyadri

Urmikhan

WENSICIA

Wendica

Wessica

Wenuncia

Wenticia

Wevira

Wynsara

Wentira

Vendhi

Wensiffer

RUGI

Runi

Ranoa

Regi

Rumaa

Ruma

Roma

Yugha

Rutri

Reiji

CHALICE

Salica

Kalice

Kachica

Daliche

Chathica

Chalithe

Saliche

Sharice

Shamisa

JOSIFA

Joufa

Jorifou

Jodfrida

Josina

Zoyija

Justica

Jophria

Zofiya

Jonita