Using the real world in fantasy literature

It won’t come as a surprise that authors use both rural and urban real life geographical features in their works. Much internet “ink” has been spilt over J.R.L. Tolkien geographical sources for Middle Earth with completing claims to a number of specific locations. In a newspaper interview, Tolkien fondly recalled the area, saying the Shire was “inspired by a few cherished square miles of actual countryside at Sarehole” his rural childhood near Birmingham.

Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

Terry Pratchett in his Disc World novels, took many elements of this world’s geological and physical geographical elements, added a number of national and cultural stereotypes to make up the “stage” for his characters to” perform on”. In his sub series relating to Tiffany Aching, a girl who grows up into a teenage witch, the chalk downland landscapes of southern England play a large part together with the Uffington White Horse appearing at a crucial point.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Other authors take real locations and weave a fantasy world within them. Two of my personal favorite authors who do this are Ben Aaronovitch and Jasper Fforde. I discovered Ben Aaronovitch from this year’s public libraries City Reads promotion

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the first of several books set in contemporary London with the apprentice wizard policeman battling supernatural foes. One thing I like about these novels is that they are firmly grounded in real locations even if the situations that occur involve vampires, rogue wizards and human personification of The Thames and its’ river tributaries

For example his novel ‘Whispers under ground’ includes an informative description of the underground sewage system in addition to scenes at various locations above ground between Baker Street and Notting Hill Gate underground stations. Other locations in the series so far include Soho, Kentish Town/Chalk Farm and the Elephant and Castle areas.

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Jasper Fforde takes a much more fanciful approach to his real life town settings, Swindon and Reading respectively. Whilst real locations are used e.g. Forbury Gardens Reading the town is populated by fictional  characters such as the murdered Humpty Dumpty whose murder investigation is led by Inspector Jack Sprat head of the Nursery Crimes division. West of Reading contemporary Swindon is the setting of the Tuesday Next literary crimes series populated with fictional literary characters such as Hamlet who ends up as a lodger in her mother’s house. A real life nearby motorway service station is the setting of a portal to Hades.

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

To “cement” this link of a fantasy world within real locations, Jasper Fforde has set up an amusing Jasper Fforde website. This includes a number of photographs of real streets and buildings within these towns with relevant captions relating to these books.

Francis – Tri Borough Reference Team

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