Thursday, February 20, 2014

Worldbuilding Thursdays: Land Beast III

It's Thursday again, so that means it's worldbuilding time.  I seem to have this weird blind spot about remembering to do this on Wednesdays for some reason, so why not move it.  What I lose in cute, alliterative names I gain in actually getting the damn thing written on a consistent basis, and given that my big focus is "write every day" right now, that'll do nicely.


So where we left off last week, I'd decided that adding Gods to the mix was a good idea, since I've been interested in myth and folklore lately, and I like those elements as part of the stories I read.  Makes sense I would want to incorporate them into the world of the Land Beast.

But of course brings up the question of what the hell do I mean when I talk about Gods?  So let's explore that a bit and make a few decisions.

One of the nice things about the time we live in is we have access to a huge amount of folklore and religion from around the world, and back through history as well.  We have more insight into the fantasies people have created to teach lessons, structure their lives and simplify the world around us than ever before, giving us a chance to learn, contrast, compare, and in the case of fiction writers like myself, to mix and match elements from all over.  And there's a lot to choose from.

Personally, I read a lot of manga.  I doubt anyone who reads my stuff would need to know what that means, but I do feel the need to explain one aspect since it's relevant to our project here.  That is, manga tends to be very Japanese in character, in that it draws heavily from Japanese folklore.  Not just a distant folklore, but a very present one that almost everyone in the country is familiar with.  If you talk about oni, or tengu, or tanuki, any Japanese even those who have lived in cities for generations, will know what you're talking about.  It's a highly rich folklore that goes back to a very rural existence, and arose from both the animistic Shinto which gives us mountain gods, various animal spirits like the foxes, and so forth, and Buddhism, which brought moral-teaching stories like the tengu who delight in tricking monks who were too egotistical, or the oni who were basically embodiments of rage which one became after death due to strong grudges.  

In any case, this folklore provides a very rich basis for storytelling, and you can apply any of these well-known creatures, gods and heroes in almost any way you like.  Anything from comedy to drama to horror and even to porn, it's all fair game.  

It's that sort of richness I'd love to extend to my own writing, although I'm obviously not there yet in terms of skill.  It's the moon I've chosen to shoot for, in a way.  Not that I want to write pseudo-Japanese stuff or use their folklore.  There are too many drawing from that well to begin with, so I'd like to go a bit of a different direction.

Bringing this back to the Land Beast concept, my own personal inclination is to avoid the heavily-structured pantheons like the Greeks or Romans, or even the fairly well-defined Norse or Hindu concepts, although both of those have lovely collections of heroic myth and folklore that appeal to me.  Rather I see the world of the Land Beast being more animistic in nature, like those early Shinto myths or the stories of aboriginal people in what is now North America.  Basically speaking, nature stories that get somewhat bigger but remain tied to the land, or in this case the creature on which the people live.

This opens the door to a few fun concepts, a big one of which is the idea that the beasts are Gods in their own right.  They're Gods who are intrinsically a part of the world and so are different from most of the European-style Gods, but Gods nonetheless.  In the same way that a mountain would be a God in Shinto, the Beast is a God here.  It can die, eventually, but on a human standpoint it's nigh-immortal and certainly overwhelming in its scope and power.  

This makes me think of something that I mentioned in the last installment, that the Land Beast was created by a God or Gods, but with the above in mind I think rather than being poofed into creation by some all-powerful deity, the Beast itself would be an emergent sort of God, being a property of the planet itself.  I can easily envision stories of the Beasts pulling themselves out of the earth, forming themselves from mud and stone in the early days of the world, to begin their neverending trek with smaller worlds on their backs.  It's compelling.

Another implication I see in taking an animist approach is you get a chance to distance yourself from the good/evil duality that most of us are accustomed to.  After all, if you have an all-powerful deity that's positioned as the ultimate good, anything that disagrees with it must be evil.  Or in more human terms, whatever is to the community's benefit embodied and/or codified into a God must be good, where anything that threatens it must be evil by definition.

Looking at folklore brings a somewhat different approach to mind.  It's not that things are good or evil, it's that things are beneficial or dangerous, but there's nothing intrinsically wrong with either.  An animal doesn't want to hurt you because it hates you for instance (assuming you haven't been torturing it or something).  But it may hurt you because it's hungry or frightened.  To take an example from Shinto, foxes have a history of imitating humans and tricking them with illusions.  But they don't do it out of malice or an evil impulse.  They do it because they're hungry and want to trick the humans into giving them food.  Similarly tanuki (sort of a raccoon-ish animal) trick humans for the same reason, but also out of simple playfulness.  It's not necessarily good for the humans, but it's not malicious either.

I see the same idea being applicable here.  There's no God vs Devil in the world of the Land Beasts, but there is dangerous vs safe.  Being in harmony with the Beast's needs, given that although a God it's also a biological entity, is beneficial to the humans and other creatures who live on it.  But by the same token, failing to be vigilant against natural threats such as spores arising from the ground can be fatal.  

It is around these things that an overall animistic myth system can be created, and since this is a fictional world it's totally fair game to make those myths into reality.  Certainly, it's a concept worth dealing with in more detail, especially as we start to get more into the lives of the various creatures who live on the beast.  Since these natural and mythic forces are real and active in the lives of the inhabitants, for good or ill (although rarely from sheer malice), stories about the inhabitants would necessarily involve them as active agents.

However, I'll deal with that a bit more next week.

2 time segments

1232 words

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