I confess. I am a sucker for Fantasy Worlds – for the soaring landscapes of Middle Earth, the heart-wrenching beauty of Narnia, the delicately spun fabric of Faerie. When I read descriptions of such supremely beautiful realms, destined for epic adventure, I get lost like the Pevensie children and never want to return to the ordinary world I live in.
Of course I want to create worlds as wonderful for my characters! Worlds my readers will happily get lost in. But when it comes time to build them, I always feel that I’m falling deplorably short. I almost believe that other writers whose worlds have transported me have actually been transported themselves. That’s how they do it! They have a window into Fairyland that I’ve yet to find. If only I could get a glimpse. If only…
Do you ever pine for that glimpse into Faerie as well, sure that you’ll never spin a satisfactory world of your own until you find that magical window?
So I might be pining away forever… but then I venture to the forest on a fine summer’s morning with my dog, and the trees whisper some sense into my wistful head: “Here is your window, you silly thing! The very same that your fairy tale for-bearers looked into for inspiration. It’s called Nature, and it’s positively buzzing with magic!”
G.K. Chesterton wrote, true to his style, a supremely sensible essay called “The Ethics of Elfland” which recaptures the lost wonder of this fairyland we live in. My morning, woodland walk brought home something he’d said, and I had to agree:
The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, ‘charm,’ ‘spell,’ ‘enchantment.’ They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery… this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic.
His point? Nature is as surprising and mysterious as any fairy realm ever could be. We have simply got used to her habits and labelled them as ‘laws’… rather unromantically. But what if you went outside for the first time and saw the world with fresh eyes? Chesterton reckons the fairy tale’s purpose is to teach us to do just that.
These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.
So here is my challenge to you (as well as to myself in the midst of a world-building project!). Start an observation journal. Just try it. Make it a habit to observe one detail – however grand or minuscule – in Nature each day, with fresh eyes of wonder that it is as it is. After all, it might have been some other way. Or as Chesterton puts it, apple trees might have produced candlesticks instead of apple blossoms!
When it comes to creating fantasy worlds, there is nothing new under the sun. As world builders, the only colours we have to paint with are the ones Nature offers us. But Nature is hardly a miser – what a wealth of resources she has to offer! So go outside, marvel at the Elfland that is our home. Then take all those colours and all that marvel and paint a world in words. Enjoy!
In honor of this theme, I’ve dug out a very, VERY old poem I wrote as a kid. Rarely do I post poetry for the world to see, but as this one comes from a far distant life, I shall make an exception!
“Daily Doses of Magic”
Falls with silent grace
A glistening shower of soft white lace.
The earth with pride is sure to glow,
When dressed in a shimmering gown of snow.
Magic’s yours for the taking,
If only you dare.
If you’ve not yet claimed it,
You must not care.
When nature’s left bare by the cold,
Is a grand time to go out hunting Leprechauns’ gold.
Take a peak in mum’s garden, or on window sills
For the shining golden heads of spring’s first daffodils.
Magic’s a treasure most precious,
Though not terribly rare.
So don’t waste one more moment
Before claiming your fair share.
In gently March,
When earth’s long sleep is shook,
The sprite’s and pixies sneak out for a look.
But should spring showers threaten their fun with gloom,
They’ll pop up, spit spot, and umbrella mushroom.
Magic’s no fib,
No story, or fable.
Don’t suppose you can’t find it.
You are perfectly able.
Sky’s majestic concerts play
While silver streamers the night array.
Tucked snug in bed, safe, dry, and warm,
You can listen to the music of a spring thunderstorm.
Magic’s no secret,
It’s as plain as blue sky.
If you’d like me to prove it,
Why just open your eyes.
When day gives way to night,
I watch the flickering fairy lights.
They disappear in the blink of an eye.
What a curious creature, the firefly!
Magic isn’t just in books.
If you haven’t found it,
You haven’t looked.
You’ll find a magical gem
To put in your pocket should you have the whim.
Watch violet turn green before your eyes
When june bug opens his wings and flies.
Magic comes in packages
Of every size.
Should you come across it,
Don’t be surprised.
In hot July,
While seaside dreaming,
I can hear the mermaids singing.
There sweet and mystic voices swell
Deep down inside an old conch shell.
Magic’s in every cranny and nook.
If you’ve not yet found it,
You’ve not yet looked.
Silvery silken nets are cast
To catch moon droplets of liquid glass.
Morn’s sunbeams turn these to dew drops instead,
That dangle from each dainty spiderweb thread.
No need for a wand, spellbook,
Or white rabbit.
If it’s magic you seek
Just reach out and grab it.
When nights are cool, crisp, and quite clear,
The sky’s faithful watchman is sure to appear.
A sign that fall’s magic will be upon the world soon,
Is the sleepy-eyed man on the pale harvest moon.
Magic’s oh so much more
Than a make-believe game.
Why, to miss out on magic
Would be a most dreadful shame.
You may encounter upon neighbors’ porches
A mischievous nimph with eyes shining like torches.
But don’t be alarmed by his snaggle-toothed grin,
For jack-o-laterns, quite often, make jolly good friends.
So if life’s too ordinary,
Then do precisely as I say:
Take a daily dose of magic,
And add dazzle to each day.
Fair rubies drip from trees;
But shaken by an autumn breeze,
They dance down gracefully as you please,
To make fall’s rainbow rug of leaves.
Magic’s there, it doesn’t hide.
If you haven’t seen it,
You haven’t tried.
When magic falls in drifts like the snow,
A billion flick’ring candles set all earth aglow.
On still, frosty nights, these bring joy near and far,
To hearts warmed and eyes twinkling under heaven’s kind stars.
So whatever the season, day, or the hour,
Enjoying some magic requires no special powers.
Just open those eyes up,
Dust off your nose and ears.
With practice, you’ll find magic every day of the year!