Category Archives: State of the Lands

State of the Lands: Casus Belli

Thou art wise to consider such a synthesis, Solemn. There are worlds aplenty, but only a single nature.

-Final Judgement, The Eye of Kog

This concerns a subject I think is central to most genre fiction and especially epic fantasy, something that’s been tapping on the pane of my mind since I began chronicling. As an amateur military historian I was first drawn to the tales of armed struggles in ancient times. Now working as an analyst I’ve started to categorize things more often, try to get to the underlying causes. And after all, what could be more consequential to your tale than the existence or outbreak of a war?

So then– that raging conflict you’ve got in the background of your medieval mystery-paranormal romance: What’s up with that anyway? I mean, is there a particular reason for both sides to have been locked in a death-grip for the last four centuries, without result? You might want nothing to do with it, but hey, you made people start reading, now you’re stuck with us! Hopefully this article will serve as a handy guide to the many temperatures of tiff your world can get into.

Layers (Conflicts Are Like Ogres)

One thing that’s very important to distinguish at the start is that wars have causes (what Thucydides would call prophasis), which underlie (and even belie) the reasons that one side might give (the proschema). Sometimes these can be close to the same thing, but evil men need excuses (so the Dark Emperor might lust after the wealth or women of your hero’s homeland, but would loudly announce that said hero is a vile sorceror who must be hunted down). I’ve been surprised sometimes at tales where no such distinction is made, though this is strongly affected by the level of the conflict in your world.

I referred to this in a post a while back on the various types of fantasy. In brief, if the tale is epic in scope, that means the world is at stake. This strongly indicates that the bad guys are outright aggressors and neither give, nor have, a good reason for their violent attempt. If Sauron wins, it’s game over for all Middle Earth: curtain down, no more history. He wants it all, because he wants it. Not a lot of wiggle room there. {In heroic fantasy and sword-and-sorcery tales, stakes are lower with much more room for doubt, equivocation, confusion and half-measures.}

Why would an author pass up a chance to explore the casus belli (meaning the triggering act, the stated reason for a war)? No way I could exhaustively list them, but let’s take a stab at some important ones, both from the Alleged Real World and the tales folks have written about other places.

Here’s how I would represent those Greek words I mentioned before, about the real cause and the stated message:

Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

So in the example of Middle Earth, Sauron just wants to conquer everything. It’s possible that his Orcs and evil Men will enjoy life after his victory, but for the most part it’s all going to be his way or the highway. And by the time the war is well underway (The Fellowship of the Ring), Sauron is no longer hiding his intentions, pretty much everyone knows what he wants and the heroes are only arguing about the best way to oppose him. So that maps the War of the Ring–and many other epic fantasy struggles–clearly into the upper left corner.

Forging Justification

Let’s try a tougher one, the German invasion of Poland that started WW 2. In truth, it was naked aggression, invasion of a weaker neighbor to gain lebensraum and secure more power for the Master Race. But the Nazis used their mastery of (and addiction to) propaganda to mask their evil intentions with a staged provocation. Or didn’t you know that the Poles actually invaded Germany first? Usually called the Gleiwitz Incident, the Germans used concentration camp prisoners and stolen uniforms to make it seem that Poles had come across the border and attacked several targets, including a radio station from which they presumably broadcast an anti-German message, thereafter being conveniently shot before authorities could arrive. Not that it cut much ice with the Allies, who appropriately called B.S. within days. But the war was on, and even most Germans had no idea what was really happening (and honestly, many did not much care at that point– but if they had been completely on board, why all the play-acting?).

See how it goes? Think about who really gains from starting the conflict, that’s your left-to-right axis. Then consider whether lots of people, or only a few, really know the true reason or if they’re fighting (perhaps bravely, probably tragically) under a false flag. This one distinction, between prophasis and proschema, by itself could give you a wonderful point of departure for traitors, surprises, disillusionment; in the end I believe it could bring your tale a greater level of heroism.

I’ll try one more and then beg you for advice about a fourth, but hopefully you can already use the blank graph at the top of this article to plot the position of your own wars.

Noble Causes and the Eye of the Beholder

In the American Civil War (yeah, going to step right into the hornet’s nest, why not?) we have a prophasis problem because historians and pundits rage unabated about what REALLY caused the war. Slavery? State’s Rights? Cultural division between North and South had been growing since the Revolution, and as the Southern states saw the balance of power in Washington swing away from them, they banded together to protect their way of life (including of course, their “peculiar institution”).

To the Yanks, a small group of Rebel slaveowners fought to retain their power, and sold their people a bill of goods about preserving their liberty.  On the other hand, “to free the slaves” might have served as a good reason for Northerners to don a uniform (and wealthy Yanks were happy to have the plantation power destroyed). But it’s hard to swallow that thousands of Confederates risked their lives just so the wealthy few could continue to own them. That would be like you and me dodging bullets to protect Bill Gates’ right to keep winning the lottery. And remember, hardly anyone in mid-19th century America believed that blacks should be accorded an equal’s place in society. Lincoln included.

So I’d say the American Civil War could have several plot-points, depending on whether you’re covering the conflict from the Northern or Southern PoV.

In a war, each side tends to swallow its own message as the reason for the fight, and dismiss the enemy’s reason as propaganda. And guess which one gets to write the history?

Final Exam: Mordant’s Need is Also My Own

There are two kinds of people in the reading world: those who already know how mortally cool the Mordant’s Need series by Stephen R. Donaldson is, and those who need a time-out. Don’t be someone who needs a time-out. But if you want me to tap dance on the Spoiler Line, here we go. Just remember, you owe me a plot point when I’m done: tell me where the war goes on my map and why.

The kingdom of Mordant is under siege by the army of the High King (a neighboring empire). The king of Mordant, Joyse, has become senile and refuses to allow any other nation access to his Congery, an association of wizards who “do it all with mirrors” and are the only center of sorcerous power in the world.  All nations have suffered attacks by monstrous creatures, perhaps summoned by a rogue Imager who cannot be traced. The High King’s emissary demands that Joyse hand over access to the Congery so they all can be protected; in response, the insane monarch of Mordant challenges him to a game of checkers, which the emissary does not even know how to play.  That interview does not end well, and the war is on.

So. Plot that! And enjoy thinking about the different driving forces that send your heroes into battle, I hope you come away with some good thoughts to sprinkle into conversations and the central action of your tale.

State of the Lands: Memorials

Thou art wise to consider such a synthesis, Solemn. There are worlds aplenty, but only a single nature.

-Final Judgement, The Eye of Kog

It struck me while driving, like many worthy thoughts do. And that meant of course that I was doomed to forget and recall it many times, each round trip getting closer to permanent remembrance. How do we commemorate those we know, who we admire and want to emulate? There are many kinds of memorial, of course, but the first I think of are those carved in stone, in a field of many others, each with a few brief

Hope Cemetery VT

words burdened to somehow say it all. And it’s not always stone– sometimes you see “In Memory Of” on a dark wooden pew or fading in and out with the credits of a movie. But it’s almost always brief, here in the Alleged Real World: even when the medium is intended to last forever, the words take just a flicker of time, as if they were only a spark to kindle on the fuel of our recollection.

The Lands of Hope have none of these, not really. Some few, the heroes, are echoed in living devotion bordering on worship. For the rest, either someone remembers you or they don’t.

There is a narrow category of exception, though; the Children of Hope DO indeed memorialize at times, in very much the way we do. There are plaques commemorating the Battle of Tor Perite, and the discovery of Liftos Gas, the liberation of the Giant-siege of Stathos, the first bridge across the River Sweeping. You see the pattern? Events, great deeds of Hope are usually severed from

Just lighten up on the gas pedal awhile.
spokesrider.com

the persons who performed them. The Pious Warrior Yula won that battle and is duly mentioned in the inscription– hardly surprising, since he became Emperor of Argens as a result. The names of Able Patent and such are included on those others as well, toward the end. But not always, and never prominently. Succeeding generations of Hope are taught to attend to the act, not the actor.

But there’s another, tougher difference that needs mention here. One reason the Children of Hope do not dwell on the lives of those they erect plaques to celebrate is because in nearly every case, those lives are not yet over.

Hope does not memorialize the dead. At all.

To be honest, they don’t even much like thinking about death, because the Children of Hope haven’t had any guidance on what happens to them after they die. This is one of the chief reasons folks reject the Man in Grey: Solemn Judgement was not born in the Lands and since his father spent his last breath getting him there, Judgement is driven to find out whether death has a “sequel”.

Of course many of us share this need, and there is nothing at all wrong with marking the end of an earthly life. The Alleged Real World has an advantage in this, because many of us believe in a life after death. And also, we have a place, a natural spot set aside to create the memorial.

But in the Lands of Hope, loved ones are cremated, the ashes scattered. Only the Children of Despair put the bodies into the earth; the word kemetaria conjures horror, and the prospect of necromancy. When Feldspar explores Old Cryss in Fencing Reputation, he comes across a rare example of a surviving graveyard:

To my left in the nook of the next corner was a small area ringed with a low, two-foot fence of metal spikes; I caught only a glimpse of the irregular rows of stone markers within and turned my head away with a snap. I had heard the stories, but hoped like most children that this one wasn’t true. No such luck- they had really done it, those grand fools of long ago. So proud, so eager to show their spirit even in death, they had built a kemetaria, and allowed their bones to be put under the earth- an added challenge for their souls, to rise despite the odds and still attain heaven. Confident and sure, they had put their flesh into the ground, like the children of Despair. No wonder death had rained down on this place.

-Fencing Reputation

There may be other graveyards built by Hope, but very few (it was the passing fad of an Elvish nobility influenced in ways beyond their understanding by Despair). The colossal ancient kemetaria discovered by Solemn Judgement in The Eye of Kog was immediately destroyed by virtue of the miraculous lore he unearthed (quite literally) during his adventure there.

Point being, if you have no place to put the body, you tend to emphasize deeds during life instead of trying to summarize it at the end.

In the Lands, there are songs sung and stories told of great deeds, naturally; but not all of them are old or concerning folks who only lived long ago. Trekelny in Three Minutes to Midnight seems confident that there will be songs sung about his stupendous act of Stealth, and looks forward to hearing them himself. And yet, almost no person in the Lands knows what an epitaph is.

Here in the ARW, we’ve come to memorialize outside the graveyard, especially in places where people are likely to pass and see. Roadside memorials always make my heart drop, because I instantly know I’m looking at an unhappy ending. It’s a little like the graveyards have burst, and now spread among the living. But from what I see, the messages sometimes get longer, and are often uplifting or even hopeful. For those that are sad, I understand. It’s not usual to know a loved one has suddenly died and think “ah yes, they lived long enough”. No, it’s always too soon.

Stone Mountain Georgia, Confederate Generals a hundred feet high: Lee never wanted memorials to his war

One last thought comes to me, more triggering really but a difference that must be mentioned.

When the doer of a deed is alive to see the inscription, there’s a lot less monkeying around with their legacy.

But those long dead can have memorials erected that they did not aspire to, with messages twisted to suit a later generation. We are wrestling today with such a problem, trying to sift out the good from the bad like mixed grains of rice and wheat, and as a result some memorials will come down. If driven by justice, that will be good.

Better still, if we remember the virtue as well as the deed, as they do in the Lands. Let us tell the tale of each other’s glory, sing songs and keep the flame of those we admire alive. Surely what happened in life is of more value than the loss we feel on its passing.

A somewhat more joyous remembrance
Hope Cemetery