The Special Language of #Fantasy

If you’re either a reader or an author of fantasy then it’s a probable bet that you’ve read The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. You may remember with a smile words like taters, olyphaunt, pipeweed, and eleventy-first. It was this precise nature of playing with words that brought Middle-Earth to life in a very special and unique way.

tolkien

“J.R.R. Tolkien, Da Morto” by Daniele Prati used under Creative Commons License.

As part of fantasy world-building, other authors must do the same but in our own way. We should learn from Tolkien and create a #writingtip for our usage. However, we must define what is special about the words. Firstly, you just can’t make up some strange word that is going to act like a speed-bump to the reader. You didn’t need a glossary or a long winded description to recognize “pipeweed”. You knew what it was and recognized Tolkien’s playfulness the second you read it.

Now, the world-building in Science Fiction can be a little different. Remember the tachyon particles from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and how often they were used in the series? People had no idea what a tachyon was; yet, their nature never really had to be explained. #Sci-Fi fans (including myself) just accepted it.

I’ve set out to accomplish the same type of playfulness in the world-building of Tyrhennia in The First Light. Take a look at a scene as two characters have breakfast at the Sword and Anvil Tavern in the city of Mentiria:

Daggorat leaned forward. “You should write a book about the common speech of the three kingdoms. Especially tavern slang.” Cyril responded with a negative grunt. Then Daggorat said, “Back home in Easterly, flatcakes and bangers are roundcakes and porklogs. It could be an interesting book.”

“Certainly not,” Cyril said. “Judging from the intellectual capacity of those three nobnoggins that we refer to as kings, such a treatise would probably start another great war.”

Did you pick up on the meaning of flatcakes, roundcakes, porklogs, and nobnoggins? Readers in the U.K. will recognize banger as sausage, while U.S. readers may not. However, from the use of porklog, the reader should be able to infer the meaning of sausage. Of course, The First Light is not laced that heavily with this type of vocabulary. You’ve just witnessed its most concentrated use in Chapter 1. I don’t do this again until another tavern scene in Chapter 7 and again in Chapter 14 when some characters are studying a map. I couldn’t use the word “geography” in the world of Tyrhennia, so I made up the word “tyrhenostrophy”. How do you feel about word-play for the sake of world-building?

3 thoughts on “The Special Language of #Fantasy

  1. Something I think about is how far does one go on the re-naming of words. For instance, it’s acceptable – often preferable – to rename days of the week and/or calendar months, to fit into the world being built. But why stop there? If days have different names why not glass or bricks or dirt? Why call a river: a river and why is the sun: the sun?

    I think it’s a precarious line to walk, for me anyway. Tolkien, being a philologist and a professor of the English language, new exactly where to draw the line to add that flavour of exoticism.

    What a great word nobnoggin is (it’s not even in the urban dictionary), my definition for nobnoggin would be ‘d**khead’. Am I right?

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    • I wouldn’t translate it as d**khead, but the connotation is there. Dope, idiot, fool, moron, d**head, any one of those would be a proper inference.
      Why call a river a river…? Well the book is intended for modern readers, if the technique is over-used, it would then become unreadable.
      One critique group member said I was in error for referring to days, weeks, hours, and months. As with all fantasy, world-building can turn into unnecessary details and drift from plot and characterization.
      You’re right Mark, it’s a fine line to walk.
      Nobnoggin is probably not in the urban dictionary because I pulled it from the air as I was writing.

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