Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Review of really old stuff: Neil Gaiman's Sandman

Inspired by Reading Comics, I decided to read some comics that I know are well thought of. One comic that even I've heard of is Sandman written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by a series of artists. Wikipedia has a good basic summary of the character and setting, but basically it follows the activities of Dream of the Endless, a group of beings that govern aspects of the natural world (they are, in order of oldest to youngest, Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delerium), aka Morpheus. The only other "mainstream" (meaning DC or Marvel) comic I have read is Watchmen (as I mentioned in the other review), and I think it would be useful to contrast the two:

  • Watchmen is about superheros, even if they are unusual and fucked up superheros; Sandman is not about superheros (though they exist in the background and make a few cameos), it takes place in a fantasy world of Gaiman's design and is more strongly influenced by mythology than comics themselves
  • Relatedly Watchmen is very meta, and is really about superhero stories specifically in the form of comics, Sandman is about more general metaphysical questions-- the one I really picked up on was how to deal with death and change. One of the things that comes up is can/if Morpheus has changed, and that really becomes central to the end of the series. Sandman does get meta, but about stories, not comics.
  • Watchmen is action packed, full of violence and exciting activities; Sandman has almost no conventional action -- Morpheus is a force of nature, and after the first few issues he faces very few dangers he can fight. This leads to a very different sort of story, and often Morpheus does not seem to really be a major player, but the theme of dreams always comes through
  • Finally there are a few format differences: Watchmen is very short, it essentially is a graphic novel, whereas Sandman is just to long to be a single body of work, but must be a series of some sort. There are also several artists who work with Neil Gaiman, and some of them I like more than others, whereas Watchmen has the same two people for the whole series, and the quality is always consistent.

What I really loved about Sandman is that it is so tied to mythology, it doesn't just use the characters' names and attributes, it uses the storytelling style of myth, and has many of the same characteristics. Neil Gaiman knows his mythology better than anyone else (that I know of) writing nowadays. The flaws are all in the use of comics as a medium, though they are mostly just not using it so perfectly well as Watchmen does (and I don't know if they could have kept that up for 75 issues), and my not liking the art style of a few of the comics. Definitely a good read, and one I would recommend for fans of fantasy, regardless of their thoughts on comics.

Friday, August 8, 2008

History of my fantasy world

One of the important things to think about in any fantasy world is it's history. This affects the conflicts that drive the story, as well as inspiring the cosmology of the world. The most important element to explain in this world is the source of the large church that is tied with the old magic, and how the new magic came about. The belief of the Anogrian church is that it was founded by refugees of a currently depopulated continent, where some sort of magical catastrophe took place. The society in that place was very magically advanced, and so the refugees were able to become conquerers and enforce the worship of their last king (who was tied up in the catastrophe somehow). It gained direct political control over the West for some time, but lost it due to multiple uprisings. While it held political control of the West, the church built universities to try and spread the teachings of the church, as well as the official form of magic practiced by the church. These universities started as religious in nature, but slowly became secularized (just as the universities of Europe did). These universities were the incubators of the new form of magic, and thus began the conflict that characterizes this world. The ideas (and smart people) coming out of the universities often ended up working for a small kingdom, which has built it's wealth and power on ideas from the new way of things, and liberal use of the new magic. It also has profited from the slave trade.

That is, I think, enough for now. I have a headache tonight.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quick creating a fantasy world

One thing that most fantasy writers don't really put enough emphasis on is the importance of religion. This is largely understandable, since we now live in very secular times, and most fantasy writers are not particularly religious. However, in every pre-modern society religion is hugely important. Religious wars are the bloodiest and longest lasting before the 20th century. So I'm going to talk about the religion of the little world I've been creating (I need to give this world a name, but I often put that off, it's not my greatest skill). Since we are focused on the West, I think that there should be a strong centrally organized religion. It's tenants are strongly tied up with the old magic, and the traditional ideology that it is allied with. Much like the medieval Catholic Church, the church of this world will have temporal power in addition to it's spiritual power, and be quite corrupt. To come up with some specifics I will name the church the Anogrian, after it's chief prophet Anogre (pronounced ann-ogh). It once directly ruled the Anogrian Empire, but now only has some small lands under it's direct rule. It still holds vast powers, and is the main religion of the West.

The followers of the new magics are mostly secular, though rarely atheist. They tend to believe in rationalized versions of the Anogrian religion, much like most people do today, and intellectuals did in the enlightenment (replacing the Anogrian religion with Christianity, obviously.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back here and more creating a fantasy world

So I was visiting my parent's last week unexpectedly, and I was lazy with my creating a fantasy world series. I'll post on it every day this week.

So when we left off I had basically worked out the way that magic works in this fantasy world. To recap: the basic concept is an analogy to the enlightenment, there is new and old magic, with the new magic acting somewhat like technology, and old magic being more like what we would consider magic.

I was going to move onto the biggest part of creating a fantasy world: making the social structures. These play a much bigger part than say the mechanisms of how magic works.

One thing I want to do with this setting is have a social conflict between the new way of things and the old way, much like the two types of magic, and indeed the types of magic are allied with their respective social movements. Even though I am sympathetic to one side of the conflict between new and old in the real enlightenment, I don't want things to be so clear cut in this setting. This means that each side should have some good, and some bad traits.

The social movement aligned with the new magic is, like in the analogy to real life, strongly supported by the middle class and has a capitalist agenda. The dark side of this is that one of the major reasons why this new capitalism is so profitable is because of slavery. Again, this is much like in real life -- the new economies of England and the Netherlands were based largely on slavery, and the slower economies of Germany, France, and Eastern Europe were based on traditional forms of labor (which were certainly exploitative to varying degrees, but were not the total affront to humanity that racial slavery was). Spain was a bit of a border case, with wealth based on military hegemony over important natural resources (gold and silver mines). The ideological agenda for new ways of thinking is similar to modern America: equality of opportunity, if not success, with a way of thinking that people get what they deserve. Politically the ideal government is thought to be a Mageocracy: a rule by the top mages. This is sort of related to Plato's Republic where he envisions a society ruled by philosopher kings. On the other hand the new way of thinking is very strongly in favor of social mobility, even if it believes that society does need stratification.

The traditional way of things is less extreme. It basically holds that there is a place for everyone in the world, and that they should not move from those places, but that things should be made comfortable and humane for people even in the lowest places. Most traditionalists are opposed to slavery, not just because of it's inhumanity, but also partially because the slavery system has allowed a large number of peasants to rise above their natural position. Unsurprisingly traditional forces believe in a monarchy with a strict social order.