Posted by: kshayes513 | April 19, 2011

Reading: Worldbuilder’s Potpourri

I read nonfiction not just for facts and information, but for questions. An article about how a traditional society in Africa settles disputes might lead me to a whole investigation of how people in Khasran do the same. A news story about a distraught, delusional man on an airliner made me wonder what different kinds of perceptions might let an ordinary man start seeing real things that no one else could see.

So here are a few recent books I’ve enjoyed, that have made me ask lots of new questions.

Jonathan Bate, Soul of the Age, a Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare.

Yes, anyone who loves the Bard or the Elizabethan age must read this! But it’s also a fascinating read for anyone whose worldbuilding involves education, literary culture, art or genius. It’s not a factual biography of the events of Shakespeare’s life, but an investigation into all that he read, studied and experienced, the people he knew, and the social and political forces that shaped him as a poet and dramatist and influenced his choices of subject and form throughout his life.  If you’re creating a world with a complex and literate culture, this book will give you a ton of ideas.

Who’s the Shakespeare of your world?

Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson, Animals in Translation.

This one’s not just for animal lovers, though it is, of course, fascinating for anyone who lives with animals or who is interested in animal intelligence. From a worldbuilding perspective, it’s for two kinds of stories. If ordinary (non-intelligent) animals play an important role in your world, you’ll find a lot of questions about how we treat animals, that might lead you to investigate what assumptions people in your world make about how animals fit in their society.

Even more fun, this book is a must for anyone who wants information and ideas about how different kinds of intelligent minds might work. Grandin is autistic, and her descriptions of how she experiences the world are absolutely fascinating. More than that, she provides a ton of hard science and pragmatic information about how animals think. If you have intelligent animals in your world, or if you want some ideas on how to make your aliens think very differently, this is a great read!

Christopher Tolkien, editor, The History of The Lord of the Rings

This is a 4 volume textual analysis of Tolkien’s creative process in writing The Lord of the Rings.  You know that one, it’s the story of the hobbit Bingo Bolger-Baggins, who used up his uncle Bilbo’s money and decided to go on an adventure to win more treasure with Bilbo’s magic ring.

Remarkably, that is where Tolkien started with his sequel to The Hobbit. His son Christopher lays out all the drafts and many of his father’s notes as the masterpiece began to grow. What makes this book so fascinating, and so enormously encouraging to any would-be worldbuilder and storyteller, is seeing how many tries, how many rewrites and rethinks and redrawings of maps Tolkien needed to find the the real story. He rewrote Book 1 (which takes us from Bag End to Rivendell) no less than 5 times, before he had discovered enough of the story to proceed with the quest. It’s also remarkable to see how many story elements that seem essential now, (the Ring’s origins, Sam Gamgee, and Arwen, to name just three) didn’t emerge until very late in the creative process.

If you don’t know LOTR well, you might want to read this one side by side with the text, as I did. It’s fascinating. And it teaches us all to keep slogging at our creations until we get them right!

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