Building a Fantasy World in a World That Already Exists

The world of Mysts of Mythos is our world in the year 1001 CE. Because of this you might think that I had it easy when it comes to maps and things like that. I can just use historical maps right? Quite the contrary as a matter of fact. For one thing, maps made during the medieval era were really terrible by today’s standards. For example here is a map  dated at 1040 CE (from or  dated to the 11th century as well. Both depict the world as centered around the Mediterranean Sea. Compare those to this modern made map of the Mediterranean and you will see how problematic it can be.Maps of fantasy worlds are just that, fantasies. We can follow our imagination and make whatever we want. We are only limited by our ability to draw. I suck really bad at drawing. So my challenge has been to go find maps that other people have put together of what they believe things might have been like, laid out using modern mapping knowledge. I’ll eventually have to use them as inspiration to draw my own, or ask the originator if I can use their work, but I have no idea how difficult that may be, or if they would want their historical map to be used for a work of fantasy fiction.

One loophole that I have at my disposal is that while there is a fair amount of actual data and real maps made with historical data, there is also a lot of cloudiness because there is so much that we still don’t know about the early 11th century. This gives me a fair amount of wiggle room to say where borders are or where a forest might be. Disappointingly there weren’t a lot of real deep dark forests in 11th century England. Swamps though, England had some damn big swamps, or fens as they liked to call them. The thing is, there is so much historical information out there and, though I have done a lot of research, I don’t know all of it. This means I am inevitably going to make a decision that somebody out there will KNOW is wrong. Not only will they know, but they will have the historical citations to show what a moron I am. Sigh. Sadly I will have to face that and say thank you sir for educating me and move on with a historical error in my work. I won’t like it but that’s the way it is.

So the world of Mysts of Mythos is our world, but after the mysts arrive it really won’t be our world anymore. The paradigm will have shifted so much with the coming of beasts, people, monsters and magic, from out of our myths and legends, that in many ways it will no longer be a recognizable place. Within a short space of time historical figures, who would have lived for many years after this time, will die an untimely death. Others, who were destined to pass away not long after this date, might find that their fate has been altered just enough that they don’t end up getting sick the way that history said they would. Or maybe someone with magic comes along to heal them of a disease that would otherwise kill them. Either way someone who would have died early, lives on for many more years than they should have, or someone who would have lived for many years is snuffed before their time. This will inevitably have profound effects upon how the world moves forward, especially when those changes are for people who get to wield power.

What would happen in Ireland if Brian Boru dies on Christmas of 1001? Instead of leading his armies to victory in the summer of 1002 to become the very first true and undisputed High King of Ireland, you have one of his sons fight in that battle, possibly to less success. None of them historically turned out to be very successful. Certainly not like Brian himself. I’m not saying I’ve written, or even will write, that. I honestly haven’t decided the fate of Brian Boru yet, though I do intend to write a story set in the Ireland of Mysts at some point so I’ll have to figure it out. I’m just too busy writing deciding on the fate of everyone living in England at the moment, and I can tell you there are a few untimely deaths already.

The most fun that I have had in creating the world of Mysts of Mythos has been in deciding what elements of myth and legend to use, and what elements to change while leaving a kernel of the original in place. Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, Faeries, Dragons. All of these will be in the story, but will they be the ones you know from popular fiction? Sort of. Dragons for example.

Dragons! What if some of the worlds that folk have looked beyond the veil of myst to see, were actually worlds in which the asteroid missed our Earth 65 million years ago? The creatures they told tales of, which grew to be stories about dragons, were in fact be dinosaurs. Our hero rides down the road, turning a bend, only to come face to face with a T-Rex or a Diplodocus (or at least what either might have evolved into). Dinosaurs! On the other hand, any dragons our hero may meet could just as easily be a more traditional style of fantasy dragon. The great thing about this set-up is that I can, and will, use any of a variety of different kinds of dragons. Smart dragons. Magic using dragons. Dragons as merely big dumb, dangerous animals. Fire breathing, acid spitting, cold spewing, lightning blasting, dragons. Anything is possible.

Elves! What kind of elves to use? That was something I thought long and hard about and I think I came up with an elegant solution. Elves and faeries have always been tied together in English mythology. In fact, much of English lore tells of various illness coming from ‘elf-shot’. Elves were thought of as tiny little people who would shoot you with tiny little bows, and those tiny little arrows would make you sick. But there are also tales of the more traditional fantasy elf like Tolkien’s elves; tall, beautiful, magical, etc. What I decided to do was combine them, which led to a fun way to come up with those long funny elf names. The world that elves come from is a world that was magical from the beginning. Creatures there evolved in an entirely different manner but with parallels. These elves go through many life stages. They begin as a ‘spark’, a winged “Tinkerbell”-like creature, often referred to as Sprites in lore, with a single syllabic name such as ‘Tink’ or ‘Bil’. In the next stage they get a little larger, often lose the wings, and gain a syllable. The next stage is another gain in size and another syllable. Each stage comes with a change in magic powers. Old elves are tall like Tolkien elves and have names with six, seven, or even eight syllables. This will explain all of the different kinds of elves and faeries as merely stages of the elf life cycle. Sprites, pixies, dryads, brownies, leprochauns, nymphs, sylphs, etc. Each stage of an elf’s life can take anywhere from twenty to fifty years or more. So with the oldest elves you get that element of immortality. Some of them will have lived anywhere from 160 to 400 years or more, which, for a people who often don’t live past fifty, is basically immortal.

Dwarves! I decided to use much the same life-cycle concept for dwarves as I did for elves. This explains gnomes and other small dwarf-like critters in lore. This also explains why dwarves are so renowned as crafters. They are also long lived, so they get a couple hundred years to perfect their crafts and pass on knowledge to those who come after them.

Goblins! The concept of metamorphosis through life-cycles is brought along to here as well. Kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, ogres, trolls etc. These more malicious creatures live by different rules to a certain extent. The bigger they get the more of the smaller ones they get to boss around. This has had the tendency to give them the traditional type of goblin/orc personality in that they are bullies. As long as they think they are stronger they’ll bully something, but as soon as things start to go against them they run because they want to get older to be bigger.

Every one of the various creatures of myth and legend get a new treatment in the world of Mysts. I hope you’ll follow along as I travel towards publication.


SeanGallagher-bioSean Gallagher is the author of the upcoming novel, Mysts of Mythos, first book in a new series of historical fantasy. Raised in Syracuse, NY. He moved to Oregon while still in high school and currently resides in Portland with his wife, Monica, and son, Rune. The Gallaghers are also the proud human friends of Blanca the dog and Thor the cat.

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