Friday, April 8, 2011

Worldbuilding: Using Other Cultures for Inspiration

How do you create a fantasy world with some interesting exotic touches? One way is to base your fantasy world culture in part on some culture other than your own.

Notice that I said 'in part'. This is for two reasons. One is that to base your fantasy culture 100% on some other culture, you would have to know a great deal about that culture. That's fine if you are bicultural, or lived in some other land for most of your formative years. But for most of us, getting enough knowledge of another culture to do this would be much too time consuming.

The second reason is for the comfort of the reader. If you are writing a book in English, your reader base is in contact with English-speaking cultures--- either British, American, Australian or one of the other English speaking lands. If you wrote a fantasy world that was 100% based on a culture foreign to the reader, they might find it confusing and difficult to understand. They may need to have a few elements that are a little more familiar.

In practice, a writer will probably add elements of his own culture without even being aware of doing so. But I think it's a better idea to think about these things enough to do at least part of it on purpose!

In Wildmage, the setting is the Northern kingdom. The ancestors of the people there were Koreans. But they were heavily influenced by some aspects of European culture, particularly Christianity.

This is how it happened. There are connections between our world and the Wildmage world. These portals were in the hands of Christian monastic orders. These portals have been used to send people under threat of persecution for their Christian faith out of harm's way.

In the case of the Northern kingdom, Korean converts during the early period of missions to Asia went through the portal to escape threat of execution or war dangers. On the other side of the portal, in the Wildmage world, the refugees were taken in by monasteries for a time, and gradually left to build their own homes in the new world. Since the majority of those in these monastic establishments were ancestrally from Europe, this was the base for a somewhat blended culture.

Names for the two worlds? Our world is called the Old World or the Christus-Benedictus World. The Wildmage world is called the Elementals World or the Seven-Elementals world, based on the presence of seven types of beings, called elementals, which aid people in the Elementals world in developing magecraft-skills.

One of the best aids I've found in working the Korean culture into my Northern kingdom is a small Korean English dictionary. When I need a name for something quick, I can look up a Korean word to create a name. So I've used 'sori', meaning frost, as a name for a mage tower built of white stone, and 'koa', orphan, as the name of a cloister where the sisters run a school and an orphanage for girls.

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