Monday, January 16, 2012

Some Under-Appreciated Mythical Geography

Last month, Beedo of Dreams of the Lich House mused about Mythic Geography for FRPG settings. I have been meaning to muse myself on the subject, but life has delayed this endeavor until now.

Several of the examples that Beedo uses to make his point are (of course) from mythology — especially those most readily familiar like those of the Greeks and the Norse. As evocative as those might be, I think a particularly useful and suggestive mythical geography that gets discounted either out of hand or out of ignorance is that of the Old Testament. Take a look at this popular imagining of OT cosmology:

Note that it is easy to see with this image how both Tolkien's Undying Lands and Lloyd Alexander's Summer Lands can be reached by the right kind of sailing ship — sail the Waters above the Firmament and you might reach the Heavens.

These same waters might be used to sail to the stars and the planets surrounding them. One might have to climb the Pillars of Heaven to set sail, however. The Underworld is well represented by Sheol; however, there is a secondary, potentially more frightening area — the Abyss. What strange creatures lie within the waters at the bottom of the Pillars of the Earth? 

For those that wish to follow in Beedo's footsteps and expand the Mythic beyond The Dungeon, I invite you to consider the imaginings of the writers of the Old Testament. You might be surprised at how rich an imagination it is.


Desert Scribe said...

FrDave, have you read the novelette "Tower of Babylon" by Ted Chiang? It takes a look at what happens when the builders of the eponymous structure reach the heavens in a world with such a cosmology.

FrDave said...

No, I was unaware. My experience with written sci fi from the last 20+ years has been more than a little underwhelming. Therefore, I am hesitant to spend much time or money on such things without some form of recommendation. This, however, does pique my interest. Do you recommend it?

Desert Scribe said...

I do recommend this author, and the story is available in a free preview of a collection of the author's short works on Google books:,M1

Joshua said...

This is a very interesting perspective, and I'll mention my interest in that outreach from the earth domain down into Sheol.

John Arendt said...

This is a great map - I need to think more about how I'd use it - like whether it would be better to use that cosmology in a pure fantasy realm (like Tolkien) or use something with some anachronistic real world analogs, like the Hyborian Age, or roll it forward to a mythic Medieval period like you see in Three Hearts and Three Lions and the chansons de geste; the mind reels with the options.

The juxtaposition of OT cosmology with traditional fantasy is really interesting. I keep thinking of the possibilities inherent in using the Chaotic Wilderness, Otherworldy Law, and the civilization as an attempt to bring the divine Law of the heavens down to earth - tying a strong Law vs Chaos conflict into the physical layout of the campaign.

FrDave said...

Thanks for the link. It is a very good read and a wonderful way to muse about how the more we know, the more we don't know.

FrDave said...

Thanks for the kind words.

The juxtaposition of OT cosmology with traditional fantasy is really interesting.

Exactly! This is why I offered it up — the possibilities are endless.