Tomorrow sees my annual migration northwards, home, to see the family for Christmas. It will involve a hike across the dangerous wastes of urban Berkshire, a cramped and nervous passage through the subterranean catacombs of the capital, before finally giving myself over to an arduous 4 hours of train based conveyance. I hate trains. I’ll admit I like the idea of trains, I just don’t like using them. I’ve loathed them ever since, at the start of 2005, I was forced to stand for 5 hours from Newcastle to Birmingham. That was pretty awful. The price is brain meltingly extortionate too. Even though I could in theory fly home, the very fact I’d need to spend about £80 to take anything larger than a small back-pack with me is something of a turn-off.
So I’m heading north. However, unlike many tales of high fantasy there won’t be any magical adventures or feats of daring do. There’ll just be a lot of boredom, interspersed with the frustration of being completely incapable of getting anything even resembling a signal, never mind about mobile internet, on the east-coast mainline. It will be a tough journey.
But the prospect of this mighty and arduous journey got me thinking; “Why, in fantasy, do all the terrifying horrors of war, banditry, barbarism, or appearance of gribblies from the beyond and general wholesale evil, always happen in the North?”
I get the impression that it’s linked to the history of Britain. The north was always where we had the vast majority of our problems. Far from the seat of royal power and close to the border of the perennial enemy Scotland, it was where the land was wild and dangerous, a place that was hard to keep under control. You had your raiders, your uprisings, your wars, it makes a perverse kind of sense that this historical situation would find itself transposed into the fantasy world, with supernatural shenanigans added for seasoning. It might also be something to do with the temperature, a lot of people get seriously grumpy when it gets cold.
The Grim and Dangerous Wilds of the North have become something of a laboured fantasy stereotype (Mister Tolkien, once again being partly to blame). As much as I’m sure we all want to walk into a pub one day, lean conspiratorially over the bar and whisper “What news of the North barkeep?” I do think the south needs to be the source of worried mumblings and furtive and fearful glances a bit more often.
Were you to walk into an archetypal fantasy tavern and ask “What news of the South barkeep?” You’d likely be met with the response of “Keep your voice down!” The barkeep would hiss “You should know better than to ask such dangerous questions in here Ranger Vowely McApostrophe. You never know who might be listening.” before being discreetly shepherded into a back room to be told in a worried voice “It’s getting pretty heavy and serious down there Vowely.” The barkeep locking the door behind you both “The landed gently are down there in force, sunning themselves on their fancy balconies and drinking themselves blind on their fine wines. I’ve even heard whispers that they’ve been having balls of all things, balls! The south’s gone mad, we’re starting to fear it lost. We had a messenger the other week, rolled in here with a bad hangover and some sunburn. It took us literally hours to get him back on his feet.” You’d perch on the edge of a table deep in thought, looking pensive almost mystical. Then you’d reply “Boozey McInnkeep my old friend, fetch me the biggest sun hat you can find and whatever sun-tan lotion you can find.” The innkeep would look aghast “Surely you can’t mean to head into the depths of the south?” You’d stand up and look all stern and serious “I do indeed. I might even…go to the beach!”
My irreverence aside, I think it’s a woefully unexploited area. The eternal rumblings of strife in the middle east quite clearly shows that people in hot places can get properly pissy too, it doesn’t have to all be about disgruntled northman wearing clothes made out of a large stray cat or irksome mammoth.
Now I’m off to swap my blogosphere airship’s running lamps for tinsel and fairy lights. This is the last post I’ll make before Christmas so I, The eponymous Rogue Verbumaner wish you all, if not a merry Christmas, then at least one which is vaguely tolerable. You know what families can be like.