Adventure, Book, Exploration, History, Research, Terra Australis, Writing
Welcome, as always. Now that Across the Doubtful Sea is out in print on Amazon, we’ve turned our attention towards two projects:
- the “prequel”, Empire of the Isles
- editing and publishing the complete draft of the first book in a new series, Grey Goose and Gander, which is set in an imaginary medieval Russia. (Yes—it’s a distance from an alternate 18th-century Pacific, but we love Russian literature, both poetry and novels, and we especially love Russian fairy tales and that outstanding illustrator, Ivan Bilibin.) More on that series in future blogs!
Among the main characters in Empire is Lucien de St. Valerien, the father of Antoine, from our first book and we follow his adventures in two periods: as a senior cadet 30 years or so before Across and then as a captain, 10 years before. The latter will lead right into Across and explain various things only hinted at in that volume in the series.
As his adventures take place in our imaginary Pacific (called “The Calm Sea”) and on our imaginary Terra Australis, we’ve been busy researching and inventing more geography. In doing so, we’re aware that we are violating a dictum which JRRT once set down about creating and mapping:
“If you’re going to have a complicated story you must work to a map; otherwise you’ll never make a map of it afterwards.”
That we are doing so clearly shows the larky beginnings of this project as well as our desire to allow the Muse to take the story (and the storytellers) where she will.
Although we follow this ideal of inspiration, we would also agree with the Victorian English novelist, Anthony Trollope, who said of inspiration:
“To me it would not be more absurd if the shoemaker were to wait for inspiration, or the tallow-chandler for the divine moment of melting.” (A particularly apropos statement for a man with the goal of writing 10,000 words a day!)
In our case, however, we are using our research as a substitute Muse. And what particularly strikes us at the moment is the interesting clash of world views of early geographers on the subject of Terra Australis.
As we’ve mentioned before, Terra Australis, as a concept, dates back at least to Aristotle in the 4th century BC and the concept of the need for a balance of continents. If there’s a big one on the north side of the earth (call it Terra Borealis), it would be necessary, for the equilibrium of the earth to have a second one on the south side (Terra Australis).
The next step in the thinking, however, can diverge. There are those who imagined that such a place would resemble the continent on the northern side, having as many peoples and cultures. (This idea appears to be associated with Crates of Mallus, who lived in the 2nd century BC.) In our imaginary world, this is the standard belief, just as it was in the real pre-Captain Cook 18th century Europe. (The idea was contested, however, as it is in our books.)
In our research, however, we’ve also happened upon a second view. This was popularized by a 5th-century AD scholar named Macrobius, who wrote a commentary on the last-century BC Roman author, Cicero’s, “Dream of Scipio”, itself the last part of Cicero’s longer philosophical work, De Re Publica.
Cicero begins with the theory of more than one inhabited continent, but then shifts to describe an earth divided into five climate zones (reading from top to bottom: cold (and so uninhabitable), temperate, torrid (uninhabitable), temperate, and cold once more. This zonal view if followed by Macrobius and a number of the maps which appear in the earliest surviving manuscripts (which date from the period before 1100 AD) shows this very clearly.
What impressed us about this idea was how it mixed what we know to be true in the real world—uninhabitable poles (as some of the maps say, terra nobis incognita frigida—“a frozen land unknown to us”)
with temperate regions. It then added, however, a central belt simply too hot for human existence. (Was this derived from early reports of the Sahara?).
We’re still researching and creating, but our Terra Australis combines the two world views: we have a habitable southern continent, but one which is gradually falling under the control of a god—Atutlaluk—whose power is gradually turning Terra Australis into terra frigida—although it is gradually turning from incognita “unknown” to cognita “known” to us—and will be to you, in our next Across book, Empire of the Isles.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
For a detailed and very interesting article on Macrobius and maps, see Alfred Hiatt, “The Map of Macrobius before 1100” available as a download at http://dx.org/10.1080/03085690701300626.