World Building: The Wall of Night Series & The World of Haarth
Last Saturday I posted about the magic of winter worlds in SFF, here — and one of the aspects I have always loved about Fantasy-Science Fiction (F-SF) is the door it opens into fantastic worlds. Science Fiction offers worlds such as Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Union/Alliance space of CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, while Fantasy gives us Middle-Earth (Tolkien), Earthsea (Le Guin) and Bas-Lag (Miéville), to name only a very few. So it is perhaps not surprising that in The Wall of Night series I have introduced my own world of Haarth.
In the first book, The Heir of Night, much of the wider Haarth world is only alluded to. The dominant landscape is the twilit and wind-blasted Wall of Night, a mountainous barrier range garrisoned by the alien and warlike Derai. The Derai keeps are also worlds in themselves, which open, like puzzle boxes, to other realms: the abandoned layers of the Old Keep and the Gate of Dreams—a place of forests and wreathing mist which may—or may not—only be accessed through the Old Keep’s secret heart …
Yet even on the Wall of Night there is knowledge and limited contact with the wider world of those the Derai term “outsiders”—although readers do get to visit in in more detail in the second book in the series, The Gathering of the Lost.
The Earl of Night’s minstrel hails from the great city of “Ij the Golden, the queen of the River”—the River being a loose federation of city states. The heralds of the Guild, whom the Derai believe function in some “form of symbiosis” also hail from the River, in their case the Guild House in the city of Terebanth. Other realms lie further south, including Emer, which is famous for its armoured knights; Aralorn and Jhaine, of which little is known; and Ishnapur, the last but still great remnant of the Old Empire. The Empire fell apart in the long-ago calamity known as the Cataclysm, but once stretched from Ishnapur in the south to Jaransor in the north—Jaransor, that line of green forbidden hills that it is whispered can drive the Derai mad …
Beyond that again there is the Winter Country, with its hunters and shamans, where a day might be “bright-as-diamond … between blizzards, with the sky pale blue crystal and the snow stretching away forever, white and gleaming.”
And then, of course, there’s what lies on the other side of the Wall of Night …
So where did the world of Haarth come from? Ursula Le Guin, in her book on writing titled Steering the Craft, talks about pulling ideas out of the air—and ideas do often seem to spring from the aether. Influences I am aware of, that may help shape my access to that marvellous air include: a love of myth and legend and fairytale; “what-if” sparks from other stories and events in the real world; the resonance of music, which strongly influences atmosphere and mood; considerable and wide ranging reading of historical non fiction (for fun, you know); and experience of landscape.
As part of one post in the intermittent “influences on story” series on my blog, here, I have specifically discussed the influence of my time living in Stockholm, and winter journeys to the north of Sweden, as well as to Finland and Russia, on the Winter Country.
Few influences on story and world building are so direct though, in my experience. I have had the vision of a twilit world and beleaguered keeps from a very early age, although the windswept crags and bitter peaks of the Wall of Night emerged from the air a long time after that. The concept of Jaransor, and land that may itself be conscious, is also one that had been “lurking” for some time before I began writing the book. Conversely, the southern kingdoms and the romance of the road that stretches “from Ij to Ishnapur” evolved as much from their introduction into the story as from any prior consideration.
And just in case you wonder whether there really is power in a name, take it from me that characteristics, backstory, and function within the tale, whether for characters or realms, can and do change, sometimes quite dramatically, when a name gets changed. It’s dangerous territory—but that is a blog post for another day. Today is about the world of Haarth—and for now, I shall leave you on its borders.