Monday, 9 April 2012
I is for...
Illumination. One thought for fantasy writing types: how bright is it when your heroes are wandering around in that dungeon? Yes, yes, they all have flaming torches (not to mention flaming swords, flaming rings of power and ‘I know I put the flaming thing here somewhere’ cloaks of invisibility. This is an Australian joke, I’ve just borrowed it.) How far though, can you really see by such things? Not to mention by all that suspiciously glowing moss in all the caves, or the moonlight by which they’re making their raid on the fortress of moderate annoyance.
The point is that our world is so brightly lit we can often forget that it doesn’t have to be. It’s darker in the country at night than in a city. It’s darker in a cave than outside. And just a little bit of darkness can have a profound effect on people’s lives. Castles in medieval times tended to have their own chandlers, while there were officials at most important institutions who were given the solemn job of making sure the place was lit. Because they couldn’t function as well, or as long, without that light.
Pre-modern rural societies ran essentially according to the hours of daylight in many cases. Yes, there were candles and lamps and so on, but those were resources to be controlled and not squandered. The ability to light a room cheaply, efficiently and continuously meant social changes too.
So it’s worth paying attention to the light in your stories. How far could people reasonably see? What happens when it’s dark?