A to Z: North!

Direction is always important…and in a lot of fantasy, specific directions carry with them specific connotations. Such as North.

finding north

North is often portrayed as cold and desolate and lonely. Just about every fantasy that I know is set in the northern hemisphere of its particular planet, so north really does tend to be a land of cold and, sometimes, a land of unknown. In some cases, the North is where Evil lives: Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry puts Rakoth Maugrim’s fortress up north, just below the “Ruk Barrens”, which are endless lands of ice. In Tigana, he flips things around – it’s the warm lands that are in the north, and to the south are the snowy mountains. But it’s easy to miss this geographic flipping.

George RR Martin uses the North as a source of cold grim things, as well; in fact, it could very well be that the main existential threat of his books is coming from the North, beyond the Wall that was built thousands of years ago to hold the North at bay.

I don’t recall what is in the far north in Stephen R. Donaldson’s “The Land”, the setting of his Thomas Covenant books, but he does invert things a bit by placing Revelstone, the chief fortress of his forces for Good, in the northern part of The Land, while Foul’s Creche – the stronghold of villain Lord Foul – is in the east.

For JRR Tolkien, the north seems to have been also a source of cold, of snows, and of dark things. In the north is the kingdom of Angmar, whose Witch King would later come to serve Sauron as Lord of the Nazgul. The North is never really visited in The Lord of the Rings; it is a location of legend more than action of the story. But it’s not only a source of grim things, for the Rangers of the North are also there, protecting the Shire and from their number comes Aragorn, heir to Isildur and rightful King of Gondor.

The North is not always a source of darkness, cold, villainy, or evil. For Superman, the North is a place of quiet and contemplation, where he goes to rest. It is in the North that he builds his Fortress of Solitude, his unearthly home on Earth.

How do you see the North? Cold and desolate and full of dark beings? Or stark and majestic and a place of enormous solace?
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3 Responses to A to Z: North!

  1. M. D. Jackson says:

    I have lived in the North (from your perspective I still do, but at one time I lived even further North than I do now). My experience is that it is both of those things. There were moments of wondrous beauty, tranquility and solace. There were also places that were desolate and there were many places filled with dark beings, both real and imagined.

    It was a wonderful place to grow up, but my soul is not hardy enough to go back after living so long in the South. In fact in my middle age, moving further southward seems more and more like a good idea.

  2. New York Erratic says:

    Really complicated for me. But I'd say "full of endless potential and new beginnings."

  3. Lynn says:

    Didn't Conan the Barbarian come from the North? It's been a long time since I read those books.

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