Sunday, March 26, 2006

Deep Thoughts...and Theories of Nomenclature

"Great. Now I'm going to be stuck with serious thoughts all day.
- Cordelia Chase, "Beauty and the Beasts," Buffy the Vampire Slayer

As many people have pointed out before now, one of the cool and unique things about blogging is the way diversions, info, ideas, whole conversations spread from blog to blog, sometimes across a dozen or a hundred different venues, where hundreds of people read and comment on them. Some of these viral ideas - quizzes and other artificial memes, are designed to propagate in this way. Other stuff just happens to tap into what people are interested in and want to write about.

This has been another weekend of blog entries that inspire others to continue the conversation. First there was Pat's question about the origins of different screen names. Today she followed it up with an entry about place names and character names. Well, you know that's a topic that's pretty much guaranteed to get me blathering on about Mâvarin again. First, though, I'd like to offer my take on a couple of Carly's recent entries.

desert tortoise, Tucson, circa 1987Apparently a 250-year-old tortoise just died in India, one that belonged to a prominent Englishman at the beginning of that country's colonial era. (The critter shown here is not that Indian one, but a desert tortoise in our former back yard here in Tucson.) Carly tied this news in with a picture she took of some turtles recently, and the idea of being "comfortable in your shell," and the perspective that hundreds of years of life would bring.

That got me thinking about the way we look at the world now, we humans with our 60 to 90 years on the planet, assuming we aren't taken out early by murder, disease or accident. How often do we really think about what we'll be like - or what the planet will be like - decades from now? Most of the time, we're just trying to get through the week! Next week is a finite, comprehensible thing. We've got a pretty good idea what next week will be like. But 2016, 2026, 2036 - those years, and all the weeks in them, are abstractions to us. We may dutifully invest in an IRA if we can, buy insurance, or plan for the kid's eventual need for college tuition. But we don't really think about ourselves at age 80 until we're in our late 70s. We don't think about all the good and bad things that will be part of our lives by then - the latest gadgets, the medical advances, the depleted oil reserves, the changing planet itself. We can't really predict most of this stuff, so we don't. It's not real to us, anyway. The only perspective we can lay claim to is what we see looking back, when we compare today's world to the one we knew at the age of ten or twelve or twenty. Even that is filtered through imperfect memory, and limited by our ages. I can drive to downtown Tucson and onto a street that was built right over an 1865 graveyard, or learn more about a 2000 year old Hohokum pit house excavated near modern-day Church Ave. But I can't know what this place was truly like in 1865, let alone at the time of Christ. I wasn't here then.

Carly's next entry after the turtles and the tortoise was about predictions of the End Times, and how that relates to George W. Bush(!). She mentions "a reference to a recently published book that says, "members of the Bush administration have reached out to prophetic Christians, who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse." A woman asked the President about this, and he said, "I haven't really thought of it that way." Carly goes on to ask for the thoughts of her readers about the Apolcalypse. Here are mine:

From what I've read and learned in several venues (college course, sermons, etc.), Revelations was written in a literary genre called apocalyptic literature. It is an allegory, mostly commenting in code on the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. As my religion prof put it thirty years ago, "The author of Revelations was 'predicting' the recent past."

My beloved high school boyfriend Dan, a devoted reader of Hal Lindsay, was convinced the world would end in 1986. That year came and went, 20 years ago. Dan himself didn't make it to 1986, but the world goes on. Dan's world ended in 1978, and he presumably went on to the next one. The 1986 date was entirely irrelevent, it turns out, to his life and to ours, at least as far as the Apocalypse goes.

It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.
--Riley Finn, "A New Man," BtVS

It seems to me that it's terribly presumptuous to predict a certain date or year, especially one we expect to see ourselves. We can't even be sure when our individual lives on Earth will end, much less predict what God (or the human race) will do and when. All we can do is take good care of the Earth and ourselves, and live as though the Earth needs to last for millenia yet - and as though we may die tomorrow. People have been predicting the Apocalypse since St. Paul's day. Does it really make sense to think that the world really is ending soon, this time for sure! - and that we therefore don't need to care about global warming, our disappearing rain forests or the health of our oceans? Shouldn't we be taking care of such things, just in case our children are going to be living here - and because God was expecting us to be good stewards and not trash the place?

Do we really want to assume these kids won't need
a healthy planet to live on, fifty years from now?

As for Republicans reaching out to evangelical Christians, there's certainly nothing new about that. I once heard an interview with a former NeoCon who claimed to have attended tactical meetings about using social issues - basically conservative Christian issues - to induce people to "vote against their own economic self-interest." (Warning: rant ahead.) Many people, regardless of political or religious affiliation, will vote their consciences instead of their pocketbooks. However, the things they vote for don't always fit well with rationality or compassion. Sometimes it has more to do with indoctrination - being taught that some other group of people is a threat and must be fought by all means possible.

Like Carly, I reject the idea that the only true Christians are the ones who fear and loathe Them: liberals, gays, undocumented border-crossers, Muslims, Jews, the ACLU, even members of other Christian sects. To hate anyone is a betrayal of what Jesus taught, IMO. And to teach others to fear the "Not We" (to borrow a Star Trek reference) is a way to manipulate them, and to promote war and intolerance and misunderstanding. This is what's been happening in the Middle East for a long time, never more so than now. And it's what happens here as well. Mind you, I do not mean to imply that the average Republican or evangelical Christian is a hater or a hypocrite. But there are certainly people on the fringes of both groups who equate all Muslims with terrorism, or believe that Mexicans who sneak across the Arizona border are mostly here to smuggle drugs and murder decent Americans, or at least steal their jobs; or have little concern for the wellbeing of anything or anyone beyond their own friends, families and bank accounts.

Okay, on to a lighter topic. Pat (DesLily) has posted a list of character and place names from the books she wrote (mostly for herself), and explained a bit about their derivations. A lot of them come from Southern California place names, or are truncations or variations of more familiar names. She asks,

As I look down the list of names I notice how in Fantasy, very few names are simple, like John or Carol. I wonder how making up such fantastical names all began?? If anyone has a thought on that I think it would make a good post!

Overall, I think that can be laid squarely at J.R.R. Tolkien's doorstep. The man was an expert on the subject of dead languages, and created whole languages of his own. Names of people and places in The Lord of the Rings were derived from both Quenya (and other made-up tongues) and real words rooted in England's lingistic heritage. Tolkien's books inspired a whole genre, and not just in terms of what things were called.

We can't all be experts in Saxon and Old Norse words, so later writers of science fiction and fantasy generally fudge things a bit. For future colonists of another planet, Anne McCaffrey extrapolated a shift in the language over thousands of years, influenced by how she figured a dragon might pronounce a human name. A fantasy writer working in a mileu based on France might just go ahead and use French names, or tweak those names to represent the nomenclature of a fantasy country that isn't quite France. Some writers name characters after their friends, enemies, family members, even themselves, changing them just enough to avoid upsetting anyone or invoting a lawsuit. Still others do their best to develop a fictonal language as Tolkien did, or at least fudge it up from basic rules and sounds.

I mostly fall in the latter category with the Mâvarin books. I've got a general idea how the names of people work - no doubled vowels or consonants (not the same consonant, anyway), one or two syllable names for most regular people, three or four syllables for mages, who add the extra one as part of their Robing as qualified mages. Beyond that, though, I either go for basic sounds, or base a name on a real-world one, or tack a few vowels and consonants behind some first letter that I haven't already used to begin twenty other character names. This is a real problem, because the books have over 150 names characters...and counting! But my Rani (rhymes with Danny) was probably derived from Randy, although it turns out "Rani" is a real name in India. Del is also a real name, but it's meant to rhyme with the name of Del's twin, Crel, which isn't. Del was originally called Dag, a name derived by changing one letter in the word Dan. But Dag is a real Scandanavian name. I saw several protagonists named Dag go by in fantasy novels, and endured a lot of teasing from John about "Dag!" sounding like a kid's fake swear word, before I finally changed it.

Rutana is named after my mom. Jamek (JAH-meck) is a weird misspelling of James. All four main Beatles have had their names twisted into Mâvarin and Mâton character names, but I hope that most people won't notice. And Fayubi - well, I just liked the sound of that.

Place names follow other rules in my books. The ending -mar means a city. The ending -beth is a village. A place that ends in -mak is a forest. The accent mark for long vowels is allowed in place names, but not in modern-day human names.

Foreign place names, though, are treated a bit differently. You'll probably know the source of the country name Londer if I tell you that its capital is Gerbrin, and that Londer's Prince Talber is named after a famous 19th Century queen's consort. I figure it's fair to name countries an ocean away from Mâvarin based on the real countries an ocean away from us. After, what is Londer but another reality's version of Britain?

That's enough for now. Good night!


Technorati Tags:


Carly said...

Hi Karen

I want to say thank you for your imput and opinions that you expressed in the comment you left on my journal, but I also want to thank you for continuing your thoughts over here as well. I am so thankful that we, as a journal/blog community, can feel good about sharing our views with each other. You helped make that possible, as did everyone who commented, by being yourself and sharing your ideals. :) Thank you for that!

Paul said...

Here's a website I get a kick out of. A Brief History of the Apocalypse.

DesLily said...

I had a feeling you would be the one person to blog about Character names lol.. interesting. I love Tolkien too, but hard to believe the oddness of names began with him??? hmmm..

Becky said...

I had a feeling "Londer" was England or Great Britain. Especially when I read the part of the story with the Mayflower. ;-) I've finished reading everything you sent me! Finally! Now I just need to find the time to compose my thoughts and editorial comments.