As I work on creating an aspidochelone setting for one world (see yesterday’s post), I’ve been thinking again about the question of realism versus storytelling or imagination. In a way, I’ve been wondering if we’ve become somewhat jaded or lost a sense of wonder as readers. After all, how does knowledge of Earth’s geology have bearing on developing an island that’s grown on the back of a massive whale-turtle (much less a dimension hopping one)?
Some authors have clearly avoided the issue. Take Sir Terry Pratchett. Explain how Earth geology applies to a flat world resting on the backs of four elephants standing on a cosmic turtle.
In a way, I wonder again if we’ve been pushing a lot of realism over imaginative world building, in some ways. I’ve particularly been thinking about this is respect to our literary (fantastic and otherwise) forebearers.
The title of this post comes from a phrase used in one of my Shakespeare classes. The example in question is the travel time between two Italian cities in Merchant of Venice. The first time around, it took characters multiple days to reach their destination from Venice. However, when the characters have a life and death trial in the morning, others travel the reverse distance overnight without hurrying. This has been referred to as Shakespeare’s use of “speed of plot”, that is, the travel time is as long or short as the plot needs. (We can add that Shakespeare set many of his plays in Italy, without ever having visited the country; he based his descriptions and such on English stereotypes of Italians and word of mouth from sailors.)
Tolkien also comes to mind with his three sided square mountains around Mordor. True, mountains do not “grow” that way on Earth. But, I think, Tolkien wasn’t concerned about geology (after all, he was a philologist and was more concerned with the languages).
I argue that neither author was worried about the reality of travel time or geology, because the plot called for something else.
At the same time, our knowledge of the sciences is limited to what we’ve been able to directly observe on one planet and remotely observe on one other. Our knowledge of astrophysics is likewise based on one solar system, largely. Case in point, back in the 1950s and 60s, a couple equations were formulated to predict the possibility of inhabitable planets in the galaxy. These have all been largely thrown out in the last 15 years due to discoveries made by the Hubble and other powerful telescopes that provide information unavailable when the equations were first postulated.