World Building: Culture Clashes and Diversity Among the Races
One of the best things about fantasy is how many different races and cultures you might come across. Just in our world alone, there are thousands throughout history. So when you have several worlds to deal with, the possibilities are endless.
I think that’s one of the reasons I am so drawn to fantasy. As I’m writing this, I’m watching Stargate: SG1, which is a great example of exploring other cultures throughout history through a fictional medium. I tend to use history as a reference point when creating the people in my stories. Which means watching Stargate is research, of course. It has nothing to do with my longstanding crush on Doctor Daniel Jackson.
In Heirs of War, there are several worlds and races, which means there are tons of cultures out there. And not all of them get along. I introduce three races in the first book, each with their own ways. The Donnfay are elves and the least human-like of the races so far. They like to keep busy, abhor violence, and think themselves superior to the other races. In all actuality, they probably are. The other race is the magical humans, which other races call the Teaghailei. They are ruled by the Duillaine, and their lives are dictated by archaic customs and rituals like arranged marriages and apprenticeships from a young age. The Athucreans are the third race introduced in the first book. They are a warrior race with specific gifts, which is why the Cynewards (the warriors blood-bound to protect the Duillaine) are chosen from their strongest.
Each of the three races has their own culture. With the Teaghailei, there are several cultures within this race. Estridia is the largest and most powerful of the Teaghailei worlds and the seat of power for the Duillaine, the rulers of the worlds. Even within Estridia, there are different cultures. Life in Anscombe, the capital, is much different from the desolate mining towns that make up most of the Western Region. Some worlds are small enough to have one common culture, like Seirbigoine, a world with strong ties to the Earth element. Cahira is the only world large enough to rival Estridia, and it is the seat of the rebellion.
Where you have different cultures, you have different conflicts as well. I think that’s a big theme in book one. These girls (aside from Terrena) are all dragged from our world into one that seems absolutely archaic to them. And they automatically have the urge to enlighten, whereas the Duillaine feel the same about them. Each group thinks their ways are better, just like the Cahirans think their ways are better than the Estridians. That’s really the heart of the war. Cahira was powerful enough to do things differently and survive hard times, and now they think everyone else should do the same. But as long as the Duillaine run the show, they are going to run things the way they see fit and the way they think is working.
I tend to pick and choose different elements from cultures throughout history when creating mine. For example, the Athucreans are a mix of Viking and Native American cultures. If we were to come across a Viking from the days of Erik the Red or a Native American from the days before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Americas, we would think of them as primitive, maybe even barbaric. This isn’t far from how the Teaghailei think of the Athucreans. The Cahirans are more like socialists, whereas the Duillaine are a cross between far right-wing Republicans and royalty. Their differences are the root of a lot of the political problems throughout the books. It’s really fun to explore how their differences separate them and how their similarities can unite them in unexpected ways.
What are some of your favorite cultures in books? Do you spot similarities to other cultures in literature?
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