The Reality of Invented Worlds

Not much of a surprise, I’m sure, that I play Pathfinder (Dungeons & Dragons 3.75 ed. for those unfamiliar with the game). The other day I read on a message board someone’s complaints about the Monk class in the game. The Monk class is often played–and arguably meant to be played–as a Shaolin type character. Pathfinder monks eschew armor and mostly use their limbs and basic, often Eastern, weapons. The complaint was that such a character didn’t belong in medieval Europe.

Other posters were quick to point out that Pathfinder is not set in medieval Europe but in Golarion–a world not unlike Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The OP, of course, rebutted that Tolkien’s world was a medieval European one. That received a response that, in fact, Tolkien incorporated elements like Oliphants and had far-East Asians in mind for some of the physical look of the Orcs. There was no real attempt on Tolkien’s part to make Middle Earth specifically European or set in the Middle Ages.

That had me thinking about how cohesion is created in mythical worlds. Most mythical worlds are tied together hodgepodges of other mythical worlds generated by a writer or collective of writers. But some, like Star Trek or Middle Earth, feel very organic and not necessarily dreamlike, whereas others like the Dark Tower seem completely mythical and purely worlds of the subconscious.

What makes the difference? I’m not convinced it’s strong writing or even believability. There’s some other element at work that makes Middle Earth seem like a specific place in a specific time while Narnia feels like a dream realm.

I wonder how well I did at mish mashing my hodgepodge together in Catharsis. I blended everything from Theosophic cosmology to medieval fantasy to Asimov’s robot series to create the world. Did I do it convincingly? I wasn’t aiming for a Star Trek level of “Oh yeah, that’s absolutely the real future,” but more a Star Wars “Oh yeah, I’d totally buy that I could go to this place.”

I can’t see my own invented world subjectively. And not being sure what makes the difference, I don’t have an objective gauge for telling. What do you think?

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