03 January 2006

...until every shape has found its city, new cities will continue to be born.

A random thought brought on by finishing Lucius Shepard's Viator, in an admittedly, highly tangential way: cities. I was thinking about cities, and fantasy, and the grandeur of urban landscapes. I love cities -- they take on a life of their own that is at once composed of the lives of the masses of humanity that live in them, and transcends those lives. You go to, say, New York, say, or Philadelphia, and the city has a smell unique to it, a texture, a sound, a taste...there will be nothing quite like it anywhere else. Other cities may contain echoes of it, but it will be in the way that a woman might, for a split second while seen in passing, remind one of a former lover, until you look closer and realize, no, there is no resemblance, really. To me, the great cities are places of amazing romance and beauty -- terrible romance and beauty at times, of course, capable of hurting as well as sustaining. But then, that's true of the Alps, too, or the Amazon.

Fantasy has long been fascinated by cities. Think of the great fantasy cities -- Lankhmar, Minas Tirith, Dunsany's City of Never, Lovecraft's ancient cities lying beneath sand and rock and snow and ice. The fascination runs deep. And I think it may be because cities are the one True Human Thing -- the thing that sets apart. No other species does this. Sure, there are others who congregate in the 10s and 100s of thousands. But we're talking ants, termits -- the social insects. They are regimented clone communities, each community like one individual split into many bodies. But humans, we have thrown off our ancient primate ways and congregated by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions, and do so as individuals. And somehow it mostly works. Cities are fantastic and weird and improbable. And they are so not what we grew up with. As a species we grew up with small bands, isolated, intimate. So cities, which have existed for all of 6-8,000 years, are foreign territory. And I think our fascination springs from that, in part. They make our reptile brain stand up and shout warning, but they entice with rich promises. They are dangerous, yet compelling.

And so I guess it's no surprise that cities have long been a staple of fantasy. They are magical, in a sense. Perfect territory for fantasy. What's your favorite fantasy city?

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Anonymous handworn said...

Probably Ellen Kushner's Riverside. But the city in Ellen Steiber's A Rumor of Gems is fun, too.

1/04/2006 10:39 AM  
Blogger Jessie Speer said...

thanks greg. i have a tendency to hate cities and yearn for trees and mountains, so i needed that truthful reminder. they really are quite something. my fantasy knowledge is limited. but tolkien's black and evil minas morgul was pretty cool.

2/01/2006 8:27 PM  

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