The landscape around us has inspired artists of all varieties for centuries. Poets, painters, photographers, film makers, authors… The list is endless. What is it about natural landscapes that is so inspiring?
I haven’t written a post for a while, mainly because I have changed jobs and everything has been very busy. My new job is based around engaging people in learning about their local heritage and history through the natural landscape of Northumberland. It is a beautiful and inspiring place to be, and I have been thinking about the influence of landscape on writers in particular – how it inspires them and how it shapes their stories and characters.
This applies to all genres in one form or another, but I’m thinking particularly about fantasy writers. Where the characters live often shapes the way they act, or influences the events they are involved in. Vast worlds can be created with many different kinds of landscapes, which are homes to different types of people, who are shaped by how difficult or easy it is to make a life for themselves on the land in which they live. And the landscape can often have as much of a starring role as the characters themselves.
Most of these novels are about epic journeys or quests that involve the protagonists traversing the land and learning how to survive in places vastly different from that which they have come from, which they aren’t comfortable or familiar with. The people who live in these different places are all different and provide obstacles for the protagonist to overcome. In The Hobbit, the dwarves are shaped by their mountain life; humans live in towns and the elves in forests and it is this coming together of different races that adds an extra layer of structure to the story. Tolkien was famously inspired by landscapes in the English countryside and locations across Europe. I can picture him visualising the plains of Rohan while walking across what was the Medieval Kingdom of Mercia, or walking through vast forests and imagining talking trees. Peter Jackson clearly used the landscapes described in this and in The Lord of the Rings as the basis for his creation of the films – the sweeping landscapes of New Zealand have become iconic pieces of cinematography.
The current fantasy juggernaut that is Game of Thrones is another vast world of varying landscapes, and the sigils and mottos of the different houses often relate to the physical conditions in which they live. Harsh landscapes breed hard characters. The locations of settlements in literature, as in real life, is often highly connected to the character of the landscape – whether it can sustain people through farming land, whether cities can be built, whether there are trees for construction or rocky outcrops for defence. Too much description of landscape can become boring, however, as can too much description of anything. But it can prove to be a vital aspect in story and character construction.
Taking note of the landscape wherever you are – countryside, city, coast, forest, mountains – can inspire creativity, and including it in writing can enrich the story. I hope to find my own inspiration from the landscape I am now working in, as I become more familiar with it over time.