The past month has been rather devoid of my normal work, as I said last time. I realized that Winter break from school seemed so long partly because I was sick for two weeks after Thanksgiving with a virus that eventually landed me at the doctor’s for antibiotics to treat bronchitis. I think I will add a note to my bardwood web site that the shop is just closed from November 15th to January 15th and leave it at that. I don’t like the idea that my customers are waiting for their wands or staves, but there it is. Too many notes.
What I have been working on during break, largely as a recreation but partly as a necessary part of the Emily Glass series, is floorplans for Caer Celyddon, a sort of castle or chateau somewhere in the Yorkshire dells where thrives a great bastion of Druids and Bards, and other magical folk. It’s a tale I’m weaving and, yes, it does resemble my dream of Avalon College. However, in the case of fiction, I can simply create, without being hampered by circumstances and lack of finacial backing. I’m excited about this project. It will be the next “Harry Potter”. However, I have to get it written first and then convince a publisher that my odd style of writing will sell in today’s market for juvenile fiction.
Partly, it is a wry parody of some elements of Harry Potter that I don’t think Rowling did very well. Partly it is an homage to the bits that I like but want to carry further in a more realistic world. I’m not sure if I’m writing “fantasy” as such (however one defines that slippery fish) or just realism with an eye for enchantment. But there certainly are things in the book which other people would suppose to be not-real or even impossible within the normally accepted realm of physical laws. So, I guess that sort of fiction gets put in the Fantasy section. There are elements of science fiction in it too, though I’m rather “soft” when it comes to science in general.
Anyway, the plans for Caer Celyddon are almost done. Of course there are many details to be added and as the story unfolds I will have to decorate each individual room. Perhaps it is “archetectural fantasy” . The whole castle is designed with geometric symbolism, all of which will not be lost on Freemasons. I have to decide how to present the masonic elements of the story without violating my vows, but I think that will not be too difficult since in the few cases where I will describe rituals in detail, I will alter them. It is a world in the future, after all, so some things have changed. Not only that, but as I was writing the story I realized that in Emily Glass’s world, some things happened differently in the past, so that the present (for her) is quite different in ways that affected what would be our own present time too.
It is quite fascinating to see what happens to the world when you change one or two things. For example, having Boudicca drive out the Romans from Britain so that the Celtic British kings and queens never came under Roman sway, except as neighbors. I also didn’t let the Romans have Aquitaine. So, France, as such, is rather small and part of the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by a powerful Roman Papacy but also confined to rather different boundaries than in the European history we know. Likewise, North America was colonized differently and the American Revolution never happned because the British colonies were separate Celtic kingdoms. The Frankish part of North America (what we know as the Louisiana Purchase) also did not change hands, so the British parts of North America are separated by the Mississippi River from the Catholic West, divided between the empires of Spain and France, but later split off into independent warring empires of their own after they revolted against their distant emperors.
It entertains me to tinker with history and watch what unfolds.
All of which is part of the setting of the Emily Glass novels (© 2007 James W. Maertens). Caer Celyddon is an old bastion of Druid power, one of many in Britain (never became “England”, the Angles and Saxons immigrated to the islands but were never able to defeat King Arthur). In a land that is a patchwork of kingdoms and other feudal holdings but which has never developed the Norman style of warfare, or the Catholic attitude of conquest and conversion, it’s the sort of laid-back feudalism the Romantics always wished for. The warrior caste was not in cahoots with the priests, but was held in check by druids instead, who saw the place of violence as very limited, a necessary evil in times when the tribe is threatened with violence. This attitude is quite different from priests who convince warriors that they will be rewarded in heaven for killing other peoples and conquering them and converting them to Christianity. In Emily Glass’s world, the idea of a religion that attempts to use the warrior class to empower itself at the expense of the rest of the tribe is appalling and disgusting, indeed “barbaric.”
Yet, there is Roman influence on British society. It just isn’t so thoroughly based in Latin and a blind worship of all things Roman. I like the Latin Language, despite its obvious connections to Rome. And in a novel using a great deal of Gaelic or Welsh is difficult just because the spelling and pronunciation are so difficult for us English-speakers and spellers. So, I do have to do a bit of legerdemain to make that all work out sensibly.
It’s also a post-apocalyptic novel in a sense. There isn’t any Apocalypse and indeed the Romans and their obsession with Apocalypse are one of the strange things Emily has to learn about their culture. But it is a post-industrial world after oil’s collapse and after global warming has raised the level of the seas and changed the climates. It is a world of violent weather in which there are quite a number of great cities that have sunk beneath the waves and the population has been drastically reduced, with beneficial consequences for all non-human life on Earth.
But I am not telling you about the castle, which was really my point. Caer Celyddon is, like Hogwarts, Gormenghast, or the Oxford of The Golden Compass, an architectural landscape as a setting for a drama which is part bildungsroman and part mystery. In the series, Emily will grow up at Celyddon and travel away from Celyddon, but it remains always the center of the world and the model upon which all other druid colleges have been based. It is sacred architecture and its design is rather like the design of a Greek temple or a Gothic cathedral, the symbolic structure for a culture that is spread through the world. I might even throw in some stupas, who knows. Sacred architecture fascinates me.
The plans run to seven pages because in addition to the four floors above ground in the main body of the castle, there is a ground floor that is partly earth-sheltered and a basement floor below that, and there are more floors in the towers that rise above the main structure. The main building something of an architectural challenge because it has a pentagonal central court in the middle of a building which (on the outside) is heptagonal. I think it is very interesting to imagine how this would appear to the person walking through the structure without ever seeing a floorplan. Usually that is the way we experience buildings, after all. Some (many) modern buildings are based on such predictable and dull geometry that we have little trouble visualizing the floorplan and layout of the rooms in our head. They are often just a series of dull rectangles divided into smaller but equally as dull rectangles. Not Caer Celyddon. One of the things you would notice immediately upon entering is that there are many angular relationships between the walls and passages. There are plenty of right angles, of course, but other angles are at least as common.
Chief among the features are the seven towers. Four of these are given to the four Studia of the college. That is, the four study programs, as we might say in English. They are not “houses” as at Hogwarts or other English public schools; they called by the administrators, adambula (walks) but in Celyddon slang, turriculae, the diminutive of turris (tower) in Latin. We get our English word turret from turris. So, a scholar says, “my turricula” when referring to whether he belongs to the Bards, Ovates, Druids or the Awenyddion.
There is a degree of rivalry among the turriculae but not in the way that Rowling has it at Hogwarts — no “house points” to gain or lose as part of the dramatic tension. The competition must be more cordial because it is a competition among unequals. The Bards and Ovates are studying to be Magisters (that is, teachers and independent practitioners of their art). The Awenyddion are studying the basics in preparation for life or to enter into one of the Magister programs. The Druids are studying to become Ollamhs, so they are older and more experienced scholars in most cases. The progression from one curriculum to the next is not quite so automatic as it is in our university systems. One does not, for example, enter the Ollamh adambulum at age twenty four, as some students can in our doctoral programs. One is not a Druid doctor untill one has some considerable experience serving in offices, teaching, or practicing one’s art.
It will not escape the observant reader that “adambulum” is a nominalization of the verb adambulare “to walk about” or “go for a walk” and is deliberately used in distinction from the word used in our present day academic institutions, “curriculum” which refers to a race course. Speed and winning are not emphasized, or even suggested, in colleges of druids.
So, there are the four large towers. I have borrowed the concept which Rowling implies in her descriptions of Gryffindor Tower; that is, each tower consists of six floors, one of which is its common room, a place of private relaxation, conversation, or study for the residence of the tower. The entrance to the tower is through the common room and access to the other floors is only through spiral staircases leading from this common room. In Caer Celyddon, each of the floors from ground floor to fourth floor is assigned to one of the five elements. The ground floor is assigned to Earth, the first floor to Water, the second to Fire, the third to Air, and the fourth to Spirit, or Divinity. Each floor is decorated in colors and decorative motifs corresponding to its element, and each floor serves as the entrance to a different tower of the four adambular towers. Each degree corresponds to an element symbolically and so there is only one entrance to each of the four large towers.
There is also only one spiral staircase in each, unlike the architecture suggested by Rowling in which there are separate spiral staircases for boys and girls and separate dormitories for each sex. At Celyddon the sleeping chambers may be restricted to a single sex or mixed, but they use the same staircase and the same bathrooms, which are located on the ground floor of each tower. The common room entrances to each tower are hidden doorways, sometimes leading to secret passages. Upon admission to a study program (adambulum), a scholar is given the password needed to unlock the door and knowledge of the secret latch for the door. No talking paintings asking for passwords, I’m afraid. As funny as that is in Harry Potter, it is not part of Emily Glass’s world. Elaborate secret locks that are voice activated are.
Well, enough for now. Must get on to other work.