On Infinite Worlds

Beware of the Enchanted Ground by George Woolliscroft Rhead

This is a response to a recent post on False Machine about “making it feel big”. I think that, to create a world that feels like it goes on for ever and ever, the trick is to create a world that starts relatively small, but has a lot of exits leading to “who knows what?”  

Here’s what I wrote:

This issue of “things that feel really really really big” speaks to the most primal longing I have from my childhood, it shivers my goosespine, it’s that feeling that “wait, there’s still more… but how do I reach it?” It’s an infinite striptease – what’s exciting is what you can’t see, but what’s exciting is that you can’t see it, and once you do see it then what’s exciting is that there’s something else you can’t see.

There are 3 very specific things which I associate this feeling with…

Both of my sets of grandparents lived in, or adjacent to, very large houses with very large gardens, parts of which I only got to go to very rarely, if at all. In dreams I would always discover another door that I’d never previously noticed. I still have these dreams. I have a small roster of dream houses, all loosely based on yet nothing like houses from my past. All of them are infinite, yet painfully constrictive. There are parts which I never reach, but am always coming closer to.

The Uncle books of JP Martin, my favourite books as a kid. Uncle lives in the castle of Homeward. In each chapter Uncle and his buddies visit a different “tower” of the castle. The towers are wildly heterogeneous, and anything can happen in them (and usually does). The stories are not closed, you can always anticipate that there will be another tower, but once it’s revealed, then there will be still another. Uncle’s castle was my grandparents’ houses, but without me even being entirely sure what the entrance hall looked like, what hidden alcoves might still be hiding in plain sight.

Viriconium. Mike Harrison explicitly set out to destroy “fantasy with maps”, and in doing so he created a paradox: you always want to discover what Viriconium is, but unfortunately Viriconium isn’t. This is the running theme through all of Mike’s books: the oxymoron that is a “fulfilled fantasy”. This only really stuck home to me when I read The Course of The Heart. The blurb for that book described this wonderful liminal county called La Coeur, and I pictured Viriconium on steroids. But the book never reaches La Coeur, it only traces the dismal lives of the people trying to reach it. It was through reading that book (and through subsequent conversations that I’ve had with Mike) that I learned to “put away childish things” by accepting that I will never map out the infinite labyrinth of my grandparents’ homes and that, however strong the desire, time spent doing so will largely be time wasted, or at least time out of the “real” world. That makes me sad, though it also makes me glad. I think this lesson is one that’s almost impossible for people much younger than me to learn. Modern life is SO rubbish that as a species we’ve been forced into a kind of neoteny where actual adults feel that it’s important to have opinions about Star Wars and Doctor Who.

Phew. I’m not sure how much that really had to do with what you’re talking about here but, my god, this topic gives me ALL the feels.






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