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The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)
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2012 Reads > TLOLL: Mysterious tall spires a fantasy trope?

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message 1: by Vance (last edited Feb 22, 2012 08:12AM) (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments It struck me that in at least three of our recent books, there have been mysterious gigantic towers built by ancient peoples. In the New Urth books, The First Law series and now this one, we have these "artifacts" in the form of incredibly tall buildings. The current culture is always somewhat in the dark about them, has limited knowledge or access, etc.

Are there any other books using this concept? Is it simply an easy way to provide "history", depth and mystery to the world? Does it reflect the European dark age artifacts of the Roman Empire?


Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments The Tower of Ghenjei in the Wheel of Time springs to mind as a fictional example of mysterious tall spire.

It reminds me a little bit of Irish round towers.
The purpose of them was a bit mysterious until recent years and still, if I understand correctly, contested.

I suppose in fantasy it's nice to take these strange obtrusions onto the landscape and say, no a wizard really did it.


Ewan (ewanreads) | 94 comments Kate wrote: "The Tower of Ghenjei in the Wheel of Time springs to mind as a fictional example of mysterious tall spire.

It reminds me a little bit of Irish round towers.
The purpose of them was a bit mysterio..."


That was exactly what sprung to my mind as well.
I think the whole "currently impossible to manufacture artifacts and buildings" thing that alot of fantasy employs is a cheap and easy bit of world building that implies a much richer back story than the author can easily spell out implicitly.

I'm not complaining though, I like the way these things make you think about the history of the worlds especially in books like this one where they're combined with weird tales and odd religious traditions.


message 4: by Vance (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments Ewan wrote: "I think the whole "currently impossible to manufacture artifacts and buildings" thing that alot of fantasy employs is a cheap and easy bit of world building that implies a much richer back story than the author can easily spell out implicitly."

Yes, that was what I was wondering. Is it lazy? Is it a shortcut to "depth"? I think that will depend on how they are used in the series. Will they become something integral to the plot, or just an affectation, a writer's tool?


message 5: by Kris (new) - added it

Kris (kvolk) Probably just an atmospheric touch like lighting or music in a movie...


message 6: by Warren (new)

Warren | 1556 comments "Its good to be the king"
The upper crust often lived in towers for aromatic reasons.
(See the Venice thread) Which in turn convinced ordinary people that the tower were some how special. I'll take a tower over a cold, damp and dreary castle any day. Too each his own.


Leavey | 83 comments Vance wrote: "It struck me that in at least three of our recent books, there have been mysterious gigantic towers built by ancient peoples. In the New Urth books, The First Law series and now this one, we have t..."

Makes me think of Harpist in the Wind, the book works around the question by whom it was buildt and why.
I think the tower thing is part atmospheric, part spiritual.
People seem to have a thing for high places, they represent power, inspire awe and (probably) make us feel closer to our respective gods.
Also, towers have popped up in stories for a very long time as symbols of power and/or mystery (eg Gilgamesh-Epos, Rapunzel and Lord of the Rings - wich is stuffed full of the things ... there is probably a joke in here).
They are kind of a must have. And they make good landmarks.


message 8: by Vance (last edited Feb 22, 2012 01:47PM) (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments "and they make good landmarks."

That's it!!! :0)

But, yes, you are right, towers seem to be just part of the trappings, and the "towers built by an ancient peoples with a mysterious background" are just one iteration.


Michael (michaelbetts) There's probably something psychological to it too. An enormous, towering spire is more imposing and terrifying than, say, a long, squat building.


Nicholas | 27 comments I think at some point the whole "ruins of a previous civilization" was an intentional reference to the way people of the Dark Ages would have viewed relics from the Roman Empire--pieces of a more advanced culture that they no longer understand or know how to replicate. I think it's pretty obvious in something like Tolkien, where Numenor plays the role of Rome.

Of course, like most things ripped from Tolkien, tons of authors who've bought into the cliche don't have the historical understanding that grounds it, and I'd agree that it often comes off as shallow worldbuilding to create an illusion of history.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2469 comments All of the mentioned tower are pretty insignificant compared to the one in Feersum Endjinn, that one is gigantic. Of course, it's what you would expect in an Iain M. Banks book :)


Mason | 20 comments It does seem a quick, common means to lend a setting with a long history, particularly one in which a previous civilization has achieved a more advanced level of technology/magic than the current/subsequent one. On the one hand, it can be a nice indication of depth (I think of the Ribs in New Crobuzon). It does, however, leave open the temptation to bring in the similarly ancient artifact that technobabbles through the major conflict ("We'd never have prevailed if we hadn't found the keys to Voltron!", e.g.).


message 13: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim (kskryptonian) | 202 comments It would be nice one day to have a tall spire that everyone knows about. "White-Gold tower? Oh yeah, Larry and me helped build that. Just got done last Tuesday. King moved in over the weekend. It's real nice in there. Fourteen bathrooms."


message 14: by Ewan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ewan (ewanreads) | 94 comments Vance wrote: "Ewan wrote: "I think the whole "currently impossible to manufacture artifacts and buildings" thing that alot of fantasy employs is a cheap and easy bit of world building that implies a much richer ..."

As far as I can tell in this series they are not going to be elaborated on so they really are just a cheap trick. The tower of Ghenjei in the WOT becomes an integral part of the story and the mythology of the world but that doesn't mean that this series is necessarily using them badly. I think that they are used quite well to establish setting in a book which is primarily character based in its progression.


message 15: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments Ewan wrote: As far as I can tell in this series they are not going to be elaborated on so they really are just a cheap trick. "

We're two books into the 7 book series, we have nowhere near enough evidence to say if the elderglass is going to be plot relevant.
I don't even care if it is though, because those glass roses that drank blood in the sword masters garden were awesome and creepy enough for me to forgive any amount of needless spires.


message 16: by Ewan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ewan (ewanreads) | 94 comments Kate wrote: "I don't even care if it is though, because those glass roses that drank blood in the sword masters garden were awesome and creepy enough for me to forgive any amount of needless spires. "

Completely agree!


message 17: by Joshua (last edited Feb 27, 2012 05:27PM) (new)

Joshua Hansford | 52 comments We're two books into the 7 book series, we have nowhere near enough ..."

I predict Locke steals an Elderglass Tower by book 5.


message 18: by Warren (last edited Feb 28, 2012 05:44AM) (new)

Warren | 1556 comments I don't know. I don't see him standing on the corner offering to show girls his Elderglass tower. (Rule 34). I was pleased to see that the tower was a part of the story and not just a trope. Not simply referring to the boss as the Man in the High Tower. (Its been done). I do look forward to his future books.


message 19: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments Warren wrote: "I don't know. I don't see him standing on the corner offering to show girls his Elderglass tower. (Rule 34)."

I was keeping tabs on how long this thread could go before phallic imagery was brought up. Congratulations, you are the winner.


message 20: by Warren (new)

Warren | 1556 comments I was pleased to see that for a story involving a low level thief
it came across like an Ocean's 11/12/13. Occasional profanity aside, he came across almost like a young George Clooney (IMHO)
The tower will probably figure prominently in one of the future novels.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Nicholas wrote: "I think at some point the whole "ruins of a previous civilization" was an intentional reference to the way people of the Dark Ages would have viewed relics from the Roman Empire----pieces of a more advanced culture that they no longer understand or know how to replicate. I think it's pretty obvious in something like Tolkien, where Numenor plays the role of Rome.

Well, to be fair, most civilizations in our world are built on the bones of their predecessors. And since most epic/sword & sorcery fantasy has a medieval European flair, the ruins of Rome/Dark Ages allusion is the most obvious fit.

I agree with you that a lot of fantasy authors use the "fallen ancient empire" trope just because Tolkien did it. Fantasy game settings love this trope, because it justifies all these giant ruins full of treasure and monsters just lying around unclaimed and unslain. But I'd argue more recent fantasy fiction has been better about drawing from the well of actual history instead of using Middle-Earth as a template again and again.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2469 comments Joe wrote: "I agree with you that a lot of fantasy authors use the "fallen ancient empire" trope just because Tolkien did it. Fantasy game settings love this trope, because it justifies all these giant ruins full of treasure and monsters just lying around unclaimed and unslain...."

From what I read Tolkien stated that his 'ruins of ancient civilizations' ideas were based on the monoliths and burial mounds that are found throughout Europe. So in a way he was just doing the same thing. Just he did it before everyone else:)


Nicholas | 27 comments Oh, absolutely, I agree that most civilizations are built on the bones of their predecessors, but with the exception of Rome in the Dark Ages, most of the time they are not built on the backs of technologically superior civilizations that were beyond comprehension. There are relics of the Middle Ages all across Europe today, for example--but I think we can agree they don't represent a technological advancement above modern European architecture. The aquaducts of Rome, on the other hand--I mean, man forgot how to make cement during the Dark Ages. There was no conception of how such things could have been created by not only the lay farmer, but by the scholars as well.


message 24: by aldenoneil (last edited Feb 29, 2012 04:08PM) (new) - added it

aldenoneil | 1000 comments Great discussion of how we got the civilization-in-decline trope (in this case regarding the new John Carter movie):

http://io9.com/5889432/michael-chabon...

As the 19th century turned into the 20th century and archeologists started to press deeper in to the jungles of Central and South America and into the deserts of Mesopotamia and India, they began to encounter clear evidence of many civilizations that had attained some level of technological greatness. You look around at these places and you see the living descendants of these people living without the incredibly sophisticated caliber of technology that their forebears had invented. I think it's a very haunting, stark memento mori for a representative of any civilization. - Michael Chabon


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