Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour Day Two: The Realms Thereunder

The Realms ThereunderThe movement between worlds in The Realms Thereunder is both complicated and simple. At first, I thought it inconsistent and arbitrary, but I think I've figured out the rules. It appears we're dealing with two distinct cases.

First, the underground world of tunnels and caverns that house Niðergeard and groups of sleeping knights is not technically another world but simply a place beneath the surface of modern Great Britain. Entry and exit can be achieved through magical and non-magical means. Freya and Daniel enter through an enchanted archway and leave by crawling out. The underground world also appears to be connected to the sewer system as Freya, Daniel, Ecgbryt, and Swiðgar slosh through a brick-lined sewer during their pusuit of Gád. Daylight filtered through a chandilier illuminates the chamber in which they encounter the Sídhe Nemain. So, it appears someone could accidentally fall into the realm thereunder. Enchantments protect the chambers in which the knights sleep. Freya and Daniel entered through one of these. Swiðgar explains how the enchantment works:

"The moment at which you found us was no time at all; it was what is called a 'time between times.' It was the evening--the 'even-time'--when light and dark are equal. It is a sacred time. It has a strong pull to a certain type of person. The place you found us could be called a 'place between places,' and you yourself are a person between destinies. You have started along a path that you cannot go back on." He smiled at her. "But there will be more paths to choose from and soon. Perhaps one of those will lead you to the place you seek, perhaps somewhere better" (p. 67).

This sounds similar to the way that children are brought into Narnia. They go to Narnia for a purpose, whether or not they are seeking Narnia, but are free to do the wrong thing and suffer the consequences once they get there. Similarly, Freya and Daniel are not seeking it but are allowed into the Realm Thereunder, but still have free will to act as they decide. The "certain type of person" and "person between destinies" part sounds rather vague. Alex provides a further explanation when he enters the knights chamber inside Morven, using a technique he learned from his father.

Alex put his hands up against [a chiseled stone wall] and cleared his mind, thinking only of being between. He had no intents or aims in life; he was open to all options. He was standing at the crossing of all paths. He visualized this last thought as standing in a country road with signs pointing in all directions (p. 272).

This is different from Lewis. The enchantment can be unlocked at a certain time of day by a person in a specific state of mind. Betweenness is the key. Alex demonstrates that one can put themselves in the proper state of mind. Two children who have just turned thirteen are by default in that state of mind.

The second case is travel to and from Elfland. Daniel enters Elfland through the lych-gate at the church and when he leaves, comes out through the lych-gate. Like the enchantments discussed above, the time of day, particularly "even-time" plays a role. The crossing is also limited to certain places. The elf who assists Daniel in crossing back has a list of places in Elfland and when they will be active. To these conditions, another is added. If someone carries one or more objects from the destination world, they are more likely to make the crossing. When Daniel first jumped to Elfland, he was unwittingly carrying a leaf from a tree that grows there. When he left Elfland, he carried several items from modern England supplied by the merchant elf assiting him. (Daniel bought the assistance at a high price. Many of the elves inhabitting Lawhead's Elfland are unscrupulous.)

It's important for a fantasy world to have consistent rules with regards to anything magical. You might be able to play fast and loose in a short story but not in a novel. If the magic seems arbitrary, the reader will probably become frustrated and loose interest. Our world works according to consistent rules. An invented world should follow suit.

Although Lawhead achieves consistency in his magic, the text suffers from a couple glaring inconsistencies that jarred me out of the story. What's strange is that the errors occurred not hundreds of pages apart but within less than a page of text.

The first inconsistency happens when Ecgbryt threatens to slice up some annoying gnomes.

"I think I understand," said Ecgbryt calmly, drawing his axe. "Hold by, gnome. I am a master axeman and this will be done quickly . . ." (p. 248). ... Ecgbryt was laughing as he sheathed his sword (p. 249; emphasis mine).

I've read the intervening text a couple times and there is no mention of Ecgbryt changing his axe for a sword or drawing one. He is known for wielding an axe.

The second inconsistency occurs when Daniel, Freya, Ecgbryt, and Swiðgar decide to split into pairs to follow different paths in the sewer.

They decided that Ecgbryt would go with Freya, and Swiðgar with Daniel.... Daniel and Ecgbryt walked down the tunnel, along with the flow of the sewer water (p. 341; emphasis mine).

It's sad that these kinds of errors mar an otherwise good story.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Realms of Thunder from the publisher.

Book Giveaway: Fellow CSFF blogger Sarah Sawyer is hosting a contest during the tour so stop by her blog to register.

To read more about Ross Lawhead and his work, check out his blog at

To read what other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below.

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
CSFF Blog Tour
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Rebekah Loper

Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Joan Nienhuis
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant


  1. Great analysis of the travel between realms! It was a bit confusing at first, but I thought Lawhead managed to explain it well in the end.

    Like you, I'm bothered when such inconsistencies slip through the editorial cracks. I know it happens sometimes, and no book is perfect, but it's nevertheless a distraction.

    Oh, and thanks for mentioning my giveaway. :)

  2. Interesting comparison you make between Lewis and Lawhead--and I completely agree. Also, that's a good catch regarding the inconsistencies. I got caught up in the action and totally missed those. :)

  3. I appreciate your articulation of the principles on which Lawhead's magic is based. It really helped to clarify it in my own mind. I had thought there was something funny about the weapon passages--good eyes!

  4. I'm agree with Sarah -- stellar analysis of the travel between realms. I am still puzzling over Elfland, clearly a different place from the under realm. And yet Daniel traveled there in a similar fashion. Ross has my attention, I'll say that. I think he has an ambitious story to tell and he's doing so in an advanced story style. I only hope he doesn't neglect some of the necessary elements that make readers love a story, such as developing compelling characters.