Friday Fun: Joshua Palmatier!

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Happy Friday, everyone! Please join me in welcoming Joshua Palmatier to the blog today! *wild applause*

Hey, everyone! I first want to thank everyone here at Magical Words for the guest blogging invite. Hopefully I’ll have something important to say. Or at least something of interest.

First, an introduction: My name is Joshua Palmatier and I’m a fantasy author, with three books currently out from DAW Books. All three are part of the Throne of Amenkor series. The first is called The Skewed Throne and introduces my main character, Varis, an orphan who’s barely surviving in the slums of Amenkor, but who gets trained by one of the city’s Seekers to become an assassin. She comes to despise her talents and then is given the ultimate mark: the Mistress, ruler of the city, who sits on the Skewed Throne. Her only obstacle is the Skewed Throne itself. It knows Varis is coming . . . and it’s insane.

Bwahahahahahahahaha!

I couldn’t resist the evil laugh. *grin* John Scalzi said I write about disturbed furniture . . . and he’s right. *sigh* But there are plenty of other things going on as well—an invading sea force! blue people! an inexplicable White Fire! and of course, death and destruction! Pretty much everyone who had to sum up my novels in one word used “gritty”. The cover for the third novel:

The Vacant Throne

gives you a pretty good vibe of what the series is all about. If you’d like to see more about the Throne of Amenkor series, including the two sequels The Cracked Throne and The Vacant Throne, check out my website at www.joshuapalmatier.com.

But enough about me and my books! I want to talk about something nearly every magical world needs, something completely non-controversial and guaranteed to create no waves: religion! Specifically, I’d like to talk about inventing a religion for you world.

Pretty much any time you get a group of people (or aliens) together, there’s going to be a religion involved or invented. It’s an inherent part of the human psyche. We have this inevitable urge to try to explain the world around us, to give it meaning and reason and order, and when we don’t have an explanation for how something in the world works, we invent a reason, usually in the form of a religion. We do this for a bunch of reasons, all of which are correct and none of which can be singled out as the “main” reason why we have religions in the first place. We like to have reasons for why things behave the way they behave, even if we have to invent a god or two to be that reason, but we also use religion to give the society structure, to give it a moral code, to explain what happens after we die, and to give us hope for something good or something better out there, something we can strive for. We also invent religions to help explain evil, to personify the randomness of the “bad things” that plague us, even if those “bad things” aren’t human in origin, such as earthquakes and plagues of locusts. And there are a host of other reasons why humans feel the need to create gods and religions. This post isn’t really about the reasons why we create them, but if you’re going to invent a religion for your own work, you should spend some time thinking about why religions come about.

Because if you’re going to create a religion for your own story, that’s the first question you need to ask yourself: what is it that you’re people need this religion for? They won’t just randomly create it out of nothing. It’s going to be formed by the society itself to fit its own needs. And those needs are going to be formed by the surrounding land, the other people that border these lands, the kinds of strife that the people as a whole will go through, and the emotional needs of the people as they suffer and succeed at living in this world.

I think the land itself is a big part of the religious makeup. For example, if they live in the desert, they’re probably going to worship water, that rarest of resources, while their evil presence might manifest as a sand storm or the sun or heat. If they live in a group of islands, they might also worship the water, since it provides most of their sources of food, while evil might be represented by hurricanes, or an angry ocean.

Probably equally important in creating the religion of the world is to include what the people have already suffered through, and perhaps how the people got through that strife. If they have just survived a prolonged drought, and during this drought a particular leader arose from the ranks and helped the town or village survive, then that person might eventually be elevated to godlike status and might provide the basis for a religion. The same might be true for a group plagued by barbarian horde attacks. The person who rises from the army’s ranks and manages to repulse the barbarians for good, setting up a border patrol, might form the basis of a military-oriented religion.

And since we’re dealing with magical worlds here, you should also think about the magic involved. In my books, there’s a rather magical throne that’s been around for a LONG period of time. The society has in essence formed a religion surrounding this throne. They view the person who sits on the throne, the Mistress, as a religious figure, seeking her blessing, fearing her wrath, etc. The inherent problem with this type of religion is that its icon is a real human being, subject to that person’s flaws. And the justice system depends on that person as well. So what happens when that person goes insane?

And then there’s the tried and true method for inventing a religion: steal it. *grin* You can always look into the religions of our world and see how you can adapt them to fit your own world. This is a tried and true method, yes, but you have to be careful. You can’t steal the religion in whole cloth. You have to change and adapt it enough so it might be recognizable, but not so much so that you inadvertantly offend those in our world that subscribe to that religion.

So think about the history of the people, think about their location, think about what they might be striving for, what gives them hope and keeps them going when things start getting tough. And think about the magic of your world as well as how it might affect the formation of those religions. Keep in mind that most worlds will have more than one group of people living in it, so you’ll likely have to come up with multiple religions. Ask yourself how these people with such different religious beliefs will clash with each other, or not clash, as the case may be. How are they going to interact when the groups run into each other? Because eventually they will come in contact with each other. And also consider how religions change over time. Nothing in your world should be completely static and unchanging, including the religion itself. As the history of the world unfolds, events are going to alter the religious beliefs of the people in it.

And that’s what I have to say about inventing a religion for your magical world. Or at least, a few words. I could probably go on and on and on about it, but don’t want to hog all of the blog time. What do you guys think about creating religions for your work?

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7 comments to Friday Fun: Joshua Palmatier!

  • Often, I find religion is relative (depending on how religious your relatives are). Many story characters will only need to refer to NAME HERE when they stub their toe or are confronted by “a special effect of overwhelming proportions”. Other characters really believe the stuff and you have to edit them down to keep them from proselyltising all over the story. “STAR WARS” (there, I said it) focuses only on The Force but you’ll hear somebody like Han Solo mention Hell here and there, which might refer to the religion of the people he grew up with, or to a planet that St. George hadn’t covered in his mythos. So in practice a lot of one’s religious structuring work depends on how deep-dish your characters and their culture are.

    For my day-to-day existence, I just fall back on something from my Book of Sayings:

    “God is a committee that meets on Tuesdays to decide what to do with you. Trouble is, they’ll never let you sit in.”

  • By Crom that was well said Joshua. I like the way Conan uses religion, kind of like Ariel described above. He swears, and he figures that Crom gave him everything already, the rest is up to him.

    Of course not all people, or characters, frame their belief that way. It’s still great reading.

  • Well, my whole word is post apocalyptic, with a return of angels and demons, so I built on the more fundamental religions of today to create a multi-religious, judgmental kirk, based partly on fear of the magic users.
    As you say, most religion is fear-based, even my own religious beliefs are from a religion has a fear-component. Which is sad, I suppose.
    Faith

  • […] 2008 in blogs, fantasy, fiction, musings, mythology, philosophy, world building, writers, writing Joshua Palmatier guest-blogged at Magical Words today, about the creation and the deployment of religion in fantasy fiction: Pretty much any time you get […]

  • “God is a committee that meets on Tuesdays to decide what to do with you. Trouble is, they’ll never let you sit in.”

    Ariel, I so grok that —

  • As I once said at a WorldCon panel that dealt with worldbuilding and religions: “I’m a Jewish fantasy writer, so I create my own religions, but I feel guilty about it….”
    Thanks for the great post, Joshua. Good to see you here!

  • Thanks for inviting me to the site, guys! Glad to see it prompted a few comments.