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World-Building: Even the Smallest Detail…

This past weekend, as part of Tolkien Week, the world celebrated Bilbo Baggins’ birthday—September 22—also the birthday of his nephew Frodo. Even the smallest detail can change the course of immersion in a Fantastic world.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel, a poem composed in Sindarin, a language created by Tolkien, and written in Tengwar, a script created by Tolkien as well.

One of the rich aspects of fantasy fiction is the immense world-building behind the imagined cultures. It is well known that J.R.R. Tolkien created multiple languages for Middle-Earth and mythology before he wrote any of the stories. He called this process “sub-creation”, and in being so incredibly thorough, set a strong standard for popular 20th Century fantasy fiction authors to follow.

 J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, admitted that she had loads of backstory that she had for her characters and settings as well as the culture and society of Harry’s world—much of it created in order to be able to write the books, but considerable bits of information simply as part of her own process of closure. She handed over some 18,000 extra words—mostly from unpublished passages and random notes—to the programmers of her world-extending website Pottermore, where fans of Rowling’s magical world can access extensive backstory and feel immersed in the world itself.

While world building inevitably includes careful development of character histories, setting descriptions, and the origins of plot lines, it’s often the myriad smaller details surrounding the culture of the invented races of magical creatures that cumulatively bring the world to life.

In Tolkien’s masterpiece, when the stories start, the hobbits have long since lost the details of their own history, of how they were related to “big people” (humans), or of details of their geneological history. But Tolkien worked it out extensively, sometimes causing anomalies within traditions that the characters wouldn’t have grasped, but the history could illuminate.

For instance, birthdays. For the Hobbits of the Shire, instead of getting presents on your birthday, a hobbit celebrating his or her birthday gives presents away to other hobbits, often re-gifting several times over. These gifts need not be valuable; in fact old and useless objects, or mathom in Tolkien terminology, is a tendency. Avid fans have speculated that hobbits of the shire would have sent birthday cards out, cheerfully (and unpretentiously) saying “Happy Birthday to Me”.

But as an additional layer of this detail of Tolkien’s worldbuilding, this tradition is not race-wide. Tolkien identified three branches of hobbits, the Hobbits of the Shire being descended from Harfoots. But Sméagol and his kinsman Déagol were descended from the Stoors. And when Déagol finds the One Ring on Sméagol’s birthday, Sméagol demands it as a present from Déagol, who is holding it. But Déagol states that he has already given a birthday present, thus the struggle that ensues. Centuries later, in addition to “my precious”, Gollum refers to the One Ring as his “birthday present”. Thus, the river Hobbits clearly follow a different birthday present custom.

Here on FairyRoom, we highlight books and authors every week. Nearly every book as part of our NEW, SOON, & CLASSIC series is part of a magical world created by its author. We toast the meticulous attention to detail these Fantastic authors weave into the cultures and histories of the worlds they create. And inspired, we are starting to collect tidbits like this to highlight at some point. What small details of created magical worlds do you find particularly enchanting?

This “Flying” Fairy Doll Comes with an Elaborate Backstory and Lovely Illustrations

Fairy sisters Eva, Daria, Alexa, come from the titular realm Slightly Above Time. Newcomers Mara and Aerioth also hail from the same land. Each of the five is her own character, and is associated with a distinct color and specific element (lake, forest, meadow, fire, and cave). The three original sister fairies hail from Faewick Forest, and their world is in peril:

Humans don’t really exist. Every fairy over the age of five knows that!

No sensible fairy really believes the human tales told around the village fires. But one fateful day, thirteen-year-old Alexa meets a real -live human girl in the forest. No one believes her except the ancient dryad Ispirianza, who everyone thinks is crazy anyway.

Now Alexa finds herself at the center of a struggle to save her land and her race from the deadly Scarring and the mysterious humans hold the only key. To open the hidden corridor to the human world, Alexa must complete a series of nearly impossible tasks such as stealing magical candledark from the terrifying Oth fairies.

Even with help from her older sisters Eva and Daria, a nervous sylph sprite, and a fearless fire fairy, Alexa must act quickly if she is to save the fairies’ realm Slightly Above Time.

The first three chapters of their story is free on the official Flitter Fairies site. And the accompanying map makes me want to learn more about their world. (Sadly, the structure of the site is such that we cannot generate a dedicated link to the chapters. Look for the book cover and click on it for the chapters.)

As would be appropriate for the age group this book is aimed at (younger than Young Adult, but with content aimed for the definitively Older-Than-Little-Kid readers — this is the age group YA publishers love to groom), each character is also a doll. And at about five inches tall, they “fly”! The way this is done is actually quite clever in the way the human “believer” helps the fairy in this human world of Timefulness, promoting a bond between the fairy and “her human helper”.

An “enchanted” hair clip, a magic wand, a strand of invisible “pixie silk,” and flapping fairy wings create an effective illusion of flight. The existence of the pixie silk itself is explained as necessary because this is the human world.

However, while I consider the book and the toy for my fairy-believing daughter (she will likely want Meadow, though I am intrigued by the Cave fairy, which is a little darker and features a glowing orb), as the adult behind the purchase, I am most drawn to the illustration gallery. They are exquisite, especially of the gnome-like and elven creatures (only extracts are shown here, full images and a larger map can be found at the Flitter Fairies site.)

The site has a lot of information about this innovative and not outlandishly expensive toy in addition to the world building-book, map, and illustrations. There are more videos of the flying fairies in action, downloadable coloring pages, and some favorable press. There are a few difficulties in using the site, however: the buy-the-book link is apparently not working (but we found the book on Amazon.com), and the illustrations are nearly impossible to find (navigate from the main menu to “Flitter Fairies”, select the drop down for the book title, then select “gallery” — this is different from the main navigation “gallery” option). Additionally, there is a contest tab on the site, but they appear to have been suspended a couple of years ago. But perhaps most frustrating is that you can’t order from the site and that is not made clear. Here are handy Amazon links for the five dolls: Eva, Daria, Alexa, Mara, Aerioth.

Customer reviews are mostly positive, though they do point out that this toy is not for little kids for two reasons: a certain level of agility is needed, and the toy is apparently a bit too fragile for the regular six-to-eight year old crowd. But there is a bit of a disconnect between the kids still in that wonderful age of innocent belief in fairies, Santa Claus, and bunnies with chocolate eggs—kids who would look at this toy and believe, and those who actually possess the ability to actually maneuver the toy (though you can also purchase extra pixie silk, so maybe it’s not such a big deal that it’s quite delicate). Nevertheless, it’s clear that the dolls’ manufacturers, William Mark Corporation (WMC), went to great lengths to make them “realistic” is effective. And those who love it, really love it!

We at FairyRoom are eager to give Flitter Fairies a try. We’ve read the first three chapters and are hooked. Have you played with the Flitter Fairies? What did you think?