Okay, in an effort to avoid boring all of you to tears with continued blathering about Marcher Lord Select, I'll make a single, short announcement about that, and then blog about something entirely different.

The Sword of the Patron has officially moved into phase three of the Marcher Lord Select Contest, now standing amidst a field of eight semi-finalists contending for the prize of publication in the spring of 2010. As you can imagine, I'm very excited, but doubly as thankful to those of you who have voted. I exhort you to keep voting! The margins have been extremely tight between winners to those eliminated, so every single vote counts.

Now, onto other subjects.

The Language Barrier

I was watching Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring (yes, for about the gabillionth time) and a new thought struck me with reference to my writing. As the Uruk Hai brought their particular brand of mayhem to the fracturing fellowship, their chieftain bellows, "Find the halflings!" Now, this isn't so remarkable on its own, but the context of my writing struggle highlighted this moment for me.

Now, of course in movieland, people tend to all speak the same language for the sake of the viewer, and we all sort of have to suspend our disbelief on that. (The occasional sojourns into elvish with English subtitles is another matter, but I won't get into that right now.) So, rather than yell in orcish, the Uruk Hai yells, "Find the halflings." That way, the viewer knows of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin's impending danger, in case they forgot that was the whole reason the orc had shown up. (Of course, being created by Saruman, perhaps one could argue that the language of men was the Uruk Hai's first language and thus the logical tongue for the orcs to use, but I'm not deep enough in movie/Middle Earth lore to know.)

The point it brought up in my mind still stands, though. Languages are a sticky wicket in fantasy writing. In my short stories, I've been dealing with a couple of vastly different races, and since I'm writing from mostly my protagonist's point of view, this has created some interesting writing situations. He wouldn't speak the language of my "bad guys." So, anything the reader needs to know can't come out of the mouths of those bad guys. We're experiencing the story through the eyes and ears of Captain Vinyanel Ecleriast, elf, so what he knows, we know.

Other story franchises have dealt with this in different ways. In Star Trek (TNG), for instance, we get the concept of the Universal Translator. In some stories...older ones, of course, since this is now the mark of literary leprosy...the author wrote from a 3rd person omniscient POV. That let the reader be in anyone's head the author needed him to be to understand what was going on. But, given these options are not among those I might choose, instead I have to decide: do I keep my protagonist, and hence my reader, in the dark? Do I swtich POV characters for a time so that I can get some bad guy-to-bad guy conversation on the page for the sake of building tension? I've done both so far, and I wonder if there are other options I'm overlooking.

I suppose I could design the entire language of any creature I'm going to use, write the passages in their own language, and then include a dictionary of each language at the back of the book for the reader's amusement. (Actually, no, I couldn't. Not in a hundred lifetimes!)

But, all in all, the challenge of multiple races and even more multitudinous languages in my "world" has given me quite the maze to run through as I try to unfold the stories of my characters doings. And all the while I think about it, I can't help but muse...the things that go on inside my head! How completely baffled would the average Joe be if he could hear them?


  1. Fascinating article! Those are very important things to consider, definitely. I have pondered them quite a bit myself. Therefore, I have a few interjections to make about this, if you don't mind.

    In LotR, The books have a very good system for this. There is the Common Tongue which everyone knows and is always rendered in English (this is also what the Red Book that J.R.R. Tolkien referred to was written in), and any other language that the POV character knew was also rendered as English, with the context making clear what language was being spoken.

    The orcs had their own languages, but they were so diverse and varied, that they had to speak in the Common Tongue to each other (explained very clearly in The Two Towers when Pippin was captured). That is why they were shouting in English in the movie.

    I utilize a similar system, preferring to limit the reader's knowledge to that of the POV character. This forces me to rely on facial gestures and tone of voice to carry the thoughts and emotions of the other characters (at least the ones that the POV character does not understand). I do not consider this a bad thing, as it helps the reader to empathize with the POV character more and makes it more realistic.

    Anyways, this is a long comment. Sorry about that. See you on Holy Worlds!

    With joy and peace in Christ,
    Sir Emeth Mimetes

  2. Hey Sir Emeth!
    Thanks so much for dropping in...I see you're deep in the lore of Middle Earth! Thanks for bringing up that point about the orcs in The Two Towers. I do recall that Saruman's orcs and the Orcs of Mordor didn't speak the same dialect, but I couldn't figure out any way to work with that tidbit in this particular post. But it certainly works as a pint to discuss in the comment area. :)

    And don't worry about long comments. I enjoy hearing other people's interjections and perspectives.

  3. Thanks so much, newmaldon!
    Dropped by your blog, BTW, and I'm looking forward to checking out Born of Hope (once my kids are in bed.)


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