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Castles in the Air

15 Nov

One seemingly inescapable fact about fantasy novels is that, if you’re going to write one, then you will almost certainly have to, at some stage, put a castle, fortress, palace, tower or fortification of some type in it. This is hardly surprising given that so many ‘fantasy’ worlds are actually based on a fairly narrow period in our own history when castles were of supreme importance as seats of power, symbols of prestige and, in many cases, bastions of civilization in an ever dangerous world. What I remember best about some of my favourite fantasy novels are the places as much as the characters.  A Song of Ice and Fire, for example, has dozens of wildly different citadels which are home to the series’ various warring families. The Starks of the north live in the brooding stronghold of Winterfell, while the powerful Lannisters are based in the gold-rich fortress of Casterley Rock. The severe island citadel of Dragonstone, the mountain fortress called The Eyrie and bustling King’s Landing, seat of the rulers of all the Seven Kingdoms, are some of the other memorable locations in George R R Martin’s saga, all brought vividly to life in the HBO adaptation. In creating these castles Martin is carrying on the fine tradition of the many fantasy authors who went before him. J R R Tolkien named the second book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy after the opposing towers of Minas Tirith, last rallying point of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth in the War of the Ring, and the Barad-dur, stronghold of the Dark Lord Sauron. Mervyn Peake created one of the most iconic castles in all of literature in the form of the vast, crumbling ruin of Gormenghast, seat of the Groan dynasty in the trilogy of the same name. But what were the real world inspirations behind these fantastic creations?

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