history, writing

Can Truth Father Fantasy?

Cover art for fantasy adventure Necropolis by Xina Marie Uhl
When Dru wakes up in an enemy city after being savagely beaten, he knows he has a mission. But he can’t remember what it is. The assassins, magical creatures, and age-old demons chasing him don’t much care about that, though.

I’m going to tell you a secret.

When writing parts of my fantasy novel Necropolis, I cheated. I took my inspiration from already published works. Did I plagiarize? No, nothing like that. Yet, something about this seems shady. Just what are these published works?

Primary sources.  They are firsthand accounts of history by people who lived through the events they are writing about. These could be letters, or photographs, or other items or documents, even something such as a Viking broadsword etched with runes. There’s nothing like a primary source to give you the essence of the time period or event you’re studying, the vibrancy and power of it. I referenced many primary sources when writing the short descriptive pieces that preceded each of Necropolis’s 22 chapters. These largely come from ancient history, since the world I created is sort of an amalgamation of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Mesopotamia. For instance, here is the stele inscription that appears at the start of Chapter 1:

Under the searing gaze of the sun god Rumda
did I march my army
my army of ten thousand

Before me fled the people of the land
The harvest lay withered on the threshing floor
Figs shriveled unpicked on the trees
Dust piled high in the homes
Homes where only jackals and foxes now live
Even these fled before me
before my army’s might

I crossed the harsh wasteland
to the edge of the world
to Eretria by the sea
That nest of vipers
Home to the Dwellers — the Old Ones
Defilers of the land

With the might of my sword
I slew the young men
With the point of my javelin
I made rivers of blood flow to the thirsty soil
I took the young women
I made widows of all
They heaped dust upon their heads
The air was filled with their weeping
Sweet music to my army
to the weary travelers
with the bloody sandals

O Eretria
Your walls are crumbled
Your temples are burning
Your city is no more
I am Kar the Mighty
Conqueror of Nations
I will clear away the old and make a new land
A new city, strong and fast
A new people that no one shall conquer

In this vow I stand firm as a yew
My arms held wide as a god to my people
As king of Eretria
King of the World

‘The Founding of Eretria’
Stele inscription
Year 1, Eretrian Calendar

Stele of Adad Nirari. Look closely to see the text written across the figure. Here is where the ruler’s conquests would be recorded. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adad-Nirari_stela.jpg

This inscription was based primarily on boastful words from 3,000-odd years ago. Tiglath Pileaser I ruled the Assyrian Empire from 1115-1077 BC.

Tiglath-pileser, the powerful king, king of hosts, who has no rival, king of the four quarters (of the world), king of all rulers, lord of lords, king of kings; the lofty prince . . . who rules over the nations, the legitimate shepherd whose name is exalted above all rulers; the lofty judge, whose weapons Ashur has sharpened, and whose name, as ruler over the four quarters (of the world), he has proclaimed forever; the conqueror of distant lands, which form the boundaries on north and south; the brilliant day, whose splendor overthrows the world’s regions; the terrible, destroying flame, which like the rush of the storm sweeps over the enemy’s country; who . . . has no adversary, and overthrows the foes of Ashur.

Ashur and the great gods who have enlarged my kingdom, who have given me strength and power as my portion, commanded me to extend the territory of their (the gods’) country, putting into my hand their powerful weapons, the cyclone of battle. I subjugated lands and mountains, cities and their rulers, enemies of Ashur, and conquered their territories. With sixty kings I fought, spreading terror (among them), and achieved a glorious victory over them. A rival in combat, or an adversary in battle, I did not have. To Assyria I added more land, to its people I added more people, enlarging the boundaries of my land and conquering all (neighboring?) territories.

In the beginning of my government, five kings . . . with an army of twenty thousand men . . .–and whose power no king had ever broken and overcome in battle–trusting to their strength rushed down and conquered the land of Qummuh (Commagene). With the help of Ashur, my lord, I gathered my war chariots and assembled my warriors; I made no delay, but traversed Kashiari, an almost impassable region. I waged battle in Qummuh with these five kings and their twenty thousand soldiers and accomplished their defeat. Like the Thunderer (the storm god Adad) I crushed the corpses of their warriors in the battle that caused their overthrow. I made their blood to flow over all the ravines and high places of mountains. I cut off their heads and piled them up at the walls of their cities like heaps of grain. I carried off their booty, their goods, and their property beyond reckoning. Six thousand, the rest of their troops, who had fled before my weapons and had thrown themselves at my feet, I took away as prisoners and added to the people of my country.

At that time I marched also against the people of Qummuh, who had become unsubmissive, withholding the tax and tribute due to Ashur, my lord. I conquered Qummuh to its whole extent, and carried off their booty, their goods, and their property; I burned their cities with fire, destroyed, and devastated.*

I tried to keep the spirit of Tiglath Pileser I alive when I created the poem that opens my fantasy novel. After reading inscriptions similar to this one, it was much easier to write the poem. I think I succeeded in conveying a haughty ruler who has no qualms about laying the countryside to waste. What do you think? Did I succeed?

I always tell people that I studied history in school because it is nothing more than stories – human stories from thousands of years. What could be more interesting and vital than such stories? Very little, I contend.


Source: R. F. Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Literature (New York; D. Appleton, 1904) pp. 12-14. Reprinted in Marvin Peryy, Joseph R. Peden and Theodore H. Von Laue, eds.,Sources of the Western Tradition, Vol. I: From Ancient Times to the Enlightenment, 2nd ed., (Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 1991) pp. 20-21.


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