Saturday, 11 August 2012

Atlas of Imaginary Worlds 15: The Continents of Seanchan

Being busy working on e-books, I have rather been neglecting this blog.  I have been pleased to find that Blogger has stopped insisting that I use the interface that they introduced earlier in the year and which proved incredibly hard to use compared to the traditional one.  There is a warning that I see whenever I log in that they will introduce a new one.  Hopefully that is not simply the same one as appeared before, but something with better functionality rather than being simply new, which these days always seems to be considered by providers as 'better' even though that is often not the case.

Anyway, I came across another map of a fantasy world and so I thought I would put it up here and take a look at it in the way that I used to.  I think it was stimulated by me watching the movie 'John Carter' based on the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I have featured maps from there before.  I was also looking for some new wallpaper for my laptop and ended up digging out the Elric world map, which in terms of artistic merit is still one of my favourites.

This images is of the continents of Seanchan which feature in a 14-book fantasy series called 'The Wheel of Time' with the first book published in 1990, six years after the first author, James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (1948-2007) under the pseudonym Robert Jordan.  Under a number of pseudonym's Rigney wrote westerns, historical novels and in the 1980s a series of Conan the Barbarian novels, which may explain his interest in vast continents in fantasy.  After Rigney's death the Wheel of Time novels have been continued with the final three novels being written by Brandon Sanderson (born 1975), a fan of the original series.  Sanderson has had success in his own right producing fantasy and children's fiction.  Though Rigney was an Episcopalian, taking high communion a number of times per week and a Fremason and Sanderson is a Mormon, the Wheel of Time stories which consist of classic fantasy with magic elements, epic quests and a whole host of characters, are influenced more by Eastern philosophies, with references to the cyclical nature of history as found in Chinese perspectives and the circular nature of things as seen in Buddhism.  The wheel and circles feature heavily in the iconography of the series.  There are also Zoroastrian references to the duality of nature, though it is apparent many English-speaking readers see this in Christian terms as God and the Devil; though personally it reminds me both of Catharism and Michael Moorcock's concepts of Law and Chaos in many of his fantasy novels.

Being such a sprawling series, Wheel of Time has led to its own wiki from which I have drawn the following:

Seanchan is the name of the landmass located across the Aryth Ocean to the west of the Westlands, and across the Morenal Ocean to the east of Shara. It is also the name of the Empire that occupies most of the landmass and its offshore islands, and also of the people who inhabit it.

The Seanchan home continent almost girdles the world from pole to pole and is considerably larger than the continent consisting of the Westlands, Aiel Waste, Great Blight and Shara. The nearest parts of Seanchan to the Westlands are located more than 5,000 miles across the Aryth Ocean, a journey of some months even by the fastest ships and contributing to the lack of communication between the two continents for most of recorded history.
Seanchan is split into two landmasses, divided by a long dividing channel. There are four large islands located off the coast of the continent, and three small ones within the dividing channel.

The northern landmass
The northern landmass is the smaller of the two. The northern-most part of the landmass consists of the Lesser Blight, which is a corrupted landscape similar to the Great Blight north of the Westlands. Considering its latitude, it is possible that this corrupted landscape extends across the entire world, even below the waves. Although the Lesser Blight is not as hostile nor as dangerous as the Great Blight, it is still considered the most dangerous part of the Seanchan continent.
South of the Lesser Blight are the Mountains of Dhoom [this seems rather derivative, almost comic in its title]. These are considered to be an extension of the mountains of the same name in the Westlands, and it is possible that the mountains completely encircle the Blight and even continue beneath the waves, as they tumble into the sea in the same confused morass of islands and cliffs as in the Westlands.
The Seanchan Empire claims all parts of the continent south of the Mountains of Dhoom. The remainder of the northern landmass consists of three peninuslas which extend for several thousand miles southward from the mountains. These peninsulas are mountainous, with only a few major rivers being marked on maps. The largest cities on the northern landmass are Sohima, Imfaral, Asinbayar and, located at the southern-most tip of the landmass on the equator, Qirat.
The north was secured by the invading armies of Luthair Paendrag Mondwin early during the Conquest, who took Imfaral as their base of operations and first capital before they invaded the south. This suggests their invasion fleet landed on the north-eastern coast of the northern landmass. 

The dividing channel
The two subcontinents are divided by a channel or sea. This body of water opens onto the Morenal Ocean at Qirat in the west and proceeds eastwards before turning north for several thousand miles, opening onto the Aryth Ocean at roughly the latitude of the Aile Dashar. A large off-shoot of this channel forms a significant bay or gulf between the peninsulas on which Sohima and Imfaral are located. There are three islands in the channel where it swings northwards.

The southern landmass
The southern landmass is by far the larger of the two. It is located mostly within the southern hemisphere, but a huge peninsula extends north and east for several thousand miles into the northern. The imperial capital of Seandar is located on this landmass, roughly due west of the island of Tremalking. Seandar is located at the meeting-point of two substantial river networks.

The southern landmass proper is vast and is covered by mountains several times the length of the Spine of the World, lakes large enough to be called seas, rolling plains, deserts and immense rivers longer and wider than the Erinin or Manetherendrelle. The other major cities of the Empire located on the southern landmass are Kirendad, Anangore, Shon Kifar, Rampore, Tzura and Noren M'Shar. Several large islands lie off the coast, one of which is presumably Marendalar, site of the last major rebellion against the Crystal Throne. The island of Maram Kashor lies off the south-eastern coast of the southern landmass.
[A coda on the bottom of the entry shows up some of the challenges that authors face when creating a world and trying to fit lots of interesting land masses on it.]
According to the text of The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, the Seanchan continent stretches for 4,000 leagues (16,000 miles) from north to south and for some 1,500 leagues (6,000 miles) at its widest point east to west. However, the former figure is not actually possible since the world of the Wheel is our world [I am not really sure why the author assumes that this world is Earth, maybe I missed something in the back story] (since it exceeds the Earth's half-circumference of 12,000 miles). The accompanying map, although hardly of scientific quality, suggests more plausible figures of just over 10,000 miles from north to south and just over 5,000 miles from east to west at its widest point.
The names seem to mix Middle Eastern/Indian ones with Celtic ones, both popular sources for fantasy country names certainly since the late 1960s.

What I liked about this continent is that bar a couple of lakes, it seems to have avoided any major inland seas for a change.  It has also avoided archipelagoes.  Instead we have something that almost has vast fjords.  In part it reminds me of Baja Mexico and in the East it is reminiscent of the Great Lakes.  Overall, however it seems to be influenced by Scotland and this is heightened by the dividing channel.  The part of Scotland to the North-West of the Highland Boundary Fault originally was part of the North American continental plate whereas the land to the South-East of the line is from the European plate.  The fault has a series of lochs running across Scotland from South-West to North-East.  Bar a twist of geology, a chunk of Scotland could lie separated from the rest of it by a channel like the one shown in this map.  In some ways it is nice to see that fantasy novels with wonderful continents are still being produced even today.

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