Sumerian is an oddball of ancient languages. It might never have been deciphered if not for a happy circumstance I’ll mention below. Other languages important to the history of mythology and religion largely fall into two categories: Into-European (Sanskrit, Old Persian, Greek, Latin) and Semitic (Akkadian, Amorite, Eblaite, Phoenician, Ugaritic, Arabic, Hebrew). But Samuel Noah Kramer says of Sumerian that it “stands alone and unrelated to any known language living or dead” (Sumerian Mythology, 1961, Harper and Row). How did we decipher it, then, and why was it worth the trouble? As to how, we are very fortunate that the Akkadian speaking peoples who followed the Sumerians revered the language and wrote interlinear texts with Akkadian translations of Sumerian compositions. As to why, the answer is simple and profound: the great myths and religious concepts of Mesopotamia, so foundational to numerous later cultures, were born in ancient Sumer.
You might think a writer with non-fiction publishing experience (that’s me) would have finished a debut novel in less than two years (that’s roughly how long I’ve been working on it). But my WiP (work in progress) has gone through an evolutionary process, and I can only hope that means I’m writing something of greater value than what I had originally planned. The novel started as two things: a world-setting idea and a plot idea. The world-setting is based on Mesopotamia (an under-utilized setting in my opinion) and as for the plot idea, well, I can’t give that away. But there have been six stages of evolution since that original idea. 30,000 words have been written at a minimum, many of them now discarded. A deeper world, with more mythology, and a well-formed sense of the religious practices of its inhabitants, is being formed. Characters are coming into existence as real people, not half-formed facsimiles of human beings. I’ve struggled to decide what reader expectations are for an epic fantasy. And it has been liberating in iteration number six to decide I am aiming at a reader like myself, someone who wants a deep world, rich mythology, a blend of optimism and realism, and a story that is more than a plot. Immersion is the experience I seek in a book, so it is what I am aiming to create for my someday-readers.
I just discovered World Anvil, actually Shadiversity advertised it on his YouTube channel.
And I am starting a process of deep world-building using the World Anvil website. It not only allows me to collect my ideas about the world and its various aspects, but also prompts me to fill in certain categories and elements I might not have taken the initiative to think through.
You might find my world there, Haral.
And here’s a little inspiration for the demons and hraga-beasts in my world [see image below].
I’ve been creating a world, a novel, and short stories now since Mid-2018. It’s all been a healthy exercise in creative activity, but the Great-Something just wasn’t there. Until recently.
The ANE, Ancient Near East, Mesopotamia, ancient Assyria, Babylon, Elam, Hatti, etc. These are my inspiration.
But with some help from unusual places (reading Dark Ashton’s Paternus series, encouragement from a friend to delve more into mythology) I’m creating something more epic, mythological.
The image below is a small taste of that rich world whose iconography, surviving texts about the primordial cosmos and divine beings, ritual texts, physical remains, etc., are providing me with something Different-Than-The-Crowd of fantasy worlds out there.
Hold me to it. Keep me on task. This world needs to be created.
“O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
When I’ve read and reread The Lord of the Rings I’ve been searching for that feeling of awe, being amazed by a world of deep history and wondrous places. But the book starts slow, in that sense. It takes the reader a while to find the fantastic. Perhaps the terror of the Black Riders is an early foretaste of the magic of Middle Earth. But, as far as I can recall, the first moment that captured my imagination with the wondrous and sublime is when we meet the elves and find out about Sam Gamgee’s enchantment with them. I can say about meeting the elves the very thing Frodo said to Gildor: ‘Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo, a star shines on the hour of our meeting.’
“I can’t tell you what it meant to me when you stood beside me this morning. It was the highest point in my life. Nothing else mattered. I could see the sky — it was more blue than I’ve ever seen it. Everything was in sharp focus. I was more aware of living than I have ever been.”
— David Gemmell, Legend: Drenai Tales, Book 1
Rek is an enigma, a brave coward. Gemmell presents us here with the everyman hero, not an unfamiliar trope. But this combination feels unique. Rek has exhibited courage in a key incident with a friend, courage following a period of hesitation. Hesitation for which he feels ashamed, but his friend is grateful nonetheless. Then attraction to a woman brings on another bout of bravery. And in the passage cited above, he describes what he was feeling — a higher motive he never expected to feel. The genius-touch of Gemmell moved me as a reader, and even more so as a writer.
“By the time Jon left the armory, it was almost midday. The sun had broken through the clouds. He turned his back on it and lifted his eyes to the Wall, blazing blue and crystalline in the sunlight. Even after all these weeks, the sight of it still gave him the shivers. Centuries of windblown dirt had pocked and scoured it, covering it like a film, and it often seemed pale grey, the color of an overcast sky . . . but when the sun caught it fair on a bright day, it shone, alive with light, a colossal blue-white cliff that filled half the sky.”
— George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Fantasy takes us places. They should be places of wonder and mystery. The secret of fantasy is that it reflects one aspect of our world — the often hidden but ever present existence of the wondrous and awe-inducing beauty of the universe. The converse is also true. Places of death and mystery also call to us, evoking the deepest meaning of humanity, which is our losing battle with immortality. In that sense, fantasy is not delusion or mere invention, but the image in a deep clear pool reflecting back exactly what we are.
"A true master does not force the power of the cosmos to their will, but aligns their will with the streams of power that already exist."
— Paternus: War of the Gods, Dyrk Ashton
In a previous phase of my life I was a theologian and led a small congregation. That's why I appreciate the genius of Dyrk Ashton in this sentence. Pratha is explaining the finer concepts of magic and mysticism to Fi and Zeke. They possess astounding abilities to alter the cosmos around them. Elements of many different faiths come into play in Ashton's world, not least Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, various polytheisms, and more — including an occasional hat tip to Judaism. But here, we find what many people of faith have discovered, that there is a logos, a pattern of wisdom, a natural law, or whatever you may call it (even perhaps "the will of God" or "the gods"). Best to align with it and, when possible, slightly alter or channel it, than to try remaking it or rendering the pattern null and void. In simple terms, this applies not only to magic but also faith and prayer.
I'm a fantasy fan and I'll bet you are too. I also am in the early stages of building a fantasy world and writing stories and novels. It will be a world like Mesopotamia and my goal is to create something immersive like the best fantasy worlds out there.