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Jul 28, 2010

Ecology of a Fantasy World

It's understood that if characters travel about anywhere in a fantasy realm, they won't be able to get more than five pages before they encounter some toothy beastie intent upon devouring them. This leads to the impression, sometimes never explained by the author (I'm looking at you, Edgar Rice Burroughs) of a landscape inhabited exclusively by vicious carnivores.

Um. Hello? Who are all the eight-legged lions eating when our hero and heroine aren't traipsing by in chain-mail lingerie?

Violating the laws of ecology always bothers me in stories. Yes, it's fantasy, you can make your own rules, but, for the love of crabgrass, at least take recommendations from ecology. It's really fun to have monsters try to eat your characters, so we wouldn't want to cut that part. (Chain-mail lingerie is another must-keep, I don't care what the weather is.) We just need to include some herbivores for the carnivores to eat, and some herbs for the herbivores to eat.

With that in mind, I began ruminating on the dragons in my story. What do they eat? Lots of things, it turns out. Cows, horses, pigs, manatees, humans. Meat. But it would take a lot of such snacks to fill a dragon, and there are a lot of dragons in my story. (Not necessarily featured as characters, but milling about in the background, doing dragonish things -- fighting, gambling, selling overpriced trinkets, charging too much interest on loans and eating anyone who doesn't pay up.) I decided that they really needed some herbivores, and the herbivores ought to be even bigger (but much dumber) than the dragons.

Enter the leviathan!

Okay, so there are leviathans swimming around getting eaten by dragons. But what do leviathans eat? You might think, "krill" but you would be wrong, because krill are boring compared to....

...Green Ooze!

Yes, I could have just said "algae bloom" but that doesn't sound like something from a fantasy novel, does it?

Here's my helpful diagram:

The thing that looks like a purple gecko is supposed to be a majestic dragon. Work with me here. Anyway, the majestic dragon eats the leviathan. (The blue is supposed to be the ocean, not a flotation device.) The leviathan eats the Green Ooze.

Oh, but wait, Tara. You have an arrow from the Green Ooze pointing to the dragon. That's right. Because, under certain circumstances -- say, just when our hero and heroine sail by in a pirate ship -- the Green Ooze gets all excited by the opportunity and changes, the way some molds do. It becomes Carnivorous Green Ooze! And tries to eat them!

(Cue music: It's the Circle of Life.)

I find this kinda thing entirely too amusing. I know. Sad.

P.S. Check out Thuvia, Hot Babe of Mars. She will get her eight-legged lion to kick your ass and steal your toupee.


Davin Malasarn said...

What a great post!! As I was reading this, I kept thinking, "What about the microbes?" And then, voila, you include my microbe of choice, the green algae. Yay!

Tara Maya said...

Microbes really don't get the attention they deserve in most fantasy. Unless you count Star Wars, where it turns out midi-chlorians control the universe.

Ban said...

midi-chlorians *sigh and hang head*

Tara Maya said...

I hear ya, Ban, I hear ya.

Davin Malasarn said...

I'm just reading about all of this now. Fascinating! I'm sorry it was such a disappointment, but really microbes are quite cool. They can do amazing things physiologically, like breathe using arsenic instead of oxygen and they are probably responsible for our own cells having mitochondria and plants having chloroplasts and maybe even other things like centrioles. I can't exactly tell if I'm being sarcastic or sincere.

Tara Maya said...

The first time I heard about "midi=chlorians" I thought maybe it was a veiled reference to mitochondria, which, of course, Lucas couldn't call by name. Then the mitochondria would have kill him.

Tara Maya said...

One of my earliest stories was about a (shortlived) friendship between a photoplankton and a zooplankton. The ending, alas, was rather predictable.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Oh, you have me laughing!!! This is a great, great post and just makes me want to read a whole novel of yours. :)