Ah, what the hell.
Over on fantasyreviewbarn.com, Nathan’s doing a post per week giving examples of the tropes listed in Diana Wyne Jones’ “The Tough Guide to Fantasyland”, and others are joining in as well. Normally I just read what others have to say and then throw in a comment or two, but this week people seem to be finding the topic tough, whereas I’m brimming with examples – enough, in fact, to make my own list of five. Or more. I don’t think I’ll be doing this every week, but for once, why not?
Here’s the topic of the week:
Hidden Kingdom. Usually reached through CAVERNS or after an arduous trek into the heart of the central masssif, this is often the object of the Tour QUEST…
Well let’s have a go, shall we?
1-2. Cyrga and Delphaeus: ‘The Hidden City’ (David Eddings)
The fact that there’s somewhere hidden in the final volume of Eddings’ ‘Tamuli’ trilogy should be no surprise, given that it’s in the name. But it’s a slight surprise to discover that there are two of them! Delphaeus is the lost city of the Shining Ones, the hyperevolved flesh-melting superhumans everyone else thinks of as the equivalent of vampires or bogeymen. Surprise surprise, they may be hyperintelligent glowing shapeshifters, but they’re not a myth after all – their city exists, in some hills somewhere, but shielded by their magical powers from prying eyes. Cyrga, on the other hand, is the capital city of the desert kingdom of the Cyrgai, and is protected not by deception but by force: the gods of the other races have erected a barrier around it to shield the world from the megalomaniac military prowess of its inhabitants. Needless to say, this doesn’t stop it from being the ultimate destination of Our Hero’s quest.
3-5 (/55?). Various places: the Foundation novels (Isaac Asimov)
OK, you might say that this is SF rather than fantasy, but functionally I don’t think it’s an important distinction for these book – the latter half, where these kingdoms show up, is basically fantasy with spaceships instead of caravans (although the earlier works are more sciencey). And where have we got? First off, there’s the Second Foundation. This is an ingenious hidden kingdom, in that the ‘kingdom’, the Foundation (a secret civilisation of telepaths trying to control history) is hidden in plain sight in the middle of a different civilisation. Several books are dedicated to the quest to find it. In a similar vein, there’s the magical god-planet of Gaia – technically it’s only half-hidden (the name is on record but very few know the co-ordinates), but nobody goes there and nobody realises it’s actually magical god-planet. Next up, there’s the Spacer Worlds. These start out in Asimov’s other books as perfectly normal colony planets, but in the thousands of years between then and the Foundation novels, their location has become lost. Potentially, there are at least fifty hidden kingdoms here, assuming they haven’t founded any more colonies in the interim. The characters only visit the worlds of Aurora, Solaria and Melponome, and only find one hidden kingdom among the three (and tibetan monks ain’t got nothing on the secret powers of THOSE people!), but who knows which other worlds may still be inhabited? Next up, there’s Alpha – an idyllic island world of general good humour and toplessness, a primitive population forgotten by the rest of the Galaxy and trapped on one small island on a great global ocean… or is there something less obvious about them, not immediately apparent? Finally, there’s Earth itself. OK, it’s been desolated by nuclear armageddon, but it’s not COMPLETELY abandoned… I’d say three planets definitely fit the ‘hidden kingdom’ idea, and maybe more.
6. Ra-Khati: the Forgotten Realms (various authors)
D&D settings are lousy with hidden kingdoms and lost cities. Ra-Khati, however, is pretty much exactly what the Tough Guide is talking about – a hidden kingdom in the high Katakoro mountains – people do find it, but they’re not allowed to leave. I don’t think there are any novels set here, but there are adventures and sourcebooks that describe it.
7. You Know Where: ‘Ash: A Secret History’ (Mary Gentle)
This one’s kind of a spoiler, but at the end of Ash it’s revealed that…. oh, I’m not going to tell you. If you’ve read the book, you’ll remember, and if you haven’t, then you should. It’s an interesting version of ‘hidden’, though.
8. The Realm of the Faeries: ‘Little, Big’ (John Crowley)
The whole of the book is about a peculiar American country house and its portals into the world of faeries – not so much a different world as a place in ours that can only be accessed by travelling in an unusual direction. Sort of.
9. Underland: ‘The Silver Chair’ (C.S. Lewis)
What it says, really. A hidden kingdom lying underneath the Narnian world that we’ve been exploring for the last five books.
10-13. Nargothrond, Gondolin, Doriath, and Lothlorien (J.R.R. Tolkien)
The ‘original’ hidden kingdoms. Doriath, and later Lothlorien, are hidden kingdoms in that nobody can enter them unless the ruler wishes it – Lothlorien can be entered by Sauron himself, but even he couldn’t get into Doriath. Those not wanted are simply lost in the woods, unable to find a way in. Doriath is known as ‘the Hidden Kingdom’ and Lorien as ‘the Hidden Refuge’.
Gondolin and Nargothrond are hidden in the more literal sense that people don’t know where they are. At least, that’s the plan. The caves of Nargothrond end up having far too much publicity, so don’t stay hidden for all that long, unfortunately; the Hidden City of Gondolin, protected by poor map-making, magical enchantments, a paranoid totalitarian government AND an impassable mountain range does rather better.
Needless to say, however, since this is Tolkien, it’s not much of a spoiler to point out that everything fails, everything hidden becomes known, and everybody dies, usually horribly. Except Lorien! Which is merely abandoned and left to go to ruin.