Universally Speaking.

I’m almost at the stage now where I want to start writing a new book. I’ve had an idea in my mind for a few years now. I’ve added enough plots and characters and ideas to the mix that now it is time to take it out of the oven and put it onto paper. It deals with brothers who find a book in an old book store and are transported to another world. Most of the book is about them dealing with this new world, trying to make sense of it and inevitably trying to get home.

I started thinking about this ‘alternative universe/worlds’ scenario and wondered what kinds of things I want in it. Do Werewolves exist? Vampires? Dragons? Witches? Orcs? Trolls? Steampunk cities? Mutants?

The ‘alternative universe’ or ‘parallel universe’ is used in many books I’ve read, and especially in comics and movies. I started thinking of some of the ones that stand out for me. I’ve made two separate distinctions. The first one being the Real World split with another (parallel universe/world), for example; Harry Potter and Narnia. The other is a unique world into itself (alternate universe/world), for example; Middle Earth, The Discworld.

In an alternative universe, things such as Elves and Dragons are common and are taken as part of the world. Marvel comics uses this to create a ‘multiverse’ where Heroes in capes and villains are part of everyday occurrence. There are hundreds of parallel universes used in Marvel lore, sometimes they even cross over with disastrous consequences. Image comics has a similar mode of operation, where many comic book characters live in the same world, where a green police officer and with a huge Mohawk is an everyday scene and that no one looks twice at.

Harry Potter lives in a world with a hidden, and sometimes invisible, world inside it. The Wizarding World exists inside the normal universe, but has creatures not known to everyday muggles; house elves, goblins, centaurs, etc. You could say this was a ‘parallel universe,’ it exists inside our world but has its own set of laws and ideals.

The use of a mundane, inanimate objects to access these parallel worlds is also a common theme. This seems to be an essential principle through fantasy books that use multiple worlds. You could access the Wizarding World through fire places and train station walls, and the Wardrobe in the Narnia series.

While parallel universes exist with our world, alternative universes (or worlds) have no relation back to us, except the Human form, as with Middle Earth. Humans are just another part of the vast range of species. There isn’t any to and fro between here and there, nothing parallel exists, there is just one existence. This is the same with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. On the Disc, everything you can imagine exists; werewolves, vampires, trolls, golems, igors, dragons, imps, zombies, etc. While the Discworld balances on the backs of four elephants (who are standing on the back of a giant turtle, roaming through space) there is always that feeling like our Earth is out there somewhere, just waiting for the Discworld to cruise past. But, until this happens, I would classify it into the alternate world column.

Clive Barker’s Abarat is another classic example of a parallel universe/world. The main character in the book, Candy, finds a lighthouse in the middle of a field. Once she activates the light, a torrent of water appears and sucks her out to sea where she finds the Abarat.

An Australian author, D.M Cornish, has invented a world that is similar to 1800’s England, but with monsters. He calls it the Half Continent. All the boats are run by beasts that need vitamins to survive. The Half Continent is its own world, with its own rules of nature. Everything is different, from their dress, their languages and their laws. This includes different seasons and calendars.

Wikipedia explains the correct quantum mechanical definition of parallel universes as, ‘universes that are separated from each other by a single quantum event.’ Whether this means a Superhero Vs Villains imperative, or a battle between wizards. Normally the universe has been around for a while when the main character stumbles upon it, and is generally in the middle of an upheaval or war.

While I dive head first into my own universal creation, I have much to consider. Many rules need to be put down and defined before I start writing. Will it be a world with a dominant race? Or will it be set in the aftermath of a war between colonies? I like Pratchett’s approach, where everything exists and can be called upon when needed.

Another particularly obvious thread running through these books, is that the people jumping back and forth are always children. Whether written for children, or adults alike, every grown-up knows what it’s like to want to be the ‘one’ chosen and introduced to something more. We grow up knowing what the future is going to be like because we watch our parents and we want there to be more than just paying bills and getting the car fixed. We want there to be a secret doorway somewhere that will lead us to adventure and mystery. This book already seems to be a lot of work, but it’s exciting and maybe someday, someone will read it and escape like I did.

– Mitchell Tierney

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Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 2:00 am  Comments (2)