A Castle That Might Be Amber

No, I’m not talking about Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes n Amber. Although maybe I should be! If ever there were an archetype for castle, Zelazny’s Amber would surely be it: occupying a mountain peak, crowned with ranbows, so vast that it’s a city in castle form. Yes.

But I’m talking about the castle in my own Caught in Amber.

It, too, is vast. It’s part castle, part palace. It was built through the ages, so one wing is medieval, another renaissance, one classical, and yet another eighteenth century romantic.

When I went looking for images that captured the place, I found many that seemed to represent elements of the massive pile that Fae explores, but there was nothing close to the whole.

Instead of giving up in despair, I decided to share a handful of the images along with either my commentary or excerpts from the novel.

The first painting I found, “Two Owls” by Thomas Moran, could easily be a portion of the medieval wing. In Fae’s thoughts:

Windows were smaller with round arches at their tops. The thick walls were half-timbered – heavy beams filled in with wattle and daub – or else formed of huge rough gray stones. Massive piers supported the ceilings of large spaces such as the great hall and the place of arms where the knights would have assembled.

Almost, she wished she could see them, in their bright polished armor with their vivid plumes on the helmets. They’d be magnificent.

The central portion of the castle consists of tall white towers with pointed red roofs, the quintessential fairy tale castle. The castle in Disney World is the right shape, but it’s not nearly big enough. However, Křivoklát Castle (photographed here by Svobodat) in the Czech Republic has the red roofs!

…she noticed a painting on their immediate left, a landscape showing a many-towered castle with pointed red roofs and flapping blue-and-gold pennants. Pleasure gardens, lawns, and an orchard surrounded it. A carriage drawn by four horses approached along the splendid esplanade before the castle’s entrance.

I suspect Fae’s bed chamber might be located in a wing resembling Ardencaple Castle (Scotland) as rendered by James Whitelaw Hamilton. Certainly the gardens have the right feeling.

…the doorway of a gazebo with honeysuckle twining up its pillars and massing on its roof. The tan pea gravel stretched away to a low hedge at the courtyard’s border. Beyond the hedge, hollyhocks reached for the sky, their flower-dotted spires waving gently in the still air.

The plume of a fountain splashed in another direction, and two topiary elephants gamboled in another. These were the gardens…

Here’s another view of Ardencaple Castle with a different mood, one more in keeping with the shooting gallery that Fae discovers.

Instead of the white stone typical of so many of the castle’s passageways, this one featured walnut panelling and a parquet floor, combining in its geometric design the dark brown of walnut with red mahogany and blond beech.

Substantial walnut doors studded the walls at regular intervals. Light from the window at the far end of the hall didn’t penetrate far, but the lamp globes – supported on walnut falcon wings – were lit.

Fae could feel the heft of the first door as she opened it. The hinges were solid and well-oiled; it swung easily.

Of course, the complex is as much palace as it is castle. Windsor, as depicted by Alfred Vickers, has a little bit of that palace feel.

She found the great chamber where the lady of the castle would have slept. Her canopied bed, with massive dark pillars at the corners, was curtained in a rich red brocade, the pattern showing a unicorn cavorting in a flowery mead.

Such a stately private space.

But the Palace of Coudenberg embodies more of the magnificence that I have in mind.

All the spaces beyond the concealed door were very grand: vast in size with tall coffered ceilings and impressive colonnades, connected by broad halls and impressive stairways. These rooms were for show, not use. Receptions for heads of state, audiences for ambassadors, award ceremonies to honor heroes.

The capitals of the columns, far overhead, dripped with crystal and gold ornament. Enormous fresco murals depicted…

Yet most palaces and castles are, in the end, simply palaces and castles. You can walk from one end to other in five minutes. The castle in Caught in Amber is more like a small city in size, something like the fortified French city of Carcassone. Imagine that Carcassonne’s center has as many towers as its guarding walls, and you’re getting close.

I can see the castle Fae explores so clearly in my mind’s eye. Perhaps one day I’ll commission a modern painter to translate my vision onto canvas.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour of my Amber’s castle. 😀

For more about Caught in Amber, see:
Amber’s Suns
Amber’s Inspiration
Character Interview: Fae

 

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Amber’s Inspiration

The fairy tale in which a curious lassie opens forbidden doors has always been one of my favorites.

I remember wanting to write a novel inspired by it back in 1997 or 1998. I got so far as an outline, realized that my outline did not really match the story I wanted to tell, and then didn’t know how to proceed.

So I was delighted when the beginning for Caught in Amber burst into my imagination one evening in 2014, when I was trying to go to sleep for the night.

I got up out of my bed, grabbed my journal, and went into the living room to start scribbling. The scene came pouring out.

Even once I went back to bed, I didn’t get much sleep. I was too excited about my story to drift off into slumber. 😀

So, what was the fairy tale that started it all? It’s called “The Lassie and Her Godmother,” and it is one of fifteen Norse folk tales collected in East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Because the book was published in 1914, its stories and illustrations are in the public domain, which means I am free to share them with you. I thought it would be fun give you the portion of the fairy tale that inspired Caught in Amber. So, read on!

The Lassie and Her Godmother

Once upon a time a poor couple lived far, far away in a great wood. The wife was brought to bed, and had a pretty girl, but they were so poor they did not know how to get the babe christened, for they had no money to pay the parson’s fees. So one day the father went out to see if he could find any one who was willing to stand for the child and pay the fees; but though he walked about the whole day from one house to another, and though all said they were willing enough to stand, no one thought himself bound to pay the fees. Now, when he was going home again, a lovely lady, dressed so fine, and she looked so thoroughly good and kind; she offered to get the babe christened, but after that, she said, she must keep it for her own. The husband answered, he must first ask his wife what she wished to do; but when he got home and told his story, the wife said, right out, “No!”

Next day, the man went out again, but no one would stand if they had to pay the fees; and though he begged and prayed, he could get no help. And again as he went home, towards evening the same lovely lady met him, who looked so sweet and good, and she made him the same offer. So he told his wife again how he had fared, and this time she said, if he couldn’t get any one to stand for his babe next day, they must just let the lady have her way, since she seemed so kind and good.

The third day, the man went about, but he couldn’t get any one to stand; and so when, towards evening, he met the kind lady again, he gave his word that she should have the babe if she would only get it christened at the font. So next morning she came to the place where the man lived, followed by two men to stand godfathers, took the babe and carried it to church, and there it was christened. After that she took it to her own house, and there the little girl lived with her for several years, and her Foster-mother was always kind and friendly to her.

Now, when the Lassie had grown big enough to know right and wrong, her Foster-mother got ready to go on a journey.

“You have my leave,” she said, “to go all over the house, except those rooms which I shew you;” and when she had said that, away she went.

But the Lassie could not forebear just to open one of the doors a little bit, when—Pop! out flew a Star.

When her Foster-mother came back, she was very vexed to find that the star had flown out, and she got very angry with her Foster-daughter, and threatened to send her away; but the child cried and begged so hard that she got leave to stay.

Now, after a while, the Foster-mother had to go on another journey; and, before she went, she forbade the Lassie to go into those two rooms into which she had never been. She promised to beware; but when she was left alone, she began to think and to wonder what there could be in the second room, and at last she could not help setting the door a little ajar, just to peep in, when—Pop! out flew the Moon.

When her Foster-mother came home and found the moon let out, she was very downcast, and said to the Lassie she must go away, she could not stay with her any longer. But the Lassie wept so bitterly, and prayed so heartily for forgiveness, that this time, too, she got leave to stay.

Some time after, the Foster-mother had to go away again, and she charged the Lassie, who was by this time half grown up, most earnestly that she mustn’t try to go into, or peep into, the third room. But when her Foster-mother had been gone some time, and the Lassie was weary of walking about alone, all at once she thought, “Dear me, what fun it would be just to peep a little into that third room.” Then she thought she mustn’t do it for her Foster-mother’s sake; but when the bad thought came a second time she could hold out no longer; come what might, she must and would look into the room; so she just opened the door a tiny bit, when—POP! out flew the Sun.

But when her Foster-mother came back and saw that the sun had flown away, she was cut to the heart, and said, “Now, there was no help for it, the Lassie must and should go away; she couldn’t hear of her staying any longer.” Now the Lassie cried her eyes out, and begged and prayed so prettily; but it was all no good.

“Nay! but I must punish you!” said her Foster-mother…”and away from me you must go.”

*   *   *

The fairy tale then goes in an entirely different direction from Caught in Amber.

Caught in Amber explores the bond between the lassie and her godmother, whereas the fairy tale follows the lassie as she reaches full maturity and learns that her choices have real consequences.

I must say that as I typed, “and away from me you must go,” I found myself bursting with commentary. I could barely bring myself to remark that my story and the fairy tale diverge radically from that point. I wanted to burst into impassioned speech without pause.

How could these parents, no matter how poor, give away their child? In our modern day and age, pastors don’t charge a fee for baptism. And, furthermore, if no pastor is available anyone can baptize a child (or an adult) in an emergency.

But, of course, the lassie’s christening is meant to symbolize something so precious and essential that no child should have to do without it. Perhaps something so urgently important that no child could thrive without it. What then might a parent do? What if your beloved child required an expensive medical procedure in order to be able to breath? What if you didn’t have either the money or the insurance for it? Then, indeed, you might do what this couple did.

But if the adoptive mother was so good and kind, how could she banish the lassie from her presence? Wouldn’t she have done better to impose a consequence the first time the lassie disobeyed, rather than just scolding and threatening?

But there are my modern sensibilities rising up again.

Modern child rearing techniques were entirely absent two hundred and three hundred (or more) years ago when this fairy tale evolved. Punishments were severe. Criminals had a hand cut off, were stoned or hanged. Children were deprived of food, were given solitary confinement for days, or were beaten. The concept that much smaller consequences can be very effective in teaching a child was entirely unthought of.

If the lassie had been my daughter, I might have required that she thoroughly clean the chamber from which the star had flown. And I would have blamed myself for assessing her maturity level so incorrectly when I left her alone at home. I certainly would not have made the same mistake a second time!

Consider, however, what the lassie did! The sun, the moon, and the stars…more symbols for things infinitely precious. It is understandable that her mother was upset! But mom needed to manage a bit better.

But let’s say mom had managed better, and still the lassie had been recalcitrant. It does happen that way sometimes. What then? Should mom have sent daughter away?

The thing that occurs to me is that in medieval times, children often were sent elsewhere at roughly age thirteen. Nobly born boys went to another castle to serve as a page there, and then to become squire to one of the knights. Nobly born girls went to serve as maid-in-waiting to the lady of the castle.

Children born to artisans went to be apprenticed to another artisan. Or went to live with an aunt and uncle to help out in the house and on the farm.

There was a recognized societal mechanism whereby someone other than mom and dad handled the child during those challenging teen years. The child received some of the independence they were craving, but still had the safety net of adult supervision.

Perhaps the lassie really did need to get away from mom in order to grow and thrive.

But the old fairy tales are certainly blunt! They don’t soften the darker aspects of human nature.

As for my own story…well, it was inspired by the fairy tale, but at heart it is very different, because I am exploring love and hope and courage far more than anger or vengeance. And, honestly, I remain to this day as fascinated by those forbidden doors as ever the lassie was. Really, how could she refuse to explore them when confronted by their closed panels day after day!

At least, that’s my view on the matter. 😀 What do you think?

For more about Caught in Amber, see:
Amber’s Suns
A Castle That Might be Amber
Character Interview: Fae

 

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Amber’s Suns

At the start of Caught in Amber, young Fae awakens without any memory of who she is or where she comes from.

The glad sun streamed in through four point-arched windows, filling her bedchamber with light.

She stretched and blinked and rejoiced. Then fell back against her banked pillows, grinning and studying the rollicking cornice molding that stretched around her room where the walls met the ceiling. Small carved suns with curling rays and merry faces somersaulted along the frieze as though they couldn’t keep still. That was the way they should be: energy-filled, laughing, and replete.

Of course, underneath Fae’s happy mood is a sense that something awful has been done to her. (Which it has.) Nor does she stay joyful long. The evil spirit haunting the castle where she finds herself attacks her in the very first chapter.

I’ve always loved imagery featuring the sun, the moon, and the stars. The castle, as Fae explores it, features these heavenly bodies both in the architectural detail of significant structures and in its underlying essence.

The illustration below reminds me of what I see in my mind’s eye when I imagine the cornice in Fae’s bed chamber.

For more about Caught in Amber, see:
A Castle That Might be Amber
Amber’s Inspiration
Character Interview: Fae

 

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Mercury the Planet

Mercurio, the protagonist of Devouring Light, tends the planet closest to our sun.

I envisioned Mercury as a heat-scorched ball of rock, but I hoped to report on some of its interesting quirks as I told my story. “Does it possess any?” I wondered. Somewhat dubiously, I must admit.

MercuryI needn’t have worried. The universe is a quirky place, and Mercury is no exception. It abounds with quirks.

One of the coolest things is its huge, liquid iron core. For a long time astronmers assumed Mercury was a solid ball of rock, like our moon. Nope. Mercury’s core is not only molten, but large compared to the size of the planet.

Why is it so large?

While the sun was forming out of a giant whirling cloud of dust and gas, the planets were forming, too. But the dust cloud traveled around the sun a little more slowly than the coalescing planets. The cloud, particularly dense near the proto-sun, dragged away many of the lighter elements in Mercury’s orbit, leaving it with lots of heavy iron.

Why is it still liquid?

Tides caused by the sun!

Just as Earth’s moon causes a bulge of water to travel around the globe, the sun causes a bulge of magma to travel around Mercury’s core. But the sun’s tides on Mercury are 17 times stronger than the moon’s on Earth. Not only do they pull the molten core, they also flex the crust, causing it to bulge.

Four terrestrial planets

Additionally, Mercury’s eccentric orbit is very eccentric. At perihelion, the planet’s closest approach, the sun is 29,000,000 miles away. At aphelion, the sun’s 43,000,000 miles away. The eccentric orbit makes the tides particularly vigorous. It’s almost like Mercury’s core is being stirred by a giant egg beater!

Its core has cooled a little bit over the billions of years that have passed since the planet’s birth, however. How do we know? Mercury’s surface is striped by numerous narrow ridges called rupes. They were created when the core cooled just enough to shrink a little. The crust – already solid – wrinkled.

Okay, three more cool things about Mercury.

Mercury has magnetic tornadoes!

It’s that molten core combined with the close proximity to the sun that again creates an unusual phenomenon.

Tornado

(Yes, the photo above shows a tornado of wind, not magnetism, but you get the idea!)

The large, liquid iron at the core – spinning as it does – means that Mercury possesses a strong magnetic field. Strong enough to protect the surface from the solar wind, just as Earth’s magnetosphere protects us.

But! Mercury’s magnetic field is so strong that it actually captures pieces of the low-temperature plasma that is the solar wind. And those plasma tendrils possess their own magnetic field. The plasma’s magnetic field clashes with Mercury’s magnetic field to produce magnetic vortexes – “tornadoes” – up to 500 miles wide!

At the center of the tornado is a window open to the full force of the sun’s blast.

Apparently Earth has these magnetic tornadoes as well, but those on Mercury are bigger and happen ten times more often.

Okay, second cool fact.

Mercury has ice at its poles!

With surface temperatures between 530º F and 800º F, how is this possible? And, if it has polar caps, why don’t we see them?

Ice at Mercury's poles

Well, first of all, not all of Mercury is hot.

The planet doesn’t have the axial tilt that Earth does. It spins nearly straight up and down. (At a tilt of .027 degrees, it has the least tilt of every planet in the solar system. Uranus, with a tilt of 98 degrees, has the most.) The angle of the sun is steep at the poles. And there is no atmosphere to spread the heat around.

So the poles are cold at -135º F. It’s even colder at the bottom of the craters at the poles: -276º F. And that’s where the ice is. Not a lot of ice. About enough to cover a square that’s 8 miles per side with 2 or 3 miles of ice. But ice nonetheless! And it’s shiny. Reflecting light that’s visible from space, when you use a big enough telescope.

Mercury's north pole

Now for that third cool fact.

Mercury has hot spots!

But they’re not volcanic. In fact, Mercury’s volcanic days are long gone, a billion years in the past. So how does it have hot spots?

Mercury’s slow rotation on its axis combines with its quick journey around the sun to produce them. Here’s how.

Mercury spins 3 times on its axis for every 2 times that it travels around the sun. It’s got one heck of a long day! And at perihelion – when it’s closest to the sun – high noon lasts 16 Earth days.

At perihelion, Mercury is traveling so fast around the sun (faster than at the most distant point in its orbit, aphelion) that its own spin can’t keep up. The sun burns down on one spot – high noon – for more than 2 Earth weeks! That makes a hot spot. And one Mercury year later, the opposite side of the planet receives that 16-day high noon. Another hot spot!

The solar system

I still have trouble wrapping my brain around that one, but wow!

Merucury features yet more cool quirks. Its exosphere. The Assyrian and Babylonian astronomers who first observed it. Why modern astronomers before 1965 thought Mercury spun once on its axis for every one circuit around the sun.

I wish I could have crammed them all into Devouring Light! But story comes first when I’m writing fiction. The hot spots made it in. The magnetic tornadoes and the polar ice did not. Nor any of the other fun facts. But I’m sure glad the story prompted me to learn more about our inmost planet. I’d no idea it was such a fascinating place.

For more about Mercury, see these articles at Wikipedia:
Mercury
Mercury’s Exosphere
Exploration of Mercury

For more about the world of Devouring Light, see:
The Celestial Spheres of Sol
What Do Celestials Wear?
The Graces
Roman Dining
The Heliosphere
The Oort Cloud
Draco the Dragon
The Simiae

 

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