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Rethinking Urban Fantasy: Where is Nagspeake?: 03/24/18
Five years before I restarted my road narrative analysis project, I wrote a short essay, Urban fantasy is a two way street defining urban fantasy vs traditional fantasy based on how easy it was to get to and from the fantasy world. Now in researching the offroad, negative spaces of the road narrative, I have been revisiting and refining my urban fantasy definition.
In that essay I collectively put the entirety of the Oz novels in the traditional fantasy category based on the fact that if there is a trip from our world to Oz in the book, it only happens once with the protagonist leaving our world, traveling to Oz, adventuring in Oz, and then returning home. Having now begun my re-reading of the series in terms of the road narrative, I have come to the conclusion that the Oz books could qualify as urban fantasies, even if the books only include one return trip (if there is a trip).
My refined definition then of "urban fantasy" would be a world in which more than one method of travel is available. In the Oz books ways of getting to Oz have included: balloon, cyclone, near drowning, earthquake, getting lost, explosion / eruption. As I still have many more books to read, I am still cataloging the methods. In Catherynne M Valente's Fairyland series methods include: being kidnapped, going underground, getting lost, going off road while driving.
But the place I'm most interested in right now, probably because the series is on-going and therefore, the rules are still changing (or being revealed, depending on how the author's writing methodology) is Nagspeake. Keep in mind, haven't yet read Bluecrowne which explains "the secrets of the Greenglass House" and introduces readers to Nagspeake, so some of this essay (maybe all of it) might be wrong.
Oz and Fairyland canonically exist outside our world. Thus how they relate to our world is moot beyond methods of travel. For Oz the means to get there is a matter of being an orphan or a loner at the brink of death (with special exception to Dorothy's aunt and uncle who are invited to retire there by Ozma). For Fairyland the route is open to children (or the rare adult) who are emotionally detached from life).
But Naspeake is different. It's clearly a magical land, albeit much smaller than either Oz or Fairyland. It's probably the size of a city state like Washington or the Vatican. It clearly has magical elements as evidenced by the existence of ghosts, changeable landscapes, and homes of dubious interiors. Yet, Nagspeake is clearly grounded in our world with characters who know about important historical events and extant countries. That suggests that Nagspeake is somehow part of our world while still being apart from it. So where is Nagspeake? Before reading The Left-Handed Fate, I supposed that Nagspeake was up near Maine — somewhere on the coast between the United States and Canada. It's neither of the two because Nagspeake is described as a self governing place and in Ghosts of Greenglass House a United States quarter is described as foreign currency.
Because of the snow and frost that features so prominently in the Greenglass House books, I naturally put Nagspeake up north. In The Left-Handed Fate, however, Nagspeake is described as being south of Baltimore and Norfolk. Because of the name, I had supposed that Naspeake could be near Nags Head in the sandbar islands off the coast of North Carolina. Now with the path the Fate takes, that seems to be the most likely location.
So where down there could Nagspeake be and still be a separate entity? I went through options like an island in the Bermuda triangle to Atlantis until the Left-Handed Fate pulled into port so soon after Norfolk. There is one magical place (ie cursed) place known for swallowing up civilization: Roanoke.
Yes, there is still Roanoake Island and the Roanoke Island Marshes here in our world, but what if the marshes for the right minded navigator could lead to Flotilla and ultimately to Nagspeake? I was skeptical at first because of the snow and frost, but apparently that area of North Carolina gets on average seven inches of snow in the winter.
So are the Nagspeake books urban fantasy? Yes because they have a regular sea-based commerce with the rest of the world. Navigation to and from Nagspeake is difficult but not impossible. That the Bluecrownes can maintain a home outside of Nagspeake and still run British colors speaks to the fact that they are regularly leaving their unusual home for more mundane ports.
In conclusion then, what makes an urban fantasy world? Multiple points or methods of entry and egress. Accessibility to more than one person. Knowledge of the outside and inside worlds.
Comment #1: Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 05:58:41
I'm completely fascinated by your blog post today, and I love it that you have been heavily researching this. Thank you for sharing it with us here.
Comment #2: Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 16:53:00
Thanks. It's part of an on-going project. The essays are archived here.