Without Walls

It's odd when the things you read or watch resonate with your writing, even when the thing seems a thousand miles away from your own invented world.

I'm reading Richard Evans's history of nineteenth-century Europe right now and it's splendid. In depicting the decline of the journeyman craftsman in that period, Evans talks about how, once upon a time, it was easy for towns to limit who could get in and out because they all had walls and gates and towers and guards etc. Pity the poor journeyman trying to develop his craft when he rocked up at some town gate and the local guild didn't like the cut of his jib. It was simplicity itself to turn the traveller away. Point is, town walls were for more than defence. They served a social purpose, keeping out both undesirables but also just folk that the town's leading citizens didn't want for other reasons, such as journeymen who might undercut the local artisans or maybe even do a better job.

Then it occurred to me that very few of the town's in Will's adventures have walls. Stenock doesn't, for instance, and that's supposed to be a major trading post. At least, Will doesn't tell us about any walls. Stenock might have them but Will doesn't point it out. This is one of the advantages of a first-person narrative. We can get around what might seem like omissions because there will be stuff our narrator simply doesn't think is worth mentioning, either because he considers it and decides not to bring it into his story or because it never occurred to him. The absence of town walls in Aeoland might be so quotidian that it wouldn't cross Will's mind. Why draw our attention to the absence of something when it's presence is the notable thing.

So this got me thinking. Why no town walls? What if there is a reason within our invented world for their absence, a reason so commonplace that our narrator would just pass it by. In other words, what if the absence of walls was deliberate, a feature of Aeolish society? Suddenly my oversight becomes an opportunity. The towns of southern Aeoland - that is, the region of Aeoland most proud of its own wealth and security - have intentionally dispensed with walls because they believe themselves so civilised that they don't need them. Where is the threat that would necessitate gates and guards and all that malarkey? They might need that sort of thing in the north, where all the thugs and savages live, but here in the south we don't need walls. 

Where does this leave our journeyman, strolling into town in the hope of work to help him develop his craft? Or, rather, where does this leave the town guildry who want to limit the  number of wandering artisans plying their trade? No idea, but it's this kind of detail that we can work up into something. Is there drama to be found here? Alternatively, is this the sort of detail that really doesn't matter? I'd argue it matters that the author or world builder thinks about it, has the question in his or her head, ponders the effects of this approach to town walls. It might seem a needless detail - and we certainly don't want endless, egotistical paragraphs about Aeolish society's attitude to town defences - but we need to take these things on board, keep them in mind.