C is for castle

letter C - Leo Reynolds

Some might think them a cliche, but for me castles are one of the quintessential hallmarks of classical fantasy. I love them — soaring towers and turrets, imposing battlements, mazes of halls and corridors and bedchambers, walls so thick the characters can hold parties upon them . . . and so often overlooking a majestic landscape or treacherous coastline.

Put simply, castles rock.

It’s true though that castles in fantasy tend to indicate imaginary worlds founded on medieval Europe, which can border on cliche if not done well, simply because they’ve been done so often. Still, George RR Martin’s extremely popular Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) falls into this category — an example of medieval Europe-based fantasy done extremely well indeed. Moreover, there are castles.

This is why in my A-Z of fantasy series, C is for CASTLE.

Castle: A large building or group of buildings fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements and towers.

My favourite castle in fantasy is probably Orison in Stephen Donaldson’s Mordant’s Need duology. It’s so large and sprawling, a unique microcosm that almost solely sustains the entire first novel. There are secret passages, courtyard markets, fancy chambers, deep dark basements, dungeons . . . and myriad mages, courtiers, artisans, peasants, servants, and soldiers to populate it. Marvellous.

Of course, there are many other fantastical C-things of note . . . Here are the honourable mentions:

Creatures — often magical, including Centaurs and Cats (frequently talking). That isn’t to say all fantasy needs to have magical creatures (or castles, for that matter). In fact, creatures have gone somewhat out of vogue — unless you’re talking zombies, werewolves and vampires in so-called ‘urban’ fantasy.

Cloaks — not sure this needs any explanation. What self-respecting fantasy questor sets off without a cloak? Cloaks are so prevalent, they’re almost cliched . . . but since there’s little alternative, cloaks are still the goto garb for inclement weather.

Ceremonies — original and unique ceremonies abound in fantasy, and are great for depicting imaginary cultures. Sometimes they’re pivotal to the plot, but it’s perfectly acceptable if they’re merely contributing to texture and setting.

There seem to be a lot of C-words in fantasy! And now add clans, curses, councillors, crystals, camps, caravans, caverns, coins, citadels . . .

And finally two important fantasy themes:

Coming of age

So many landmark fantasy stories are coming of age stories. Too many to name. Too many to count. There was a time when every fantasy hero seemed to be a farmboy . . .

Courage: The ability to do something that frightens one; strength in the face of pain or grief.

Obviously the need for courage isn’t limited to the fantasy genre, but it sure is prevalent in this genre and I couldn’t leave it out. Great courage is at the heart of most truly great fantasy.

I’m sure there are many more fantasy icons and tropes beginning with C. What have I forgotten this time? What’s your favourite fantasy castle?

Image credit: Leo Reynolds on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

8 thoughts on “C is for castle

  1. Challenge? Like, pull the sword from the stone or drop the ring into the pit of fire?
    Of course, you might also call that a quest, so challenge might be kind of a reach. Sorry – I’m only on my 2nd cup of coffee…


  2. My favorite castle is the one from Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s smaller than it looks, but it MOVES, which is a big plus in my book.

    The only other fantasy c-word my brain is giving me is cerulean. Where else but in fantasy would you use cerulean to describe blue eyes? 😀


    1. I haven’t read any Diana Wynn Jones – can you believe that? Although I’ve recently acquired her tough guide to fantasy land. 🙂 I really should look up some of her fiction.

      As for ‘cerulean’ – um, romance novels? 😉 heh… But I’d certainly have cerulean seas in a fantasy novel!


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