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Picturing a World

Ford in the Shire

A muddy ford where a small rill crosses a green track in Wales—on Bilbo and Frodo's birthday, it calls to my mind a tramp across the Shire, with maybe a distant vision of The Mountain. Or taking a different but related tack, one of the green roads maintained by Wend in Diana Wynne Jones's Crown of Dalemark. Less fancifully, the picture is a reminder of just how much very small features of the landscape give specificity to places.

Consider, for example, someone walking a greenway on a steep hillside. A rutted few yards of exposed dirt and stones becomes downright wet and muddy. You could sidestep the water by slanting up the bank to the left or tiptoeing along a strip of grass (beware a hidden squishy spot!). Other passersby have worn a secondary track to the right. Would the kind of shoes you were wearing contribute to whether this obstacle matters or not? Would fear of leaving footprints in the mud play a part in a story?
As a writer, eliminate the fence and make the drop-off dangerous. Or keep the fence: there's a dark spot in the first section on the lower right that could be turned into a hole underneath that allowed someone to slip away. Or make the fence a stone wall: how does the change transform your impression of the landscape?
Look at the rocks in the lower left corner: might they have been set one against the other as a trail sign? In your story, could a secret system of markers be an important element?
Look at all that green. Transform it into red and gold, and now say, Happy Baggins Birthday, and welcome Autumn!
Bonus: Geograph.org is a source of endless visual inspiration. For Tolkien lovers, two more images from the site that put me in mind of the Middlearth are an Usk Valley Walk and an ancient oak. Explore the site for yourself: you can do it daily, or by geographic location, or by individual photographer—including Derek Harper.


Image © Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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