The Realms Thereunder, Day 3: Song and Verse

Christian Fantasy

In fantastic literature, the role of songs and poems cannot be discounted. At one time, of course, fantastic tales were often told in the form of epic poems, and modern fantasy has retained echoes of these roots. In the works of the classic fantasy writers, such as MacDonald, Lewis, and Tolkien, such devices abound, and moving onward into more recent works, such as our tour book, The Realms Thereunder, we see a continuation of this tradition.

In his own way, Ross Lawhead uses song and verse to enhance the setting, characterization, and plot of his story. At times, there’s some degree of imitation of the writers who have gone before, as with the frequent riddle exchanges he uses, but for the most part, he incorporates these devices in his own fashion.

Often song and verse are used in a serious fashion, as with this blessing that hints at the spiritual element of the book:

“May the Hand that Makes guide your hearts,
May the Light that Illumines shine on your path,
And the One that Goes Between aid your steps.”

Or the chant of the corrupt yfelgopes that reveals much of their nature and intellect:

“Fýr is First, it burns, it thirsts;
it feasts on flesh and fallen foes.

Urth is dirt, the Second house
we dig the dead, decayed to dust.

Thorn is Third, it cuts, it carves;
a cold and cruel crown for kings.

Ald is age it wastes, it wanes;
want walks Forth; when time wreaks wreck

Rech is smoke, the smog that smothers
the Fifth sense, smell. It chokes, it chars.

Claw is Sixth, it snicks, it snatches;
when sharp it shivs, and dull, it catches.”

Elsewhere, we get glimpses of history, social convention, and the workings of enchanted realms through snippets of song or verse. Yet for all the serious tone of the book, there’s also a lighthearted counterpart in some of this singing and recitation, perhaps poking a bit of fun at this genre convention, even as the book makes ample use of it.

We see this most strongly when Daniel, in order to survive in an elven forest, must make all his requests in song or in poetry (a skill difficult for him to acquire), and he fumbles around to come up with basic rhymes that will keep the forest happy, as seen here:

“Thank you, forest, great and good
For giving me my firewood.
But in order to survive the night,
I need this pile of wood to light.
Please give me what I require,
To make myself a good campfire.”

Without these elements, the plot certainly could have carried on, but the use of song and poetic verse added color and richness to the story.

What is it about songs and poems that have caused them to remain staple elements of the fantasy genre? Do you move past them without reading or study them for clues about the unfolding tale?


    • Sarah Sawyer
      February 27, 2012 - 4:44 pm · Reply

      It’s funny, but even though I’m not a big reader of poetry, I typically enjoy what it adds to a fantasy story. Since most cultures have song or verse in some fashion, I like getting a glimpse of what that looks like in a fantastic world.

  • Dona Watson
    February 22, 2012 - 4:25 pm · Reply

    I enjoyed your discussion of poetry and song in fantasy fiction. Daniel’s attempts at creating spur-of-the-moment poetry for the forest cracked me up. I always admire writers who boldly attempt to create unique poems and stories in fantasy fiction works. It is not a task for the faint of heart. 🙂

    • Sarah Sawyer
      February 27, 2012 - 4:45 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Dona! I was also highly amused by Daniel’s attempts at poetry, and I wouldn’t want to be put to a similar test. While I appreciate the addition of poetry and song to fantasy novels, I have yet to create my own. I’m sure I’ll end up making the attempt one day, but I’m still gathering my courage. 🙂

  • TheQuietPen
    February 26, 2012 - 12:23 am · Reply

    The use of poetry in the book was a great blog post topic! I agree with Dona, you do an excellent job of addressing song/poetry in fantasy fiction. While I can find much in the book to be dissatisfied with, I did enjoy the poetry and songs Lawhead made up. And I loved the scene where Daniel Tully had to get creative! I can’t imagine myself doing better than he, in those circumstances.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      February 27, 2012 - 4:47 pm · Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it, Janeen! Though I agree with you that there were a number of weak areas in the book, I thought it would be fun to discuss one of the more creative aspects. It certainly requires some skill to weave so many different types of song and verse into the same book!

      And it seems like the scene with Daniel attempting to invent poems on the spot entertained us all. 🙂

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