Writing about Eden

People who read Dark Eden usually comment on the language.  I included some (actually quite small small) variations from modern English by way of acknowledging the fact that language would develop differently in a community that had been isolated for that length of time: adjectives are doubled up for emphasis rather than using ‘very’, the direct article is quite often dropped…   Some people really like this, some tolerate it and some hate it, finding it maddening and childish.   (It’s meant to sound a bit childish, by the way: my idea was that the first generation on Eden would have slipped into baby talk a little, when there were only two adults in the world, just as young parents tend to slip into baby talk during the phase of life when they are preoccupied with small children.  In Eden there would be no adult world to provide a corrective.)

As I rework my second Eden novel (Mother of Eden), though, the thing about the language of Eden folk that I find most challenging is the fact that almost their only reference points are, naturally enough, inside their own world.   This creates two difficulties.  The first one is that, if we are describing an unfamiliar environment, we normally do it by the use of metaphors and similes with things we already know.   If I was describing the forest of Eden from the point of view of a visitor from Earth, for instance, I might say it bore a certain resemblance to a terrestrial forest at night that had been hung with Chinese lanterns.   But, apart from stories of Earth to which they sometimes refer (when I think I can get away with it without stretching plausibility too far!), Eden people have only Eden itself to use as a source of metaphors and similes. I have to try and describe something that is unfamiliar to the reader, either by reference to very basic things like fire and rock that exist on both Earth and Eden, or by reference to other things that are themselves unfamiliar to the reader.  It’s quite a restriction to work with, though a common one of course, both in SF and in historical fiction.

The second difficulty is that Eden people would not have retained words for which they had no use.  In Dark Eden, for instance, when John and his followers come to an ocean, they no longer have the words ‘ocean’ or ‘sea’ because the people of Eden have been living for generations in a valley surrounded by mountains.  The nearest thing they still have is the word ‘pool’ so they call their ocean ‘Worldpool’.

When the story shifts to Worldpool itself (as it does in Mother of Eden), I also have to do without words like ‘coast’, ‘bay’, ‘island’, ‘inlet’, and to find some way of referring to these things which is plausible and not too cumbersome.  Even the word ‘land’, it seemed to me, would no longer be available, because why would you ever refer to land if there was no sea?  The nearest Eden English gets to ‘land’ is ‘ground’ and this is the word they  use.

3 thoughts on “Writing about Eden”

  1. The only thing about the book I didn’t like was the overuse of certain words such as slip, slipping, tits, juice and the overemphasis of the double adjectives. It was a carousel of words, throughout the book wherein the same words blurred past me again and again. Which became very very very annoying too too quickly. Apart from that I really enjoyed it.

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