13 June 2007

How far the journey over what terrain?

Thinking about the journey on the road and the terrain:
It should be varied terrain. Uphil/flat, lush, forest, desert.
It seems odd that there should be a vast, long road with no habitation or other landmark on it. They must come to another village or to a city somewhere along the line. If it were a big place (city), then when he tells people that he is going to slay the dragon, there would be a very different reaction (laughter) than there is in his village.

I can see him telling the people of another village that he is the dragon-slayer and being told that they had a dragon-slayer once. He never came back.

I might take a look at a slice of an area that I know as a start/end of the journey. I have to decide how far it is reasonable to have him walk on this journey.

Assuming that he travels an average of three miles an hour over ten hours each day, that would be thirty miles. It would be less going through rough terrain than on a smooth flat surface. Maybe he should only average 2 miles per hour, or 20 mile per day.

What is a reasonable, arduous journey? Three months? Six months? Five years?

Remember it is an allegory, not a dice-roll fantasy game. No fantastical creatures other than the dragon. No fairies, no dwarves, etc.


I like the idea of an arduous and momentous journey being nine months, but that could be because I'm pregnant.

An average of 20-30 miles seems reasonable, but shouldn't there be stuff happening to him to delay him?

I don't really have suggestions on the terrain, but were I writing it I might bone up on travel writings like Bryson's "Walk in the Woods", but for various areas, to see what I might like to throw at my unsuspecting victim, uh, protaganist.


> It should be varied terrain. Uphil/flat, lush, forest, desert.

Agreed. You'll need descriptional (if I may coin a word) ways to indicate the passage of time and distance without constantly resorting to "and then on day 37..."

If it's a trade road it could easily a) exist, b) be uninhabited for vast stretches. Your setting (village) implies a long bygone era, when basically all settlements existed on rivers, sizeable streams, or shorelines. Setting the Dragon's lair in a mountain cave where the ridge of the mountain divides the space between two drainage systems, then there could easily be hundreds of miles of uninhabited trade road going, say, from a major town on one side to a major town on the other side.

To me, a "reasonable, arduous journey" for an epic type story would have to be one year, which also allows you to go through all four seasons during the journey. Seems like the sort of thing that legendary stories tend to do. On the other hand, that's pretty long, particularly if this dragon is supposed to be an essentially local figure to the village; i.e. he's _this_ village's problem. Other villages have their own damn dragons to deal with. In that case, I'd go with 28 days: maybe he has to start and end the journey on a full moon for some reason of prophesy or other.

20 miles a day, while certainly possible, is HARD going. For example: in 1988 my brother in law, who is not nearly as insane as you might suspect, RAN from Cape Henlopen, DE, to Point Reyes, CA, along the American Discovery Trail. Distance: 4800 miles. Time: 236 days. Average speed: 20.33 miles per day. And he was running. 3 mi/hr for 10 hr/day may sound good on paper, but it neglects time for finding food, pitching and un-making camp, etc. For Steven to consistently make 10 miles would probably be hard enough.

Terrain: something that mirrors his emotional/psychological journey. In the beginning, the going should be easy and smooth, and the land hospitable with plenty of streams to get water at and obligingly suicidal rabbits for him to catch, etc. But the farther he goes, the harder it should get until the final few miles to the dragon's lair are totally hellish (over craggy mountains in the dead of winter or something).

If the journey itself is hard enough, then it would be reasonable for Steven to arrive in some state of delirium, where from lack of food, water, and sleep he's not all together in his right mind. That would give you an interesting segue into his conversations with the dragon, and would make all the more believable any suppositions by Steven that the dragon's voice isn't real.

I loved the way the historian covered this terrain. it may be more modern than your story needs, but it came through fabulously.