April 7th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

You can run, but you can't hide very effectively

The earliest mention of a spinning castle that I know of comes from the twelfth-century romance Le voyage de Charlemage à Jérusalem et à Constantinople. In it, the castle is described as being made of silver and other precious materials, and mechanically spinning around a central axis. The romance explains the mechanical infrastructure which makes movement possible in this instance. The movement was intended to show off Byzantine ingenuity, rather than to keep anyone from coming in or leaving the castle. Subsequent spinning castles in medieval romances did not: they were magical creations, their spinning not accounted for by any earthly explanation. The spinning, however, did make these subsequent castles inaccessible to would-be visitors unable to stop the motion to let them in.

Did these have any effects on more recent descriptions of moving castles? Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver's Travels, describes Laputa, a city floating in the air whose privacy largely derives from its physical obscurity. Similarly, Hiyao Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky involves a difficult-to-find floating castle. Diana Wynne Jone's Howl's Moving Castle takes the trope of moving-castle-obscurity even further, creating a cottage which has multiple entrances in multiple worlds, and a different disguise for each. (Perversely, Miyazaki is currently working on a movie of Howl's Moving Castle; the sequel to Howl is called Castle in the Air, not to be confused with Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky.) These castles are all more similar to aerial houseboats than to the medieval spinning castles.

The only other moving castle or building I can think off offhand in the same tradition is Baba Yaga's hut, which is built on chicken legs and runs around the forests of Russia. I presume the take is old, but I don't know just how old, let alone if there were any cross-influences between the chicken-legged hut and any other these other moving structures. Also, a friend this weekend mentioned that the Ringworld books includes a floating building, which include at least a token scientific explanation for its hovering.

Are these all parallel instances of moving castle innovation, or do the groups have any cross-influence? Have any other cultures produced stories of mobile castles, especially castles with minds of their own? These days we have the analogy of large ships, trains, and cargo planes to compare these castle-concepts to, but those inventions postdate the origins of most of these tales.
Fishy Circumstances

Lord of the Rings, the musical

In Spring of 2005, the West End musical of the Lord of the Rings will open. I'm excited about this not just thanks to the subject matter, but also because A.R. Rahman is the primary composer for it. Thanks to Bollywood Dreams, I'm a fan of his work. (I know he's a prolific Bollywood composer, but I only know his work from that one musical.) None of this is recent news - it was announced last fall, but I only just wandered across the website for the production today, which is why it's on my mind.

Peter Jackson took plenty of flak from fans of the series who didn't like the way he edited the books down to fit into three movies with a combined total of something like eight and a half hours of screen time. This project will be one musical, covering all three books, and surely won't have a running time of more than three-four hours at the outside. It is, after all, inteded to be a popular musical production. In other words, it'll leave out large swathes of plot and will combine and rework far more than the movies have. Musicals are good for summarizing things like long journeys effectively, and they can be quite expeditious with major battles. Even so, there's a fair amount of plot that just won't be making it to stage next year. I'm betting, at very least, that Tom Bombadil loses out again.