Humans love walls. They keep us in and keep others out. This desire for boundaries and excluding others was taken to an extreme by Chinese Emperors who kept extending the Great Wall for centuries. And then there was the Roman Emperor Hadrian who decided to keep the wild hoards of the Scottish out of conquered Britain by building a wall across the north of England. Both walls, say people who have visited them, inspire awe, possibly because of their size. But it doesn’t stop there, they have PRESENCE. An aura of mystery and magic pervades them. The immensity of the constructs stretches across ideas and ages. As with other gigantic architectures like the pyramids and the Sphinx, we wonder about the sheer insanity of the people who envisaged building them. In more recent times there was of course the Berlin Wall diving capitalism with communism and separating a people who did not want to be separated. Which is why it was brought down so dramatically.
Fantasy writers are very quick to pick up on the magic of such ideas and in the case of walls the lunacy adds an additional fantastical element. There are so many books with walls between worlds or walls dividing a world. The readers, with their own experience of walls, can easily picture in their minds a story where the wall has as much presence as a character, if not more.
LL: The wall most talked about right now is the Wall of Ice in the Song of Fire and Ice. A wall 300 miles long and 700 feet tall built of magic and ice and keeping out the Wildling and the sinister White Walkers is as atmospheric as it gets.
PS: If you want atmosphere then Garth Nix’s Abhorsen books have the wall between two kingdoms. The Old Kingdom with its magic and the new more mundane one. I love the way the seasons are different on either side of the wall and while there may be a blizzard in the old kingdom side, a summer sun could be shining on the other.
LL: There is something very human about wanting to do something that is forbidden. From there stems the idea of adventure and people’s need for crossing the wall and unravelling the mysteries of the other side.
PS: In Stradust Neil Gaiman has people crossing over to the forbidden and more magical side of the wall, for no reason other than curiosity. But sometimes your fate can be decided from which side you are. Like the falling star lands as a young girl on the magical side but if she falls on the other side of the wall she would just be a meteorite. That wall is very different from the Wall which is a mountain range in the Wall of Night series written by Helen Lowe. We are told that the wall/range is keeping out the deadly and menacing Swarm, the moral enemies of the Derai Alliance.
LL: There is the wall created in the Earthsea Series which is very difficult to explain. Not being a physical wall but being the representation of one, the crossing over happens on a different plane altogether. Initially it was thought that the wall separated the living from the dead but later in the series we find out that it was actually imprisoning the dead and preventing them from moving on.
PS: A much darker wall. Personally, I prefer the wall behind The Leaky Cauldron pub in Harry Potter where if you tap the bricks anticlockwise, it lets you into the wizarding world of Diagon Alley, leaving muggle London behind.
LL: Well, there are many books with barriers between worlds but those are not walls which take over the scenery and therefore don’t have the same presence. Although the purpose of their existence may be the same.
PS: Well, whether magical, menacing or maniacal, walls being what they are, the interest in them is perpetuated by fantasy.