January 17, 2016
Hobbits are the quintessential homebodies. So it is no wonder that Professor Tolkien’s literary masterpiece includes one of the few examples in speculative fiction of a lovingly detailed home. Bag End is so finely realized that most of us would love to live there. That makes it a rarity. Homes in speculative fiction are usually jumping off points, or places characters are pleased to leave, or destroyed in order to compel the characters to leave. Homes are seldom longed for, or if they are, we take the character’s word for it, instead of vicariously experiencing that longing ourselves as we do with the Baggins’ cozy hole in the ground.
This is understandable, of course. Adventures take place out there, not at home. One of the milestones of player character development in Dungeons and Dragons is the ability to build a castle, or abbey, or what have you upon reaching “name” level. Players would start saving money upon nearing the needed level in order to pay for construction. They’d draft architectural drawings and floor plans. But I don’t recall that after that the player character’s stronghold ever got much use. It was a base of operations, same as the inn nearest the dungeon, a place to leave behind to get to the adventure. It is no different in speculative fiction stories, which tend toward adventure fiction instead of slice-of-life domestic drama. So why bother expending much ink describing the place?
I can think of a few others in addition to Bag End. The wizard Prospero’s home in The Face in the Frost is nicely delineated and it serves as an important setting in the story. I could empathize with Prospero’s desire to get home. Then there is Serenity, but I suppose it could be considered cheating when you can take your home with you on your adventures.
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser seldom have a fixed abode, until the last collection. The rented apartments don’t exert much pull on the heartstrings, and taverns don’t really count as home. Sorry Cheers (and the Cheerful Tortoise — shout out to my college fraternity brothers.) Garrett, from Glen Cook’s novels does have a minutely detailed home. That could be an example. But the Garrett books are very much an homage to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, so I’m not sure Garrett’s house truly counts in the speculative fiction tally.
Can anyone think of some other examples? Or do we leave Bag End as the happy beau ideal?