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01 August 2010 @ 09:56 pm
food in fantasy  
when my critique group read Silver Phoenix, they
joked that it should be published with a companion cook
book. when my debut entered the actual reading world,
i often got angry tweets and facebook posts from readers
complaining about how *hungry* they were while reading my novel.

i joke that food is a subplot within Silver Phoenix. haha!

it was never my intention to write so lovingly about food.
it just happened that way. ai ling likes her meals (i mean,
she's walking a lot and fighting demons and stuff and
trying to stay alive, who wouldn't work up an appetite?)
just as i do and it was natural for me to describe these meals.

also, i think food can very much contribute to
world building in a fantasy novel. food is such an important
part of the chinese culture, always bringing to mind time
with family and friends as well as festivities.
i wanted to write a fantasy novel that celebrated food as
much as the chinese culture does.

the following is a food passage from Silver Phoenix:

The midday meal did not disappoint.  The steamed silk-thread
bread was light and slightly sweet. This was paired with cold
spiced lotus roots and bean curd mixed with a savory minced
pork sauce.  She watched the two brothers dig in to the meal,
eating voraciously. Ai Ling wasn't used to competing at the table,
but she filled her small porcelain bowl often, for fear the food
would disappear.

i'm thrilled to have guest foodie interviews from both lisa mantchev and
sherwood smith today. i recently read and enjoyed fantasy novels
by them that also celebrated food!

lisa mantchev says...

1) How or why is food important in fantasy writing?

Food is an essential part of world-building, one of the few basic survival needs on a fundamental level and one of the best ways I can think of to convey setting and time period, style and tone. From the command-issuing "Eat Me" and "Drink Me" viands of Wonderland to the Turkish Delight of Narnia, the details about the food really clue the reader in to the world they've just entered.

2) Please share one (or a favorite) food passage from your own book(s).

From Eyes Like Stars, describing the Green Room where Bertie gets most of her food:

The refreshment selection varied wildly according to the Théâtre's whims, with cucumber sandwiches curling up their crustless edges in mortification one day while the next the table might boast flaming Christmas pudding and treacle roly-poly.

"Come on," Bertie hissed at the boys. "Your behavior can't possibly benefit from a massive intake of sugar, grease, or caffeine right now."

"Says you!" Cobweb protested. "Here! Have a doughnut!"

"Aren't you supposed to be upstairs?" Moth dove head-first into one of the cupcakes.

The horn speaker clicked on, its translucent bell trembling as it announced, "All Players to the stage, please. Repeat, all Players to the stage."

"I'm coming with you guys," Bertie said. "You can't ignore a call, so let's go."

"We shall resist until we have sated our appetites and slaked our thirst!" Mustardseed wriggled down the neck of a tall, glass bottle to guzzle a fizzy orange drink.

"Stay here to stuff your faces, then!" Bertie ducked into the corridor, threaded her way through the Ladies' Chorus, turned a corner, and set off down the empty hallway at a half-run.

"Why are we going this way?" Moth licked the frosting off his arms as he caught up.

"I have to find another way in," Bertie said. "The Stage Manager's sure to be standing guard at the other door, but he won't think to check the catwalks."

"Hey, Mustardseed took a bag of jelly beans!" Cobweb whined, far less concerned about access to the stage than stolen snacks.

"You can have the black one."

"But I wanted the red one!"

A muffled noise, then, "Now it's up my nose. Still want it?" followed by a very sulky "No!"

3) Do any other fantasy books come to mind when it comes to food descriptions?

The aforementioned Alice, with its Mad Tea Party and tart-making queen is an old favorite. Less well know, I am certain, is a scene in Julie (Andrews) Edwards The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles in which the children take a ride upon the Jolly Boat, which has an ice cream sundae contraption like a giant pipe organ and delivers your order with fanfare and trumpets. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, of course, with its chocolate waterfall... the abundance of that scene after being told Charlie eats only a tiny scraping of his birthday chocolate bar every day so as to make it last until next year is particularly poignant. And the scene in Mary Poppins (which I am reading now with my daughter) that Mary and Bert have jam cakes and tea on her Day Off brings us back to the idea of Victorian Tea Time. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention your own Silver Phoenix, which gave me terrible cravings for dumplings at eleven o'clock at night! ☺

sherwood smith says:

1. how or why is food important in fantasy writing?

Food is important! We can't get through a day without food, and neither can our characters if we want readers to believe in them. Characters with specific likes and dislikes--happy or sad or tense meals--these things contribute to my experience of a book when I am reading. I try to build that same experience when I'm writing. Also, getting specific about foods makes the world seem a bit more real. The more generic we get about food (or anything) the more like a Hollywood backdrop the world will seem.

2. please share one (or a favorite) food passage from
your own book(s).

Clang-whizz-splat. The front rank of tray-carriers jerked, and flung their pies straight at the startled guards. The pies burst against their heads and bod­ies, transforming them into wildly capering man-shaped piles of green goo. The Dol’jharians howled, dropping their weapons and wiping at their eyes; evidently something in the pie mix stung and burned. . .

Outside the kitchen, someone shouted commands. As Lokri followed the others toward the mechwaiters’ access, both doors blew open with a roar.

Guards in bulky battle armor thundered in, their servos whining loudly. The little tray-carriers facing the doors fired a salvo of pies as nozzled drink dispensers hosed the floor with a thick, curdled-looking grayish fluid that smelled of spoiled cake batter.

The pies had no effect on the guards’ momentum, but the slimy goop covered their helmets and effectively blinded them, while the slippery grayish fluid made it impossible for them to stop. Lokri was last; he risked a glance back as with majestic inevitability, the two squads collided with a tremendous crash, like vast beasts helpless in the throes of lust.

3. do any other fantasy books come to mind when it
comes to food descriptions?

Actually, the first book that came to mind was SILVER PHOENIX. The food descriptions in that book were such a joy. But it's difficult to select just one scene, because there is such a contrast--the elaborate fanfaronade of the horrible wedding feast contrasted with the simplicity of the later midday meal that was just fresh steamed fish, but we know that the meal has a little more importance than every day because it's usually served during New Year's. Enchanted meals with magic . . . enchanting meals with three lovely characters having a good time with one another . . . the meals enhance the sensory experience of the book as well as signaling emotional clues. Social and cultural clues as well.


what about you?

as a writer, how do use or incorporate
food in your stories? as a reader, do you
notice food in fantasy reading? what books
come to mind?
Current Mood: peckish
(Anonymous) on August 2nd, 2010 07:09 am (UTC)
Heehee! I hadn't thought about this, but it's so true that some writers just make you hungry.

Reading the Redwall books by Brian Jacques always makes my stomach growl. That food sounds so good!

Miriam Forster
Dancing with Dragons is Hard on your Shoes (http://www.msforster.blogspot.com/)
sixcylinders on August 2nd, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, Redwall! I came in here to suggest those. They're food-porn-tastic.

As I tend to be in my writing. I'm a foodie, and find it hard to avoid. In fact, in my most recent MS I was writing a dual POV and had to try to control myself when writing a character who wasn't a foodie. Luckily, the other character was a seventeen-year-old boy, and hungry all the time. I indulged myself from his viewpoint!
wackyweasel: Snapewackyweasel on April 1st, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
I read an interview with Jacques once that said when he was a kid, his family didn't always have much food, and he would read his mom's cookbooks and just imagine getting to eat the things inside.

Also, you know he wrote a Redwall cookbook, right?
Glaizaanimewave on August 2nd, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
Lol practically all my favourite fantasy books have food in them - I thought I was weird for noticing the food in books but it helps the place seem so real like in Harry Potter (butterbeer sounds like the most appetizing thing ever), Poison Study and the Obernewtyn Chronicles.
Jenny Gordonjennygordon on August 2nd, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)
I completely agree, and someone who writes beautifully about food in a book where it's crucial to both character and setting building is Patricia McKillip in 'The Book of Atrix Wolfe'.
katecoombs on August 2nd, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
Cindy, Lisa, and Sherwood, this was great--thanks! Yes, that infamous Turkish Delight... And since I recently read the book with Sherwood Smith's pie fight, I enjoyed seeing it pop up here.

As for my own writing, ever since I read the entry for "Stew" in Diana Wynne Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland, I've been a lot more careful about creating menus for my characters!
readwriterockreadwriterock on August 2nd, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
I think my favorite food-related scene in recent memory is the candy shop scene in Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver. I thought it had such wonderful sensory detail, as well as providing excellent character development. Plus, it just gave me warm fuzzies :)

storyboarder on August 2nd, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Mmmm Silver Phoenix cookbook would be tasty
ellen_ohellen_oh on August 2nd, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
Suddenly, I'm hungry again.

You know I'm one of those weirdos that buys cookbooks to read, not to cook from. So it is only natural that food in books makes me happy. I think one of my favorite books with food is Like WAter for chocolate. That quail with rose petals just sounded amazing.

Must now go and eat something savory.
ctrichmondctrichmond on August 2nd, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
Mmmmm, this post makes me hungry! :o)

I read Silver Phoenix about a year ago and I still remember many of its yummy food descriptions. It made me miss my grandma's food!

I think food can play such an important role in fantasy (and sometimes science fiction!) because it helps ground the reader into the world. It's a common connection that bridges the gap between their world and ours.
A Deserving Porcupinerockinlibrarian on August 2nd, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
I think food can play such an important role in fantasy (and sometimes science fiction!) because it helps ground the reader into the world. It's a common connection that bridges the gap between their world and ours.

I agree! Especially in science fiction, because that was something that always bugged me about "futuristic" stories that showed people eating, like, dehydrated food or vitamin-rich paste or subsiding on pills. I always thought, "what, people are going to stop ENJOYING food in the future?! I don't want to live in the future, then!" The sensory experience of eating, smelling, seeing food really helps you FEEL a story.
ctrichmondctrichmond on August 3rd, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
Haha, this is so true! I completely agree!

Why is it that fantasy novels have so many tasty descriptions of yummy food but sci-fi novels have...dehydrated nastiness? (Except for space ice cream. I LOVE space ice cream!)

If people are going to invent light-speed spaceships and transporters in the future, then they'll surely invent awesome new food techniques as well!

Hmm, I need to add some delicious culinary descriptions to my MG science fiction novel now...
asakiyumeasakiyume on August 3rd, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
What a great post idea. Miriam Forster and sixcylinders might be interested to know that there is in fact a Redwall cookbook! It's vegetarian, and my kids love recipes from it.

I remember liking the food descriptions in the Narnia books--and in Sherwood Smith's books. I want to read Silver Phoenix for a number of reasons--now I'll have to add food to the list of reasons :-)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on August 3rd, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
Oh I think you would love it!
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Sherwood Smithsartorias on August 3rd, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)

The first time I ever noticed food descriptions in books was when I read Narnia, and how delicious Turkish delight sounded. I remember that others had noticed the same thing, and when someone brought some to a Mythopoeic society meeting in 1970, how disappointing I was to discover it was marzipan, which I loathe. (Since then I've found out there are actually many types of "turkish delight.")
Leah_Cypessleah_cypess on August 3rd, 2010 01:20 am (UTC)
Awesome post - and so cool that you included these 2 interviews! I myself am not a foodie, so often these things pass me by... but I definitely noticed the food descriptions in Silver Phoenix (um, who could miss them?) and I think they were an important element in giving a vivid feel for your world.
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Leah_Cypessleah_cypess on August 3rd, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
That's right, I'm not a foodie AND I don't like Luke. It's a good thing we live on different coasts!
There is food in my novels, but it rarely gets more than a sentence of description.
*begins weight lifting regimen*
Madison: prrrrt?kadharonon on August 3rd, 2010 12:11 pm (UTC)
I'm rereading the Harry Potter books, and just finished the first one last night... and, well, I don't remember if it continues into the later books, but food features really prominently in the first book. From Harry having a really good day at the zoo with the Dursleys (up until the snake incident) because he got to eat what was left of Dudley's Knickerbocker Glory, to magical candies like Chocolate Frogs and Bert's Every-Flavoured Beans, to the scenes of abundance at Hogwarts feasts that are so different from the way Harry eats in the Dursley home... It is full of food. Rather generic, feast-type food in most cases, and not described in huge amounts of detail like a Redwall feast might be, but with little indications of weird things, like peppermint humbugs appearing as a dish alongside the main course part of the meal.

Now, the food and feasts in the Redwall books... described in loving detail, those were, from preparation to table. But they did get a bit rote after, say, the 10th or 11th book. "Okay, yes, now they feast, thousands of pasties with golden-brown crusts filled with vegetables and delicious gravy, blah blah blah..."
lauramc on August 3rd, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
...I just posted an entry on this: http://lauramc.livejournal.com/49024.html

I was thinking about it, because I think "stew" is over-represented in fantasy. I'm not pointing any fingers, because I'm guilty of feeding my poor characters stew.
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Thanate Salamandrathanate on August 3rd, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
I read Greer Gilman's Moonwise at the beginning of last summer, and spent the entire summer making stews because of it. There's a great deal of food described in it, all of which is very simple and English Country, and there's a lot of making do with things that are a bit past their peak, or finding that the only food in the house is barely edible, which I found fascinating.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on August 7th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
Sorry I'm late chiming in! Been out of town, but I loved this post! You know, I didn't even realize until I read it how much I do use food in my own manuscripts? Funny how sometimes those things are subconscious. Great interview!
jules_dominguez on August 10th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks Cindy, Lisa and Sherwood...I remember all those wonderful food descriptions when I read SILVER PHOENIX last year...totally agree there should be a companion cookbook to SP and its sequel, Cindy! H'm...wouldn't it be fun to go to a restaurant and be able to sample foods that were in all these foodie books?
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C. Lee McKenziesealy38 on September 13th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Yum!
lisagailgreen sent me after she read my post about pairing food with reading and writing.

I'm linking to this with my next post. It's perfect.