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On Culture, Phennish Specifically

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a bit of research on culture. Not just culture in general, but specifically on the cultures of Japan (and a wee bit of the East Asia), Jerusalem, and Hungary. Why such an eclectic mix? Because I wanted to further develop the culture for my own world, and I wanted to mix things up a bit so that I could create something uniquely Phennish. I’m not one of those people who can pull vast and diverse worlds out of my hat ─ I need to take inspiration from the world around me and use them as building blocks, visual aid to give me a better mental picture of the world my characters live in. Especially since this particular story has been a slow-coming project that’s required a great deal more effort than any other story I’ve written before. Which means I’m praying it’ll be a better story than any other I’ve written before, too.

In any event, in researching culture, and figuring out what ‘culture’ actually is, I’ve learned that it is made up of a great heaping mess of different things, all dependent on one thing or another. When you take the landscape of a certain area, the climate, weather, the agricultural and industrial potential, outside influence (like trade and war, relations with neighboring countries), religion, and a bunch of other things that stem from those larger categories, and mash them up, you get a culture unique to that people and place.

My venture into developing Phennish culture began with architecture, I wanted to get a better idea of what the buildings my people built looked like, but looking into structure and design lead to a rabbit trail of other aspects: availability of materials, art vs. practicality, and the very mindset of the people themselves ─ what were they aiming to accomplish?

Which got the juices flowing. I had to ask myself questions like what kind of landscape have I envisioned for the country? What materials are abundantly available? Based off their tumultuous history and current times, what sort of mindset do they have in design and function?

And of course, in looking into the architecture of different cultures, most of the information and images you find are of religious structures, temples and churches and mosques. Wow. The creativity and detail these people put into their holy places is mind boggling. But it proves where their priorities were, where they invested their time and energy. I think it shows how humanity has changed so drastically over the centuries, with how personal houses and places of business have become more and more the center of our focus, with bigger and gander constructions while our places of worship are becoming wraiths of bygone eras barely scraping by and crumbling under neglect. It’s a reflection on the heart of the people.

But anywho, architecture was only one aspect I was looking to delve in to. Being a kitchen enthusiast myself, I wanted to further explore food culture (and since eating is such an important thing for my main character, I thought it natural for him to be more aware and focused on it, which means I have to be more aware and focused on it, too . . . *grins*) But guess what? If you need to figure out what sorts of things people eat, you need to first sort out things like climate and weather and soil constitution and plants and animals. There are a plethora of things that only grow and only live in certain parts of the world because of the certain and specific conditions in which those things will only live and grow. Isn’t God amazing? He’s created such an intricate world.

There’s also the matter of trade to contend with, but I’ve already spoken about that fascinating topic in an earlier post.

But food and architecture are only two pieces to the puzzle. There’re also things like music and art, clothing and fashion, work and leisure activities, government and religion, industry and economy. Everything has a part to play in the development of a culture.

Makes your head hurt a little, doesn’t it?

I know it makes mine.

So, what does that mean for Phen? It means there is a bucket load of behind-the-scenes work to do, things I honestly haven’t thought too much about until now. I also means that I now have a mildly better understanding and image of what life there looks like than when I began this project.

Now, since I’ve already eaten up so much of your time (thanks for sticking with me during my ramblings!) I won’t go into all the why’s and wherefores, but here is a list of some features about Phennish culture:

  • Monotheistic religion
  • Theonomic ecclesiocratic government (took me a while to get my tongue around that!)
  • The landscape is mountainous, riddled with green hills that drape off the eastern slopes of the Black Mountains to the west.
  • They hold two systems of currency, the barter system as well as monies in the form of coin.
  • They are an heavily agricultural state
  • Crops include (but are by no means limited to): wheat, rye, barely, buckwheat, grapes, figs, almonds, hazelnuts, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and sugar beets. Livestock includes cattle, chickens, and in some places sheep. Game hunting provides about half of the meat consumed nationwide.
  • Common architectural features are fieldstone foundations and half-timber and plaster faces. Sloping rooves, upturned eaves, verandas, and sliding doors and windows are also common.
  • The biggest holiday of the year is celebrated in the summer, called Oy’masu Adaschtalah, which translates as ‘Celebration of New Beginnings’, and is much like New Years mixed with the U.S.’s Independence Day.
  • Music and dancing are intrinsic to the identity of the people, reinforcing the sense of community within society. Storytelling runs in a similar vein, keeping alive their history and legendarium, and therefore their roots.
  • Trade has only one route in and out of the country, through a non-aggression pact with the nation of Zedek to the north and west. Imports include oats, glass, and textiles. Exports include wine, dye, and woodcraft.
  • Popular games are those that require a measure of strategy and skill, such as marbles and various card games (fun fact: the Phennish deck is made up of seven suits instead of four). Popular among children are rhyming games and hopsticks.

There is so much more that I could tell you, but if I kept on talking we would be here for hours! My goal is to incorporate these things so naturally into the story and narrative that it will give an honest impression of who these people are, that it’ll make readers feel like they’re in a real place with a real people.

The thing is, you all will have to be judge of how well I’ve managed it! I’m excited to share this story with you, and I know it’s taking a long time to finish ─ thank you for your patience! Everything is growing as we go, and I believe that it is improving with each new development. Everything I learn adds another layer, and by the time we can finally say ‘it’s done’ I’m hoping I’ll also be able to say ‘it’s my best work yet’. As an artist and craftsman it’s my aim to always strive to improve my craft.

Now how about you? Do you find culture a fascinating subject? Which part is your favorite? What books have you read that seemed to have really great worldbuilding? I’d love to hear about them!

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