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19 February 2024 •   

The readers' architecture

Is architecture in the fantasy world a background element or a protagonist?

As an avid reader of fantasy books (and also romantasy), I have often wondered about this. The fantasy genre, in particular, has many sub-genres based on themes and atmosphere. Analysis of fantasy as a literary genre began in the 1970s, with a focus on form, psychology, and socio-cultural components.

In this case, I propose to share an architectural analysis of the story with you.

Have you ever experienced a moment's greatness due to its context? This can be the case in the cinema, where music and images are at the height of their evocative power. It can happen in our minds when reading, igniting imagination.

Imaginary dimension

The Encyclopaedia Treccani states that “the imaginary dimension reclaims territories it had previously abandoned”[...] The narrative takes place in this direction.  Even in realistic settings, there is a fantasy component. How is this possible? Do you remember how to enter the Ministry of Magic in London? It is usually banal but also magical, bizarre, and fantastic.

Today I would like to focus on something more 'visible' and offer you a short passage from Lord of the Rings.

“[...]The Hobbits believed that their first dwellings were the caves, which they still preferred. However, as time passed, they had to move elsewhere. They called these long tunnels 'smials'. Since smials could not be made everywhere in the plains and hollows, the Hobbits were forced to build above ground. Now, buildings of wood, stone or brick stand even on the hills and in ancient villages like Hobbiton or Tuckborough, or in the county seat, Michel Delving.[...] The Hobbits gave their own character to the art of building, which they had learned from the Elves and Men. They did not want any towers, and their houses were all low, long, and comfortable. The oldest type was an imitation of the smial, with thatched roofs, dry grass or moss, and slightly curved walls. Hobbit architecture's only remaining peculiarity was the circular shape of the windows and doors. Houses and caves in the Shire were large and inhabited by large families..[...]

Prologue - About the Hobbits
Italian edition by Quirino Principe
Introduction by Elémire Zolla
Printed June 2000

What are you imagining?

Discussing LOTR (Lord Of The Rings) should not be underestimated. A universe has taken shape within these pages. Written in the 1950s (recent isn't it?) it is considered the best-known example of High Fantasy. This subgenre of fantasy is characterized by a meticulous setting based on both atavistic legends and entirely imaginary elements.

It is enough to read a part of the prologue to enter the world of the book. We are not even in the narrated story when some of the characters drawn resemble the context in which they live.

Who are the Hobbits? Oh, simple creatures, as you can see from their architecture. They have learnt to build from the Elves, but have adapted it to their own unpretentious needs, retaining only one particular character. And here we know we have answered the initial question: architecture is background or protagonist? Here, undoubtedly the protagonist. 

As soon as we read the first words of The Fellowship of the Ring (the first book in the trilogy, ed.), we meet the Hobbits and know everything. Playful, simple, dedicated to community = comfortable architecture, organic materials, welcoming spaces. I can already see an inspiration board in your head. And did someone say cottagecore?

Are setting and story always linked in LOTR? What happens when the protagonists move? How are the other places in the book described?

If you are looking for gentle fantasy inspiration for your space, let me know which books you are thinking of. For a chat in front of the fire or to turn projects into reality, you can find me here.

In the meantime, try to answer this question: Why do we often think of fantasy architecture as Gothic?


The Shire, by Howard Shore - LOTR - The Fellowship of the RIng OST
You Finish His Work, by Theodore Shapiro - Secret Life of Walter Mitty OST
Life’s Incredible Again, Michael Giacchino - The Incredibles OST

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I am Lisa, architect, fantasy addicted and short story writer. Together we'll create a place to live at your own speed, where you can gather with your loved ones and write your own story.

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I am Lisa, architect, fantasy addicted and short story writer. Together we'll create a place to live at your own speed, where you can gather with your loved ones and write your own story.

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