X is for Xanadu

Xanadu is not, properly speaking, epic fantasy. Xanadu is the Mongolian name for the summer capital of the Yuan Dynasty, Shangdu. However, the name has passed into Western culture filled with overtones of a more magical place. From its first descriptions by Marco Polo to the famous poem “Kubla Khan” by Coleridge to its use in music, movies, and astronomy, the word and the place have captured our collective imaginations.

Marco Polo wrote of a marble palace and a cane palace (covered in gilt), of gyrfalcons and hawks. Toghon Temur Khan lamented its lost to China. Coleridge described its setting:

But O, that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced;
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reach’d the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

Who can deny that sounds epic? Sacred river, prophesies, demons . . .

This is my goal with epics — to write something that takes on a life of its own, that grows. Even if that is out of reach, though, I can hope to incorporate this sense of history and interpretation of places and people of the past in what I write, to make it come alive. And maybe someday, I’ll create a place based on Xanadu, or some interpretation of it.

What places, real or imagined, inspire you?

This is a post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. My theme is epic fantasy, and blog posts will cover authors, books, tropes, themes, or anything else I can think of to fill the alphabet. Check out some of the other bloggers participating or follow my blog by e-mail if you like what you’ve read.

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  1. It would be thrilling to create a place as magical as Xanadu, a place that consumes the imagination of the reader, and grows into a wondrous place without end. My dream exactly!

  2. I remember that word from Olivia Newton John 😀

    Happy A to Z-ing!

  3. I love this line: This is my goal with epics — to write something that takes on a life of its own, that grows. I aspire to do this with my memoir and picture book manuscripts. A writer can dream, can’t she?

    • Absolutely — if we couldn’t dream, we probably wouldn’t be writers! Thanks for stopping by and commenting (and for the Twitter follow)!

  4. Ah, Xanadu, the Eastern version of El Dorado! That poem is certainly an epic one. Places that hold that type of mystique for me that I’ve actually been to are: Highway #1 from San Fran to Fort Bragg, The Grand Teton Park in Wyoming, Beijing and the Great Wall.
    Places that I still want to go to: Kabul, Istanbul, Tashkent and Astana in Kazahkstan.

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