Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.

January20th

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After a recent trip to the chemist I’ve become convinced that the pharmaceutical industry has hundreds of Fantasy writers working for it.

I’m not sure if this has been a deliberate policy of recruiting down-at-heel Fantasy writers whose last trilogy was cut short after Book 2 or if hordes of canny Fantasy writers have seen an opportunity to ply their craft in an area of untold riches, but there is little doubt that the language of Fantasy is everywhere you look in over-the-counter medications.

What I’m talking about is the names of these preparations. Some might think that these names are nicely sciencey, but to the veteran Fantasy reader the effect is entirely different. Running an eye along the shelves, one is immediately transported to far off, mystical realms where larger-than-life characters wield powers far beyond mortal ken and converse in eldritch tones while consulting ancient scrolls that speak of doom and great deeds.

Consider Zantac, for instance. It may be the name of a useful anti-heartburn medication, but it could equally be the name of a sorcerer of great power, but one with a fatal weakness that will turn him to dark and malignant plotting.

Voltaren is a handy cream for bruises and muscle pain, but it sounds as if it could be the name of Zantac’s mortal enemy, a venerable mage of great power who is troubled by actions in his past that were prophesied by a wise woman of whom he took insufficient notice, the fool.

Once started in this mode, it’s easy to detect the hand of the Fantasy writer. Below, I’ve listed some pharmaceutical items the names of which would be perfectly at home in a major fantasy series. See what you think.

  • Allerfexo. A bard, and possible comic relief. Known for his ribald versification, and is likely to have his head cut off after offending some noble or other.
  • Mylanta. Possibly a place name, a far-off land of beauty and many lakes, ruled by a queen who is both just and fair.
  • Gaviscon. Rugged, but internally tortured, main character. Stolid, taciturn, loyal. Not dull, though.
  • Flixonase. Companion to the rugged, but internally tortured, main character. Humorous. Possibly plays the flute. Borderline annoying.
  • Hirudoid. A warrior tribe in a distant land – ‘the fierce and unrelenting Hirudoid’.
  • Claratyne. Another place name, possibly in the mountains and featuring many towers. ‘To see the spires of Claratyne is to see the heights of creation.’
  • Telfast. An innkeeper. Wears an apron. Fat.
  • Lamisil. A sorceress of formidable power, the dread Lady Lamisil. She has a notable laugh that probably drives men mad.
  • Finalgon. A lesser wizard. Appears once in the story and then is never heard of again.
  • Zovirax. Evil. Wizard, warrior, doesn’t matter – is simply evil. Bound to be, with a Z and an X in his/her name.
  • Vosol. A soldier. Brave, loyal, accompanies the main character into dangerous territory and dies for his trouble.
  • Alcon. Possibly a city – ‘brawling, bustling, breathtaking Alcon’. Possibly a thief – ‘nimble-fingered Alcon, to whom no lock is barred. Possibly a river – ‘swift and deep the mighty Alcon ran, league to league, through forest and mountain, from the plains to the sea, unmatched in its breadth and wetness’.
  • Savlon. A city. Not a very interesting one.
  • Coloxyl. A villainous duke. Oily, ingratiating, sinister, and sports a sensational goatee.
  • Dulcolax. Another villainous duke? Not as villainous as Coloxyl. Good with money, though.
  • Sorbolene. ‘Ah, Sorbolene, fair Sorbolene, the fey and star-eyed elven queen!/She makes this world both kind and clean, does hygienic Sorbolene!’ Or similar.
  • Imodium. Another city, most likely with a fortress that will be besieged by the ravening hordes of evil. Has impressive walls.
  • Combantrin. The dark and doom-wracked warrior overlord, Combantrin both stalks his fate and fears it. Whatever that means.

See what I mean? Over-the-counter medications abound with names that could have been ripped straight from the pages of Fantasy novels. The alternative explanation is, as I’ve suggested, that Fantasy writers have found a neat sideline, a way to make some bread-and-butter money through their stock in trade – inventing names. Is it any wonder that wandering around today’s chemist is like entering a grand, epic, sweeping tale of good versus evil, where fast magics are unleashed and brave goatherds are revealed to be the rightful heir to the throne after his or her courageous and self-sacrificing deeds.

Thank you Big Pharma.

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