Literature in the Flanaess: An Introduction
Date: Mon, February 14, 2005
Topic: The Library

The first entry in the Greyhawk Bibliographica series, Literature in the Flanaess: An Introduction, provides an overview of specific cultural literatures of the Flanaess (Flan, Oeridian, Suel and Baklunish) and discusses the essentials of any literature -pens, inks and papers - as well as the basics of illumination.

Greyhawk Bibliographica: Literature in the Flanaess, An Introduction
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author, as this material is copyrighted (2005)


The literary heritage of the Flanaess is almost entirely one of its own devising. Outside of elven and dwarven works, the literary traditions of the Flanaess are not a thousand years old.

The Flan

The earliest human inhabitants of the Flanaess, the Flan, possessed three distinct groups of literary works. However, little in the way of literature has come down to the present time from the Flan.

Oral traditions comprised the bulk of the literature of the northern Flan, being chiefly the Rovers of the Barrens, and the Tenha. Rarely, were these oral histories, stories and myths committed to writing, most notably in Tenh, but then only after much of the Flan had been disturbed or their culture destroyed in the Migrations from the West.

In the south, the Flan early achieved perhaps the highest expression of their culture in old Sulm and its sister kingdoms. Time, however, has done much to diminish a once rich literary tradition. None of the old kingdoms survive and the recovery of literary works from these early periods is fragmented, spotty at best.

Most intriguing among the Flan literary groupings are the “stone builders,” who created Tostenhca and similar sites. Marked by monolithic stone construction and a terraced farming, this Flan group, possessed of an obviously sophisticated culture, has left written records only in the form of rock carvings. To date, no literature as that term is commonly used has been identified from among the surviving carvings.

It is without question that the Flan possessed a rich literature. Unfortunately, little of it has been directly preserved. That which exists substantially waits to be rediscovered.

The Oeridians

At the time of the Migrations, the Oeridians were substantially a pre-literate culture. While possessing significant oral traditions, the Oeridians did not have an alphabet of their own. Instead, they borrowed from both the Suel and the Baklunish, as circumstances dictated. A literate Oeridian understood Suloise or Baklunish.

Nothing during the course of the Migrations prompted the creation of a written form of Oeridian. Yet, this is precisely what occurred. By the time the migrating Oeridians were establishing themselves as nation states, a unique Oeridian alphabet was being used to produce uniquely Oeridian texts. How this exactly happened remains uncertain but there are several surmises that may be made.

There was, in fact, no one spoken form of Oeridian but rather a series of dialects, all more or less mutually comprehensible. It is no surprise, then, to find variant written versions of these dialects when they appear. Certainly, as nation states emerged, the advantages and necessity for writing became apparent and, doubtless, provided a catalyst for the development of written language. The interesting inquiry is what influenced the creation of each of the written forms of Oeridian. Speculation runs from the influence of indigenous Flan cultures that were absorbed, destroyed or displaced, to the adaptation of preexisting religious scripts to secular use, to the influence of demi-human civilizations known to possess high levels of literacy, notably the elves and the dwarves, but not to discount the possibility of halfling influence.

Whatever the precise genesis, Oeridian literacy and literature exploded in the following centuries to a now dominant position in the Flanaess. To speak of modern literature is to speak in the greatest measure of an Oeridian literature.

The Suel

The Suel Imperium, whatever else may be said of it, was literate in the extreme. If the Rain of Colorless Fire had not been as extreme, perhaps more of Suloise literary culture would have survived to influence the Flanaess. Such was not, however, the case.

The Rain of Colorless Fire literally burned away much of Suel literature. As the Suel fled the destruction of their empire, there was a premium on what they could carry with them. Magical and religious texts took great precedence over purely secular literary works of no magical importance. Of the entire body of Suel secular literature, it is estimated that scarcely 5% survived the migration into the Flanaess. Almost the entire body of Suel literature was lost.

The Suel remained, however, a literate people for the most part. Only in the farthest flung areas, with the most extreme and demanding environments, did the need for survival reduce the Suel immigrants to a degenerate shadow of their former sophistication. In more gentle climes, most notably Keoland, Suel culture bounced back with remarkable ease. The subsequent literature of Keoland and other such pockets of Suloise culture in the Flanaess would, however, reflect the reality of life in the Flanaess almost exclusively, with little reference to the old Imperium, in fact, if not in intent.

The Baklunish

The Baklunish culture has the oldest, intact literary tradition of any of the peoples associated with the history of the Flanaess. The Invoked Devastation was not so nearly total in its destruction as the Rain of Colorless Fire. Northern Baklunish successor states have preserved Baklunish literature and tradition virtually intact from pre-Cataclysm times.

Unfortunately, the impact of Baklunish literature on the Flanaess proper has been minimal. The Baklunish did not migrate east in numbers anywhere approaching those of the Suel or Oeridians. Where there were notable exceptions in the northwestern plains, the Baklunish were nomadic and generally less sophisticated than their Near Western counterparts. The Baklunish influence on the literature of the Flanaess has, thus, been comparatively light.

This may, however, be changing. As Zeif begins to exert a greater influence on the states of the Near West, while at the same time Furyondy waxes great as Iuz inevitably declines, there is set to occur a meeting of cultures unlike anything that has occurred since the Migrations. The result of this collision of cultures remains to be seen.

Greyhawk Bibliographica

With this background, Greyhawk Bibliographica will examine the present literature in the Flanaess. Specific works will be discussed within several broad categories and sub-categories – history, philosophy, natural philosophy and secular literature etc.

History writing holds a special place in the literature of the Flanaess. Perhaps because of the drama of the Twin Cataclysms and the subsequent Migrations, it has seemed, at times, as if writers would write of nothing else. Historical writings have thus had the most profound of influences on all of the literature of the Flanaess. Within the broad category of history, the sub-categories of general histories, petit histories and travelogues will be called out for specific treatment.

Of the Written Word

Before beginning a look at specific types of literature and individual works, it is helpful to understand something of both the writing and the book publishing process. One does not simply – write a book. The process is one that sees an original text created by hand, then copied by hand. The handwritten original and handmade copies are then bound as one sort of book or another - by hand. This process is laborious, tedious, time-consuming and expensive. Books are not common but are better understood as being uncommon. The more skillfully and grandly prepared, the more uncommon the volume. The greatest works in richly bound and illuminated detail are rarities and commensurately expensive. The process begins with the most basic of materials.


In the Flaneass, the most common writing instrument is the quill pen. A quill pen can be created from the feathers of almost any type of bird and is nothing more than a sharpened feather, in its essence. Three types of feathers are preferred, however. In order of preference, these are - swan feathers, goose feathers and the feathers of the wild turkey. The feathers of each of these birds possess strong “barrels” that will hold a point without the need for constant sharpening. Swan feathers are preferred because the barrels are both strong and long, providing for a greater ease of use and useful life.

Not just any feather from a swan, goose or turkey will make a serviceable quill, however. Only the first five flight feathers of the wings will make useful quills, for others do not have sufficiently long barrels. The first such feather is the pinion and it makes the least sort of quills. The second and third flight feathers are referred to as “seconds;” these have the longest and strongest barrels and make for the finest quills. Seconds are first in quality. The fourth and fifth flight feathers are named “thirds,” and make the second best sort of quills. Seconds are first, thirds are second and the first is third or last.

The finest quills in the Flanaess are generally believed to come from Nyrond in and around Rel Mord and its university. As almost nowhere else, Rel Mord raises fowl for the production of fine quills. Rel Mord is also acknowledged to be the finest source for quality ink.


Ink is not paint. Paints are generally too thick to be useful with a quill. They require a brush. Ink must flow from the tip or nib of the quill pen, being neither to thick, nor too thin in its consistency.

Most common inks are created from either carbon black or oak galls, with each of which is mixed gum and water to achieve the desired consistency. Carbon black may be had from crushing charcoal or collecting lamp black. Oak galls are the byproduct of the gall wasp laying its eggs in the twigs or leaves of oak trees, resulting in round or hemispherical bulbs or galls. Ink from oak galls may be made brown or black.

The finest inks are, however, made utilizing the “Baklunish method.” In the Baklunish method, various substances (ink recipes are closely held trade secrets) are burned. The smoke from the burning materials is caught or collected using a variety of cloths, another trade secret. The ink is made from the congealed and collected smoke residue, with the addition of gum and water to create the desired consistency. Both the type of the material burned and the cloth used to collect the smoke determine the final quality of the ink that will be had using the Baklunish method.

As noted, the scholars and scribes of Rel Mord in Nyrond enjoy the greatest access to fine inks, for the production of such is a local industry and speciality.

Papyrus, Paper, Parchment and Vellum

Papyrus is earliest know writing medium other than rock and clay. It was used extensively by the early Suel, Baklunish and Flan, but was later replaced as better materials were discovered. Papyrus is the product of the reed or rush - cyperus papyrus or papyrus antiquorum - which grows wild along river banks or which may be cultivated with proper irrigation. The stems of the reeds or rushes are striped of their outer shell, flattened and matted together, then to be pressed or pounded into final sheets suitable for writing. Papyrus is fragile but durable if properly cared for. Today, only mages make extensive use of papyrus; papyrus is the best available material for making scrolls. It, however, makes poor books.

Paper is made of wood pulp or flax byproducts. It is durable, comparatively cheap to produce and easy to use. It is, however, labor and skill intensive, needing a virtual industry to produce cheaply and in mass quantities of any quality. The chief drawback of paper is, however, its inability to contain magical script in a reliable way. Magical scripts written on paper may simply fail or may succeed in holding a dweomer in a random or unexpected fashion. Paper scrolls are dubious and even spell books may fail to properly record spells such that they may be reliably replicated in practice. As such, despite certain advantages, paper does not dominate fine writing materials. In fact, paper is sufficiently out of favor that it may be surprisingly expensive when it is found.

Vellum is the preferred writing material. Vellum is calfskin prepared so that it is not greasy. It is possible to write on both sides of a sheet of vellum and mistakes are easily erased. Vellum is not leather. The process of making vellum is distinct from that used to produce leather. Most books produced in the Flanaess are made using vellum.

Parchment is arguably a finer writing material than vellum. Its look is somewhat richer and more expensive, but it is not really that much more expensive to create, being made from sheep skin. It is, however, not used as much as vellum in producing books. The reason for this is that the correction of errors on parchment is much more difficult; erasure is not clean. Parchment is simply not as easy to use as vellum. Nonetheless, for official proclamations and the like or for the finest books, parchment does see regular use.


Before concluding this first introduction, a word should be said about the illumination of manuscripts. Illuminations are colorings or colored pictures included within a text. They are not commonly produced. An illuminated manuscript is a rarer sort of book, then, that will always be much more expensive, for the process of illumination in materials and time is significant. Nonetheless, the finest books are those that have been illuminated.

Illumination may be of the capital letters (capitals) on each page, of the script itself, of the border, or may encompass an entire page, possibly without text. Reference to full illumination would imagine all of this, for there is something of a hierarchy in how a manuscript is illuminated, beginning with just capitals and becoming, by stages, more elaborate. Each stage will then encompass the features of the preceding stages. Chrysographica, the use of golden lettering or ink, is the grandest expression of the illuminator’s art.

The colors seen in illuminated manuscripts are compounded from a variety of animal, vegetable and mineral extracts. The most versatile extract is that of the common turnsole plant. Turnsole can be processed using acids and alkalies to produce colors of nearly every hue. Colors used in illuminated manuscripts are, however, neither dyes nor inks. They are more akin to paints. The extracts are compounded with clarified egg whites to create the final color compound that is applied separately from the ink strokes.

Because of the ready availability of turnsole and other pigments made from common extracts, there is no one center of illumination in the Flanaess and illumination styles will vary widely. It is possible, nonetheless, to note those centers where a great number of illuminated works have been produced sufficient to speak of a distinct style. Eastfair and Mitrik have produced the most influential, regional styles. Other centers usually partake of something of Eastfair or Mitrick in their own variation, if they are not completely individual.

Authors End Note

This concludes the first introductory portion of Greyhawk Bibliographica. A second introductory piece discussing books and bindings will preface discussion of specific literary types and individual works. The intent is to give to books something more than a notation that one has come upon just - a book - from which some bit of information may be usefully obtained without further qualification. A greater depth of detail will add a good deal of flavor and verisimilitude that might otherwise not be had if all books are just - books.

Each Greyhawk Bibliographica entry, beyond he first two, can stand on its own but all may also be read together. There are no “parts,” per se. Presently, there 17 entries in the Greyhawk Bibliographica series with more in the works. They will be submitted to Canonfire on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until the run is finished and may be further supplemented thereafter.

This article comes from Canonfire!

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