Literature in the Flanaess - Natural Histories
Date: Tue, May 24, 2005
Topic: The Library

Natural histories broadly include those texts that address themselves to herbalism, the cataloging of beasts, hunting techniques, agricultural ways and means or the natural world itself. Most are of an inferior and highly regional sort - the best, or worst, example being The Old Flan Almanac, popular from Ratik to Sunndi. There are, however, more scholarly texts that look at the Flanaess as a whole and provide insights into the natural world that are of universal application and utility. Herein, the greatest of these will be revealed.

Literature in the Flanaess - Natural Histories
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

After histories, specific natural histories are the most commonly encountered sort of book. Whether herbals, bestiaries, hunting tracts or agricultural almanacs, natural histories are too common to be easily catalogued. Every significant area of the Flanaess has produced its share of uniquely local natural history texts. Often, these volumes have no scholarly intent but are instead imminently practical in their outlook. They are working books with a job to do and are judged accordingly.

The grandest, and arguably the greatest, natural history texts look beyond purely local interests and conditions to address the Flanaess as a whole. Unfortunately, this broader scholarship is largely unappreciated by audiences concerned first and foremost with the practicalities of life. Yet, these few larger treatises are influential in drawing together knowledge that can be profitably put to use by even the most provincial of writers. Writings derivative of the great natural histories, or obviously informed by them, are legion.

The druid Hortientous, often called Hortus, is without question the greatest natural historian of the Flanaess. A half-elf of Highfolk, he spent the early part of his life roaming the Flanaess. In his middle age, he set to writing and produced the three greatest of natural histories. Now, in his winter years, he may still be found in Highfolk. If speculations among his fellows are accurate, Hortus is at work on a fourth work, a bestiary that promises to be the most exhaustive of its kind.

Hortientous’ three existent works are discussed below.

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Flanaess
by Hortientous (17 Volumes)
1st Edition - 510 CY
Note - Each volume is devoted to a particular subject matter. As such, complete 1st Editions are unusual as it is more common to find sets composed of a variety of editions.

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Flanaess is the most authoritative and exhaustive discussion of the flora and fauna of the Flanaess that has been yet produced. It is the singularly most respected source for information on all manner of creatures, natural, unnatural, supernatural, infernal or divine. The catalogue of vegetation is no less exhaustive. Hortus also includes discussion of particular environments, ecosystems and microclimates in his text. In its scope and quality of information, Hortus has created a masterwork.

Of particular note is Volume 16 - Non-Terrestrial Invasive Species. Republished less than any other volume, Volume 16 discusses flora and fauna that are not native to Oerth but which are not extra-planar either. Hortus recounts expeditions to the Barrier Peaks that discovered strange creatures of seemingly stranger origins. This volume has created the only real controversy to surround Hortus’ work as his claims of the extra-Oerthly origin of certain species is, at times, hotly debated.

A Field Guide to Flanaen Flora and Fauna
by Hortientous (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 530 CY
Note - The first and second editions are more than four times the size of all subsequent editions and are actually abridgements of the Naturalist’s Guide. Third and later editions are true field guides that are reasonably portable.

The Field Guide could have easily been nothing more than a truncated version of the Naturalist’s Guide and, in fact, the first and second editions are abridgements. With the third edition, however, Hortus heavily annotated the text with specific cross-references to other natural histories. In so doing, the value of the Field Guide was greatly enhanced. Hortus’ own scholarship was paired with the relevant work of other, often regional, experts and sages. The annotations thus provide an invaluable reference tool for further reading or work within the natural history field, as well as immediately obvious practical benefits for the reader.

The collector of Hortus’ work or scholars will wish to possess a first edition Field Guide as well as a third edition, as the editions are significantly distinct from one another. Second editions have, in this process, become more sought after as well as they complete a run of the editions to the third. Condition in all of these cases is an issue as Field Guide, particularly from the third edition forward, have usually seen heavy use by those venturing into the wilderness or underground.

The Grand Herbal
by Hortientous (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 550 CY
Note - A truly mammoth book, The Grand Herbal measures two feet by three and is two feet thick, weighing well over one hundred pounds. Why it was produced in such an unwieldy form is not certain, but copies are accordingly rare. Extracted or abbreviated texts from the The Grand Herbal are common.

The Grand Herbal documents the properties and uses of all manner of plants, from trees to bushes to vines and lichen. If it were not so cumbersome, every healer would wish to possess a copy. As it is, lesser derivative works are possessed by vast numbers of healers. Arcane spellcasters also treasure the text for its utility when compounding potions, as do brewers and vintners when producing their potable concoctions, no less wondrous in their own way. Infamously, The Grand Herbal also has much learning to impart on poisons and their antidotes.

A revised edition of The Grand Herbal that would see the text published in a number of volumes has been long discussed but has yet to produce any tangible result. The author appears oddly ambivalent toward the idea, even though it would make the work easier to use and generally more accessible. Perhaps, the author fears that the knowledge contained in the book is better off less immediately available to those who might abuse it. Some also speculate that certain religious organizations would not welcome any edition that would facilitate easier access to effective, but non-clerical, healing. Doubtless, The Grand Herbal will eventually see a multi-volume revision.

This article comes from Canonfire!

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