Winter Is Coming: But What About Other Seasons?

A while ago on Fantasy Faction I attempted to answer the question: is winter in fantasy always evil? The conclusion I came to, in short, was no – but its arrival is almost always a double-edged sword: sometimes beautiful and enchanting, sometimes dangerous and sinister. An unnaturally cold or prolonged winter in particular signals dark forces at work, and the season does seem to spawn more fictional evil than any other (prime examples being A Game of Thrones and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). This makes sense, given the challenges winters have long presented for humankind, particularly in medieval Europe, which inspires many fantasy settings.

So I expressed my doubts as to whether the phrase “summer is coming” could ever strike fear or foreboding into the hearts of fantasy readers. But this got me thinking… wouldn’t it be interesting to see a focus on other seasons running rampant, instilling fear, or being manipulated in a fantasy world?

Other Potentially Perilous Seasons

It’s hard to imagine transitional, mild seasons like autumn or spring being particularly malicious if intensified or extended, but if you look to tropical or subtropical zones of the earth for inspiration, you expand your array of possible seasons. Many of my examples are going to be Australian because that’s what I know, but I’m sure there are examples from other countries too:

Summer

Soaring temperatures, heat waves, baking sun… there are places in the world where temperatures get so high in summer it’s dangerous to spend too long outside (Dubai is one example that comes to mind). What if those summers were prolonged? Hotter? With our world warming it’s sadly not an entirely fantastical concept.

The Dry Season

Some regions have a season marked by little or no rainfall… and it’s hardly difficult to imagine the devastating effects the prolonging of such a season would have on life and crops. Dry conditions could cause famine and water shortages, and make the outbreak of fire more likely.

Fire Season

There are seasons when fire is likely to rage across the land. In Australia, some local plants adapted to cope and thrive, but fires can still be devastating, especially for humans, animals and property. Indigenous Australians traditionally performed burn-offs to promote new growth and prevent large fires, and still manage some landscapes this way.

The Wet Season ( Storm Season / Monsoon )

Storms, hurricanes, lightning, flooding, thriving parasites, mouldy food, maddening humidity… a prolonged or intense wet season could present many perils. In Northern Australia the period of pre-monsoonal build up inspires the local phrase ‘mango madness’ (it’s the time of year when mangoes are harvested) because temperatures soar, clouds hang overhead and humidity peaks, but rain doesn’t always arrive to break the tension, a combination which can affect people’s mental health.

Getting Inventive

This is fantasy, after all, so who says there have to be four seasons? In a fantasy world seasons might be different to those in the real world, or the locals might describe them differently. To use another real-world example, in Kakadu National Park the traditional owners divide the year into six seasons. Maybe in another world there are seasons marked by high winds, dust storms, migrating beasts or magical weather phenomena.

Do Other Seasons Ever Steal the Limelight?

So are there fantasy stories where other seasons have been given the same focus, the same malice, the same ominous portent as winter?

Sure, there are fantasies where characters struggle through deserts or firey volcanic wastelands, but these are often permanently hostile places. I’m talking about actual seasons that are prolonged, or intensified, or feared, or personified. I’m talking about a changing of weather patterns that prompts characters to take action, or signals that all is not well when an otherwise ‘normal’ landscape is plunged into an extreme by an overlong, unnatural or bitter season.

I did find a few that fit to some degree:

Examples

Book Cover: The Autumn CastleIn Kim Wilkins’s The Autumn Castle, passage between the real world and the faery world becomes possible when the seasons of the two worlds align, and it’s on an alignment of two autumns that the story takes place. This alignment happens rarely, so for the first time in many years characters are able to travel back and forth. While autumn is not a sinister force in the story, it does enrich the mood and setting, and also creates time pressure, since characters will end up stuck in one world or the other when the season ends, and have to decide in which world, and with which people, they want to live.

Book Cover: The Way of KingsIn Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archives the world is plagued by violent ‘highstorms’ that sweep through from east to west, and follow a complex pattern only skilled stormwardens can predict. While not like traditional seasons, these storms are regular, violent occurrences that seriously affect life and follow certain patterns. The Mistborn series also suggests a world with prolonged weather disruption caused by evil forces, with ash blocking sunlight and mysterious mists forcing people to periodically stay indoors, though the seasonal element is less obvious.

Image: The Broken EyeI’ve encountered the phenomenon of magical storms in several series: Lightbringer (where an imbalance of magic creates violent storms),  Bitterbynde (where ‘unstorms’ or ‘shang’ sweep through and feed on psychic energy, replaying chaotic ghost images of emotional or traumatic moments imprinted in past storms) and The Old Kingdom / Abhorsen (where winds blowing from a magical kingdom stop technology from working in a non-magical one). All these storms weren’t seasonal as far as I can remember, but were a marker of things being out of balance, or of magic running rife in the world.

Book Cover: The Colour of Magic

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels also have some interesting seasonal goings-on, given the world’s flat disc shape and rotation, with each year having two summers and two winters. Ankh-Morkpork is a decidedly unpleasant place to be any time of the year, but particularly in summer, when the heat and stench is a its highest. I can’t, however, think of any Discworld novels where a season other than winter plays a prominent evil role, but I haven’t read the whole series so I might be wrong.

In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, the Dark One does seem to be able to cause extreme weather patterns, including a long winter but also extreme heat. Again, I haven’t read the whole series so can’t say if a particular ‘season’ stands out.

Obviously some sci-fi series, like Dune, focus on planets with interesting seasons and weather patterns, and the repeating 12 hour pattern in Catching Fire present some interesting man-made ‘seasons’, but I’m trying to keep the focus on fantasy here.

Room for More

There are some good examples out there, but I think there’s room for more. Fantasy villains have long made use of winter, whether by harnessing its power, locking worlds into it, or simply taking advantage of it… so maybe it’s time for a few other seasons to take centre stage. Don’t get me wrong, I love tales of beautiful and perilous winters, so I wouldn’t want people to stop writing them… but there are other seasons that could also provide ominous or intriguing scenarios and enrich fantasy worlds.

  • Could a fantasy character worry not about the passes being snowed over for their journey, but about the yearly flood waters blocking the roads, or the raging fires that sweep through every cycle?
  • Could characters not fear the approaching cold, but instead the blistering heat of a near-intolerable summer looming on the horizon?
  • Could there be more than four seasons, or seasons we’ve never heard of?

There are probably some great examples of storytellers who have already done these things, and I’ve missed them simply because I haven’t read or seen them, so feel free to mention these in the comments if you know any.

On the whole, however, I still feel like the genre would benefit from a little more creativity when it comes to seasons… if anything, to see what new ideas, stories, and worlds a different approach might generate.

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32 thoughts on “Winter Is Coming: But What About Other Seasons?

  1. I think it’d be interesting to characterize an ‘evil’ Spring by its unnatural fecundity.

    Sure, at first it seems great- the trees are dripping with ripe fruit, the hen houses have more eggs than you know what to do with, the sheep are gestating so quickly that lamb prices plummet, etc.

    But then things start to get crowded. Overrun. The air fills with so much seed and fruit that you can barely walk through the fly-choked swamps of rotted fruit. The animals get worn out from their constant husbandry but they don’t really understand how to stop and there’s too many of them for mankind to stop. Buildings, streets and infrastructure creep over with vines and soon humanity is fighting just to make a dent in nature.

    Mingle this with a setting where nature spirits like dryads and nymphs are active and soon you’ve got a real problem looming for everyone’s favorite band of tool-using apes.

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    • It’s been a long time since I read the series, but I think something like that hyper-Spring happened in one of Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covanant books.

      Something similar is implied about the Summer Court of Fairy in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, especially in the book Summer Knight. Admittedly, Winter is still the prime Court for a season to be feared, but Winter actually has non-evil reasons (callous, yes, but not always malignant).

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      • Ah yes, I haven’t read the Thomas Covenant books or all of the Dresden Files yet, but actually now you mention it I think I have also encountered fairy courts or fae-inspired realms in other stories that had some hyper-spring going on… ie sickly sweet ripe fruit, wild forests and overflowing feasts where if you ate anything you would be trapped there forever. Nowhere near the fertile chaos described by Nimrod, but a similar idea.

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  2. I’ve never seen other seasons play too big a role in fantasies either… Usually, they are only present in dystopias. For some reason: winter = fantasy, scorching/dry wastelands = dystopia/sci-fi hahaha
    I think the coming up with more and different seasons would be awesome! There is some really inventive stuff in fantasy, but rarely do authors touch that particular component.
    I don’t have a problem with that trope at all and find winter is such a romantic setting, but I’m always open for new things.
    Thank you for the list! I’ll be sure to check those books out 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah yes true, dystopias do tend to have a lot of deserts and destroyed wastelands! Makes sense I guess 🙂 And yeah winter settings are really romantic, probably even a favourite for me if done well… but it’d be nice to see some new things too 🙂 Hope you enjoy the books if you read them!

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  3. Great topic! I don’t often use seasons or weather as a plot obstacle. The couple times I did, it was winter. There’s just something intimidating about blizzards and bitter cold. Usually I write in either spring or fall, where the weather is at its best and least distracting. I do think you need to have a reason to add harsh seasonal conditions to your work, otherwise it will be distracting. But this discussion has got me thinking about other dangerous bits of weather that could be used for plot reasons. Monsoon floods would be interesting to write about, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yes true there does need to be a good reason to add harsh conditions, they are often catalysts for plot events. And there is something innately intimidating and impressive about winter, even a bit magical… but monsoon floods and pouring rains could be perilous and interesting to write about too. That hadn’t actually occurred to me till I wrote this post, since harsh to me always equalled sweltering desert or freezing winter.

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      • Both of the times I wrote about winter, it was with a whitewash blizzard that slowed the protagonist’s progress. It was a physical barrier, and I could see a flood or rainstorm doing the same thing. I’ll have to keep this idea in the back of my head.

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  4. This is right up my alley lately. I was thinking of writing something in which there are four regions of a fantasy world and each region is a season permanently, or at least the majority of the year. I’ve been playing around with the idea that each region is one season predominantly and perhaps they have the other seasons in very short intervals. ( Because who wouldn’t want to live in a land where it’s always autumn?!) The occupants of each region are under a tense peace, until something happens that shakes up the natural order of things. Thank you for giving the examples above! I have been curious as to what is out there with any kind of similar premise. Time to get reading and researching!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an intriguing idea – I’m glad this helped you find examples of kind of similar premises! Btw I think the A Court of Thorns & Roses series might have something similar too with the regions of the summer and winter fairy courts (not sure if it had autumn and spring too…) but I haven’t read beyond the first book so can’t say much more about it unfortunately.

      I’d definitely be keen on a permanent autumn! 🙂

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  5. This post just makes me think of NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season — I agree with you that seasons, or other ecological shifts, should be more prominent in fantasy. I would love to see how the world itself can become more of a character through exploring this too. I’m sure there some sort of science fiction somewhere where the planet is a character– but can’t we do that with fantasy?

    Great post! It gives me a ton to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah sadly I haven’t read that one – only the first book in her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series. I think seasons do give a slight sense of the world being more of a character with a changing nature, if only a bit. I’m sure I’ve read some books where fairy realms have a more sentient, active nature… but never a whole world being an actual character I don’t think. Would be interesting!

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      • I’ll echo the recommendation for Fifth Season. They say there are no new ideas, but the nature of the fifth season seemed novel to me. But even when limited to four seasons, I agree that seasonal weather, as opposed to storms and such events, seems to be under-utilized as a source of conflict. I’m a big fan of your “Uncharted Territory” posts.

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  6. ooh what a wonderful topic and something I hadn’t thought of before!! And yes I do think that summer in fantasies could be equally threatening. Totally agree that there don’t just have to be 4 seasons as well! That world building in Autumn Castle sounds fascinating. And I did like how Sanderson used weather in Mistborn, though I’ve not had the chance to read the Lightbringer series (sounds great too) hehe yes I agree that Ankh Morkpork doesn’t sound too pleasant in the heat 😉 such an interesting and different post!

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    • Thanks! I hadn’t thought much about the topic either till I started writing this, so it was fun to take a closer look and be reminded of all the different kinds of seasons out there and how they could be used. And yes I really enjoyed the world building in the Autumn Castle – it also had a truly chilling, twisted villain who I will never forget – he made my skin crawl!! Hehe yeah, I wouldn’t want to be in Ankh Morpork at any time of year, but especially not in summer 🙂

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  7. I read a Russian novel before where every autumn, it rained with sort of acid in some regions. That rain killed everything related to sentient creatures, while the wild nature didn’t suffer. So all buildings in those areas had stone roofs because only they could resist the rain (but I don’t remember how people moved between them). When I read it, I didn’t quite get what was found out in result, but now I’ve googled and it says a mage had created that rain in fact and enjoyed immortality thank to life energy of all killed creatures. (In the final, he was paid back.)

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  8. You make a good point there and it’s something I’ve thought about too. But I think it comes down to a lack of diversity in the industry. Since that is slowly changing, I think in the future it’s possible to find more stories where other seasons are a threat. The only example that came to mind as I read was N.K. Jemisin’s Fifth Season. I haven’t yet read the book, but from reviews I’ve read, I understand the weather is a major concern.

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