The Malazan Empire of the Petal Throne

   Numerous role-playing games influenced Steven Erikson as he wrote The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Assassins, bards and paladins (“Shield Anvils” in Erikson’s stories) came directly from Dungeons & Dragons. Rat catchers, obviously, were taken right out of Warhammer. But the most influential game, in my opinion, was Empire of the Petal Throne. Here’s why.

  Non-Caucasians make up half of the entire Malazan world, which is unheard of in any sword-and-sorcery fiction except for Professor Barker’s own books. Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms are rather white. Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon is mostly white. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is overwhelmingly white (see Where is Middle-Earth in the archives below for an in-depth Lily White explanation). Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age is the most “ethnic” setting, ex aequo with the Malazan world – but nothing comes close to Tekumel where there are simply no white people.

   The Malazan world has two Caucasian continents, namely Genabackis and Lether, and two Non-Caucasian continents. Quon Tali has Black people (the Dal Honese) as well as “Native American” people (the Wickans). The Seven Cities continent has Semitic people, but no Hindus, alas. Emperor Kellanved himself is actually a Dal Honese magic-user, and his greatest champion, the First Sword of Empire, is also Dal Honese. And the legendary Fist / General Coltaine (who ascends to quasi-godhood) is a Wickan warleader of the Crow clan.

   Many heroes and heroines of The Malazan Book of the Fallen are non-whites, including the most badass assassin you’ve ever seen, and the boldest / craziest magic-user. So that’s cool.

  Vast Underworlds can be found beneath cities and mountain ranges, none of these more extensive than the multi-layered ruined city complex underneath Y’Ghatan. The concept of Ditlána is there all right; Y’Ghatan has been levelled and then rebuilt several times, and all the different iterations of that city lay buried / compacted under the current city, just like it is with most major Tsolyani cities.

   Erikson even does the Underworld one better. Case in point: if a city is really torn down and levelled and reconstructed several times over, those subterranean layers ought to be flattened and compacted like piles of old cars in a junkyard, and you shouldn’t be able to ever find a hallway in which you can stand upright. That’s exactly how Erikson depicted the Y’Ghatan Underworld: it’s a literal dungeon crawl. Sometimes, all one guy can see is the naked soles of the feet of the guy crawling in front of him. If the first guy comes face-to-face with a giant spider, the guy behind can’t provide any assistance – if he happens to be a cleric, maybe he can touch the sole of a foot and cast cure light wounds...

  Remnants of Technology are scattered all across the planet, and they appear to be especially easy to find on the continent of Lether. These mysterious artefacts are quite similar to the long-lost technology of Tekumel before the béthorm.

   Erikson’s “Indifferent God” is rather similar to the Tsolyani goddess Dra the Uncaring. The names of Karsa and Hársan are almost identical. The Malazan Warrens mirror Tekumel’s Nexus Points – they look absolutely identical when they’re opened by a mage, and the various ways they can be used are pretty much the same.

   Erikson’s K’Chain Che’Malle are not an “allied race” at first, but seem to be a mix between Shén and Hlüss. The K’Chain Che’Malle have “Matrons” while the Hlüss have “great mothers”. Both Shén and K’Chain Che’Malle K’ell Hunters are powerful warriors. Say it out loud: Shén and K’Chain – the pronunciation is identical.

   Later in the Malazan cycle, those K’Chain Che’Malle do finally become some sort of an allied race, like the Shén:

   “It is the new way our mother foresaw. The path of our rebirth.
   “Humans, welcome us. The K’Chain Che’Malle have returned to the world.”

   Even the narrative techniques in the books (the Tekumel novels) appear to be the same. In one book you are with the Tsolyani Twenty-First Imperial Medium Infantry (or with Onearm’s Host), and then comes the next chapter: you’re with the enemy now – the people of Yan Kor (or Darujhistan). You keep going back and forth between the two... and of course you grow attached to both sides of the conflict!

   Aridani women are present throughout the Tekumel novels and The Malazan Book of the Fallen alike: strong, independent females who choose to be “liberated” from their traditional “clan duties”. Back in 1984, this was almost unheard of in fantasy / sci-fi literature – the Professor was a trailblazer, and certainly scored major points.

   Here are a few other stunning symmetries between Barker’s and Erikson’s worlds:

The “First Palace”
The “First Throne” / “First Empire”
Dharu (a city)
Daru (a people)
Jakalla (a city)
Jakatakan (Malaz Island)
Horusel (a soldier / Tirrikamu)
Hurlochel (a soldier / outrider)

   Griggatsétsa is a “Mad King”, while Rhulad, the Mad Emperor of the Tiste Edur, is quite literally a Man of Gold – a resurrected corpse covered in hundreds of gold coins...

   And Steven Erikson isn’t the only one, by the way. Looking at the early years of TSR is quite fascinating in that regard: it is a huge whirlpool of creativity. Take the “Eyes”, for example. Each of them has one effect – slowing down enemies, petrifying foes, raising infernal barriers, or disintegrating. Those awesome “Eyes” first appeared in the original Empire of the Petal Throne (1975). But then you have the equally awesome beholder, first introduced in the Greyhawk supplement of 1975. And what’s a beholder exactly, if not a living, floating collection of eleven “eyes”, each one with its unique power – slow, flesh to stone, disintegrate, etc? So, which of those two awesome things inspired the other? They both appeared at the same time and in the same nascent company; there must be a link.

   The four-legged, four-armed ahoggyá was also featured in 1975’s Empire of the Petal Throne, while the xorn (three-legged and three-armed) first came out in 1977’s Monster Manual. This one is much easier to call.

   You also have a dlaqó / carrion crawler symmetry; you have the biridlú / lurker above; you have the teqeqmu / grell... and the list could probably go on. Professor Barker, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson borrowed freely from each other: that’s how this hobby was born and became such a huge phenomenon. A few more lawyers, and nothing at all would have ever happened. Imagine that.

   Today’s Sci-fi and Fantasy authors belong to that generation: like Erikson, they began playing D&D or EPT as teenagers, round ’75 or ’76. It figures.

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