A friend on Facebook recently asked for opinions while doing world building for her story, which set me off in an interesting direction. Her question was how she should determine a calendar for her world. My suggestion was that she didn’t bother.
Some worlds greatly benefit from having a calendar shaped to their usage of time, but for many, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Custom calendars appear to be more prevalent in sci-fi, and for good reason; most space explorers we read about originate here on Earth, making it important for us to distinguish the differences in how time is handled on other planets.
While I’ve read quite a few fantasy stories that create their own calendar, it ultimately has little impact on how the story plays out. The main reason for this seems to be that we default our understanding of weeks, months and years to what we practice in our own lives. It’s a system that’s arbitrary and complex, complete with half days, extra seconds, leap years, and lots of mathematics. But because we’re familiar with it, it’s easy to understand. So regardless of whether or not Robert Jordan took the time to add a tidbit about the Wheel of Time’s world featuring ten-day weeks to the appendices, it doesn’t do a thing to change how the story plays out. And because it’s never mentioned in the body of any book’s text, every time a character mentions a week, what do we think of?
At the same time, authors like Tolkien have often been criticized for using Earth’s calendar for their books. So what’s a writer supposed to do? I suppose the answer is simple: Do whatever makes you happy.
The main reason I recommended that my friend not create a custom calendar was because of her story’s ties to Earth, and that the people within the story will hear mention of Earth’s methods of time keeping, but never be told how long a week is supposed to be. This could, of course, go either way; the characters in the story will default to assuming a week on Earth is the same length as their week. But unless their concept of time is clearly mentioned and emphasized as being different, readers will default to assuming time is measured the same way there as it is here.
For me, though, there’s not much excuse, aside from that I’d never actually considered it.
There’s a lot of thought that has to go into creation of a world’s calendar, things that may not initially cross your mind. To an outsider, our methods of defining a day probably makes sense. And a year is defined by the number of days in our planet’s orbit of the sun, which also makes sense. But 52.14 weeks is a little odd, and then the way we sort our months–February with 28 (or sometimes 29) days, July and August back-to-back with 31, throwing off the rhythm of alternating numbers of days–would be very peculiar to an extraterrestrial visitor.
But you also can’t stray too far from Earth’s calculations without incurring some serious math and study. Some people might be interested in working out the speed of planet rotation and orbit, coupled with the size of their planet and the planet’s sun to determine that sun’s “Goldilocks zone.” Then comes considering how a faster or slower orbit would affect things like gravity, plant life, weather and seasons.
I’m not. So when I started working out a calendar for Ithilear, I decided to base a lot of planetary information off our home world.
Their founding race is smitten with order, so I figured it only made sense for their year to align itself for neat division. This division works as one of the founding reasons for their fondness of organization, and the simplification of time measurements makes it easier for both me and my readers. So Ithilear ends up with 7 days in a week, 28 days in a month, and 13 months in a year, giving me a total of 364 days per year. It’s scientifically unrealistic, but since I’ve also got people throwing fireballs out of their fingertips and tearing holes in reality to traverse the globe in a step, I’m not too concerned with the realism of it.
After working out all sorts of calendar information, I considered reworking the number of hours in an Ithilean day, but ultimately discarded the idea. The number of hours in a day never really comes up within the books, and it doesn’t ultimately make a difference in the flow of the story, so that’s one that I’m not going to touch. I’ll just leave it open to interpretation, because sometimes simplification is best.
In any event, the calendar information for Ithilear is now available for perusal by either checking the link to the left (Located under the “Serpent’s Tears” category) or by clicking here.