“Where is Ruritania?”
That’s the question that popped into my mind shortly after I decided to write a story set there. If you’re not familiar with Ruritania, don’t be too hard on yourself, because it is entirely fictional. English author Anthony Hope created the country of Ruritania in a trilogy of novels. The most well-known of the three books, the 1894 adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda, has been the subject of many adaptations of the novel for stage and screen, and numerous works have paid homage to it.
So why do I care where Ruritania is? Because I decided to write a story set there. I blame Sarah Hoyt. The comments following her August 6,2016 post brought up, among other things, Ruritania romances, giant anime-style mecha, and the lack of enough works featuring Communists vomiting blood in the gutters. Somehow that all came together in my head, and now I’m (intermittently) working on The Warlord of Zenda.
In case you’re wondering what a “Ruritanian romance” is, Wikipedia says that works in the genre are “set in a fictional country, usually in Central or Eastern Europe” and “are typically swashbuckling adventure novels, tales of high romance and intrigue, centered on the ruling classes, almost always aristocracy and royalty." The name of the genre was taken from that of Hope’s fictional country, Ruritania.
But a question came to mind as I started work: “Where is Ruritania?” At first glance, it doesn’t seem of great importance, and it wasn’t in most traditional Ruritanian romances. But given the time period the novel is set in (aftermath of the Great War), and that it may touch some way upon grand politics, I thought it important to figure out a plausible location. Hope left a few clues that help point the way to plausible locations.
In chapter two of the The Prisoner of Zenda, Rudolf Rassendyll, travels from England to Ruritania by way of Paris and Dresden. This pretty much requires that Ruritania be in central or eastern Europe, as if it were in western Europe or along the Mediterranean travel from Paris by way of Dresden would be utterly nonsensical. Rudolf spends the night in Dresden before catching a train to Ruritania sometime the next day. It reaches Zenda, “a small town fifty miles short of the capital, and ten from the frontier” that evening. Those could be air line (straight) distances or along the railroad route; I have chosen to assume the latter. We have no evidence as to when the train left Dresden, its speed, or how many stops it makes. If it is a slow train, somewhere in Silesia, Bohemia, or Moravia would be a good fit.
Another fact also clearly emerges from the quote above. Ruritania may be small, but it isn’t tiny. It has to be larger than European microstates of Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, and Andorra. How do we know? Because of the sixty miles (by whatever measure) from the frontier to the capital at Strelsau. So it has to be a bit larger, perhaps on the order of Luxembourg or Montenegro.
The borders of countries are often based upon defensible borders and recognizable terrain features, such as mountains and rivers. For smaller states, that has often meant the states consists of a valley or series of valleys. Several still-existing examples of this include Andorra, Switzerland, Bhutan, Nepal, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. So I considered that as I went searching.
Zenda fits nicely at the location of Witków, about ten rail miles inside the border. Fifty miles further along the rail lines sits Bystrzyca Klodzka, where I’ve placed Strelsau. Strelsau is described as being the great city of Ruritania, so it will have to be larger and grander than the town of Bystrzyca Klodzka.
The real city of Walbrzych will have to be downsized or a be new center of industrialization since the time of the Hope novels. Perhaps Ruritania’s nascent industrialization has helped give rise to the Communist insurgents who threaten?
And there we have it.