1

The phrase refer to the walls of a fantasy city, which are very strong and protect it from enemies and from the sea.

I can't say if the phrase means that the walls are hundreds feet deep in the sea, or hundreds feet thick.

3
  • Is the city in/under the water?
    – Amory
    Aug 16 '13 at 22:57
  • Is mostly surrounded by the water.
    – Lorenzo
    Aug 16 '13 at 23:26
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    I think you need to look up the word plunge. It means go down or fall down. So the walls stand hundreds of feet above the city behind them. Aug 17 '13 at 13:35
1

This is a cause of what is known as a dangling modifier: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dangling_modifier

"plunge many hundreds to the city behind", 'behind' is dangling because we are unsure of whether it is the walls that are behind the city or the city that is behind the walls.

However, you also describe having confusion on whether 'many hundreds' is referring to depth or height. The word 'plunge' is the cause here as the verb 'plunge' means 'to cause to penetrate or enter quickly and forcibly into something'. The dangling modifier "behind" plays a secondary layer of confusion here, possibly modifying 'plunge'.

So we are left in a state of disarray,

1.) are the walls behind the city? 2.) is the city behind the walls? 3.) do the walls plunge into the city that is behind the walls?

Assuming that the author meant that the walls are hundreds of feet taller than the surface of the city yet only forty feet above the water, this would be the correct version of the sentence preserving as much of its vernacular as possible:

The walls stand only forty feet above the wave tops, yet plunge many hundreds lower into the city behind them.

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  • The walls surround the city and, continuing the description, the author says also that the city is in a perpetual twilight caused by the walls. With those clues now I'm quite sure that the meaning is: the walls are hundreds feet high if seen from the city, but, if we take the point of view of a boat approaching from the sea, they appear only 40 feet high.
    – Lorenzo
    Aug 16 '13 at 23:24
  • Yes, that sounds like the correct scene being described. Interesting side note, if the city is in constant twilight it must be in a region of land that does not get direct, overhead sunlight. A rare place but not impossible if a specific precession is affecting the planet of this city. Aug 16 '13 at 23:40
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    While I agree with the conclusion in this answer, I cannot see any way of making ‘behind’ a dangling anything. It does not modify anything, therefore it is not dangling. It is also completely unambiguous to me: the city is behind the walls. Try as I might, I cannot make the sentence mean that the walls are behind the city. Aug 17 '13 at 2:18
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    There's no need to use lower with plunge; it's redundant, because plunge means go down. (Merriam-Webster 3: to descend or dip suddenly.) Aug 17 '13 at 13:46

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