Saturday, January 30, 2010

Medieval Latin America

The people on the alternate history boards have speculated on what the rest of the world looks like. I haven't spent too much time on that, because as White wrote

"In most of the world, the New Middle Ages were merely a rerun of the Old Middle Ages. In England and Japan, the constitutional monarchies dumped their constitutions. Europeans turned again to the Roman Catholic Church for guidance. Camels plodded along the caravan routes of the Middle East, bringing silk from China and pilgrims to Mecca, just as they did a thousand years ago"

So except for a few specific border or language changes, there would probably not be major upheavals. Society as a whole would pretty much resemble its Middle Ages counterpart. England might stick to its Anglican Church (Island nations can do that), and China may or may not be an empire, or so isolationist in this period. Some things, like pizza or Fried Chicken or Lord of the Rings or Baseball can probably never be unlearned, but given a few centuries, the old world cultures will appropriate it as we see fit. But Asia, Africa and Europe would probably be pretty similar. (Africa was actually pretty advanced until its population was raided for the slave industry) Russia is the only "old world" region which would have a hard time resembling its Middle Ages equivalent. America is so fascinating for medieval case studies because it was so radically changed by colonialism.

Australia is another continent that was colonized by Europe, although not to a great extent, as the country only has 20 million people. This would mean 4 million in medieval terms at best. The wildlife is also very dangerous, and the soil not great. I guess I would expect something similar to the Arabian peninsula--a few port cities around the coast, but a largely nomadic desert population. The proximity to the much more populated Indonesia could radically change it. New Zealand, for its part though, might more closely resemble England with an upside-down calender.

But then there's Latin America. Consisting of almost twice as many people as in the US, Central and South America have ties we're vaguely familiar with, but may not know as much as we should. In some ways, it's easier to gauge its medieval life, because 1) Its Pre-Columbian civilization was more advanced than North America's, 2) It has been colonized for longer. Still, systems in the feudal ages take hundreds of years to develop, so I do think we would see differences. One interesting thing to point out that "Middle Ages" is a term that mostly to Europe--many other civilizations of the Western World were doing alright. Even thriving. But considering most of the planet had to start over, it's possible both North and South America are working at the same place.

But Latin America does have the benefit of much more resources than Anglo-America. White even references cocoa, rubber, balsa and coffee, in addition to many precious metals. Spices are possible as well. Important trading ports also possibly exist around Central America, with the Panama Canal being the crucial gateway from East to West.

Mexico is already touching some regions of the US, however White did not generally include it like he intended to with Canada. This is because the majority of Mexico's population is actually separated from the U.S. by large desert, which only pockets of nomads inhabit in the new Middle Ages. Today Mexico contains 100 million people, with a large percentage centered around Mexico City. It possesses one of the most diverse landscapes for a country of its size, with deserts, alpine mountains, grassland and rainforest. As a result, it's hard to really find a great counterpart, but if I were to choose one, it would be the Anatolian Peninsula, which Turkey is located on. Unlike much of the U.S., Mexico always had a relationship with its pre-Columbian past, and was the site of a thriving civillization. Of course, it would be ridiculous for Middle Ages Mexico to be a copy of its Maya or Aztec past just as one would expect the Middle East to copy the Persian Empire. But because there was a level of advancement for Mexico, one could see the occasional trappings of art and even social structure combined with Christianization and additions like carts, horses and grain. There's a lot of speculation to how big the Mexican nation-state would be. Before Spanish colonization, the empire did claim a large part of Central America.

Brazil is the largest nation in Latin America, both in size and population. Also, like America, it's a nation that was more radically influenced by its colonization than its native roots. As such it definitely bears the most inspection. As a nation of rainforests, savannah and scrubland Brazil, from a biome standpoint, bears a strong resemblance to India. It probably also shares aspects like being the source of natural resources. Its distance from the rest of the New World definitely allows it to go its own path. But South Asia would probably be the model for Medieval Brazil. During the Middle Ages, almost half the of the world's largest cities were in the Indian subcontinent and its sphere of influence. India was also the largest economy at the time. Not hard to imagine for a city of its resources. Sadly, in some ways, Brazil resembles modern India in its less positives aspects--the large divide of rich and poor. A rigid caste system would most likely plant itself.

Of course, as a large nation, Brazil is not going to be one homogenous entity, (Neither are most South Asian nations, contrary to popular belief) although I'm sure people from around the world will sometimes consider it one. But the country is divided into five sections, with very distinct identities. The North and Central parts would probably not have much of a population at all...just various tribal villages. The Northeast is definitely has an Afro-Caribbean sensibility. They may even resemble the Secretarial states, provided a South American empire doesn't claim it. Conversely, the southernmost points of Brazil start to draw more on its European heritage (As well as slightly more European temperatures). Not only that, but the grasslands also start to resemble neighboring nations like Argentina and Uruguay. There's much grassland here, but I don't see them quite going Nomadic, due to their proximity to the coast. What we'll probably have is a feudal structure like in the Neo-Medieval Midwest. All in all, aspects of Southern South America might resemble Europe in some ways, but due to Brazil's sphere of influence, the calender of the Southern Hemisphere and isolation from everything else, there could be some radical differences.

Finally, there are the more Andean nations. On this side of the continent, including nations like Peru, Paraguay and Chile, we finally see a strong native ethnicity amongst the populace. In fact, some of the more mountainous areas even have the old Native languages still intact. What's also interesting is, that like the West Coast of North America, there's chapparel, and desert hugging a large mountain range. In a lot of ways, it's the mirror image of its American counterpart, and I wonder if there could be an entire seafaring culture with strong Native/Hispanic roots being a common denominator in the entire Western sliver of the Americas. This probably wouldn't be dissimilar to the long but narrow Muslim world of the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


White's site primarily focuses on history/realism. not the fantastic. (I mean, besides the very premise of the site.) However, whenever we think of medieval times, we're less inclined to think of the real figures and politics, and more of the fairy tale version of it. With the possible exception of (A very broadly conflated version of) the ancient Middle East no region/era has been more associated with magic over real history than Medieval Europe. Perhaps this may be the result of J.R.R. Tolkien, whom most fantasy fiction draws from, placing his universe in a Medieval European setting. It may have been Walt Disney. But ultimately, this creates the temptation to ponder what the fantasy version of Medieval America is like, either when extrapolating what myth and folklore exists, or wanting to set some kind of role playing campaign in it. As I've said, White doesn't get into this much--he seems to primarily want to focus on the somewhat real. Plus, it's very easy to get taken over by popular culture, which I'll get to later.

He does delve a little into what imaginary beasts people might come up with. Almost hidden on the Herdsmen page is a link to the Jackelope, an imaginary animal that is a rabbit with antlers. Looking in the archives, you see four more monsters have been cooked up. From the Appalachians, you have Mothman. From the mid-Atlantic, the Jersey Devil. From the Southwest, you have a Roswell Alien. And of course, from the Northwest, Bigfoot. These are essentially cryptids; Creatures that have not been proven to exist, but have attracted sightings and claims that they're very real.

1) That we came from a society that simply does not believe in elves or goblins, and it's hard to go back. With the exception of the Jackelope, many people do believe in these creatures, or at least more than other fantastic creatures. So it could be something like "Unicorns are ridiculous, but Jersey Devils, that's something to be afraid of!"

2) Regional issues. A lot of mythical creatures that are in the popular lexicon like elves and trolls simply come from across the sea. So it may have been White's intention to focus on the creatures that emerged from American folklore.

3) Public domain. Would we believe in things like Wookies and Predators in the future? Perhaps, but that might cause legal problems. I would have also guessed at first that White wanted to steer clear of things with Industrial Age connotations except for the Alien-like being ruled that out.

So here we are, ready to flesh out what folk beliefs in legends exist in Medieval America. I suppose we could divide it all into three categories. Public domain, modern characters, and real world figures.

The first part would be the folklore figures. As mentioned, we got into the strange cryptid things. Some of the creatures from American folklore and urban legends include the Goatman, the Hodag and the Squonk. It's also possible Native American myths like the Wendigo, and the Thunderbird persist. And finally, much of the Caribbean folklore (Which would be brought along with Voodoo) would make its way to the gulf. It's too extensive to get in there too. And then there are the heroes. Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, Zorro, and the like may catch on.

Some of the people featured in tall tales are actually real, like Calamity Jane. Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett and countless others have gained folk hero status, and could probably survive, especially in Texas and the mountain states. Paul Revere might remain an important hero in the Northeast. Many presidents and founding fathers could conceivably play a big role, but there might be too many records of them to truly retain "folk" status. I imagine the major presidents like Washington and Lincoln will still remain known, however. Sports heroes may also become mythic figures, although mostly the ones who truly symbolized their field like Wayne Gretsky and Michael Jordan. Granted, many athletes tend not to stand the test of time, but in America we've really hyped the people up. Will the centuries turn them into warriors? Give them magic powers?

Movie stars would be an interesting case. I've pointed out California would likely canonize Hollywood figures. Probably not a lot of actors would be famous as historical or folk characters. Maybe a few who were personified as a certain type like Clint Eastwood. Likely a few tragic ones like Marilyn Monroe. And maybe any that went on to be high profile historical leaders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Musicians might sift more in the tides of time, except those with a cult of personality all their own. White had an image of Elvis on his site, so it's very possible he would work himself into the folklore of this age.

Literary characters like Tom Sawyer and the headless Horsemen might exist as legends. I think the fictional work with the biggest penetration would possibly be the Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch, the Yellow Brick Road, the Ruby Slippers. Star Wars is another of the quintessential myths of America. Other than the Wizard of Oz and perhaps Batman, it has the most characters and paraphernalia that are known to the average person on the street. I have theorized that Star Wars may potentially have a stronger reach in the West than the East, but who knows if the story

But speaking of Batman, a part of me thinks comic book superheroes might be the bread and butter of American mythology--many have theorized it's already the case. Superman and batman have the most mythic elements besides themselves to be part of the public consciousness. Villains, kryptonite, the bat-signal, etc. I think other characters that would appear, in order of likeliness, would be Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, The Hulk and Wolverine. (The last in particular around the Canadian regions) After that, I think we may see characters that fill niches, but may not be the same one. For instance a stretchy guy, a fire guy, that sort if thing. The may have continental popularity, but it wouldn't surprise me to see characters catch on in certain regions more than others. I can't help but think Superman in particular would be a symbol of the very American states.

What are other characters and heroes that would filter through the centuries? I mean, just think about how we have so many stories simply in a 100 years. Do we expect it all to last? Indiana Jones, I think could exist. Perhaps Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even if the character has not become a major media franchise, she's probably the most well known of monster vanquishers. Perhaps something akin to James Bond, but filtered through a very American lens. (Absorbed into Jason Bourne? Jack Bauer?) In mind, the most enduring would be slasher monsters like Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhes, the Alien, the Predator. Basically because they feel like such natural fits to previous folk stories. I've noticed the monsters of 80's horror movies seem to slaughter lustful teenagers or greedy corporations. Like morality plays on the seven deadly sins or something.

What's truly the rub with mythology, things don't stay exactly the same for hundreds of years. Would you believe Robin Hood, Maid Marian and Friar Tuck were their own separate legends, before being pooled together in one? So I've tried to be absolutely vague, and I suppose later I could come up with a more streamlined vision. But this has been what's been going in my head.