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"

It should be reiterated that medieval America is amazingly unique. So in much of the Old World, there would not be many changes. Maybe some states, or languages we didn't see from 1000-1500, maybe even new world crop or two made it over, but somebody from then would recognize this world. The knights and castles of Europe, the empires of the east. Africa would also likely resemble its pre-modern period, as people don't realize how sophisticated Africa was before it got plundered for slaves and resources. Spain, Russia, and Japan might stretch the confines of "medieval", as they would probably be more like their 1500 selves than anything, but still in that zone. Perhaps the hardest bell to unring would Australia, although even then, with its size and climate resembling places like California and Texas, would not be more than three million at the most. Also, it would be unrecognizable as Australia, because it would be so isolated from the rest of the Western world. But between the completely alien and the back to basics would be Latin America.

It should be said Latin America may not even be applicable as a concept. Spanish and Portuguese are definitely unlikely to be spoken in vernacular at this point, although the Catholic Church, depending on how prominent could possibly throwback to Latin as a means of communication, keeping all the nations roughly in the Romance language sphere. Thus, Latin America could conceivably mean "Catholic America". This would be very interesting, since it's hinted many Caribbean Islands now practice Voodoo. The Caribbean is already a mix of Spanish, French and English speakers, and its largest Latin American nation, Cuba, is relatively irreligious, so, perhaps like the west coast, would be rife for mass conversions. Thus the Caribbean would probably not be considered Latin America in any sense, although that's still four million or so people at the most.

We do know that upper Mexico is Catholic, and this would be the deserts that are fairly isolated and border the former United States, so I think it would be fair to assume the the Catholic influence only intensifies as we go to the core of the country. The that ranges from Mexico to Colombia and South America is known as "The Spanish Main", and it is the oldest colonized region of North America, starting back from the early 16th century. As a result, it's not too far removed from the Middle Ages, and thus Colonial Mexico probably does not look dissimilar  from how it looked back then. If anything, the resemblance might be closest to late antiquity, with governors or viceroys administering on behalf of a distant monarch. Of course, there is no distant monarch now, and with the reemergence of the Church,  which owned most of the land in the original colonial period, as a stabilizing force, there's definitely reason to believe a neo-Medieval period wouldn't be too different from its  colonial period.

The western part of South America may even more strongly resemble its 16th century counterpart. The last time the U.S. had a population equal to that of Medieval America, it was the 1880's. The 1880's also saw the former nations of the Inca Empire reach the population it had at the Inca's zenith, so overall, this looks to be a pretty good model for New World medieval countries. While we would not see a reborn Inca empire, the topography of Peru and its neighbors prevented the conquistadors from taking too heavy a hand when governing or transforming the culture. Quechaun is the most widespread Indiginous tongue, and so one can easily see that being the common populace's language, while a Latin warrior class rules over them. Not so different from say, Norman-conquered England.

I would believe that interior South America, particular  the Amazon would revert to as much pre-Colombian tribalism as possible. Even the industrial age was never able to make inroads into the Amazon basin, and it would only be more difficult without machines or guns or infrastructure.The Guyana area was always underpopulated anyways.

The most radical change would be on the Southern Cone--Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay. This is were the Native population never really recovered or intermarried with the settlers, or were even around in the first place. This is also the "breadbasket" of Latin America, so we're looking at a strong agricultural product.

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.