Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Byte-Sized Middle Ages

I came across a fascinating paper by Courtney Booker (first published in 2004) which describes how modern minds have a somewhat distorted view of the Middle Ages. Rather than internalizing the pervasive religiosity which defined the Medieval era, we seem to have a view of the time as being driven by a sort of secular chivalry.

What makes it particularly apropos for my purposes is that it traces the responsibility for this popular attitude regarding the Middle Ages through Tolkien, then to Gygax and Arneson's D&D (citing heavily from Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds), early computer games such as "Adventure", and finally through Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings (which were quite current at the time the paper was originally published). Ms. Booker takes the de rigueur side-trips through James Dallas Egbert III, the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980's (even citing my favorite radio evangelist and over-the-phone exorcist, Bob Larson), and B.A.D.D. Her final conclusion is that:
...the popular conception of the Middle Ages is now largely Tolkienesque, it is a conception that will be increasingly based on Jackson’s high-definition “CGI” of Tolkien’s novel, with all the baggage—the history, possibilities, and constraints—that CGI brings with it.
It's a fascinating thesis, albeit one that will quickly become dated when the next big pseudo-Medieval fantasy epic hits the big screen to replace Jackson's films in the collective imagination, but it's a great read, if you're used to the academic style.

Thanks to Medievalists.net for pointing this out! (Currently gracing my blog roll, to the left.)

Which 'World Would You Choose?

Westworld, based on Michael Creighton's novel of the same name, and Futureworld, the not-so-great sequel, were some of my favorite films growing up. An amusement park with various themed sub-parks, populated by robots to make the experience jaw-droppingly realistic. Sort of LARPing before there was such a thing, but without rules, because it was all "really happening"; the ultimate RPGers dream. Between them, the two movies postulated several 'worlds from which guests could choose:
  • Western World (the west of the 1880's)
  • Medieval World (13th century Europe)
  • Roman World (1st century Pompeii)
  • Future World (the near future, complete with space stations, asteroid riding, skiing on Mars, etc.)
  • Spa World (recreating one's own youth)
  • Eastern World (Samurai)

The question for the peanut gallery is... which world would you choose, and why? I can't help but think that if Creighton was writing it today, there would be a Fantasy World, but he's not (unless someone clones him with DNA taken from a mosquito that once bit him), so please limit your choices to what they actually had in the films.