Thursday, March 7, 2013

History And Competing Theories Applied to World Building

I'm a long time student of history. Could have something to do with my grandmother being a historian and it could also have something to do with all the history books I had as a kid. The reasons don't really matter, just that I like history. But the thing I've always knows about it is is that there are always secrets to uncover. Another family member is working on a biography of an illustrious family member from the past and keeps uncovering the wildest things. So I always keep in mind that history is just what we know at a given point in time.

It seems not all historians share that opinion. Some get rather miffed when some new data comes along to upset the apple cart. More often than not, the new information make history richer and fuller. Rarely are such revelations dull. The History Channel just started a new series this year called American Unearthed. The host, Scott Wolter, is a geologist and his study of stones has given him a different perspective on some of the previously ignored finds of past centuries. Many of his views are intriguing, but I've also come to realize that he has fallen prey to the same tendency to set one's beliefs in stone. Many of his finds are quite incredible, but some get obscured by his fascination with the 'hooked X' and the Knights Templar.

Now, as a writer of fantasy and creator of worlds in which I set my stories, many of Scott Wolter's theories are intriguing. He paints a picture of many generations of adventurers traveling from Europe and the Middle East to North America. He provides some compelling evidence that someone came, though I sometimes question who he settles on. Still, it creates many story possibilities. Worlds are big places and you can't always delve deep into every corner. Often it is more that enough for fantasy writers to create just a single continent or region. George. R.R. Martin has barely explored a quarter of his world in his series (probably better known as the HBO series Game of Thrones). Tolkien didn't even give us a hint of the size of his world.

The one thing that is common is to take pieces of history and build them up and change them around to create a unique fantasy setting. Scott Wolter, whatever you think of his historical accuracy, provides a new aspect, a new tool, to fantasy world building. You could have an exploratory team venturing into the unknown, only to discover that someone had been there before. Maybe even a lot colony that is now intermingled with the natives. Or you could have a character who tells fantastic tales of a far off land that sounds like fables, until something happens to reveal that it is the truth. And when you talk of mixing societies, imagine a Japanese Colony in Spain or Egypt. Mix things up and come up with knew and unusual situations, places, cultures... it's fantasy, anything is possible.

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