Thursday 26 March 2015

Atlantis as written by the victors

My Atlantis books, some of them. Three feet of shelf space, no lie. My favourite is Murry Hope's Atlantis: Myth or Reality? because any sensible answer to that question makes that the shortest book ever ("Duh, myth. Next, please!")
The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily written as the history of its dominant class.
Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana.
One of my intentions with this project, on the worldbuilding side, at least, is to write a revisionist fantasy history while being true to both my boyhood additions to the mythos and the source material. My solution is to limit the voices I use.

Probably the most interesting and subversive role-playing book I own is called Guide to the Technocracy. Essentially, what it does is take a near-invincible ruling class of Orwellian cryptofascist villains (clue is in the name, really) and feeds you everything there is to know, from their viewpoint. It is glorious, two hundred pages of faux-propaganda, with all the evil, laid out there, just staring at you, seducing you, with just enough truth to sugar coat the lies, almost let you believe that extermination camps, eugenics and armageddon weapons are OK because the same people brought you dental care, vaccinations and Netflix. Wait, did I say "almost"? The writing in that book is so good that even to this day there's a reasonable online presence of gamers who swallowed that sweet, sweet propaganda pill without even bothering to stop and get a glass of water.

I find that instructive, not only in how I want to approach my game as it gets written, but also in the way in which one can read my own source material. 

Go with me on this.

Starting point. I've been thinking about this as I've reread Scott-Elliot's The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria, which is really the ur-text from which all of this springs (you could argue that Blavatsy's The Secret Doctrine is Elliot's starting point, but that book just provides a sort of scriptural basis, if you will). Elliot writes about government, what these people did for fun, laws, how tall they were, but keeps going back to one thing: in their heyday, the Third Subrace were awesome.

He calls them "Toltecs" which is kind of awkward, because the real Toltecs weren't actually a thing until hundreds of thousands of years after Scott-Elliot's timeframe, and I struggled with a better name for them. And then it hit me: I simply called them Atlanteans.

I did that because Scott-Elliot, although he spoke about the various Atlantean ethnic groups, kept going back to the "Toltecs". He kept talking about the other groups in the context of the Toltecs.

For example, yesterday's post about Rmoahals was inspired by Scott-Elliot having written about how savage and benighted they were.
They ultimately migrated to the southern shores of Atlantis, where they were engaged in constant warfare with the sixth and seventh sub-races of the Lemurians then inhabiting that country. A large part of the tribe eventually moved north, while the remainder settled down and intermarried with these black Lemurian aborigines. The result was that at the period we are dealing with—the first map period—there was no pure blood left in the south, and as we shall see it was from these dark races who inhabited the equatorial provinces, and the extreme south of the continent, that the Toltec conquerors subsequently drew their supplies of slaves.
Scott-Elliot, The Story of Atlantis
There is SO MUCH wrong with that (and if anything the sections surrounding it are even worse), but it's that throwaway line at the end. Oh yeah, this is where the "Toltecs" got their slaves from.

Wait, I thought. They kept slaves? Is there any other mention of the lot of slaves in the supposedly Glorious Toltec Empire, with its vril-powered air chariots and doomsday weapons and glorious architecture and magical science?

Not a word.

Slaves are there. A matter of fact thing.

And this happens over and over again.

One of Scott-Elliot's maps of Lemuria. I want a wall-sized one.
For example, the group following the Toltecs, the Fourth People, I've called the Muvians, drawing from the crazy-fun books of Atlantological outlier James Churchward. Scott-Elliot calls them the "First Turanians", a name equally problematic to "Toltecs", ethnologically speaking. He says they  are a breakaway from the "Toltecs" and Scott-Elliot is scathing about them. He talks about their will to colonisation, their apparent brutality, how they liked to assassinate their kings, their religion which he considers a bit degenerate, and (my favourite bit) their fascinating attempt to institute what amounts to Full Collectivist Socialism, which appals him.

But a lot of what they do is, as far as I can tell, exactly what the "Toltecs" do, only the "First Turanians" are different in one important respect: they're not the "Toltecs".

Which comes back to the naming convention I picked. I called the "Toltecs" Atlantean because they write all the books. They have the magical power. They define who an Atlantean is, because out of the five cultures I decided to offer to players, only the Lemurians aren't literally Atlanteans. If someone is Atlantean, it is because the imperial Third People say they are.

It doesn't matter  that the Rmoahals and Tlavatlis were around before the "Toltecs" arose; or that the "First Turanians" were an offshoot. 
I called that last group Muvians, by the way, because in my version they migrated back to Lemuria and carved out an empire there, and "Mu" and "Lemuria" are often conflated by esoteric archaeologists, because there's only so much space for lost continents on the map.

I am interested by this. Everything is filtered through this lens. I wanted to recreate that. What I decided to do was, rather than Go Full Technocracy, to make all of the in-character writing I do for this game in an Atlantean voice, in all its unreliability and bias, and while I'll have the voices of liberal Atlanteans and conservative Atlanteans, and maybe even radical Atlanteans, the other groups don't get an in-character voice. Sure, I'll critique in the out-of-character writing, maybe even juxtapose people's conditions with Atlantean opinions, but the voices of the oppressed and the outsider and the opponent are the voices you, the player, supply.