Monday, 24 February 2014

A Nation in Literature

  Tolkien found his nation, caution, not his people, short of stories, myths and legends to contextualize them.  By this he would mean England, which drew legends from the Celts (Welsh, Irish), the old Germanic groups (Vikings, Germany), the Romance nations (Romans, French), and the Christian mythology.  There was no mythology for his nation, and so he made his own, relying on fantasy.  We also have a bit too much of pseudo Medieval Fantasy mythology by half already today, so while I appreciate his work, I find value in copying the process for my own result, rather than his results.

  This will be an entirely new mythical world, ultimately ruled by my Nation.  The influencers on my nation are, well first, everything as affecting England (so everything above), habitant French, a smattering of Asiatic influences (Indian, Chinese, Japanese), Spanish, lots of Mexican influences, some local American ideas, and then a symbolic space for First Nations.  These ideas mix and undulate, waxing and waning almost chaotically until most Canadians that I speak to struggle to identify their center.   There are many subdued and understated Christian influences, but the religion is sinking in importance as the mythologies of the rest of the world are hungrily consumed by storytellers in Canada, seeking something new and vicious to fight against.  Do not neglect the bias in favour of the Christians!

  As a first thought, let’s consider the cores of Canada. 

  1. Hockey
  Speed, grace, power, aggression, solidarity, competition, perserverance.  Hockey is more than just a sport many Canadians think we are good at, it is also the sport that gets the most funding, the sport that draws News headlines, the sport that commands symbolism in Canada.  Every city needs to be represented in the provincial teams, while hockey agnostics swear by the NHL teams nearest them.  In foreign competition, we pull out all the stops, demanding the very best of our athletes get the draft, and fight bitterly when our favourites and representatives don’t make the cut.  A campaign world, like Canada itself, draws all of its legitimacy from hockey.  Those of us who can’t stand it swear by Curling instead; there is potential here for opposites, for totalities… for rituals…

  1. Government
  Nothing gets done in Canada without having a slice of the Government’s money.  Rails go down because the Government committed first.  Industries look to Ottawa to foot a part of every bill on major compliance updates and investments.  Important for any epic quest, Government is also largely alignment-neutral; Ottawa is legendary for being distant and uncaring, a salvation and a curse, a power that is itself powerless to make up its mind.  Powerful leaders go to Ottawa to demand their visions become law, then Ottawa enforces it.  Ottawa itself seems to stumble from one crisis to the next, a functional Government digging up evidence of corruption and becoming locked in scandals for it. 

  How to make it Epic?  The Government becomes the equivalent of the magic crystals of Final Fantasy, or the Niebelung treasure of the Niebelunglied.  In short, things get done by those who hold the Government, but they are also magnets for tragedy, and sorely tempted into sin.  The Government is the equivalent of an easel of dreams; it makes visions become the truth, and it works evil into the very being of reality, uncaring of for whom.  Painters, here analogs of politicians, cannot resist the call to approach the easel; they fight for the right to paint their visions onto the land.  Ottawa is merely their battleground, munificent and rich with splendor because they all agree to see beauty, rife with tensions as none can agree who shall approach next.  This metaphor could work for the Group of Seven, I guess; others might be melodic, or … I’ll revisit later.

  1. The Flag, and the Cult of Participation
  No nation I can think of will make so much of its own presence in the background when momentous things were happening.  Canadians expect, nay demand, that the Flag be flown often and well.  We work hard to mend the image of the Flag too, hiding its presence when we turned away boatloads of Jews towards their termination at the hands of the NAZIs, but insistent that triumphs over the latter to rescue the former should include us in the list of heroes.  Canadians want to hear good things of their nation; certainly we are willing to stress real contributions to the causes, but we also subtly erase the troubles we’ve skirted.  Maybe this isn’t a big thing, as every nation does it to a certain extent.  But we do it a lot.

  1. The Regions
  Perhaps the strangest thing of Canada is how much we cling to our neighbors, far away, speaking other languages, swearing by other ideals of freedom and law.  We conflict with our fellows all of the time, but I can’t see any of us getting on with out each other.  Maybe this is seen differently elsewhere in the regions, but it’s a face well hidden.  Quebec talks big, but the gravy train stops at sovereignty (which ties into what I said above: nothing ever gets done without the Government, so Quebec leaving the Government, more by the will of MPs employed by the Government, is silly).  Alberta has some sharp words for the West, none more so than Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador, all to do with getting the money (Government) for their oil projects.  The sharpest tongues are all pacified by getting a turn with the Easel. 

  How to Make it Epic?  The journey.  The regions are a fantasy staple, it just so happens that the regions in Canada subscribe to a common trade language and currency – not any more weird than the Elder Scrolls really.

  1. Munificence
  I said this above too, but here I mean to draw on a sharp contrast.  Cities compete for their gardening titles, architecture rises from the backdrop, towering over the world.  Toronto is so rich, the charities have Taj Mahals!  But this comes in contrast to the world at large.  Canada, in the 21st century, is a thoroughly urban country, and the abandoned towns and farms left to rot show as almost ghostly.  Taxes pass budgets to pay for massive city infrastructure, while roads in the country go by the wayside.  There is a divide between rich and poor, and it shows in our palaces.  I might be overstating it… isn’t the rest of the world just the same?  Who cares if it is, it is part of the balance of our mythology.

  How to make it Epic?  Focus the action on cities, which honestly, adventurers are drawn to anyway.  True the riches and treasures are found in the wild with the dangers, but they do you no good there; adventurers get nothing unless they can drag it back to town and sell it.  I wonder if cities should have their own architecture.  Their own styles, maybe.

  1. Mythology of hard work and the derth of jobs.
  Get a job.  I’ve been trying for months.  Conservative rhetoric often comes off praising the economy as the most important job for Government (there’s that easel again), while the best thing anyone can do for job creation is stay out of the way.  Unemployment goes down while a string of short term jobs come into being.  Soon enough, the masses are out on their asses again, and employment related depression is incredible.  “I can’t go looking for work.  I’m lucky that I even have a job.”  I swear, so many people settle for work they hate.  I try that so often, and I try so hard!  I would hate to think that I’m alone in this.  I…I don’t think that I am, honestly.

  How to make it Epic?  Oh, Oh Oh!  I have it!  If you are unemployed long enough, then you are exhiled from your “region” and sent on a pilgrimage to the other regions, in the hopes that you can help tie the nation together.  It is an adventuring hook!  A good one.  It sends players/protagonists careening around the map, looking for some sort of escape, finding rumors of hidden treasure and threatened by drugs and traffic (by this I mean lots of cars – I’m in Toronto, and very much afraid!)  I’d go north with like a week’s notice if only I knew of a way to pay my student loans.

  1. Education
  Formerly a way of molding students, and stripping away their individuality to make better soldiers, schools have outlived our taste for war.  Schools define themselves in my age by a mixed bag of ideas, including opening young minds (Latin class, 2nd Language classes), convey employable skills (business=joke, shop, home-ec), or convey widely useful skills (remember when you used to wonder what you’d use Advanced Algebra for?  How about Finite?).  While secondary education was always a terrible joke of uselessness, my experience in post-secondary was one of working really hard to catch up in reading level, writing output.  High school serves nothing.  Universities meanwhile turn out an enormously well educated class of citizens that baits international investment; the joke is on Humanities majors though.

  How to make it Epic?  Education is about molding young people; if the economy was the only thing of worth, then we would allow the economy to mold young people, or send them to work.  Our child labor laws prevent this.  In a fantasy world, Children are protected, but then what do you do with them?  You send them to fancy complicated busy centers and pay extravagantly for day care for teenagers.  Very little makes sense of our interpretation of children.  What if … what if children go to temples all day, with busy work instructions to keep them from acting up, until they cross the line and are expelled from the temple.  No… you’d go to a temple because a god called you, not for kicks!  How would a god demand all children and then send one or two away?  …Could it dovetail with the pilgrimage idea above?

  1. Economy
  It has become a joke of Canada, that the economy is our god.  What many on the right argue is that it is self-regulating, and regulation from outside can only monkey-it up.  This is held as an article of faith, often ignoring evidence to the contrary, but it isn’t wrong, by any stretch.  The tension in Canada between having Government “paint” jobs into the land, or leaving well enough alone, is a big one.

  In the real world, people “make jobs” when they need work done for them and offer money to get it done.  Everyone has the ability to make jobs, for ourselves, for others.  It is simply a matter of where jobs can be sustained.  The paints of government really aren’t needed here, and the idea that a free economy has anything to do with it is a farce.  My view is that regulation causes employers to re-evaluate the work that they decided doesn’t need doing, and keeps wages at a level sustainable to the employees; regulation makes jobs sooner than de-regulation, or else hamstrings the smaller businesses in favour of those who can pay.

  How to make it Epic? See above with the paint easel.  This looks like just one more thing to fight over who gets a turn with the paints.

  1. Healthcare
  Once vaunted, now horror.  EHealth has become a nightmare, the work of brave souls in the health care system goes for granted, tensions mount as patients don’t get the attention that they need, and services erode in the face of declining benefits and the ongoing battles over who can pay.  Doctors need patients to keep their practices open, while in the country and smaller cities, practices close up shop all of the time.  The catastrophe is almost certainly beaurocratic rather than practical; the doctors go without seeing their quota of patients while patients go without seeing medical help.  Recent criminal charges also exacerbate the situation, but it was a long time coming anyway. 

  How to make it Epic? Most groups I’ve adventured with fear with good reason to go out without a cleric.  A doctor, moreover, would be closer to a White Necromancer: a studied healer of great academic focus, rather than a faith based on.  I suppose it follows that a world without clerical healing would promote White Necromancy (in the Vancian sense) or Healing skill use.  Also relevant is the “brain drain” phenomenon, where America lures away our doctors with better money/privileges and we respond by doing likewise in India and South Africa.  It would be odd in a campaign setting to focus on having all of the healers coming from some culture other than our own.