Posts Tagged Prester John

Those Who Don’t Study History…

…are doomed to repeat it. At least, such is the classic trope. We are warned to remember the mistakes of the past so we do not make them again in the future. Which is all well and good when it comes to a broad societal level. However, as a writer recently caught up in relearning world history, may I instead say that those who study history are blessed to repeat it.

My education into world history (which currently involves the 180-someodd part The History of Rome podcast and the University of Houston Youtube course on the Crusades) has taught me things I didn’t know, reminded me of things I’d forgotten, and filled me in on details of events I thought I understood. Above all else, it’s given me story concepts. These largely fall into two broad categories, but I’m certain others will arrive.

Prester John as included on 1588 Portuguese map of Africa.

Reliving history. I first learned about Prester John during the Crash Course World History episode on 15th Century maritime exploration. For those not aware of the story, he is a mythic Christian king cut off from Christendom (by which people typically meant European Catholicism) but still keeping the faith. One day he would rejoin with the devout and help kick the asses of any non-believers in the way. At times his kingdom was meant to be in India, at times in Africa, always just beyond where Europeans were comfortable with the geography. At one point in history, Prester John even rose up and led his armies out of the far east to tackle the nascent Muslim threat spreading through the Arab world and knocking on Europe’s door.

Only…yeah, it wasn’t so much Prester John as it was Genghis Khan. Easy mistake to make, I’m sure.

Prester John shows up, or rather fails to show up, for several centuries, especially during the Crusades. The story naturally brings to mind a plotline I came across both in Earthman, Go Home and Delusion World in my Ace Double readings. It’s the story of humanity spreading so quickly among the stars that planets get lost or forgotten in the process. Take this trope, sprinkle in some Prester John, and now there’s a space opera spinning around in my head.

Rewriting history. Anyone who is looking to write alternate history must first be comfortable with the real history. Largely because not everything will change. But this isn’t even about that aspect of alternate history. This is learning about points in history that I now want to change. Especially in connection with the Nickajack world, asking questions about what is different about this earth not just in the 1860s, but in the 1760s or even 1060s. Yeah…maybe I’m thinking about writing a Steampunk story set during the Crusades. I’m still trying to figure out what the story even is there, but you can bet Baldwin of Boulogne, aka Baldwin I will show up.

So get out there, learn a little history. The stories of the past are fantastic fodder for genre fiction, and are sometimes just fun to learn.

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