As I wrack my brain trying to understand this fascination, I come to the conclusion that I better define what I’m talking about first, so here goes:
- I think that I first thought about this from a textual perspective when I read The Lord of the Rings, and I worked my way through everything, all the appendices, The Silmarillion, and all that. I’m not sure what or if I thought about the Ancient before, but I definitely remember picturing the cartoonish aspects of Feanor’s march on Morgoth (I might be remembering that wrong) as a wide-open valley with larger than life elves and orcs and some men running around. The primevality of it (yep, that’s not a word) struck me, the idea that the landscape had not been drawn upon (or, more accurately, marked by humans) or their idealized selves.
- In games, there are reasons for so much use of swords and cross-bows and ‘ancient’ weapons, from a game design perspective. The main one that I can think of is the value of melee, one-on-one fighting that doesn’t kill instantly (like in the COD and other first-person shooter series). Hell, Doom let us kill things with chainsaws and fists – although not very well. Of course, since most of the original players were boys, wielding these huge e-peeenises might also have had something to do with the prevalence of swords.
- So, Mortal Kombat and Doom and the Final Fantasies and a host of others include melee combat, but what about the RTS games featuring Rome and the Middle Ages? What about Sid Meier and starting a civilization from the ground up? Do these figure into the equation (technology might be > the ancient, but maybe not)?
- Science fiction is what I keep coming back to, but maybe horror is a place for this as well? Fantasy obviously is, and its connection to science fiction, but the science fiction that most strikes me as being important to this context is stuff like Silverberg’s or Wolfe’s, where what seems like a medieval society is actually one so old that it can’t be reckoned with, one that has fallen from far loftier heights to be what we consider primitive, even if there are odd remaining artifacts hanging about. I can still feel the shiver of recognition I got when I finally realized that Severian’s guild lived in a decrepit spaceship that was stuck on the planet, or when Silverberg provided us a spark of contemporary perspective by looking at the world we’ve been viewing for hundreds of pages through Western, often scientific and even anthropological, eyes. Hell, Mitchell did that in Cloud Atlas with the links of characters between vignettes or novellas or whatever the hell we call them: ‘ohmigod, look at how old that seems when it is really old it’s actually in the future holy shit.’
- Finally, I need to think of the Ancient in the context of a couple of other terms: primitive, primeval, traditional, primordial.