Tales of Heroes’ Youth
As we said last week, we’ve primarily been asked two questions – “Is this Odyssey 2” – which we answered last week, and “What is Alba“, which, hopefully, this post will go some way toward answering.
We are exceptionally fortunate to live on an island in an archipelago revelling in a rich body of myth, legend and history that goes back four thousand years and more. For the last fifteen hundred of those four thousand years our legends, folklore and myth slowly evolve into recorded history. However for much of Britain’s past before that we have folktales, legends, oral traditions passed through dozens of iterations, some sketchy history, some bloody big stone monuments, and academic work that more often than not will wryly admit that it’s primarily informed guesswork and “ritual artefacts”.
Go back much beyond the Romans and the mists of time close in.
Britain is full of sacred landscape. Scratch below the surface and you will find the old wooden straight tracks across the Ely marshes, the cup and spiral inscriptions of the Picts at St Vigeans. The great processional and ceremonial landscapes at Avebury and Stonehenge about which we know, comparatively, so very little; and less still about those who built them and why. Great stone barrows and tombs at Maes Howe and West Kennett. Settlements going back into the stone age and beyond, back to the times that the ice came down as far south as Bristol and the first Britons hunted mammoth in Kent.
Layer after layer of invading culture bringing their own traditions and their own myths and gods, all merging and melding into one great tapestry in which the very fabric of which the oldest threads are woven is a mystery.
We have as a culture poured our imaginations into that gap in the record; we have let the medieval translations of earlier oral histories paint us a picture of a culture of pre-Roman Britain, and poets and writers have taken the fragments of our past and woven tales of strange and eerie wonder from them. We do not know for sure who they were, those people, but our dreams are full of their deeds.
This is the world in which we want to build Alba.
If you were to look on the map from Time Bandits, the setting of Alba would be firmly within the Time of Legends. However, the legends that we draw from are the Mabinogion, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the drowned lands of Cantref Gwaelod, Ys and Lyonesse – but also the mystical, mythical hidden Britain of Susan Cooper, the Albion of William Blake, the Alderley Edge of Alan Garner, Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood and the Prydein of Lloyd Alexander.
There is no “historical period” for the setting of Alba, because we know so little of those times that to set a date would be meaningless. Nor is it a “Celtic” or “Arthurian” larp – though thematically the stories and the tales that have come down to us from those times will colour our setting and background materials.
You won’t find an Arthur or any other kind of High King – that’s not the story we want to tell – but you may find echoes of the oldest stories in the Arthurian canon, something that looks like a Green Knight or a Fisher King. Every forest is likely to hide a magician with an agenda of some kind, whether they be wise and strategic as a Merlin or cunning and devious as a Gwydion ap Don.
We are not seeking to be “historically accurate” so much as “thematically recognisable” (dare we way “Myffic”?) and scholars of pre-Roman Britain will find no solid food, though they may well recognise the flavours of the dish.
Alba is not bronze age Celtic Britain; it is instead a thing of itself. Come and help to shape the stories and legends that will define it. This is a land and a people in the first bloom of their youth; it will be in your power to shape the myths the people of Alba will tell for four thousand years.
Cattle raids and women made of flowers; magical combs and shapeshifting magicians; heroes who shrug off the most deadly wounds in the pursuit of honour, pride and duty; mystical monuments to the power of the land that shape the very world itself. Each and every one of you accrues a personal legend; spend such power wisely.
These and more are your tools.
These will be the tales of heroes’ youth. And they will be yours to tell.