Mythbusting is my favorite, yes. It is my attenuated, very watered-down version of the conspiracists who think the truth is always some secret that The Others (the Sheeple) aren't aware of. I do get the attraction, but I have also some sense that the urban legends arose for some milder reason, some prejudice common to the lot of mankind.
The archaeologist James Wright's blog about Medieval Mythbusting is a lot of fun. A sampling:
Spiral staircase in castles going clockwise to favor right-handed defenders backing up the stairs. Nope. It is not even mentioned until 1902 and the idea doesn't become popular until the 30s. It's on the lips of castle tour guides and in the brochures everywhere now, but it's new. Even with the new fascination in the 1800s with military analysis of castle design, no one mentions it. As with the myth of Ring-Around-Roses and the plague, ideas don't generally go unmentioned for centuries and then suddenly come to light.Theodore Andrea Cook, an art historian who is fascinated by spirals also keen on fencing and left-handers floats the theory at the turn of the century. By the 30s the popular historian Sidney Toy was asserting it as gospel. But spiral staircases aren't in the parts of the castle that tend to need defending, but in the remote chambers. Castles are designed to be impressive-looking, and many of the aspects reputedly for defense don't do that well.
Legends of secret tunnels beneath...well, just about everything, it seems. Tunnels from the manor to the local pub. Why? The manor had better access to liquor and women. Tunnels from monasteries to nunneries don't seem to actually materialise when one digs around. Any door that goes off an underground room in any direction is immediately concluded to conceal a long secret tunnel. But they don't. Break through the door and it goes one room farther. Monasteries and castles had many conduits ans sewers, always in the same order of the clean water from the river being directed into the kitchen and laundry first, under the privies last. Yet every town seems to have them, with tales delivered with chuckles that reveal the prejudices of the speakers more than the habits of the medievals. The hearsay with vague identifications may be part of the charm - "Oh yes, my grandfather said that he and another lad used to talk with the vicar about it years ago..."
Witch-marks, arrow marks, pentagrams. All have rather boring practical explanations. Though sometimes the real story is better than the legends. The shoes and stockings found embedded in constructions around chimneys and windows turn out to be there as a hopeful distraction for the evil spirits coming in through the drafts, diverted to a human-associated object and thus leaving the actual humans alone. The myth would get christianised by being reversed, that if you caught the spirit it would have to give you treasure in the stockings you'd hung above the fireplace. Rather like the leprechaun having to show you where the pot of gold is.
Ships timbers being repurposed as buildings. Only rarely. Forests were actually conserved and well managed until well into the Industrial Revolution, when the demand for charcoal became great enough to overcome the old customs. A violent storm in 1703 destroyed many ships off Norfolk, but the repurposed wood mostly went into outbuildings and fences. Wharves and barriers went into a few buildings in London when they were torn down, but ships, not so much. An interesting aspect of the mythology around it was Tolkien's focus on the destruction of trees and forests to feed the mills or the hellishness or Orthanc. He was brought up in and near Birmingham at the end of all the overwhelmed forest destruction, when the reforestation was still only partial and incomplete. It apparently made an impression.
There is a pattern to urban legends, which overlap with those of horror movies (that girl who loses her virginity? Yeah, she's going to die soon.) Those who don't "respect" the spirits have to pay the price. There are forever scandals to be covered up, always money, drink, and sex.
Wright supposedly has a book coming out about mythbusting eventually, but it isn't there yet.
The supposition that spiral staircases were clockwise to place right-handed defenders in a position of advantage may be false, but what I do abhor is the phrase 'mythbusting', and its sibling 'debunking', for abetting its deployer in seizing the moral and factual high ground in the narrow minds of the mesencephalic midwitted masses. Not to say that myths need not be busted.
Ahh, I rather like the former term. Have you got a better? I'd consider switching to something else.
I can't think of a better alternative, and I don't think the word is necessarily bad; it's just misused frequently, hence my learned aversion to it.
How about truth seeker?
I can see 'deconstruction' being repurposed, or reclaimed.
There's a rather long blog post there about the alleged subterranean tunnels in just one town -- a town I lived in for 10 years, with its medieval castle, medieval churches and chapels, and medieval pubs.
I must confess that if I heard any of these stories about tunnels during my time there, I certainly don't remember it.
The schoolboys were always big on those stories.
Ship's timbers would be pretty bad as building materials, but on the Mississippi River in the 19th century one way to ship wood down from the Minnesota and Wisconsin forests was to assemble heavy boards into a barge, which would make a one-way trip and then get dismantled. "Barge-board" houses are still around. Lovely thick planks.
Tunnels are a lot longer when you're 6 years old.
The spiral staircase strikes me as a plausible deduction even in the absence of historical sources that attest it. However, let me tell you what a spiral staircase definitely does defend you against: except for the largest ones, it will prevent medical responders from getting an ambulance stretcher up to you if you need one on that floor. There are other options for moving a person to the ambulance, but those beautiful architectural spiral staircases are going to complicate getting their owner to the hospital should they need to traverse one on the way.
They had stretchers then, and someone along the way must have cursed the inconvenience of the staircase in getting the patient out efficiently. Of course, the people carrying the stretchers aren't going to be asked their opinion on the design of the next castle.
They also had "stretchers" in the torture dungeon, incidentally.
My rule is to go with the poetic explanation when there is room for doubt. Poetic explanations represent the world as a a wonderful place; prosaic explanations represent it as a drab and depressing place in which boring people lead drab and depressing lives. Romance makes me want to live; mundane myth busting make me want to go hang myself in the barn. "They called this fountain Wizard's Well, but 'wizard' is just an abbreviated corruption of the word 'washer-woman' and this place was really just the town laundry . . ." A good myth also motivates, so "busting" a myth is a psychological attack on those who find it good. The mythological middle ages inspires certain people and those who "bust" those myths are enemies who aim to demoralize those people.
It seems my audience is against me here. I had my following myths era for decades, went to medieval events, read the entirety of LOTR and Narnia out loud more than once to my older sons. I spent my early D&D years making up worlds to the tune of 40 hours per week for nearly a year. I came to wonder if it was a poison, however much joy washed it down.
So i feel I understand you and Ganzir quite clearly - but now think the imaginative road at least a touch worrisome.
Clockwise going up or going down?
I came to wonder if it was a poison, however much joy washed it down.
Interesting. What do you mean, exactly?
The poetic can enhance our understanding of the world around us. CS Lewis talks about mythical forests making all real forests somewhat mythical. But I think one can become untethered, like a kite whose string is unmoored. It may not be an amount of poetic escape so much as a type of escape that is the problem, but i think the risk is real, especially for the young.
So you mention LOTR, Narnia, and D&D. Were you thinking that the D&D type was maybe poison?
I've actually been thinking about the effects of games on children lately.
Yes, the game more than the fiction. Lewis and Tolkien both had to deeply immerse in the worlds to write the books, yet they seemed to have (very) healthy minds. I never subscribed to the scare stories about D&D, but I did wonder if something were less wholesome about the experience. I am nonetheless going to DM a game for my granddaughters, so I can't be that spooked.
I never bought the scare stories either, but a guy I respect once pointed out that D&D rewards players mainly for killing and accumulating wealth. Of course, lots of games do that.
However, it made me interested in finding or creating games that reward different kinds of behaviors.
Chaosium's Pendragon, for example, has virtue scores and promotes virtuous behavior by the characters. Of course, in the basic game, you can only play an Arthurian-age knight, so it makes sense.
I've been thinking about either using it or creating a game like it but simpler.
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