Rant for April 16, 2001
Few words have the power to capture the imagination and stir the soul like the name Atlantis. Most people don't know very much actual information about the legendary lost civilization, but almost everyone in our society today has heard of it. In setting, it is quite possibly the oldest legend known—Atlantis existed, according to Plato, around 10,000 BC. That's about 6000 years before the rise of civilization, according to accepted anthropological theory, and 6000 years before even the creation of the world, according to many creationists! To assume that Atlantis existed when Plato claimed would be to question much of what is currently accepted as fact, but whether Atlantis really existed at all, or when or where it did so, is not really what is most important. Real or no, Atlantis has had a powerful impact on our legends, literature, and entertainment, and on how we see our own past.
My own personal “obsession” with Atlantis began when I was a senior in high school. While doing preliminary research for my Western Civilization research paper, I ran across a book in my school library called Atlantis: The Eighth Continent, by Charles Berlitz. This book (of which I now own a copy, and which I highly recommend) became my primary source for the paper. It certainly wasn't my best research paper ever, but my teacher liked it—even if he did take off points because it was twice as long as it was supposed to be. *laugh*
From then on, I've dabbled in Atlantis research on and off through the years…almost five of them, actually. The story of Atlantis captured my imagination in a way that no single legend ever had before. It has led me to branch out from my original writing style, which focused mainly on high medieval fantasy, and start experimenting with other kinds of fantasy. I've never yet written a story based on Atlantis, although I have always wanted to and even sketched out some notes and a page or two of some possible Atlantis stories…until now, at any rate, as the new project I'm doing with Elfie, called Starchasers, draws heavily on the Atlantis legends and related stories for much of its influences. This has to do with my recent interest in what you might call “adventure fantasy”…fantasy that has more to do with exploration and exotic lands, many of them not following the medieval European cultural pattern, rather than the typical quest to save the world in one particular area.
Sorry, getting off topic…but this is a rant, after all! ^_~ Perhaps I'll write another rant about this particular genre of fantasy later. Anyway, getting back to Atlantis…
I haven't had the opportunity to do as much research as I'd like, but I do know more about Atlantis than your average American college student. With that in mind, I'd like to set the record straight about a few things. All right, being one of the last people on earth to hear recent news, I only just discovered last week that Disney will releasing their newest animated movie, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, on June 15. (And let me tell you, spending three months living in Aberystwyth, Wales, doesn't help, as that is possibly the last place on earth to hear anything, much less the latest news about upcoming American movies. It's a lovely town with a lot of wonderful people and places—even if you don't count the ruined castle! =D Heh…but let's face it, it's pretty isolated. And sad to say, the sheep don't know much about American movies, either. *snicker*) So anyway, I checked out the official Disney website last night, and wow! Happy, shiny, pretty graphics, sounds, and music! Okay, so it's always sorta irked me that major feature films always have to have websites using the latest Flashplayer and Java technology that takes forever to load and that many computers can't handle, but fortunately I had the multimedia computers in my university's lab at my disposal. =P But anyway, that's another rant. Let's just say that if your computer can handle it, the official Disney website for Atlantis: The Lost Empire is pretty cool and should be checked out! There's a nifty "Atlantean" font available for download, some kewl background on the movie's premise, and even a few character sketches and an awesome-looking trailer. It won't tell you much about the movie's actual plot, but it will give you some background on the legend and the nifty animation we can expect. There's even a whole section with lots of research on Atlantis and related legends…but here's where I have a bone to pick with Disney. It's perfectly fine to make up your own ideas and fictional information about Atlantis—it is a legend, after all—but they mix in the fictional information with the facts and don't actually label which is which. So anyone who hasn't done the amount of research I have may be rather confused about what's true and what isn't. So allow me to enlighten you as much as I can…
(Heh. I just went to the Disney website to take a look at their research section so I could check my facts, and the computer I'm on crashed. It just goes to show! I think the Flashplayer stuff is great, but what they really need is a splash page allowing you to choose a format of the page that your computer can handle…for example, Java, straight html, even text only.)
Anyway, to start with, the Shepherd's Journal (a.k.a. the Scrolls of Aziz). To my knowledge, this is pure fiction—the Shepherd's Journal never really existed. If it did, we would certainly know a heck of a lot more about Atlantis than we do now! Consequently, it is not the reason for the Medici family's domination of Florence, Ignatius Donnelly's near-obsession with Atlantis, Napolean's military mania, or Leonardo Da Vinci's backwards writing. (Incidentally, I have a friend who always writes her class notes backwards, so most people can only read them in a mirror! She says it's just easier for her. I suspect it has something to do with being left-handed, since both she and Da Vinci have that in common.) Some of the historical figures listed were influenced by Atlantis legends—for example, Plato, Solon, and Donnelly, obviously—but it's a pretty fair bet that none of them ever came across any scrolls with magical powers that detailed the history of Atlantis and its destruction.
Some of the cultures, ruins, and artifacts listed in the research section have been related to Atlantis by other authors, however…most notably the advanced cave paintings in France, the pyramids, Stonehenge, and certain aspects of Aztec culture, including their calendar system. To some extent, various kinds of architecture, art, legends, and other aspects of culture can be found in many different cultures, resulting in what we call archetypes. I've been doing some heavy study of archetypal legends in my personal Atlantis research, as well as the research on Arthurian legends that I've been doing in conjunction with my senior thesis. Archetypes are basically legends and other cultural aspects that are common to many, if not all, human cultures. For example, variations of the story of Noah's Ark and the Flood can be found in almost all past cultures…the story itself may be related to the sinking of Atlantis. The human predilection for building pyramids, particularly in the "Pyramid belt" of civilizations found near the equator around the world, is also rather archetypal. It may be that such archetypes are a result of a deep-seated memory of our human origins. If, as some people believe, Atlantis was the first major civilization on earth, or at the least the “mother” civilization that gave rise to all the cultures on the planet today, then these archetypes are naturally resulting memories of that earlier time, when various aspects of that earlier civilization were handed down throughout the generations and gradually changed, but still retained the basic nature they still have in common today.
So basically, whether or not some individual came across a magical scroll detailing Atlantean architecture doesn't really matter; Atlantean influences may be much older and much more deep-seated in our collective subconscious. Who knows? That may be a bit too “new age-y” for some of you, but basically, the point is that there are all kinds of clues to our past lying around, but the past is so complex and obscured by the mists of time that it may be incredibly difficult to figure out just where all these archetypes first originated. The answer may be Atlantis…or it may not. Who can say? So basically, read about the artifacts, ruins, people, and places in the Disney site's research section with an open mind, and take everything with a grain of salt. Some of their ideas are pure fabrication and rather unlikely (for example, the suggested connections between Atlantis and the Salem witch trials, the Northern Lights, and the Loch Ness Monster), but they certainly did do their research in the first place, at least! And if nothing else, the many sections on the page make for very interesting reading.
No one is attempting to present this movie as possibly true, of course. The genre itself is one that is very outdated, and the movie previews I've read have openly acknowledged this. That doesn't mean the movie won't be good…it just means that we've passed the age when this was a possible future! Atlantis is actually set in the early 20th century—kind of a Jules Verne type setting. In fact, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a major influence for the movie's style. One reviewer referred to this style as “steampunk” and claims that it's been rather popular among the comic book crowd recently. (I wouldn't know; I don't generally read comic books, other than ElfQuest.) Anyway, some reviewers express doubts that the movie may be too “new age-y” for audiences, but who knows? I'm not a big fan of steampunk or new age, but I think the movie definitely looks promising. With the main character voiced by Michael J. Fox (whom I greatly admire and will have to write another rant on sometime, because of his battle with Parkinson's) and other voices provided by Leonard Nimoy and James Garner, I think the movie is definitely worth the price of a theater ticket, whether or not it turns out to be good. If everyone buys their ticket and the movie sucks, the worst that could happen is that their wallets will be $7 lighter, but the movie makers in Hollywood will know from the initially huge turnout that audiences are interested in movies about Atlantis! So even if this one sucks (which I somehow don't think it will), we may see more and better Atlantis movies in the future if there is enough interest.
Wow, I certainly know how to ramble! I hope I've been making sense…I tend to lose the thread of conversation sometimes. *laugh* Anyway, let's just say that I am very excited about this movie. I realize full well that I may be disappointed; I've always been a big fan of Disney, but some of their recent animated features haven't been all that great. Pocahontas was, let's face it, an embarrassment in many ways (and completely historically INaccurate!), and I didn't even go to see The Emperor's New Groove because it looked so…well, lame. Call me closed-minded if you want…I'll probably see it eventually, I just didn't think it looked worth the ticket price for the theater. Disney has done some great things in the past, but recently I've been gravitating more toward the Dreamworks pictures—The Prince of Egypt was powerful and moving, and The Road to El Dorado was a heck of a lot of fun. (Plus it fits right into my obsession with adventure and exploration fantasy, sorta like Grandia! @_@ Sorry, obligatory daze there. *grin* Grandia is definitely a great game if you like stories about Atlantis-like cultures…) But anyway, incredibly nifty as it looks, Atlantis: The Lost Empire may turn out to be something of a flop too…but I, for one, am willing to take that chance!
Rant ©2001 by Amy Unfred