Sunday, September 7, 2008

Albion - what makes a better society?

One of the key ideas behind Albion was that Eric's transformation into King Arthur would lead to a better society. That his personal madness led to a social madness, and that both were good for the society and possibly even the world at large.

This is a simple enough idea, but you can always count on me to bugger up a simple idea by over-complicating it.

First off, medieval society (even the faux medieval society of King Arthurian myth) is decidedly not democratic.

Quite obviously there is a King. The King is in control and makes the law. Around the King there is a court, who hold some level of delegated or advisory power, but their authority derives from their association with the King. This is a model of authority centralised in one person.

Now I'm sure the King is a very wise man (well, he was in most of the approaches to Albion anyway), but I quite like my democratic freedoms, thanks. And I can't quite imagine myself being happy to live in what we'd now tend to define as a dictatorship.

Medieval society had quite a few things wrong with it apart from a lack of democracy. It wasn't liberal, it wasn't educated, or enlightened. Women and minorities were repressed, wealth was centralised in the hands of a few, and a serf class was kept uneducated and poor. Disease, low life expectancy, no colour TVs... Why on earth would we want to go back to that?

I kept on trying to reconcile the modern and the medieval/myth into a better society - after all, that was the purpose of Albion wasn't it? To present a vision of a better world. And I was always struggling with these questions and attempting to come up with a society that actually worked.

Should Albion the society do away with modern amenities? Do away with capitalist modes of production e.g. factories and corporations, etc... Is the society socialist, or is it based on feudal land owners tempered by a spirit of compassion for their fellow men?

And civil liberties and social questions tended to rear their head as well. In one version, Eric's daughter was gay and bringing her girlfriend to the transformed society for the first time. The daughter was worried that the medieval morality of the town wouldn't accept her sexuality, and if I remember properly, there was some idea of her being married off as a political alliance. (So really not an ideal society, where your father would marry you off against your will and sexual preference to stabilise his throne).

In another notable version, I turned against King Arthur entirely, and put the King's estranged wife Gwen and her lover, the weak-willed Lance, at the heart of the story. The story began with the couple being harassed by the King's knights, while the King turned a blind eye. So this version was a situation where modern civil liberties were being over-ridden by a sense of medieval morality and loyalty towards the sovereign.

One thing I feel now is that I tried too hard to deal with the real, and let go of the mythic side too much. Albion is about the embrace of mythic medieval values - celebration, adventure, camraderie, egalitarianism (after all, there was a Round Table), honour, romance, justice, truth, and valour. The golden age of Camelot. It might on the surface look regressive, but given that Camelot never existed, it was actually progressive and utopic.

And I also realise that I didn't need to resolve the tensions of modernity vs medieval/myth. The clash between the two poles is actually the interesting stuff, where the story tensions are being generated. One of the things that attracted me to the idea in the first place was the centralisation of power in just one man, and a crazy man at that.

Albion doesn't need to portray a perfect society. They really don't exist. It just needs to portray an attempt in that direction, and all the interesting things that fall out of that.


Tim Jones said...

This may be at a bit of a tangent to your post, but in a script, how do you tell that you have overcomplicated things? Is it when the storytelling problems that are posed by the complexity of your imagined society are too large?

Or is it (and I guess this latter is the case when I try to fit too much in, especially to a short story) when too great a burden of exposition falls on your characters - the proverbial example of this is when two characters are in a bar, and one says to the other "As you know, Bob ..."

Sean said...

Hi Tim,

Good question. The main way that I over-complicate things is by constantly coming up with different ways to address the same idea. I end up bringing too many approaches to the same story, and then not being able to choose between the significant amount of ideas I've assembled...

I certainly think that was the case with Albion, and a number of other projects I've worked on.

d f mamea said...

ah, the ol' what stays, what goes conundrum, made especially hard when all roads lead to hell.

i suppose as you survive -, uh complete each project, you build experience as to what tool or device or whatever tells the story in hand best.

Sean said...

Hi David,

I hope so!