Friday, January 29, 2016

Medieval Midwestern

The third book that I read for Vintage Science Fiction Month was Clifford D. Simak's Enchanted Pilgrimage (1975). This novel is technically SF, since it features UFOs (wheels of flame right out of the Book of Ezekiel) and a baby robot. However, it has the feel and structure of a traditional fantasy quest novel. A scholar from Wyalusing University discovers an ancient manuscript hidden within the binding of another book. His discovery becomes known, which triggers the murderous jealously of a churchman. The hero flees toward the Wasteland to the west. On his journey new companions gather and a fellowship forms between the protagonist, a rafter goblin from the university library, a woodsman and his intelligent raccoon companion, a gnome, a girl (from the Wasteland) and a swamp-rafter.

Now the Wyalusing University reference is a giveaway. That place-name refers to the county of southwestern Wisconsin that was so beloved by Simak. Way Station was also set there, and I am sure some of his other novels feature this landscape as well. The pastoral themes Simak is known for come out in this novel. Most of the action is travelling across a landscape. I believe the Wastelands through which the PCs - I mean, characters, travel include the prairies of Minnesota and South Dakota, and I'm sure that the "Misty Mountains" where the novel ends are in fact the Black Hills.

So what is this world? Is it a post-apocalyptic setting? A late-medieval (1975) Christian alternate history North America with Neanderthals but without Indians? (And where have we seen that kind of thing before - and quite recently?)  All the characters tell us is that there are at least three parallel Earths: the one we know (and there is a motorcycle riding, gun shooting "action scholar" who comes from our world; the one shown in this story with its mix of humans, fey creatures, UFOs and robots; and one with signifiantly more magic, from which one of the character's parents hail.

There is one additional clue that the world of the story ties in to Simak's City.  There is a shabby Odin-like character called the Gossiper, who is accompanied by a shabby, moulting raven and a little dog with spectacles.

It was a fun read, and has inspired me to create a Medieval Midwestern campaign setting using Whitehack. Rest assured though that Native people aren't missing from my game.

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