Salem’s Fire #33: To Be Real

Is history any less real because it may have never happened?

Think of it this way. We are arguing about a minor point of the history of Azeroth, whether or not the ability of the undead to summon frostworms implied any widespread loyalty to the undead remnant by the dragons, and the implications this could have as the lands held by the undead are recovered and resettled. A matter of high speculation, but with far reaching geopolitical consequences. And a stranger walks up and asks why we are wasting our time debating the history that never happened and the future that cannot be of a land that never existed. Why, he asks, do we not turn that level insight and analysis to the problems of the world today work on the geopolitical consequences of the collapse of the Argentine economy, for instance.

And what is the answer, besides a rather polite ?go away?? Do we try to justify our idle speculations as a form of recreation, or do we try to justify them as a useful and realistic interpretation of history and current events? Probably the former, but the latter argument does have some claim to validity.

The history teachers tell us that Brutus killed Caesar because he did not want his beloved Roman republic to become a monarchy. What if, though, Caesar really died because of a plot by the leaders of the Persians to prevent a threat to their land and people from becoming too big? What if Brutus was really a sympathizer with the Persian empire and was on their payroll? The history teachers for two thousand years may have indeed been teaching something that is without truth. The nobility of Brutus could easily be just as much a work of fiction as the nobility of Thrall. But, says the skeptic, regardless, Caesar lived and died in the real world, and Thrall is nothing but pixels and binary code.

Not so, says I. Both figures represent ideas and ideals that are very real whether or not they are played on the world stage or in the World of Warcraft. There can be lessons learned from the fall and rise of the orcs just as there can be lessons learned from the Greek myths of the fall of the Titans or in the rise and fall of the Mongol empire. In what sense, then, does history have the right to say ?this is truth and this is fiction?? Explanations given by history are guesswork. In very few places do we truly know what happened and why. The lessons learned from history can be learned from other sources, fiction, myth, novel, or game. The reason for history is for the lessons it teaches, and for the preservation of knowledge. Without a monopoly on the teaching, history becomes the sole preserver or knowledge of the past, a job no one would claim is not done imperfectly.

So, how is it we can say that the legends of Sanctuary are not real, something I do not claim because I do not have knowledge of all worlds or all times, and that the collapse of the Argentine economy is a more worthy topic of discussion? There stands only potential difference between that history that occurred in out own world and that history which we know to be fiction. The real stuff is more important. Whether or not the Zerg unites with the Protoss to wipe out the Borg (Start Trek 12?) will have no impact on the price of the hamburgers we eat for lunch. The fall and rebuilding of the monetary system of Argentina does indeed impact the price of hamburger, and many other things as well. History?s effect on tangible reality may be the only claim on imagination it has left.

But, to return to the initial question, is history any less real because it may have never happened? Of course, if we allow that those who claim the universe is infinitely old to be telling the truth, then it is all but certainty Blizzard is prophesying the future or telling a past so old its only remnant is in the dust of the stars. With no end of time to work with, the universe could come up with stories stranger than any we could imagine. But, restraining ourselves to the finite, and to this one world and time, is the history of Russia any more real than the history of Kurast?

Yes, of course, I am ignoring the question of what reality is in the first place. That is deliberate. I will freely admit it is entirely possible that we are all at this minute being subjected to total mind control by Baal, the Matrix, or the Taliban. Moving on.

The answer, I think, is that the history of Russia is every bit as real as the history of Middle-earth. Both are stories. Neither can be proven or disproven. Russian history has a mountain of tangible and factual evidence to back it up that Middle-earth lacks, but those facts do not always indicate reality. It is a fact that many people think they have seen the Loch Ness monster. That does not make the Loch Ness monster a reality. Let us say that the history of Russia is more likely than the Loch Ness monster or fall Mordor.

Think of it this way. History, to use it in the conventional meaning, is like the hungry tiger asleep across the room.  Fiction and fantasy are the two puppies you can hear playing behind you. You do not know they are as real as the tiger, but you cannot be sure they are less real either. What you do know is that you odds of survival are far more likely if you pay attention to the tiger than the puppies.

Unless, of course, you happen to be a Night Elf.

Disclaimer: Salem?s Fire was written by Luke Blaize during 2002-2004, and hosted by The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of

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