Over on Slashdot, this recent comment on Scientists Discover Evidence of a ‘Lost Continent’ Under the Indian Ocean is surprisingly reminiscent of the best pulp stories:
I am from Tamil Nadu the state on the southern peninsula of India. It is very commonly believed by Tamil people there was a lost continent south of the southern tip of India. They call it Lemuria, believing it extended all the way to Madagaskar, the land of the Lemurs.
Ancient Tamil literature mentions many places and things that were “taken by the Sea”. The city of South Madurai where the First Tamil Sangam (Institute) was established. The river Pahtruli, the first ever grammar book of Tamil called Agasthiam, the five great epics associated with the First Sangam were all taken by the sea. The oldest extant Tamil book is a grammar book, called Tholkappiam (literally Old Literature) is believed to be derivative of the lost book Agasthiam.
Since Homo sapiens broke out of Africa just 75,000 – 100,000 years ago it is commonly believed by the scientists that these events did not take place in geological time. The most common explanation was that, these were the folk memories of the ending of the last ice-age, 9000 years ago. Sea levels rose, inexorably and the coastal communities moved slowly to the higher ground, each generation remembering that they used to live where the sea was. The places mentioned in the fragments of Tamil literature must have been in the continental shelf just south of Cape Comarin.
In the Tsunami of 2004, people claim seeing a temple in the sea bed when the seas retreated before the onslaught of the tsunami off the coast of Mahabalipuram. The local legend claims the present shore temple is the seventh in the series, as the previous six were “taken by the Sea”.
This sort of interplay between legend, literature, history, science, and rumor could be found in the stories of A. Merrit, H. P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Gardner Fox, Lin Carter, and many others.
But then something odd happened. All of those writers were first class elements of what made it possible for role-playing games to become the incredible innovation that they were during the seventies. But in the following decade, tabletop gaming properties such as DragonLance and Forgotten Realms would end up displacing the older sort of stories. Stories and characters that the first wave of role-players could take for granted that nearly everyone at the table would be familiar with.
And the new stories? For the most part, they ceased to have connections to real world legend, literature, history, science, and rumor. In gaming this was often a conscious creative choice, ostensibly to avoid offending peoples’ religious and cultural sensitivities.
The result… just isn’t as good. And it’s not merely a matter of taste alone either. Just as Tolkien describes the peculiar qualities of the effect happy endings have on readers of fairy tales, there is another similar effect when people realize that the tale could conceivably be true. With a foundation derived from real world lore, the sense of wonder when one encounters the fantastic is heightened.
To sacrifice that is to be deliberately innocuous. And the result will necessarily be underwhelming in comparison to the works of the pulp masters.