20th Century Fae: memory magic and its modern consequences

I like to try and aim for “what you see is what you get” in the larps I’m involved with. I’d prefer to use something to represent itself, rather than be a comparatively poor quality representation of something else. This post looks at some of the video we used, and how I felt about it.

Midwinter Night’s Dream was designed to be light on crew. As part of creating the event, we identified some elements of story we wanted to incorporate, but might lack the crew in the right place at the right time for that to happen. I wrote up a bit of text describing why I thought we’d get away with using .mp4 video as a phys-rep. for some bits of story that might otherwise exist only as reported speech recounted by our NPCs. This isn’t quite it, but it’s only been smoothed out a bit.*

Introduction

It is well-known that fairies can play with people’s memories. 

They can wipe memories from people they’ve spoken to, to help keep secrets. It is considerably simpler to disguise your presence in the world should no-one have reliable memories of you. The less precise those memories that remain, the easier this becomes. Humankind are subconsciously keen to forget traumatic incidents already. A touch of faerie magic and away the memories go.

The technique of memory manipulation

Taking memories takes time, one quick pass and a memory may be blurred, but some will remain. A longer series of efforts may remove more. It is terribly difficult to merge removed memories; taking longer to do a removal results in a clearer recording.

Removing memories does leave behind a residue; which may later surface in dreams. The residue will be stronger if the memory has been edited or altered quickly or badly. Badly erased memories are particularly likely to be experienced as dreams, hence dreaming of fairies is a trope.

Memory removal became less effective a technique as other methods of remembering were developed. It’s obviously much less easy to convincingly manipulate memories when they are backed up by a photographic record. When photography arrived, faeries had to prove the photos of forgeries too. Hence the Arthur Conan Doyle nonsense. 

Memories of the rich and famous

Many famous fairy encounters have been altered with. People who’ve spoken to faeries often can’t quite remember the details later.  

There’s a famous table in a Tavern in Deptford where Kit Marlowe got stabbed through the eye with a knife. It’s notable from records of that event that a whole bunch of humans who can’t describe what happened or who said what. These are professional spies, not just rude mechanicals, and they just can’t quite remember who did what to whom. That’s because faeries went out drinking with actors, someone got killed, and then Puck cleared it all up. Puck is an expert at this: it’s pretty easy to be quick and careful when you can throw a girdle round the earth in three quarters of an hour or so.

Lewis Carroll, for example, clearly encountered fairies as a child, and wrote a paragraph or two referencing them in a family journal he published at the time. My suspicion is that he was wrecked when he met the fae, and they tried to strip his memory down later. I think he might be the caterpillar in his later works…

Arthur Conan Doyle could remember some stuff about fairies, because he’d spoken to fairies and later referenced it in a series of articles for the Strand magazine while investigating the Cottingley Fairies (sp?). I think he got a Visit, same as the girls did.

Shakespeare clearly had several conversations with fae; not just the ones which fed Midsummer Night’s Dream, but several others where he was told about historical events a Warwickshire lad clearly couldn’t have known about… Oberon himself used to remove memories when he’d got drunk with Shakespeare. He wasn’t always terribly careful, hence bits of memories remained for Shakespeare to use as the basis for eternal fame as a playwright. Great chunks of those he clearly remembered very well, and fed into his plays. 

What do you do with a stolen/wiped memory?

You might just wipe a memory “by faerie magic”. That’s probably easy. If you want to keep it for some reason, it needs somewhere to go. Let’s imagine stolen memories can be recorded in gems, bits of quartz, whatever. The quality could be extraordinarily bad. They might perhaps be played “by faerie magic” perhaps involving shining a light through the crystal onto walls or sheets or something like that. If you were a mischievous fairy, you could perhaps fake ghosts by playing a stored memory of a real individual onto a sheet.

In more modern times fairies who are more technically handy might use the old crystal magic to play the memory on to a nice clean screen and then record *that* as a .mp4 video file. So now they have a means of duplicating and sharing mortals’ memories.

(Yes, of course Bad Faeries would use stolen memories as porn collections. Everything gets used for porn.)

What does this mean?

“Stolen memories” look to all intents and purposes like extremely poor quality video recordings. So you might have a poor quality video recording of Oberon saying something to Will Shakespeare or Kit Marlowe because *that’s what they’d remember*, which is stored as something functionally identical to an .mp4 video. You end up with a library of poor quality .mp4s of Oberon talking. Stores of such memories might be quite handy for a variety of story-driven purposes.

An example: Well, an “outtake” filmed after the event. This is supposedly Puck’s memory of Oberon eating sugar plums, or in this case Christmas Pudding whilst wearing a Christmas hat. In this supposed moment of game, Oberon wishes Puck to forget ever seeing the hat. Or possibly the eating. Who knows? Either way you can see his point…

Anything else?

Well. If you have enough stores of such memories, and if you have transcribed the content down to text, that might give you a sufficiently long corpus of actual text to train an AI to respond as if it was *the individual*. So you could conceive of an AI trained, using words, actually spoken or remembered by an individual, such that it was increasingly difficult to distinguish that from the actual individual. So as a stretch goal, there’s a means of justifying live appearance by “dead people” that is merely an extension of the existing memory magic, rather than an additional school of actual magic. Foolish people might mistake such shit for the magic that is necromancy, but the whole world’s full of fools, right?

(* You might like to know that I was finding it hard to start writing this piece, and was very short on time. This text was originated by thinking out loud about what I wanted to say. I recorded that stream of consciousness, and ran it through Descript** to get a first draft.)

(** Why, yes I first heard of Descript via Ian Thomas. That’s where most of my practise come from.)

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