Post-apocalyptic is all about one thing: if the world as we know it ceased to exist tomorrow, would I survive? Take away my cell phone and television, cars once the fuel runs out. Remove the airplanes from the sky and the shipments of exotic fruit from the grocery stores.
Eliminate the grocery stores. Eliminate society as we know it. Put the meat to the metal and see what gives. Who. Me.
It’s easy to wonder, in the small hours of the night, when life narrows to the glowing screen in front of you and you realize just how much time you spend pushing buttons, just what would happen if life as we know it ceased to happen.
Or maybe that isn’t when your mind wanders, maybe it’s in a restaurant when you realize you have an amazing plate of food in front of you that you can’t finish and, for whatever reason, can’t take home, so it will be thrown away. Thrown away, when a hundred years ago that was inconceivable.
Or do you find yourself in the midst of a holiday celebration you’re not sure why you’re involved in, drink in hand, wondering what it would be like to have new ones? Ones you made for victories? Ones that meant more?
Or maybe you don’t wonder about it, but I do.
Right now I’m touring a bit around Britain. Husband is from Scotland, and he and I spent yesterday meandering our way through the dales of Yorkshire through James Harriet country, seeing this and that and the other thing. Stone barns dotted the hillsides; not one, but hundreds of them, some collapsed but most intact because stone takes a long time to crumble.
Or does it?
We stopped at Brough Castle for half an hour. Husband parked our sewing machine of a rental car and we hiked up through three gates, over paths sheep had obviously trod and not thought much of, dodging their gifts. At the top of the rise we found the castle itself. What’s left of it. The bit that remains when humans leave.
As an American, castles are complete novelties to me, ruins even more so. We don’t have ruins in Ohio. We have abandoned deathtraps made of rotting wood and we have archeological digs that you can stare at from behind a proper Plexiglas barrier, but not ruins and all the adventure that word conjures. Rooms to explore, doorways to run through. Entire layouts to be investigated, and investigate I did. See the name of this blog at the top? Under-paid, Over-enthused? It’s called that for a reason, and I used my massive quantities of energy to make the best of the abandoned scenery, racing here and there until—
At at the top of a stairway, overlooking where there was once a room, I stopped. Looked at the four-foot-thick masonry, the arrow slits, the holes where once bars could be set to save the castle from battering rams, and I realized in my bones what this place was.
A ruin, yes. A ruin of someone’s home, of someone’s haven. A place made to create safety when there was none, to save those inside from raiders, armies, and the devil himself. It was built to stand for a thousand years, for all time. For long enough to stay alive. Stone, forever, like the barns in the dales.
Except unlike the barns, humanity no longer needed that castle one day, and so let it fall to ruin. They abandoned its damp halls in favor of comfort, because safety was taken care of, and now someone’s life-saving plan was a tourist attraction with a little placard saying “Here Once Was.”
See, Brough Castle wasn’t abandoned once; it’s been abandoned twice in its castle form, and before that again in its Roman fort form. Three times settled. Three times deserted when no longer necessary.
Standing there realizing exactly what four-foot-thick walls really meant, I had to wonder: will someday we need it again? If so, how?
Castles are no good for cannon-fire, nor shelling. They are useless against nerve gas. They are vulnerable to siege, to wild storms, to pestilence.
Yet at one time they were havens. What would it take to make them necessary again?
Zombies are terribly popular for this sort of thing, with the additional bonus of being singularly unlikely and therefore falling into the not-too-scary category. But how about a good old plague that travels through water, making a place reliant rain-water particularly useful? Or a series of nuclear attacks that destabilize the government, unleashing chaos in their wake as radiated city centers are abandoned in favor of isolated countryside that can be fortified against marauders? Because that’s all a castle would keep out: un-modern armies.
As I stared out an arrow-slit, sighting the front door of Brough Castle, this is what I wondered, speculated, imagined: a world where we needed castles again.
I don’t want it to happen. But still, I wonder what would if it did.
Do you ever have thoughts like this, or do you leave it for the novels and movies? Will a time come that we need castles again? What about modern castles, aka fortified homes? Is this all just the strange imaginings of those with time on their hands, or something you think will come to be? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, writer of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels of the dark and gritty type. When I’m not exploring castles in Britain I’m at my desk in Southeast Ohio, conjuring nightmares and occasionally winning at Pikmin.
A couple housekeeping notes: I’ve been out of town for a week now and going crazy with book release stuff for slightly longer. The update schedule will be officially changing soon, but don’t worry, I’m still going strong! Just gathering material for new posts on my first actual vacation in two years (whew!) and getting ready to come back with plenty of fresh stuff. Thanks for being patient!
2 thoughts on “The Point of Post-Apocalyptic: A Time for Thick Walls”
Something I’ve picked up from Time Team (try to catch it while you’re over there!) is that a standing ruin is a sign not of abandonment, but of disuse. If people really didn’t want a structure anymore, they tore it down and used the stone for something else. That castle is probably made partially of stones hewn for the original Roman fort, which might have been built of torn-down Iron Age roundhouses. In any case, the fact that it’s there–in whatever condition–is a sign of respect, and a sign that people generally intended to use it again.
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I love that way of looking at it. That’s very true of our own time, too–we keep things only until we’re certain we won’t use it again (or the need is too pressing elsewhere for something the thing is using up).
The big chunk in the picture above only came down in 2010; they don’t have the funds to put it back and the national government won’t pay. So you could say the national government no longer sees the need, but Brough still does.