No single volume to date has yet collected all six thousand years of Arcanum's recorded history. Indeed, many would argue that it is impossible to approach such a gargantuan subject within the covers of a single book! When I was a younger man, it was my burning ambition to write the definitive history of all Arcanum, but I never imagined for a moment that it was possible to do so in a simple or concise manner. Instead I labored for many decades, traveling from place to place in my researches, and produced no fewer than twenty-three detailed volumes which I dared to call "The Compleat Histories". Alas, the fiery arrogance of youth!
I now believe that compiling the entire history of Arcanum in any great detail is a task well beyond the reach of any one man—and what is more, it is a task which will become more difficult with every passing year. In my travels, I have had occasion to sift through many of the world's great libraries and scriptoriums, searching always for the most ancient books, scrolls, and tablets which were still legible. Arcanum's history revealed itself to me slowly, showing first one face and then another as I spent weeks, months, and even years in transcription and translation. But for every precious source document which had been recorded on a sturdy clay tablet, a sheaf of hammered gold, or a roll of soft vellum, there were a hundred papyri which were as dry and fragile as old leaves, and a hundred more which had half-crumbled into illegible fragments. The millennia of knowledge contained therein were in imminent danger of being lost forever—and in some cases, they were lost before I ever arrived.
Both the elvish and dwarven races are possessed of rich oral histories, which chronicle events even more remote and arcane than those recorded by their scribes—but these oral traditions are hard to come by for those outside the appropriate race and culture, and I've rarely been privy to them. Perhaps that is best, as the line between fact and myth grows less clear the further one looks behind, and the transcription of oral histories is more properly the work of a folklorist than a historian. Whenever possible, I have always attempted to keep my own chronicles well-grounded in fact, erring on the side of discretion rather than speculation or untoward credulity; over the years I've found that it's rather easier to believe a well-told and dramatic story that it is prove that story true!
Lately a number of new scientific theories have been put forward as to the history of Arcanum's civilized peoples. Contrary to what one may assume after reading the arguments of Mr. John Beddoes, it was in fact the elves and the dwarves who first reached what we might consider "civility", thousands of years ago: it is from these elder races that the first true historical traditions can be traced. Gnomish culture appears to be quite a bit younger than either of these, although the lack of recorded historical documents made available to human researchers might be attributed to the secretive nature of their society. Human development, by contrast, appears to have been much slower: only in the last two thousand years have humans produced any significant cultural Art and Literature. Of course there are exceptions to these general rules—but prior to a few thousand years ago, most of humanity seems to have consisted of little more than illiterate nomadic tribes, barbarian hordes, and cave-dwelling hunter-gatherers.
One cannot speak about the recent history of Arcanum without addressing the growing dichotomy between Magick and what has come to be known as Technology. My research has shown to me a direct correlation between the widespread use of these two Forces, and increased levels of societal development. Are not the elves the true discoverers of Magick—or, as Beddoes has suggested, the eldest children of the Magickal Age? Were the dwarves not the fathers of the Technological tradition, centuries before the advent of Mr. Bates and his steam engines? Humans, it seems, have now inherited the scientific legacy of the dwarves—and does it not appear that we are now poised for what might be called a Golden Age of cultural expansion and hegemony?
This simple volume, in painting a clear picture of the past, might also shed some light on what we can expect in the years to come. A wise man once said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it; to this I will add that Today's "future" is simply Tomorrow's "history" waiting to be born. I also believe that if we are to have any clear notion of where we are going, we must know from whence we have come, and what has gone before us. It is to this end that I have condensed all I know of Arcanum into a single volume, which I hope will find favor with readers from all walks of life.
Foreword to A Brief History of Arcanum
Dr. Julius M. Crenshaw
Department of History
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