In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
— Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The important question to ask regarding Xanadu is: Which one?
The original Xanadu, or Shangdu, really existed. It was the summer captial of Kubla Khan's Yuan Dynasty in China, located in the region now known as Inner Mongolia, about 275 km (171 miles) north of Beijing. It was visited in 1275 by the Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who described its opulance.
In 1797, the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a fragmentary poem entitled Kubla Khan, inspired by Polo's descriptions. Coleridge claimed that he based the poem on an opium dream he experienced; but that as he was writing it, he was interrupted by a visitor from Porlock who drove the rest of the dream out of his head. As a result, the poem was never finished.
In the 1941 film Citizen Kane, the character of John Foster Kane builds a mansion which he names Xanadu. It's design is more castle-like than oriental and becomes progressively creepier as his life spirals out of control. More recently, billionaire Bill Gates' mansion has been nicknamed "Xanadu 2,0"
To this arcanist, and probably others of his generation, Xanadu will always be the 1980 musical starring Olivia Newton-John as a muse on roller skates and Gene Kelly as a former Big Band leader who teams up with a struggling artist to build a palatial disco.
Currently a mega-mall is under construction in New Jersey called Meadowlands Xanadu. The 5-story retail and entertainment complex is being built in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey and was originally planned to open in 2010. As of April 2011, it still remains unfinished having burned through two owners and $1.9 billion. The state is considering a bailout in the form of low-interest financing and a tax break in order to get the sucker built. Maybe they need to call Oliia Newton-John. As of April, 2014 the financing and various legal problems seem to have been resolved and a tenative opening date has been set for 2016
Game and Story Use
- A historical or time travel campaign might take place in the actual Xanadu of Kubla Khan
- Perhaps the PCs could be accompanying Marco Polo.
- Or Xanadu can be used symbolically, as a name for a similarly opulent and fantastic city or mansion, as in Citizen Kane's or Olivia Newton-John's Xanadus.
- The different versions also make for good characterisation - when Xanadu is mentioned, one character automatically things of Citizen Kane, another the Coleridge poem and a third the Newton-John film.