The Savage South

aka: Savage South

You know where you are?
You're in the Jungle, baby!
You're gonna DIE!
Guns N' Roses, "Welcome to the Jungle"

If you thought the north was bad, you haven't seen the south. Down there, everyone is crude, their language indecipherable and their mannerisms are barbaric. The land is an inhospitable jungle full of wild beasts, barren desert, or nasty swamps full of crocodiles (sometimes it has all of the above). Also, don't go swimming: there are sharks, or worse.

The Savage South is when a southern area is seen as more barbaric than its northern counterpart. This shows up frequently in westerns, fantasy settings, horror films, and many other works and takes many forms. In milder versions, the area's just unpleasant with rude, poorly groomed people. At worst, the people are hostile to any outsiders and the land itself is a nightmare realm just waiting to kill unlucky travelers.

A Supertrope of the Deep South (one of its Good Counterparts), South of the Border, Darkest Africa, and Land Down Under, sister trope to Grim Up North. If the South is looking decayed, misty and/or possibly undead, then it's Southern Gothic instead. Go even farther south, and you're in Mysterious Antarctica.

Historically, until recent times, areas near the equator were seen by many Europeans and Americans as not only unpleasantly hot but also arid or sopping wet and full of savage tribes and dangerous large animals like panthers and lions. If the heat, tribalism or animals didn't kill you, the diseases borne by biting flies or mosquitoes or food poisoning would. Modern advances in dealing with disease and wild animals have resulted in a more friendly outlook on these places as the risks are more easily managed.

The field equipment of any self-respecting European or American in places beyond the tropics would include the venerable pith helmet - before World War II, plenty of Real Life people were fully convinced the head of a White guy would boil in the midday sun without, while the natives were genetically adapted to it. It had a more mundane explanation: while the people who had grown in hot climates would know better and stop all physical activity from around 11 AM to 6 PM, Northerners would insist on their usual work schedule from their home country, with most active hours when the heat is worst.


No "real life" examples unless very specific, please. For example, quoting an American newspaper saying that Mexico is barbaric is fine (despite the Unfortunate Implications), but saying "how America views Mexico" is not enough.

  • Cannibal Exploitation Films were very popular in Grindhouses all over the USA during the 70's and 80's. The whole point of these films is showing how "savage" South America is. Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most famous.
  • There are countless horror films that take place in the Southern USA. Here is a sample list (see also Hillbilly Horrors):
  • Fair Game (1986) is an Australian example of the trope, complete with sociopathic redneck rapists. Other examples include The Western Mad Dog Morgan, The Outlaw Michael Howe, Savages Crossing, cannibal slasher Van Diemens Land, Dying Breed, and Road Games, a remake of Duel.
    • Kiwi films based on this trope include Film/Utu and Dead Lands.
  • Swamp Water (1941), while not a horror film, is still arguably a good example. It takes place in the rural South, specifically the area in Georgia around the Okeefenokee Swamp. The town on the swamp's edge is pleasant enough, with a general store, square dances, young women in gingham dresses and the like. But once you wander outside of town and into the enormous swampland itself, things quickly become dangerous. Not only are the trees growing out of the water so labyrinthine that you can easily become hopelessly lost and starve to death if you don't know how to catch your own food, but once trapped in there you're easily prey for alligators, Florida panthers, and the dreaded water mocassin ("cottonmouth") snake, which lurks at the water's edge and strikes without warning. Also living in that swamp is a paranoid survivalist (actually a man unjustly accused of murder who's been forced to become a recluse) played by Walter Brennan; he'll kidnap you if you get too close to his hiding place and then kill you if you try to escape.
  • The premise of The Ruins. A group of young people vacationing in Mexico travel to an out of the way Mayan ruin. Horror ensues.

  • Invoked in Romance of the Three Kingdoms - the South is reportedly a vast, dense jungle inhabited by tribes, all of which answer to the mighty Meng Huo. Unlike the usual barbarian chieftains, Meng Huo can be reasoned with... eventually... involving a lengthy series of moves that takes the form of a Humiliation Conga and culminates in the ultimate Break the Haughty.
  • In Faulkner's Sanctuary, beautiful Ole Miss coed Temple Drake is kidnapped by the impotent criminal Popeye who proceeds to rape her with a corncob when his junk won't work... later, in a drunken rage at being interrupted by his local book club, Faulkner answered the question, "Do you see yourself in your writing?" with "I, madam, I WAS THE CORNCOB" before slamming the door and getting back to his scotch.
  • Until fairly recently, Africa south of the Sahara was often called "Dark Africa" in many books and films because it was largely an unknown, "savage" land.
  • Due to its Troperiffic nature, The Belgariad plays this incredibly straight with Nyissa, a snake-infested jungle full of poisonous plants, ruined temples and a thriving slave trade, populated by a race of stoner weirdos ruled by a sadistic oversexed queen. South of it is Cthol Murgos, home of a Proud Warrior Race in service to a Human Sacrifice-loving God of Evil.
  • Averted in most French works: The south of France is often depicted as being far friendlier and warmer than the north. Played straight in that most clandestine immigration comes from the South (that is, North Africa), so depictions of the area are portrayed roughly the same as Mexican Favelas.
  • The Black Company spends most of the saga traveling from the north (which is the standard fantasy setting) to the south (India expy) down to their place of origin at the southernmost end of the continent... where things get really weird.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the land south of Gondor, called Harad, is considered savage land. Sauron musters an army from there.
    • Note that Harad is huge, covering all of what would in the real world be the Middle East (Near Harad) and Africa (Far Harad). There is at least one technologically and socially advanced kingdom in the Near Harad, although it's under Sauron's thumb. Next to nothing is known about the Far Harad, but what little is implies it to be a genuinely savage environment.
    • The Southern part of Gondor split away after many people refused to accept one of the Kings due to them not being a pure Numenorean and by the War of the Ring is inhabited by the Corsairs of Umbar, pirates. Eventually the Haradrim conquered Umbar.
  • Similar to "Lord of the Rings" in "The Chronicles of Narnia" is Calormen, a land to the South of Narnia and Archenland, separated by a vast desert. It is inhabited by Calormenes, who practise slavery and have a large Empire. In "The Horse and his Boy" they try to conquer Archenland and in "The Last Battle" they launch an invasion of Narnia, but this is stopped by The End of the World as We Know It.
    • Ironically, the Calormenes refer to Narnians and Archenlanders as the "Northern barbarians," whose lands are full of demons.
  • The southern lands in Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian series. Most of the lands are savage in various degrees, but the lands south of Stygia are more so, especially the Black Kingdoms.
  • In Mattimeo, one of the Redwall books, we find out that the Kingdom of Malkariss, a slave empire at the bottom of a vast abyss, is in the south. While the northlands in the setting are cold and filled with their own dangers, no place is as loathed as Malkariss. Even further south is the island of Sampetra, home of corsairs and savage monitor lizards.
  • In Terry Brooks' Shannara books, the Southland Federation regards itself as the single most civilized nation on the continent. In reality it's a xenophobic, expansionist dictatorship that outlaws magic and has designs on the rest of the world. At its worst, in the Heritage books, The Federation became an outright Police State, dominated by The Seekers, and secretly controlled by The Shadowen. Many books and centuries later, things have improved, but it is still the single greatest threat to the other lands outside of the Demons, and is certainly the most persistent.
  • The Wheel of Time's southern continent is called the Land of the Madmen; it's never visited, but the Proud Merchant Race Sea Folk tell stories of constant volcanoes and earthquakes, violently insane Channelers, and wretchedly primitive villages, and refuse to go there.

Live-Action Television
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Safari O'Toole", the eponymous adventurer spends much of his time in the Savage South, Darkest Africa in particular. He's a fake, but a nice one, who's only trying to impress Mrs. Davis.
  • Oregon: Washington's Mexico and California's Canada, according to Stephen Colbert.
  • Community has a joke in it referring to Thailand as China's Mexico.
  • The X-Files has multiple episodes that take place in the Southwest and in Mexico ("South of the Border") and portray it like this.
  • The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Gets Trapped" actually portrays the Southern characters as pretty nice and reasonable, but the Main Characters have different preconceptions.
    Dennis: We are in a very dangerous situation here; these people are from the South! (...) I mean, God only knows what these people will do to us if they catch us. These Southerners, they probably pray for a home invasion every single day; they can't wait to get their hands on home invaders so they can blast 'em with shotguns and do God knows what to them, Frank. (...) They are always armed to the teeth. They will hog-tie us and hang us out on the front lawn or burn us on a cross!
    Charlie: You're right man, you gotta be careful. Y'know, anytime you find out some dude's got a crazy torture basement or something, it's someone from the South; it always is.

Multiple Media
  • BIONICLE: the southern half of the Matoran Universe are said to be so dangerous that not even Makuta goes there. These areas were never explored in-story.

Tabletop Games
  • In Legend of the Five Rings, the Crab Clan who occupy Rokugan's Southernmost Provinces are considered by most Samurai to be crude and Vulgar. This is justified however by the fact that, for nearly their entire history they have been at war with the Shadowlands just south of them. Which are an even better example since the are literally hell on Earth.
  • Dungeons & Dragons provides some examples. Generally speaking, the humans who live in these areas are fairly civilized or at least peaceful toward outsiders; it's the monsters that live there that pose the real threat.
    • The Chultan Peninsula in Forgotten Realms (also the setting for the first and last chapters of Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir). Swarming with dinosaurs, Snake People, and the odd evil Cult. However, Tashalar on the same latitude is reasonably civilized. (Further south from that is the continent of Zakhara, which is actually more civilized than Faerūn.)
    • Hepmonaland and the Amedio Jungle from Greyhawk. Home to various plant monsters, Mayincatec ruins, and a secret cult of fantasy Nazis.
    • The Mwangi Expanse in Pathfinder is filled with dinosaurs, demons, and Maniac Monkeys. Further south, off the edge of the map, there's rumor of a land of warlike Amazons and an empire of dino-riding Lizard Folk. On the other side of the world, south of the "Dragon Empires" of Tian Xia, is the "dark continent" of Sarusan.
    • Because the main setting of Dragonlance is in its planet's southern hemisphere, their "savage south" is actually any other setting's Grim Up North.
    • Eberron: the continents of Xen'drik and Argonessen, ruled by giants and dragons respectively. Xen'drik in particular is filled with trap-laden ruins and haunted by Snake People and dark elves.
  • Different parts of Titan, the Fighting Fantasy world, play this trope to varying degrees:
    • In Allansia, the humans of the southern lands are all quite civilized and friendly, if exotic to characters from the north. The danger comes from the huge Lizard Man Empire that haunts the swamps of the central south, which are more evil and savage than any human you might encounter.
    • In the Old World, the southwestern part of the continent is home to the country of Lendleland, which is home to many fierce and superstitious horse-nomads. The southeastern part of the continent is occupied by the kingdom of Analand, which is arguably one of the nicest places in the entire world.
    • In Khul, the southernmost part of the continent is home alternately to the savage southern swordsmen of Zagoula, who worship the gods of chaos and evil, the plague-breeding beggars of the foul city of Shakuru, and the petty city-states of the Inland Sea, all of whom engage in constant low-key warfare with one another. Khul is the most Justified example on Titan, as the central part of the continent is a warped, horrific pit of Nightmare Fuel caused by the evil which infected the very land itself during the War of the Wizards.
  • Most of the action in the Warhammer world (here's a map) takes place around the Old World. The continent to the south of the Old World is the Southlands, the Warhammer world's equivalent of Africa. Here, you'll find the Badlands; a harsh, barren wasteland filled with various Orc clans constantly warring for supremacy, as well as other vicious predators. Beyond the wastes is a patch of desert once known as Nehekhara, once the first human civilisation, now known as the Land of the Dead and home to the undead remnants of the first human civilisation. And beyond that is pretty much nothing but untamed, unexplored jungle. Over on the other side of the world is the continent of Lustria, a tropical land, home to various dinosaur-like monsters and an Aztec-like civilisation of Lizardmen, who aren't exactly as savage or evil as their nightmarish appearance suggests, but still aren't exactly welcoming to outsiders, in fact they'd probably look at you as dinner. Oh, and the worst by a country mile is the Southern Wastes, the equivalent of Antarctica - when they say "Here Be Daemons", they really aren't kidding!

Video Games
  • The Korcari Wilds in Dragon Age: Origins, which are full of barbarians.
    • Ferelden is in southern Thedas and is considered the south border of the civilized world. But all the other northern countries, specially Orlais, think Fereldans are only one step above savages and only a bad day away from reverting to barbarism.
    • Ferelden might be in the south of Thedas, but in practice, it is Grim Up North, since Thedas is basically Fantasy Europe flipped upside-down. Conversely, the Anderfels, located in the north, are a land of ravaged steppes and forests, and are close to a region called the Donarks, which are also filled with jungles.
  • Sands of Destruction's Summer Continent appears to be an expy of Africa, complete with deserts and Savannah. The biggest sign of civilization is the complex operated by Elephas Rex, and travelers who fail to take precautions usually collapse from heat exhaustion before they reach it.
  • Two of the southern-most regions in The Elder Scrolls series are Elseweyr and Black Marsh. Elseweyr is a massive desert with some tropical jungles at the borders, home to Cat Folk who have a not-undeserved reputation for stealing everything that isn't well-guarded. Black Marsh (aka Argonia) is exactly that, full of diseases, poisonous life forms, sentient trees, and the only native inhabitants are disease-resistant Lizard Folk who can breathe underwater. Goodness knows how it was able to be conquered and added to The Empire in the first place, because when demons from hell began invading the world, the Black Marsh was the only place where they retreated in terror.
  • Stranglethorn Vale zone in World of Warcraft, a wild, savage jungle full of dangerous predators, cannibalistic trolls, and pirates. To a certain degree, the continent of Pandaria also counts, being a jungle-heavy Crapsaccharine World where a Old-god worshipping Mantids, the Xenophobic Shado-pan, and the Brutal Yaungol are all but at war with eachother.
  • The entire continent of Kunark in EverQuest and EverQuest II

Web Original
  • As What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?'s presenters, Nash and Tara, will tell you, Florida. The most insane, screwed up, disturbing stories come from Florida. The people are psychotic, the animals are insane (read: the snakes are eating everything) and the state is crazy.
  • Australia, according to Badass of the Week.
    • In Australia itself this trope tends to be applied to the North as opposed to the temperate (and heavily populated) southern half of the continent, what with the country being in the Southern Hemisphere and all. Heck, just go to the Useful Notes page on Australia to see it in action.

Real Life
  • Somewhat justified as the climates close the Equator provide the life the best environment to thrive. Including also germs, diseases, pests, predators, parasites and other nasty creatures. Most snakes, insects and amphibians, for example, find their natural habitat between the Tropics and Equator. Likewise, the sister trope Grim Up North is due to the increasingly life-hostile climate towards the poles.
  • According to Dave Barry, Florida in general and Miami in particular. According to him, Florida has a constant 200% humidity rate, teems with psychotically aggressive antsnote , giant insects that want to jump into your mouth, and crabs that tear up your front lawn and attack you when you try to pick up the morning paper. And the "natives" are even worse - the Miami version of a good Samaritan responds to a carjacking by pulling out a gun and firing madly at the jacked car. As for politics, the only thing that makes the endemic corruption bearable is how hilarious it is. Case in point: the then-U.S. attorney for the state's south district who responded to losing a legal case by going to a strip club and biting a stripper on the arm.

Alternative Title(s):

Savage South