biweekly links 7-26-2017

Notorious look at 16th century: check this out! An amateur (!) builder spent 10 years (!) researching and building a replica of a Portuguese caravel. This is the kind of insanely dedicated experiential archaeology I lurve. To my eternal regret I can’t find a website or blog chronicling the building process, but the ship’s Wikipedia page has some information. To find out where it docks next check out its Twitter and Facebook page.

Photo of ship Susan Constant at sunset
Reproduction of the “Susan Constant” at the Jamestown Settlement, no less impressive though it wasn’t made by a single man in his backyard. Author’s own.

A $70 ‘Worry Stone’ and Other Bizarre Spiritual Products You Can Buy Online: I used to have a worry stone – can’t imagine where it got off to but it’s nice to know I can replace it from the comfort of my keyboard. For serious high rollers you can get an “orgon [sic] accumulator” starting at $2000.

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Dunkirk: One of many articles about the movie, but I think covers history vs. fiction the best. As a former stickler for historical accuracy at all costs, writing The Book has humbled me to the real difficulties of hammering historical events into a compelling narrative. Nolan’s aim was to “put you on that beach” and I think he did so admirably, while sticking astonishingly close to the facts. Not included: why Germany stopped their attack or the fate of those left behind.

Will: 5 ways ‘The Two Gentlemen’ twists history: from painstaking historical accuracy we go to flamboyant liberty with the facts, or at least the image. I’ve not seen “Will” (yet?) but I can’t hammer it’s “punk rock Elizabethan” aesthetic too hard – I love artful anachronisms – but opinions differ.

biweekly links 4-5-2017

Gore blimey! New exhibition looks at Tudor medicine: in case you find yourself in Stratford-Upon-Avon between now and December. More about “Method in the Madness: Understanding Ourselves Then and Now”;  the exhibit will include replica surgical instruments and other interactive elements.

Parchment drawing of a wheel with flasks around the edges, each flask filled with a different color.
Fifteenth century drawing of a urine diagnosis wheel from Johannes de Ketham’s Fasciculus medicinae. This and other fabulous public domain medical illustrations are available in the National Library of Medicine’s digital collections.

Henry VIII clauses and how 1539 compares to 2017: Brexit, sport, and public humiliation – the more things change, the more they stay the same, or do they? What do you think?

Does Bela Lugosi’s Ghost Still Haunt This $3M ‘Hollywoodland’ Tudor? Former residents Jon Cryer and Kathy Bates aren’t saying. Frankly, it doesn’t look all that Tudor-y to me, but the beamed ceiling is nice.

biweekly links 3-8-2017

A handful of UFO-related links as I mine my blog feeds:

my favorite anachronisms

I’m thrilled when a work of historical fiction in any media gets it just right.  The “Wolf Hall”‘ miniseries’ period-correct under- and headwear, “The VVitch”‘s  word-for-word dialogue from seventeenth century primary sources, Sarah Waters’ carefully researched nineteenth century lesbian lives. My overkill bibliography and trip to Prague are my effort to do the same for the Dee/Kelley book. One of the main reasons I want to finish the second draft by June is so I can seek sixteenth century-savvy beta readers at this year’s HNS conference. I need someone to catch my mistakes!

Having said this, I first came to historical fiction disguised as something else and thus my influences were inherently non-factual. Not just books either-my earliest influences were visual rather than textual. So I kinda love anachronisms if they’re done consciously and well.

Take Adam Ant, my first exposure to historical fashion remixing and probable first crush (yes, I am old).  I saw his (excellent!) “Kings of the Wild Frontier” show back in January. Full of jangly spaghetti western guitars, whooping shouts and four-on-the-floor drums, the music is eclectic, but his aesthetic even more so. Take the video for “Dog Eat Dog”, a cross of New Romantic eyeliner, nineteenth century militaria, and Native American trappings:

The feathers and war paint have an uncomfortable whiff of cultural appropriation (never said my faves weren’t problematic). To his credit, when criticized by Native American leaders back in the day Adam invited them to his show and addressed their concerns, volunteering to axe his iconic look if they found anything offensive.

These days he’s ditched the white stripe in favor of a more eighteenth century “dandy highwayman” mix, including the swashbucklingest bicorn in rock.

Through Adam Ant fandom I discovered Vivienne Westwood, former punk turned fashion designer. Her 1981 Pirates collection is my favorite for obvious reasons, but I’m also tickled by her further variations on historic costume, like the mini crini and unisex corsetry. Here’s Westwood talking about her research process at the Wallace Collection:

Love it or hate it (and I’ve met folks of both stripes) “The Knight’s Tale” goes full on creative anachronism to portray medieval jousts as the Superbowls of their time. Contemporary music and tropes dance through the medieval(ish) background.  It’s hard to beat an opening scene where the tiltyard crowds stomp out “We Will Rock You”:

Finally, one I can participate in: renaissance faires. I go to my local faire at least once a year to dress up, drink beer, and listen to bagpipes. Though my garb tends towards accurate-ish, everyone from stitch-for-stitch reenactors through deliberately out-of-place Trekkies finds a home at the pub sing. I could get snarky but it’s more fun to take renn faire as it is: six weeks of Halloween for grown ups! Here’s a video of some of last year’s acts showing the spectrum of aesthetic and anachronism, including more “medieval” Queen:

Would I ever write historical fantasy? Maybe, though I suspect my rigid mind and love of research would drown out any fantastical elements. Still, I have medieval aliens and an graphic novel about an executioner in my plotbunny file, so we’ll see.

What are your favorite mashups?

blogs of note

A few of my recurring online reads:

We Are The Mutants: cold war pop culture with an occult bent. Articles of note: 1970s EVP equipment (warms the cockles of my In Search Of-loving heart), French New Wave cinema’s influence on Hollywood sci-fi, Dungeons and Dragons as occult gateway drug – in a good way. Quality writing on subjects that only seem unrelated.

David Halperin: religious studies prof and former UFO investigator, Halperin balances critical thinking and compassion. His series on the 1966 UFO incident in Westhall, Australia illustrates the unreliability of eyewitness accounts without ridiculing the witnesses, and his two-parter on “The Supernatural” presents a spin on Whitley Strieber’s famous “abduction” experiences that’s neither credulous nor dismissive.

Startling photo-realistic painting of grey alien with huge, slanted, ink black eyes and a Mona Lisa smile
The famous “Communion” cover, from the book’s Goodreads page. Included because 30 years on it still startles the crap out of me and I wanted to share the joy.

Halperin’s post on “The Supernatural” led me to Strieber’s co-author Jeffrey J. Kripal, another scholar of philosophy and religion. He emphasizes “robust and even conversation between the sciences and the humanities”, which I am ALL about. His book Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna seems to have enraged and enlightened in equal measure, so surely he’s doing something right. $DEITY knows when I’ll have time to read his books, but this two-part interview on the Where Did The Road Go?  podcast serves as a useful primer on Kripal’s work and perspective.

biweekly links 1-11-2016

Why the Technology in ‘Rogue One’ Is So Old-Fashioned: can science fiction be historical? Arguably yes, if it’s based on 40-year-old source material. The author notes that most tech in Rogue One is based on that of the original 1977 Star Wars – which was heavily based on a combination of medieval and WWII imagery. A lovely example on how science fiction can be nostalgic even while looking to the future (or a galaxy far, far away).

World War II infantry man runs towards Star Wars Stormtrooper in black and white aged image
One of a thrillingly geeky set of WWII-Star Wars mash-ups at GeekTyrant.com. Yes, I’m a life-long Warsie. Come at me!

Germany: chemical odors lead police to failed alchemist:  leaching gold out of old cell phones might be lucrative but don’t try this at home!

A provocative play over race relations in Elizabethan England will be performed at various theatres in Somerset next year: “Nzingabeth!” claims to be a “fictitious musical meeting between Elizabeth I of England and the proud African Queen Ana Nzinga.” Given that it claims to address heavy topics like race, gender, and politics this could be an intriguing take or a complete disaster. Kinda wish it were opening nearer me.

WATCH: Fight nearly breaks out after soccer player uses witchcraft to score goal: laugh if you will, but evidently spells are still taken seriously in Rwanda. The player did score his goal. Maybe the ritual gave him an extra boost of confidence?

 

biweekly links 11-30-2016

Busy week, so here’s a selection from the past two weeks of my Google Alerts:

Second Salem: The Real-Life Prosecution & Paranoia That Inspired J. K. Rowling’s ‘Fantastic Beasts’: the latest edition to the Harry Potter ‘verse is built around an alternate history in which the 17th century Salem witch trials left a long shadow tainting American muggle/”no maj” and wizard relations well into the 1920s. Opinions?

The Magick of Dion Fortune – With Paul Clark (re-broadcast): Fortune is another new-to-me name from the early years of the Golden Dawn, and writer of occult fiction. This seems to be fairly standard fare from the also new-to-me Hermetic Hour podcast.

Arrival – reviewed by a UFO expert: the expert in question is Nick Pope, former head of the UFO desk (yes, there was [is?] such a thing) in the UK’s Ministry of Defence. Some interesting observations about how the plot of the movie intersects with government (lack of) contingency plans for alien contact and the portrayal of the military. I saw this a few weeks ago and it’s a slow mover but riveting. The aliens are truly alien and the story stays with you long after the credits roll.

how to talk about weird things (really, HOW?)

Despite my lifelong interest in the strange and unusual it took me a relatively long time to realize just how strange that is to (some) other people.

Growing up in a family where such inquiry was commonplace and getting the requisite pat on the head for my childhood faked Bigfoot plaster casts etc. it wasn’t until college that I started getting blank silence, laughter, even hostility. So I learned to shut up if I didn’t want to get into long-winded explanations of why I wasn’t a conspiracy theorist, UFO cultist, or what have you.

Alternative religion historian Mitch Horowitz’s discusses the hazards of discussing the occult in the media and many apply to discussing in company as well: the unknown is acceptable as long as you’re flip about it but any hint of serious interest gets conflated with blind belief, and hence, ridicule. This scares off intelligent inquirers and the truly off-the-wall rush in with their pet theories, perpetuating the association with crackpots.

Angry alien says to fellow aliens:
The acceptable face of  the weird. Don’t get me wrong, I find stuff like this funny too. Via.

Which is a damn shame because underneath the silliness and hysteria are some genuine questions like what really happened? and why do they keep on happening? and how do experiencers integrate their experiences into their daily lives?

Though I’m in the business of speculating I try to be aware that I am doing just that – speculating. I’m no scientist (or trained in rigorous scientific method) so I can’t make authoritative statements about the objective reality of strange phenomena. Nor can I discount or ridicule other people’s experiences – I don’t walk in their shoes.

But I can say: it’s ok to engage the weird. It can be done without sacrificing critical thought, though it is difficult. Investigate without assumptions and be ready to accept that you don’t know and may never know. Most of all, anyone who insists they’ve got The Answer(TM) doesn’t.

biweekly links 11-16-2016

Doctor Strange tapped into a fascination with the mystical that was front and center in America when he was created in the 60s – now he casts his spell again: puts the new Marvel universe movie in the context of the character’s origins in controversial 1960s spiritual explorations. I enjoyed it, wish they showed more of the Sanctum Sanctorum (now on Google Maps!). The mentino of the Key of Solomon amused.

Captain America's quote from The Avengers:
Via knowyourmeme.com

Have you seen it? What did you think?

Speaking of books: The Evolution of Clocks and Timekeeping Rare Books from the 15th century to the present at the Grolier Club: including tomes on timekeeping, mechanical clocks, sundials and astronomical tools by Tycho Brahe, Athanasius Kircher, Girolamo Cardano and more.

Renaissance painter Botticelli’s dark side revealed in new film – but did he have one?: known for the delicate beauty of “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”, it’s often forgotten that Botticelli illustrated “Dante’s Inferno” as well. This new documentary explores the Florentine master’s “dark side” whilst arguing that he didn’t have one.  I’d say burning your paintings at the behest of a religious fanatic is pretty dark, or at least depressing.

last to the party

I’m not the best at keeping up with trends. Maybe it’s age, maybe I’m just perpetually up to my ears in my own peculiar interests, but I don’t always know what’s happening in pop culture at large, even in my own bailiwick.

Take “Hamilton”. I first became vaguely aware of the play only because a fellow writer mentioned it on Facebook. At the time I chalked up her enthusiasm to her subject matter (historical fiction set in 18th century America), but it didn’t take long before half the people I knew were swooning over the soundtrack. Had I heard it? Wasn’t it awesome?

And I hadn’t. A musical about a founding father sounded like an interesting trick to me but then, I’m a history nerd. Alas, I’m a lazy/distracted history nerd and didn’t go much beyond Googling the play. Rationalizing that I couldn’t get much out of a soundtrack to something I’d never seen (and wasn’t likely ever to be able to!) I wandered off into other things.

Then a friend played the opening “Alexander Hamilton” track for me. Hip hop and history – I like it! I mused aloud that putting historical fact to modern music would make it relatable and memorable.

It wasn’t until this past summer that my husband caught the bug, and at his urging I finally downloaded the soundtrack for the Jamestown roadtrip.

Um, damn.

Every single track an earworm, memorable even on first hearing! Funny too – I didn’t know this was a comedy. Wait, it’s not – oh poor Eliza! Is this one about the Federalist Papers? Did this guy seriously just make dry political legalese cool?

I think I get it, finally. I’m not a “foaming-at-the-mouth-best-thing-since-sliced-bread” fan but I’m all in favor of translating history to appeal to modern audiences and “Hamilton” does this flawlessly. The new PBS making-of special is excellent, including not just performances but Miranda’s writing process: how he decided what to keep, cut, fictionalize, and compress from the historical record to tell a good story. Even the actors researched their characters, to the point of going to historic sites and collections [envy!]

So, I reckon I got there in the end. Anyone have something new to recommend?