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Books-Into-Movie Commentary – Special Easter Edition: “Ben Hur” April 24, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Ben Hur, books, books into movies, historical fiction, Lew Wallace, literary commentary, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Uncategorized.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

“Ben Hur” the film, made in 1959, was an appropriately honored and revered film, made from Lew Wallace’s best-selling book of 1880. The film was a masterpiece, and holds up well in 2011, over fifty years later, with its visually riveting chariot race and sea battle, still bristling with energy and drama after all this time. In some ways the film is a textbook example of how to turn a book into a movie, with good choices made to make a movie masterpiece:

  • The film version eliminates a romantic triangle that would have bogged down the three-hour plus movie.
  • The film version eliminates a subplot involving Simonides in Antioch, which would also have been a distraction.

The screenplay adaptation preserves the themes and tone of the book, and its epic scope, reducing long dialogue and narrative passages to prescient images without reducing the quality or intent of the story. 

It would be tedious to try to itemize every difference between the book and the movie. I will first list differences that struck me as particularly notable. I will then offer a basic synopsis of the book to allow readers another way of comparing the book to the movie, particularly for readers of this blog familiar with the movie (I suspect many are very familiar with this incredible movie). 

Notable differences between the book and the movie: 

  • The entire “Book First” of the eight books of Ben Hur tells the story of “the three wise men” visiting Jesus at his birth. The three wise men from the New Testament are depicted in the movie, but in much less detail than in the book, almost as a prologue, and before the opening credits.
  • The first scene in the film with Messala has references to John the Baptist and Jesus already beginning their legendary actions. In the book, years pass before Jesus and John the Baptist start their public activities.
  • There is no spear-splitting scene in the book. “Down with Eros; up with Mars” is mentioned in the book, but in a different context, as Messala boasts of Rome’s superiority over everyone. In the movie, it seems more like a cheer shared between Messala and Judah Ben-Hur.
  • Messala and Judah Ben-Hur are older in the movie.
  • In the book, there is no gift of a horse to Messala, or Messala asking Judah Ben-Hur to identify rebels, followed by a huge confrontation.
  • Simonides visits from Antioch early in the movie. In the book, Ben-Hur uncovers Simonides’ relationship to his father’s fortune. In the movie, Simonides is clearly a “slave” of Ben-Hur from the beginning, though Ben-Hur makes it clear he does not consider either Simonides or his daughter Esther to be “slaves.” In the book, there is no arranged marriage pending between Esther and another merchant. Ben-Hur does not meet Esther in the book until after his experience as a galley slave.
  • In the book, after the tile hits the Prefect, there is a riot in the city. This explains the Roman harshness after the incident. In the movie, there is no riot.
  • In the book, there is no scene with Ben-Hur holding Messala at spearpoint just before he is shipped off to be a galley slave.
  • Simonides, in the movie, is not taken into custody by Messala right after the tile incident (because Simonides is not introduced to the story until later in the book.)
     
  • With some minor variations, the galley slave section of the book matches the movie.
     
  • In the movie, Ben-Hur is on his way straight from Rome to Judea when he stops off in Antioch. The dynamics among the various characters in Antioch are different. He meets Balthasar in Antioch, who literally asks him if he is Jesus. As in the book, he does become associated with Sheik Ilderim, who has horses and runs them in chariot races.
  • The movie moves the chariot race from Antioch to Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, Lew Wallace understood that such an event in Jerusalem was not really possible given the historical realities at the time. There was no arena to contain this event, and the idea that an event that could excite the crowd’s passions in a nationalistic/patriotic way would be allowed in an area so rebellious to Roman rule is far-fetched.
  • In the movie, Esther is the servant who remains at the Hur home throughout Ben-Hur’s absence and the imprisonment of Ben-Hur’s mother and sister. In the book, there is a servant named Amrah. Esther takes her role in the book, combining it with her role as Simonides’ daughter.
  • In the book, Simonides is taken and tortured to reveal where the Hur wealth is. This is mentioned, but almost in passing, in the movie. And in the book, he is a resident of Antioch, servant of the House of Hur for their merchant enterprises.
  • In the book, Messala and the Roman governor of Judea, Gratus, take the Hur wealth, as much of it as they can get their hands on, and there’s a clear implication that appropriating their wealth is part of the motivation for their harsh dealings with the family. This does not appear to be part of the story in the movie.
  • Malluch in the movie is a large, tongueless man, joined with crippled Simonides to make “one whole man.” In the book, Malluch is a servant of Simonides who helps him investigate Judah Ben-Hur in Antioch.
  • In the movie, there is no Iras, Balthasar’s beautiful Egyptian daughter. An attractive dark-complected woman is seen with Ben-Hur briefly during his time in Rome, but there is no development of this story angle. In the book, Iras serves as a romantic rival to Esther, and appears to be ahead of Esther in trying to gain Judah Ben-Hur’s affections.
     
  • In the book, there is no pre-chariot race confrontation between Ben-Hur and Messala.  Messala finds out about “Arrius” less directly. And he does not tell Judah Ben-Hur that his mother and sister are lepers. In the book, Ben Hur’s mother and sister are deliberately walled up in an unmarked cell where leprosy is known to be virulent.  There is no such event in the movie.
  • In the book, Judah Ben-Hur is not told until after the chariot race (falsely) that his mother and sister are dead. In the movie, this piece of information motivates him to race against Messala.
  • In the book, we have a clear indication that Ben-Hur has a plan not just to win the race, but to kill Messala in the process, and that his plan to leave Messala as a trampled wreck is a success. The movie hints at this, but it is Messala who is the aggressor during the race. Ben-Hur’s triumph at the end seems less obviously the result of deliberate planning by him, and more created by Messala’s aggressiveness. Messala does not die right after the chariot race in the book.
  • The movie is not specific about Ben-Hur’s activities after the chariot race. In the book, he trains legions to rebel, and has them standing by. He considers whether “the Nazarene” could be a king in the material world, not just the spiritual world. In the movie, he talks of rebellion, debating with Esther and spurning overtures of friendship from the new governor Pontius Pilate. In the book, he is more obviously willing to act on his hatred of Rome.
  • In the book, Jesus heals Ben-Hur’s mother and sister before his crucifixion. The crucifixion serves at first as a disappointment, and then a transformation for Judah Ben-Hur her as he watches Jesus’s apparent acceptance, and possibly even his orchestration of the events. The crucifixion does not act as a healing agent for his mother and sister—they are already healed at this point. 

A Synopsis of Ben Hur:

Book First: Three spiritual men from three separate areas of the world meet together, following a bright star, an apparent sign that a special child has been born or is about to be born. They are Gaspar from Greece, Balthasar fromEgypt, and Melchior from India. They bring separate spiritual traditions, but are drawn by the sign in the sky. (Wallace has Melchior traveling through “Baghdad” on the way to his meeting with others near Jerusalem; Baghdad was founded centuries later, after the start of Islam.) They meet a child in Bethlehem, born to Joseph and Mary. Joseph is a carpenter from Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, descendent from King David. He is much older than his very young wife, Mary, so much older that he is mistaken by some for her father. They have come to Bethlehem to be counted for the census, ordered by the Roman emperor. Bethlehem is so crowded that they end up in a cave, in a manger. After a brief visit with aging King Herod, the three traveling spiritual men greet the child, shortly after the child is born. (Yes, this is a very familiar story to Christians!)

Book Second: The story moves forward twenty-one years. Messala (sometimes referred to as “the Messala”) returns from five years of training in Roman schools away from Jerusalem. He meets with his childhood friend Judah, son of Ithamar, of the House of Hur. From the efforts of Ithamar, Judah’s family is wealthy and prosperous, well positioned despite the Roman occupation of Judea. The two young men are in their late teens. But Messala demonstrates, through long lectures about Roman power and superiority, that he has changed. Judah is disgusted by the changes, and tells him he does not believe they can remain friends. Messala seems almost confused by the rebuke, especially when Messala suggests to Judah that he could rule the area in a sort of partnership, with Judah installed as high priest of the temple at Jerusalem.

At the Hur home, a spacious multistory dwelling in the heart of Jerusalem, we meet Judah’s mother, and his sister, Tirzah, and a servant girl, Amrah. A commotion captures the family’s attention; there is a procession of Roman soldiers. Judah goes to the top of his home and accidentally dislodges some loose tiles which hit the Prefect, injuring him. This triggers a riot, necessitating Roman soldiers to quell the disturbance. Roman soldiers storm the house, ransacking it, and taking custody of the family. The servant Amrah eludes capture. Judah begs Messala to release his mother and sister. Messala refuses. Judah prays for God to grant him vengeance. Judah is condemned to serve as a galley slave.

On his way to the coast, roughly treated as he is marched to begin his service (which is supposed to be as good as a death sentence) he encounters the son of carpenter Joseph, who gives him water during a stop in Nazareth. Judah’s treatment improves after the incident.

Book Third: Judah Ben-Hur becomes a galley slave. Quintus Arrius, a Tribune, commands a naval expedition. Ben-Hur serves with numerous different galley slaves, from all over the area. Quintus Arrius takes notice of Ben-Hur: “A Jew! and a boy! A Jew is not a barbarian. I will know more of him.” He speaks to Ben-Hur and seems moved by the injustice of his story. But he sees no way to commute Ben-Hur’s sentence in the middle of the expedition—among other issues, he is their “best rower.” Quintus Arrius knew Judah Ben-Hur’s father, and heard about the attack on the Prefect in Jerusalem. Just before a major engagement, the rowers are chained to the ship. Quintus Arrius instructs the “hortator” that Ben-Hur is a better rower without the chains. The ship goes down, and Ben-Hur nearly drowns. As he surfaces, and clings to life, he sees the Tribune Arrius and pulls his head above the surface of the water. Rescue appears to be imminent. Arrius tells Ben-Hur to drown him if pirates will capture him. It is a Roman ship that rescues them. Quintus Arrius adopts Judah Ben-Hur as his son.

Book Fourth: Five years later, Ben-Hur has become established as the adopted son of Quintus Arrius. He travels to Antioch, a thriving port city on the eastern Mediterranean coast, described as possibly second to Rome as “the strongest if not the most populous city in the world.” He learns of Simonides, an extremely wealthy merchant who was a slave entrusted with his family’s fortune, and who has now increased that fortune after the events of five years earlier. But there is more to the story. Simonides has been tortured repeatedly by Roman authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the Hur fortune, to the point of permanent physical impairment. He has held on to the secret. He considers himself a caretaker of the fortune for Judah Ben-Hur and his mother. After the confiscation of the Hur fortune in Jerusalem, Simonides has continued his loyalty to the Hur family, not clear on the fate of the Hur widow. Judah Ben-Hur meets Simonides in Antioch. Simonides is not sure of him; he has a Roman name and no solid proof of identity. Esther, Simonides’ beautiful daughter, feels attraction to the young man. Simonides sends a servant, Malluch, to follow Ben-Hur, to assess him, to check his credibility. Malluch ends up befriending Ben-Hur in Antioch. Simonides realizes this young man appears to be who says he is. That will make him and Esther Judah Ben-Hur’s slaves. Simonides wonders—will he treat them justly after all Simonides has done to preserve the Hur fortune?

Messala hears of the son of Arrius, an adopted Jew, a freed galley slave, now present in Antioch. Messala seems to take note of the information, and its significance, but starts an orgy, as if to signal his indifference to the story.

While in Antioch, Ben-Hur comes across the arena there, and the chariot races. He has experience with chariot races inRome. He discovers Messala races in the arena. During an incident in the city, Messala’s horses nearly trample Balthasar and his daughter. Messala laughs as he rides four horses drawing a chariot right into a crowd of people. Judah Ben-Hur prevents serious injury. Messala looks right at him, but seems not to recognize him. Messala’s arrogance seems, if anything, to be even more pronounced. He treats the incident casually, and seems to care little about the harm his irresponsibility nearly causes.

Ben-Hur sees the arena as his chance for revenge against Messala. There is a wealthy sheik, Sheik Ilderim, who has beautiful, strong Arabian horses, but no one competent to ride them. Ben-Hur contacts him, and offers to ride in the arena in a race for a huge purse; Ben-Hur wants none of the purse, just the chance for revenge. This meeting takes place at the evening meal. The next morning, Ben-Hur will show what he can do with the horses.

Balthasar joins them. He speaks of his quest for the man grown from the infant he visited twenty-seven years before. They discuss King Herod’s efforts to kill the child, his “slaughter of the innocents,” but Balthasar is certain the child survives. He believes this man is the Messiah described in Jewish scriptures, and wants to be present when the child-now-grown begins to fulfill his destiny. Balthasar is on his way to Jerusalem. Judah Ben-Hur is disappointed when Balthasar describes a spiritual kingdom. Ben-Hur believes the Messiah will be a political-military king of the Jews, reminiscent of David, a man who will lead Jews to freedom in this world, not in some spiritual world. When Balthasar mentions Simonides as a good man who understands what the Jewish scriptures actually call for, Ben-Hur seems disgusted. “Simonides here, Simonides there; from this one now, then from that! I’m likely to be well ridden by my father’s servant…” He then hears a song from Balthasar’s beautiful daughter, Iras, but finds it reminds him of Esther, a woman he finds even more beautiful.

Book Fifth: This section tells the story of the chariot race. The section starts out with a letter from Messala to Gratus. He knows very well who Arrius/Ben-Hur is. We find out from the letter that Gratus and Messala both profited considerably from the confiscation of the House of Hur wealth. Messala also suggests that Roman authorities in Antioch will take Sheik Ilderim, placing “the Arab on the ship for forwarding to Rome.” Judah Ben-Hur demonstrates mastery over the sheik’s horses, preparing for the race. Simonides sends word that he supports the developing friendship between Ben-Hur and Sheik Ilderim, and that he has intercepted Gratus’ letter from Messala—Ilderim needs to be on the alert. Iras, Balthasar’s daughter, tells Ben-Hur stories about Egypt; its wealth, traditions and culture. Ben Hur reads the intercepted letter from Messala stating that he and Gratus completed a “plan” that his mother and sister would be set for “delivery over to inevitable but natural death.” Ben-Hur is devastated, but now more determined to seek victory in the race, and vengeance. Ben-Hur meets with Simonides, Esther, and Ilderim. They discuss Balthasar’s concept of the Messiah, but these men, particularly Judah Ben-Hur, are prepared to confront Roman power and resist it directly. Esther meets Ben-Hur privately. She wishes he would “make peace” with Rome. Esther tells Ben-Hur of her affection for him. He says “you shall be another Tirzah to me.”

Big bets are made on the race, with odds, bets that could affect Messala’s finances. The race begins with Messala getting position at the inside, the “wall.” When Ben-Hur comes up alongside him, Messala whips Ben-Hur’s horses. Ben-Hur controls his horses and pulls up alongside Messala again. They race side-by-side for three rounds. The other competitors do not seem involved. Messala starts to forge ahead. Ben-Hur maneuvers behind Messala. The part of the crowd favoring Messala cheers. Simonides says to Ilderim that he believes Ben-Hur is “about to execute some design. His face hath that look.” Messala hugs the wall to hold his position. As they make the last turn, Ben-Hur comes around Messala, squeezing him into the wall. Messala’s chariot crashes. He becomes entangled in the reins and trampled by another trailing racer. Ben-Hur wins the race. Messala is crippled for life. Gratus sends a “Northman” to kill Ben-Hur. But Ben-Hur establishes a rapport with the potential killer, and they scheme to say an already dead man is the slain Ben-Hur. The Northman takes his fee for the murder, and some money from Ben-Hur as well.

Book Sixth: Gratus is replaced by Pontius Pilate. Authorities working for Pontius Pilate review the prisons and address circumstances of all those in custody. They find Gratus has deliberately walled off Ben-Hur’s mother and sister into a cell not even indicated on the prison map, a cell known to be infested with leprosy. This was designed to kill the two women passively. By the kindness of prisoners in adjacent cells, they have been fed. But they are infected with leprosy and horribly disfigured. The new prison authority frees them. They go to their home. At the same time, Ben-Hur goes to their home as well. The place is locked. Ben-Hur falls asleep. The two women see Ben-Hur, and are glad he is well, but they do not want him to know about them. There are afraid he will join them. Their servant Amrah is still present. She finds them among the community of lepers near the city. They get her to promise she will not tell Judah where they are. Ben-Hur finds out his mother and daughter are lepers. He is told they have been stoned to death. He resolves to use his learned knowledge of Rome and Roman tactics to lead a fight to free Jews from Roman rule. He kills a Roman soldier in a duel-like altercation.

Book Seventh: Ben-Hur forms a group of fighters the size of three legions. He encounters Balthasar and his daughter Iras again. Iras tells him an Egyptian story, of man alone, finally brought out of depression and dissatisfaction when a woman is created for him by Egyptian gods. Ben-Hur seems taken in, but when he will not tell her everything about what he is doing to rebel against Rome, she withdraws from him. Balthasar takes him to the river Jordan to meet a person described as heralding the Messiah. They see John the Baptist, and “the son of a carpenter over in Nazareth,” introduced by John as “the Lamb of God.” Balthasar knows him instantly as “the Redeemer—the Son of God.” Ben-Hur surveys his “slender figure, and a holy beautiful countenance compassionate to sadness.” Ben-Hur asks “may not the Redeemer be a king also?”

Book Eighth: Esther acknowledges she is in love with Ben-Hur. She is concerned Balthasar’s daughter “has him in her net,” as her father believes. It turns out Iras is loyal to the Romans, and working with Messala. Ben-Hur finds out, and she is out of the picture. Ben-Hur is amazed at “the Nazarene’s” healing abilities. He brings his mother and sister to “the Nazarene,” who heals them. He still has legions of rebels standing by. He is present when Jesus is taken into custody. Jesus discourages any sort of rescue.

Judah Ben-Hur figures somehow Jesus will triumph. He is stunned to discover that Jesus has been sentenced to die on the cross. He is further surprised to find that many in his rebel legions have turned against Jesus, and are part of the crowd mocking him as he is abused and placed on the cross to die. But Ben-Hur comes to the realization that Jesus has gotten exactly what he has wanted, and understands now that Jesus has revealed a spiritual kingdom. Balthasar dies at the same time; “the spirit of the Egyptian accompanied that of his master over the boundary into the kingdom of Paradise.” 

The book ends five years later. Ben-Hur is married to Esther and living in a villa inherited from his adopted Roman father. Iras comes and tells Esther she has murdered Messala “for the much misery he brought me.” Simonides lives into old age. They give money to the church growing around the message of the Nazarene, Jesus.  

Ben Hur (DVD)

Ben Hur (DVD)

Ben Hur (the novel)

Ben Hur (the novel)

“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Philip II of France Lands at Acre April 20, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Acre, Conrad of Montferrat, crusades, history, medieval period, Philip II of France, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, the crusades, third crusade, Uncategorized.
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(This post is the seventeenth of what will be approximately seventy posts following 820th anniversary highlights of what history now calls the “third crusade.” My novel, The Swords of Faith, tells the story of this legendary clash between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.)

*****

Three weeks after leaving Sicily, 820 years ago today, Philip II of France and his fleet landed at Acre on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, eager to join the fight against Muslims over which religion would control Jerusalem. Conrad of Montferrat, Philip’s cousin, Philip’s preferred candidate for King of Jerusalem over Richard the Lionheart’s vassal, Guy of Lusignan, greeted him warmly at his arrival. Philip immediately joined the effort to tighten the siege at Acre, anticipating that soon Richard the Lionheart, with his huge fleet, with the huge siege towers and machines built in Sicily on their way in large pieces for reassembly, would arrive to bring overwhelming force against Saladin’s forces, within and without Acre. Saladin’s chronicler reported that western Christian forces at Acre were disappointed by the small size of Philip’s force. By all accounts, Philip’s force was not going to tip the scales at Acre. Western Christians expected that Richard’s larger force was right behind Philip. But the same Mediterranean climate that brought Philip to Acre on calm spring seas, would not be so considerate to Richard the Lionheart.

Previous 820th Anniversary Posts:

July 4th – The 820th Anniversary of the Launch of the “Third Crusade”

October 4th – Richard the Lionheart Sacks Messina

November 3rd – Queen Sibylla Dies

November 11th – Richard the Lionheart Signs a Treaty with King Tancred of Sicily

November 15th – Queen Isabella’s Marriage to Humphrey of Toron is Annulled

November 19th – Archbishop of Canterbury Dies

November 24th – Conrad of Montferrat Marries Queen Isabella

December 25th – Richard the Lionheart Feasts at Christmas

December 31st – Shipwreck at Acre; Muslim Defenders Lose Resupply

January 5th – A Wall Comes Down, Presenting an Opportunity

January 20th – Frederick of Swabia Dies; Leopold of Austria Becomes Top-Ranked German Royalty at Acre

February 2nd – A Playful “Joust” Gets Out of Hand in Sicily

February 13th – Saladin’s Forces Relieve the Garrison at Acre

March 3rd – Richard the Lionheart Settles the Alice Marriage Controversy—Sort Of

March 30th – Philip II Leaves Sicily; Berengeria Arrives

April 10th – Richard the Lionheart Leaves Sicily for “Outremer”

To review a comprehensive catalog of historical fiction set during the medieval time period, go to http://www.medieval-novels.com:80/.

Book Commentary/Review – Beloved Pilgrim by Nan Hawthorne April 17, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, crusades, historical fiction, the crusades, Uncategorized.
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Nan Hawthorne’s Beloved Pilgrim dramatizes the events of the crusade of 1101, an unnumbered crusade, following right after the First Crusade (which concluded with the Western Christian capture of Jerusalem in 1099). Hawthorne remains absolutely loyal to the facts of the crusade while her characters bring exotic and fresh angles to the story.

Elizabeth is a young woman with a streak of independence trapped in circumstances incompatible with her feisty nature. She finds herself facing a marriage that will tie her to an unaffectionate brute, a man who has no compunction about using her for his needs, physical and economic, while completely disregarding her feelings and well-being. Her brother is committed to go on the crusade. She has sparred with her brother, so knows the moves of a medieval knight. In fact, she is accomplished enough to compete effectively with him. When he dies of an illness, she takes his place, fleeing her circumstances to join the Christian fighting pilgrimage. Only her squire, the gay lover of her late brother, knows of the deception. Much of the suspense of the novel develops from Elizabeth’s desperate efforts to keep her secret in the midst of the challenging circumstances of an army marching under stress, moving through hostile territory, confronted by strong, dangerous enemies.

Hawthorne also takes us to the exotic court of the Byzantine Empire, dramatizing the quirky mix of Greek/Eastern Christianity into the whole crusading movement. (A Byzantine Emperor’s plea for help triggered the First Crusade, but Byzantine emperors came to regret the Western European rush east this plea triggered, and greeted future expeditions with everything from indifference to outright hostility.) Colorful characters in the Byzantine court mix into the story in unexpected ways, causing Elizabeth to explore her own sexual preference, and creating the possibility that Elizabeth and her companion can have a happy ending regardless of the success or failure of the crusading mission.

Elizabeth’s struggles on the crusade, her battles, her growth and development, and the uncertainty over her ultimate fate, will keep readers enthralled to the end.

Beloved Pilgrim - Nan Hawthorne

Beloved Pilgrim - Nan Hawthorne

“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Philip II Leaves Sicily; Berengeria Arrives March 30, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Berengeria, crusades, history, medieval period, Philip II of France, Richard the Lionheart, Tancred of Sicily, the crusades, third crusade, Uncategorized.
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(This post is the fifteenth of what will be approximately seventy posts following 820th anniversary highlights of what history now calls the “third crusade.” My novel, The Swords of Faith, tells the story of this legendary clash between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.) 

*****

Earlier this month, we had the anniversary of Richard the Lionheart and Philip II’s reconciliation over Richard’s broken promise to marry Philip’s sister Alice. We learned they agreed on a new treaty of “friendship.” 820 years ago today, events demonstrated just how shaky, even hollow, that treaty was, and that the Richard-Philip rivalry still hung over the Third Crusade like dark clouds threatening a storm. Just a few hours on March 30th told the story—Philip left Sicily for the eastern Mediterranean, and a few hours later, Berengeria, Richard’s future wife, accompanied by Richard’s legendary mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, arrived. Right after Philip left, with Richard’s galleys accompanying him out of the harbor, as if making sure he was gone, Eleanor and Berengeria arrived. (Richard’s mother would leave for home in just a few days. She had already been on a crusade years before, the unsuccessful “Second Crusade.”) This couldn’t have been a coincidence. Philip escaped Sicily to avoid witnessing Richard joining his bride-to-be. Richard made sure Philip was gone before bringing her in. Friendship? What “friend” leaves just before his “friend’s” fiancé arrives, in a calculated move of avoidance? Allies? For awhile. When it would be necessary, in the coming months. But the western Christian side of the Third Crusade would continue to function in the broad shadow of this conflict.

Previous 820th Anniversary Posts:

July 4th – The 820th Anniversary of the Launch of the “Third Crusade”

October 4th – Richard the Lionheart Sacks Messina

November 3rd – Queen Sibylla Dies

November 11th – Richard the Lionheart Signs a Treaty with King Tancred of Sicily

November 15th – Queen Isabella’s Marriage to Humphrey of Toron is Annulled

November 19th – Archbishop of Canterbury Dies

November 24th – Conrad of Montferrat Marries Queen Isabella

December 25th – Richard the Lionheart Feasts at Christmas

December 31st – Shipwreck at Acre; Muslim Defenders Lose Resupply

January 5th – A Wall Comes Down, Presenting an Opportunity

January 20th – Frederick of Swabia Dies; Leopold of Austria Becomes Top-Ranked German Royalty at Acre

February 2nd – A Playful “Joust” Gets Out of Hand in Sicily

February 13th – Saladin’s Forces Relieve the Garrison at Acre

March 3rd – Richard the Lionheart Settles the Alice Marriage Controversy—Sort Of

To review a comprehensive catalog of historical fiction set during the medieval time period, go to http://www.medieval-novels.com:80/.

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (V) – “Axis: Bold as Love” March 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Axis Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix, music commentary, poetry, rock music, Uncategorized.
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(This is the fifth of a series of posts about the lyrics of rock super-guitarist Jimi Hendrix. This is certainly what I meant when I introduced this blog and said “So my readers should expect all kinds of digressions, everything from some musical musings to an off-the-wall comment about the world.” I am a musician well as a writer, writing and performing. I cover nine Hendrix songs (here is a current playlist of what I perform with my drum-bass machine set-up). This series of posts is not about songs like “Foxey Lady” and “Little Miss Lover.” A handful of Hendrix songs glisten with a lyrical inventiveness, uniquely poetic and musical, words and music existing in a smooth symbiotic combination. The lyrics drip and glide through the songs the way Jimi Hendrix’s guitar notes drip and glide through auditory space. These will be the songs I will discuss in these posts. Of course, these posts represent my interpretations of these lyrics. This is not an exact science. Your comments, agreeing and disagreeing are invited.)

We could spend a lot of time looking at these lyrics, charged with wonderful ambiguity and poetic force. Overall, two features of the lyrics are striking—the use of colors, and the reference to the all-knowing Axis, “Bold as Love.” And can we assume that Jimi Hendrix felt this song was important, with his second studio album named after the song, a song that did not get as much attention as others on this album?  (Or did some record company executive make this decision?—Hendrix experts, I welcome your comments.)

Colors-First Verse

“Anger, he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor.”

  • Purple often means royal—is this a person of status or power who enjoys being angry, who enjoys dominating through that anger?

“Queen Jealousy, Envy waits behind him…”

  • As if to galvanize that anger, this angry powerful person calls on “fiery green” Envy (capitalized in the album lyric sheet), Queen Jealousy—she “sneers at the grassy ground.”

“Once happy Turquoise armies lay opposite, a ready…”

  • And so his anger is used to galvanize these armies, and the blue “life-giving waters” seem resigned to this. The armies, the troops, aren’t so sure. They are turquoise—a combination of blue and green—a combination of the life-giving waters and green envy. We feel the implication that this fight may not take place.

Colors-Second Verse

We shift now from a description of others to a more personal perspective. Is Hendrix referring to one of those troops, “wondering why the fight is on,” or is the singer the one “towering in shiny metallic purple armor?” The song could work either way.

“Red… confident… trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria”
“Orange… young, full of daring… unsteady for the first go-round”

  • The colors start with a powerful color, red, a seeming confidence. But as the verse proceeds, doubts creep in, and that confidence fades. Red, to red/yellow (orange) to-

“My yellow in this case is not so mellow…”

  • The folk-singer Donovan handed him this one, which fits right into the creeping doubts! This is generally the color of cowardice. He is not emphasizing the “unsteady for the first go-round”—that would be green, already used for envy in the first verse. So it’s cowardice. What is the singer afraid of?

“…giving my life to a rainbow like you.”

  • When I first heard this, I heard it as a romantic, boy-girl type commitment, and thought the line reduced the impact of the song. But I do not believe that is what Hendrix was talking about. He may be deciding whether to join forces with that smiling anger. The “rainbow” implies that the person or entity he is going give his life to is also multi-faceted, with shades of doubt, like his.

Axis: Bold as Love

All those colors, those different elements of the singer’s make-up, those turquoise armies and blue life-giving waters—if we want to know about them, we can just ask the Axis, the all-knowing Axis. The Axis will tell us if all these elements are “Bold as Love,” and the implication is he will agree they are. So what is this “Axis?” The only conclusion I can come up with is the obvious one, that he refers to a profound spiritual force—possibly God. And God knows all these aspects, these colors, are “Bold as Love.”

So to me, the song places the affairs of humans within the purview of the spiritual force, with love as the key to understanding it. I admit, there could be other interpretations. It is another Hendrix song with a wonderful flow of lyrical images. I invite comments with other interpretations!

_______

Again, the music with the words adds to the effect. The chord progression is simple, as well as the song’s construction. The first half of the verses are I-V-vi-IV (there’s a move down to I with the third in the bass used as the transition to the second half of the verse). This is a very tame, major-key, gentle set of cords. The second half of the verse creates a little more tension. To create this tension, Jimi Hendrix makes a very simple “blues” move. He takes the whole chord progression up a perfect fourth. That simple. Hendrix often described himself as a bluesman. This psychedelic song uses a blues move. So the second part of the verse is IV-I-ii-♭VII. The ♭VII introduces the flat 7th of the tonic scale, allowing a little edge to creep in. It also allows that signature Hendrix chromatic move up from ♭VII to ♮VII to I to transition to the chorus, which is virtually the same as the verse, but with the ♭VII chord instead of the IV chord at the end of the progression. Then the chorus has a tag: I-ii-♭VII/♭VII-♮VII-I.

Complete lyrics of “Axis: Bold as Love”:

Anger he smiles towering shiny metallic purple armour.
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him.
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground.

Blue are the life giving waters taken for granted,
They quietly understand.
Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready,
But wonder why the fight is on.

But they’re all, bold as love.
Yeah, they’re all bold as love.
Yeah, they’re all bold as love.
Just ask the Axis.

My red is so confident he flashes trophies of war
And ribbons of euphoria.
Orange is young, full of daring but very unsteady for the first go ’round.
My yellow in this case is no so mellow.
In fact I’m trying to say it’s frightened like me.
And all of these emotions of mine keep holding me
From giving my life to a rainbow like you.

But I’m bold as love…
Well, I’m bold, bold as love.
Hear me talkin’, girl.
I’m bold as love.
Just ask the Axis.
He knows everything. Yeah, yeah. 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love

Books-Into-Movie Commentary: Jane Eyre March 21, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in books, books into movies, Cary Fukunaga, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, Moira Buffini, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Uncategorized.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

“Jane Eyre” the movie (2011) is a faithful, clever adaptation of Jane Eyre, the classic novel (1847). The filmmakers follow the basic storyline closely. I’ll discuss their approach to the story, which is different from the novel. I’ll then go over similarities and differences of note between the story told in the movie and in the book. Finally, I’ll finish with a brief synopsis of the book. 

Story Approach. While the filmmakers retain the basic story, they shuffle the order of events by using a flashback technique. The movie starts toward the end of the story, with Jane Eyre wandering in the rain, penniless and homeless, fleeing from something (in the movie, we don’t know what), rescued by “St. John” Rivers and his sisters, unwilling to give her correct name. From there, we flash back to the beginning of the story. The novel starts with Jane Eyre’s childhood and moves forward with the chronology of the story depicted consecutively.  Using this flashback technique adds suspense to a story that otherwise might be labeled as starting out slowly. The flashback technique is a clever device, successfully adding drama and mystery to the effect of the film. With acknowledgement of the flashback technique, we can then see the basics of the story are retained.

The flashback style does create one subtle change in the story, specifically with Jane Eyre’s character. In the movie, she seems more haunted by her past. This is a necessary by-product of the flashback technique. In the book, one of her distinctive traits is that she moves on with strength and dignity despite the adversity she faces.

Comments on story specifics.

  • The movie is cast consistent with the book’s descriptions and depictions of the characters. Jane Eyre is not gorgeous—she has undistinguished looks. A prettier version of the Jane Eyre character would have changed one of the basic aspects of Brontë’s concept for this novel. Jane Eyre in the movie is direct and sincere. She never flinches from saying what a situation demands, regardless of the consequences. This is the Jane Eyre of the book, making her character likable, someone we want to watch.
  •  Jane Eyre’s aunt and male cousin are as despicable in the book as they are in the movie, including the scene of Jane Eyre clobbered in the face by her cousin, and the subsequent unjust reaction. In the movie, her aunt seems a little more repentant in their final scene together—in the book she confesses wrongs done to Jane Eyre, but seems to rationalize them. 
  • Lowood School’s depiction, including the severe Mr. Brocklehurst and the rigid austerity of the school, are consistent with the book. The death of Jane Eyre’s friend is also directly from the book. There are two deviations:
    • There isn’t time to show the kindness of the head of the school, and the way Jane Eyre wins over authorities at Lowood. She ends up thriving there, becoming a teacher during her final years at the school.
    • After the death of her friend Helen, and a number of other girls at the school due to a typhus epidemic, conditions at the school improve. It becomes widely recognized that poor diet and severe treatment of the girls was the cause of the epidemic, and this triggers the changes.
  • The Edward Fairfax Rochester of the movie seems consistent with his depiction in the book, through the movie version may be a little better looking. Judy Dench is perfect as the housekeeper of the Rochester estate, Thornfield Hall. Adele, the ward of Edward Rochester, is also consistent with the character presented in the book.
     
  • In the book, we have more about the mysterious Grace Poole, who Jane suspects as the one responsible for the violent acts at Thornfield Hall (the fire and the stabbing). The filmmakers offer less specifics in the movie, with Grace Poole barely mentioned at all. Adele does mention a mysterious woman who walks through the house at night, but this is not significantly developed.
     
  • Edward Rochester’s sprained ankle after coming off his horse, with his later meeting with Jane Eyre at the house, is directly from the novel.
     
  • Edward Rochester asks for Jane Eyre’s “tale of woe.” The fact that Jane Eyre refuses to tell a “tale of woe,” despite the adversity she faces, is what makes her character so compelling. This scene emphasizes the point, and is a crucial point of similarity between the book and the movie.
  • Jane Eyre’s discovery of the fire, and rescue of Edward Rochester, are directly from the book.
     
  • The tease that Edward Rochester will marry Blanche Ingram is also directly from the book. A strange scene with Edward Rochester disguising himself as a female gypsy fortuneteller is omitted. This seems a good choice. The Edward Rochester character dressed in drag trying to do a falsetto would have been comically absurd, and would have wrecked the tone of the movie.
     
  • Richard Mason’s arrival, the “blow” referred to by Edward Rochester, and the subsequent stabbing and Jane Eyre’s help with the aftermath, are directly from the book.
     
  • Edward Rochester’s proposal to Jane Eyre is directly from the book—maybe a little condensed, but the Edward Rochester dialogue in the book tends to run long. And, a solicitor does break into the ceremony, right at the moment when the minister asks if there is any impediment to the marriage, to tell of Rochester’s previous marriage.
     
  • The movie spares us page after page of Edward Rochester begging Jane Eyre to stay with him. After a shorter effort to convince her to stay, Jane Eyre does leave Thornfield Hall (the only possible decision for this character) determined to start over. Because of the flashback technique, we are aware the marriage is not going to work and we wonder how it will be thwarted.
     
  • In the book, Jane Eyre goes farther away than is apparent in the movie. This takes her to the point in the story where the film begins.
     
  • Jane Eyre aka Jane Elliott runs the small school, as in the book.
     
  • Jane Eyre inherits the fortune of her long-lost uncle, as in the book. In the book, she finds out she is related to “St. John” and his sisters (making the subsequent marriage proposal even more inappropriate). On the basis of that relationship, Jane Eyre shares the bequest. In the film, she “adopts” them and shares the bequest. The film version spares the audience suspending disbelief on the coincidence of Jane Eyre stumbling on relatives miles away from Thornfield Hall.
     
  • “St. John” does propose to Jane Eyre, wanting her to go to India as a missionary’s wife. As in the book, she’s willing to go as a “sister” or “friend,” but she rejects the marriage proposal.
     
  • The book ends as the movie does, with one huge discrepancy. Jane Eyre does come back to Edward Rochester and finds him blind, after his home has been burned and devastated, and his wife is now dead. Jane Eyre loves him regardless of his new circumstances and marries him without hesitation. But in the book, Edward Rochester regains his sight in one eye. That makes for a happier ending than the Jane Eyre in the movie, left with the blinded love of her life. We can ask, does it make much difference for this particular character? 

If this book had been handled differently by the filmmakers, we could well have ended up with an English 19th Century “Mommie Dearest” on our hands. We would have “poor Jane Eyre,” almost comically put-upon from every side, suffering the injustices heaped upon her by caricatures of nasty, deficient people. But the potential “woe-is-Jane-Eyre” element of the novel is kept subservient to her strong, likable, even admirable character. The flashback mechanism injected into this story makes for a successful book-into-movie, while staying very close to the original story from the book. 

Brief Synopsis. The novel starts with Jane Eyre as a child, staying with her aunt, who treats orphaned Jane Eyre with contempt and injustice, favoring her cousins, and unfairly labeling Jane Eyre as a deceitful, troubled child. Her aunt puts her in an austere charity boarding school. 

After a rough start at the school, Jane’s hard work—and her courage to pick the right moments to stand up for herself—pay off as she starts to thrive. A typhus epidemic kills some students, and takes one of her best friends, but also results in improved conditions at the school. She ends up as a teacher, and at eighteen, secures a position as a governess/tutor for a wealthy young girl, a ward at the estate of a wealthy family.

Jane Eyre enters the service of Edward Fairfax Rochester, a wealthy man with the resources to travel and live pretty much as he pleases. Jane Eyre is hired to tutor Adele, the illegitimate daughter of one of Edward Rochester’s female friends (apparently not his own daughter). She handles the task with earnest dedication, serving effectively at her assigned job. When she first arrives, Edward Rochester is not on the premises. When he first arrives, he is a gruff, aloof and abrasive man, especially considering that his first meeting with her is out away from the estate where he falls off his horse and sprains his ankle.

Jane Eyre continues her efficient handling of her duties and service to the household. But strange events occur. A fire nearly kills Edward Rochester. A mysterious guest is stabbed nearly to death in the middle of the night. Jane Eyre aids in the handling of these events, and the relationship between her and Edward Rochester, though still servant-master, deepens. Affection develops between them. Suspicion for the events falls on the mysterious servant of the household, Grace Poole. Her role in the household is unclear to Jane Eyre, and with Grace Poole’s apparent connection to these violent events, she wonders why Edward Rochester does not act against Grace Poole.

It appears to Jane Eyre that Edward Rochester will marry Blanche Ingram, a woman of his class, an obvious match for him. Wedding preparations are underway. But Edward Rochester proposes to Jane Eyre! She accepts. At the ceremony, when the minister asks if anyone knows why Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester can’t be married, a solicitor speaks out. Edward Rochester is already married—to a deranged woman he has been keeping secretly at his house under the supervision of Grace Poole. It is Edward Rochester’s deranged wife who tried to burn Edward Rochester alive, and who stabbed the visitor, her brother. Edward Rochester begs Jane Eyre to stay with him. But she will not stay with a married man.

Jane Eyre takes whatever money she is owed and pays for passage on a coach as far a she can travel from Thornfield Hall. She ends up homeless, sleeping in the rain. Desperate, she approaches a home where she is admitted and gets food and shelter. She ends up teaching at the local school. “St. John,” the head of the household, is a serious Christian missionary, planning to bring his missionary work to India. He proposes to Jane Eyre, but she believes this is for convenience, not love, and she is not in love with him. She declines his proposal.

In a bizarre coincidence, Jane Eyre turns out to be related to the members of the household. An uncle of Jane Eyre’s dies, leaving her 20,000 pounds. She has never known her uncle, and feels the others should share in the bequest. She divides the money four ways.

Word comes to Jane Eyre that back at Thornfield Hall, a horrible fire has occurred. Edward Rochester’s deranged wife is dead, and he is now blind. Jane Eyre finally marries him—her love for him remains though his resources are reduced and his needs have dramatically increased. He gains sight back in one of his eyes, and they remain happily together.

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Movie Commentary: Crusade: A March Through Time March 15, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Children's Crusade, Crusade A March Through Time, crusades, historical fiction, medieval period, movie commentary, movie review, movies, the crusades, Uncategorized.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

This 2007 movie involves a young soccer player accidently transported back in time to what history now calls “the Children’s Crusade.” This event from the crusading period is often considered the epitome of religious fanaticism leading to tragic foolishness.

Summary of the History:

(Summarized from A History of the Crusades, Volume III, by Steven Runciman.) In 1212, a shepherd boy of about twelve years old named Stephen, with a gift for preaching, convinced several thousand children to rescue Jerusalem for Christendom. He promised that God would part the seas for them once they reached the ocean. The group gathered at Vendome, France and marched, mostly on foot (Stephen rode in a cart with a canopy and some children of royal blood brought their horses) to Marseille. The journey was difficult; many died—others deserted. When they reached Marseille, and the sea did not part for them, some turned against Stephen. Two merchants offered to convey them, free of charge, to Jerusalem.

In 1230, a priest arrived in France with news on the fate of the ships the French merchants had provided eighteen years earlier. Two of the ships sank due to bad weather—all drowned. Five ships were escorted by a Muslim squadron to Algeria where the children were sold into the slavery, by prior arrangement with the two seemingly magnanimous merchants. Some ended up in Egypt. Some were executed for refusing to convert to Islam. Others ended up in the service of Saladin’s nephew, al-Kamil, who utilized them as interpreters and did not demand conversion to Islam.

Stephen’s effort inspired a German “Children’s Crusade,” led by a boy named Nicholas. This “crusade” broke up into groups, but with the same basic results. When the children arrived at the coasts (Genoa, Brindisi, Pisa, Rome), the sea again just wouldn’t part. In Genoa, many of the children became Genoan citizens. Some tried to wander back to their homes in the Rhineland, but few were able to complete the return journey. Nicholas’s father was hanged by angry parents for encouraging his son to take the children on the journey.

_____

The Movie:

Rudolph “Dolph” Vega, in his late teens or very early twenties, wants to undo a bad result in a soccer game, so attempts to use the time machine his mother is working on to change the game, earlier that day. He ends up in the middle of a procession of children, apparently the so-called “Children’s Crusade.” The crusade story-line appears to combine aspects of the various children’s crusading movements detailed above. At first, it appears Dolph will be overwhelmed by the brutality of the era. But when he saves the son of the King of Pomerania—when he “breathes him back to life” using artificial respiration—his education, his knowledge- advantage, places him in a position to influence the entire crusade. His IPod and Mars candy bar offer humorous interactions between him and his Thirteenth Century companions on the march. Most present-day elements mix credibly into the story though I found it a stretch to believe that Dolph would be able to find gunpowder among the elements along the way, and then use them effectively in a rescue of some children taken captive. As Dolph tries to bring a 21st Century perspective to events, sometimes with positive results, sometimes not, one of the characters says to him “Your ways are not our ways.” That is the true fun of the movie, determining just how the different “ways” play out during the 13th Century.

The time travel parts of the story are weak. Not once do we hear a discussion of the time-travel paradox, even when Dolph insists on going back in time to rescue his romantic interest. (What if she was destined to play an important role in history, or give birth to an important person, or an important line of line of descendents?) But this has to be considered a story-teller’s license to allow us to take a contemporary young man back to a more brutal, less learned time period.

As to the history, the events of the historical “Children’s Crusade” are broadly observed, and used as a setting for the interaction between the eras. There is one added aspect added, however, that I will note for this post. The film-makers add a truly despicable villain, a Christian priest who is a leader of the crusade, depicted as having a great deal of influence over the child preacher. This man schemes to turn the children over to slave merchants in Genoa. There is no record of priests behaving that way. This is another example of a vile Christian villain, a phenomenon I discuss in my final post on the “Pillars of the Earth” mini-series, in the section The Church and Church Characters in “The Pillar of the Earth” Mini-Series.

Also, this is not a movie with big set-piece battles that we might expect from a movie about the Crusades. As with history, the children never reach the battlefield.

“Crusade: A March Through Time” is a harmless, entertaining exploration of how a modern young adult might fare in the brutal world of the Middle Ages.

Crusade: A March Through Time

Crusade: A March Through Time

Crusade: A March Through Time (widescreen)

Crusade: A March Through Time (widescreen)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume One)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume One)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Two)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Two)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Three)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Three)

Book Commentary/Review – Khan: Empire of Silver by Conn Iggulden March 9, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, Conn Iggulden, historical fiction, Khan: Empire of Silver, medieval period, Mongols, Ogedei Khan, Sorhatani, Uncategorized.
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Khan: Empire of Silver is Conn Iggulden’s fourth installment in his series of novels about Genghis Khan and his dynasty. As with the first three, this is a well-researched, fascinating telling of the Mongol conquests, years that had a profound effect on history, an effect that  arguably continues today. (My own novel, The Sultan and the Khan, soon to be available, chronicles the clash between forces commanded by Hulegu Khan and his generals, and the Mamluks, including future Sultan Baybars. The consequences of this clash certainly echo into the present-day.) Iggulden does not flinch from the Mongols’ ruthless savagery, their cold-blooded commitment to victory at any cost, with a brutal lack of compassion or basic human morality. Genghis Khan’s near genocidal disdain for the soft people in the cities remained alive and flourishing in the succeeding generations as Mongols swept through Russia and Eastern Europe to Poland and Hungary, unstoppable, and guaranteeing devastation to any hints of resistance.

In a sense, the book can be roughly divided into three unequal parts. Part one covers the succession conflict after the death of Genghis Khan. The conflict is between Genghis Khan’s second son Chagatai, and third son Ogedei, Genghis Khan’s choice to succeed himself. The factions face-off at the newly constructed capital city of Karakorum, with violent, all-or-nothing, high-stakes confrontations needed to resolve the issue. Part two covers the Mongol sweep westward after the new Great Khan confirms his position, a sweep that would forever profoundly change the history of Russia, and that would lead to eastern Europeans struggling to contest them, and western Europeans hoping they would be like an ocean wave dissipating momentum as it moves from its source. Part three, intertwined with part two, and just a sliver in length, is another succession controversy after the new Great Khan dies. We are left there— Conn Iggulden will certainly be offering another installment to this series!

One bizarre event, dramatized straight from a key source for this period, The Secret History of the Mongols, has Genghis Khan’s youngest son Tolui killing himself as a human sacrifice to somehow appease spiritual forces and prolong the life of his older brother, the newly confirmed Great Khan. The sacrifice seems to work, but not for long. Ironically, it will be Tolui’s sons who end up ruling—Monge and Kublai become Great Khans, and Hulegu becomes Il-Khan of a huge empire that will include Baghdad.

We also meet Sorhatani, Tolui’s widow, the mother of khans. This is a formidible woman in a man’s world, the Mongol equivalent of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a fun character to watch.

One technical issue I am raising—Iggulden does what folks in the business call “head-hopping.” He switches points-of-view, going into the internal musings of different characters constantly within a scene. My feeling about it? It’s a bit jarring, because I have been so emphatically advised against it and therefore trained to spot it. But I find myself smiling. If you can sell as many books as Conn Iggulden, if you have his following, you can “head-hop” all you like. No agent or editor will tell you otherwise! And I found no reduced enjoyment of the story because of it.

For readers who want an entertaining look at this fascinating, formative period of history, provided with close attention to the facts (and a comprehensive “Historical Note” at the end to point out any deviation taken by the author), Khan: Empire of Silver, is a must read. Conn Iggulden’s fascination with this story transfers into an exciting novel, vivid and energetic, with exotic characters and history-forming events depicted.

Khan: Empire of Silver

Khan: Empire of Silver

Genghis: Birth of an Empire

Genghis: Birth of an Empire

Genghis: Bones of the Hills

Genghis: Bones of the Hills

 

Genghis: Lords of the Bow

Genghis: Lords of the Bow

“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Richard the Lionheart Settles the Alice Marriage Controversy—Sort Of March 3, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in crusades, history, medieval period, Philip II of France, Richard the Lionheart, Tancred of Sicily, the crusades, third crusade, Uncategorized.
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 (This post is the fourteenth of what will be approximately seventy posts following 820th anniversary highlights of what history now calls the “third crusade.” My novel, The Swords of Faith, tells the story of this legendary clash between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.)

*****

820 years ago today, Richard the Lionheart and Philip II of France started a five-day meeting at Catania, Sicily to address various issues that had arisen between the two kings. Philip II had been planting doubts in King Tancred of Sicily’s mind about the alliance between Tancred and Richard forged late the previous year. But Richard convinced Tancred that these doubts were Philip-fiction, and Philip found himself confronted with a duplicitous letter he had written to Tancred about Richard. Philip then went on the offensive, insisting the letter was a forgery, concocted by Richard as a pretense to cast aside his twenty-year betrothal to Philip’s sister Alice. Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was traveling toward them, now in Brindisi, Italy. Rumors circulated that she had a bride for Richard—not Alice. (The rumors were true. Berengeria of Navarre was on her way to marry the English king.)  Richard confronted Philip with rumors of his own—Alice had been deflowered by Richard’s father, Henry II, while at the English court. Richard assured Philip witnesses could be produced who would state that Alice and Henry had produced a child together. Tempers flared. Count Philip of Flanders intervened as an intermediary, but he leaned toward Richard’s point of view. How could Richard, King of England, marry a woman so impure? Philip realized Richard was never going to marry Alice. But how could he tolerate this insult: his sister, cast aside this way, for a Basque princess? The answer was money—ten thousand marks. This payment acknowledged the insult by Richard’s family against Philip’s family (King Henry II’s bad behavior), and was a gesture to make Philip’s sister whole. All other matters of controversy between them were also resolved in a new treaty, and Philip declared publicly that he and Richard were allies and friends again. So, that settled their problems?  Not really. On March 30th, less than a month later, events would show just how not-settled this rivalry remained!

Previous 820th Anniversary Posts:

July 4th – The 820th Anniversary of the Launch of the “Third Crusade”

October 4th – Richard the Lionheart Sacks Messina

November 3rd – Queen Sibylla Dies

November 11th – Richard the Lionheart Signs a Treaty with King Tancred of Sicily

November 15th – Queen Isabella’s Marriage to Humphrey of Toron is Annulled

November 19th – Archbishop of Canterbury Dies

November 24th – Conrad of Montferrat Marries Queen Isabella

December 25th – Richard the Lionheart Feasts at Christmas

December 31st – Shipwreck at Acre; Muslim Defenders Lose Resupply

January 5th – A Wall Comes Down, Presenting an Opportunity

January 20th – Frederick of Swabia Dies; Leopold of Austria Becomes Top-Ranked German Royalty at Acre

February 2nd – A Playful “Joust” Gets Out of Hand in Sicily

February 13th – Saladin’s Forces Relieve the Garrison at Acre

To review a comprehensive catalog of historical fiction set during the medieval time period, go to http://www.medieval-novels.com:80/.

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (IV) – “Up from the Skies” February 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, music commentary, rock music, Uncategorized.
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(This is the fourth of a series of posts about the lyrics of rock super-guitarist Jimi Hendrix. This is certainly what I meant when I introduced this blog and said “So my readers should expect all kinds of digressions, everything from some musical musings to an off-the-wall comment about the world.” I am a musician well as a writer, writing and performing. I cover nine Hendrix songs (here is a current playlist of what I perform with my drum-bass machine set-up). This series of posts is not about songs like “Foxey Lady” and “Little Miss Lover.” A handful of Hendrix songs glisten with a lyrical inventiveness, uniquely poetic and musical, words and music existing in a smooth symbiotic combination. The lyrics drip and glide through the songs the way Jimi Hendrix’s guitar notes drip and glide through auditory space. These will be the songs I will discuss in these posts. Of course, these posts represent my interpretations of these lyrics. This is not an exact science. Your comments, agreeing and disagreeing are invited.)

In his jazzy, bluesy “Up From the Skies,” the song’s singer approaches us—he just wants to talk to us. He seems to be familiar with us, but has been separated from us for awhile, maybe for eons, maybe returning from another world. (This is also implied by the juxtaposition of “Up From the Skies” just after the opening album-cut of “Axis: Bold as Love”—“EXP,” which refers to UFOs.) The singer is puzzled by what he finds as he encounters us. Through his questions, he comments on contemporary humanity:
• Why are we living on a “people farm,” in “cages, tall and cold?” With this inquiry, the traveler implies that the world we have designed for ourselves lacks a sense of free spirit.
• What happened to the “rooms behind your minds?” It looks to him like they’re empty, like a “vacuum,” though he considers he could be missing something. He asks if it is “just remains from vibrations of echoes long ago,” things like loving the world and letting “fancy”/enjoyment flow, which he implies are now missing Have we given up joy and embraced some form of dull, stifling rigidity? He keeps asking— “Is this true?” He wants to engage us to find out.
• He acknowledges he was here before—“the days of ice.” He could mean the Ice Age, eons ago, or just a cooler period.
• He has returned, and now finds “the stars misplaced, and “the smell of a world that has burned.” These are wonderfully poetic images that could mean many things. “The stars misplaced” could mean the world has changed locations. It could also be an astrological comment, that the future we should be enjoying has not arrived, that our path has been changed, not for the better, maybe irrevocably.
• “The smell of a world that has burned” could also have various meanings. In the late 1960s, nuclear annihilation was a persistent fear. Has this narrator returned after a nuclear holocaust? In “House Burning Down,” (a song I will discuss in a later post), he offers some similar images. The “burning” could refer to the casual violence some people appear willing to inflict on others. I do not believe this is an early reference to global warming, even though we have “days of ice” followed by a “the smell of a world that is burned.” This song came out about a decade before fears of a new Ice Age, and well before global warming became an environmental concern. I do suspect the references to “the world that has burned,” refer to some sort of human violence.
• Though puzzled, the singer is utterly fascinated with the changes he has seen, “the new Mother Earth,” and he wants to “hear and see everything.”

The bouncy to tone of the song implies that the singer is not agitated by these developments, though they seem to be dark, disturbing developments—“people farms,” “living in cages,” “smell of a world that has burned,” “the stars misplaced.” The song’s singer’s attitude of whimsical curiosity also suggests a detachment—he does not consider himself part of this world he is observing. The simple chords and driving beat combine with the music to create the glib flippant tone of the strong: IV7-I7 (with a few added 9ths thrown in), one key change up to step to another set of IV7-I7 moves, with a bridge that is just the V to the IV, cadencing back to I after a brief instrumental. It’s a simple musical backdrop for deceptively provocative lyrics, creating a wonderfully intriguing internal contradiction.

Complete lyrics of “Up From the Skies”:

I just want to talk to you
I won’t do you no harm
I just want to know about your diff’rent lives
On this here people farm
I heard some of you got your families
Living in cages tall and cold
And some just stay there and dust away
Past the age of old.
Is this true?
Let me talk to you.

I just wanna know about
The rooms behind your minds
Do I see a vacuum there
Or am I going blind?
Or is it just uh, remains of vibrations
And echoes long ago?
Things like “love the world” and
“Let your fancy flow”
Is this true?
Let me talk to you
Let me talk to you.

I have lived here before
The days of ice
And of course this is why
I’m so concerned
And I come back to find
The stars misplaced
And the smell of a world
That has burned
A smell of a world
That has burned.

Yeah well, maybe it’s just a… change of climate
Well I can dig it
I can dig it baby
I just want to see.

So where do I purchase my ticket?
I’d just like to have a ringside seat
I want to know about the new Mother Earth
I want to hear and see everything
I want to hear and see everything
I want to hear and see everything 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love