jueves, 28 de febrero de 2013


In this final Part Four of my Othello series, I will look at the afterlife of such a great tragedy, including my original works inspired by it.
I have got, currently, the following Othello "merchandise":


This is Part Three of my Othello series.
The themes of appearance vs. reality and identity crisis lie at the core of Othello. Everyone but Iago and his wife are aware of the non-com's agenda. Even the readers/audience, when he breaks the fourth wall, are/is left clueless of, for example, the reason why he is so negatively obsessed with Cassio.
And then, in the finale, Emilia shatters her husband's plans upon exposing them to light. But it is already too late: Desdemona is already dead, and Cassio is severely injured.
The Othello story is one that must be read between the lines, and one that allows more than one interpretation. Mine are:
-Those too innocent, including myself in the real world, repeatedly allow themselves to be stabbed in the back, and it's too late when they realize it.
- Very few people care for the good of others. Even altruistic deeds have a selfish thought behind them.
- The line between good and evil is both incredibly thin and incredibly easy to cross. And so is the line between love and hatred.



This is Part Two of my Othello series.
For those who don't know the story, here is a succint summary. I was introduced to this play by one Charles Lamb, the best children's storyteller in Regency London (IMHO), so I will base my abstract on his version, but adding my own remarks.

So, there is this thirty-something non-com called Iago, who has developed an obsessive hatred for younger, cuter, more dashing Lieutenant Cassio... maybe because he loves this officer and isn't loved back, or maybe because their dark-skinned commanding officer, Othello, (the titular character and a newb when it comes to European culture) prefers the young lieutenant (he was even the best man at the general's wedding!). Thus, Iago hates Othello, AKA The Moor (read "The Dark Non-European") as well.
So, Iago has a cunning plan that actually can't fail (love this Blackadder catchphrase!).
Anyway, at the start, there is a lot to celebrate: the enemy's wiped out, the war is over, victory is theirs, and Othello, the outpost's governor, has just married a posh and cute-looking Desdemona. What more could be celebrated? What could possibly go wrong?
And then, Iago makes his move. That very evening, Cassio is on guard duty. Aware that the lieutenant is a lightweight, Iago successfully tries to get him drunk, which leads a rather intoxicated Cassio to start a fight under the influence. And thus, his commanding officer does not trust him any longer.
But didn't that commanding officer have a wife? So, advised by Iago, Cassio asks Desdemona to try to bridge the gap between her spouse and the young lieutenant.
Next step for Iago: to make the Moor believe the encounters between his wife and Cassio are actually the tip of a rather bad iceberg (that is, an affair). It is a bit trickier, given how much Othello loves his better half, but then, she loses a handkerchief that her lady-in-waiting, Emilia, picks up. And Emilia is married to Iago...
So, Cassio finds the handkerchief in his quarters and decides to keep it until he can give it to Desdemona, but this is misinterpreted not only by Othello, but also by the lieutenant's own girlfriend Bianca: both fall prey to the green-eyed monster (mentioned for the first time in literature!).
Nice work, Iago! It is not a love triangle as you intended, but a love square!
So, the Moor gives Iago three days to kill Cassio and decides to get rid of his wife himself.
That very evening, everyone's favorite noncom and his thugs set up a lieutenant trap, and Cassio falls head first into it (he is so lovably naive!). With a slash in his right leg, he is left for dead on the pavement, and he should have bled to death if Bianca hadn't found him and taken him to the surgeon's. But he is officially pronounced dead.
At the same time, Desdemona is all snuggled up in her coversheets, when Othello enters the bedchamber and wakes her up (in true fairytale style) with a kiss (although not a true love's kiss). He insults and physically beats her to pieces... but he doesn't stop there. In spite of the young lady's pleas for mercy and proclamation of her innocence, the Moor strangles her in a fit of jealous rage.
Enter Emilia, who laments her mistress's death, informs the general that Cassio is still alive, and reveals her husband's optionicidal (that means "lieutenant-killing") gambit, followed by young Cassio himself in a litter.
Shortly after the lady-in-waiting is disposed of by her spouse for knowing too much, the great general realizes his mistakes and bursts into tears: his beloved Desdemona was true after all! He then commands soldiers to arrest Iago and appoints the lieutenant his successor as governor.
Then, in a flood of tears, Othello stabs himself to the heart with his own sword and dies with one cold last kiss from his late lady.
Neither Lamb nor Shakespeare gives details on what happens after the Moor's suicide.
My own guess: Iago is tortured and executed, while Cassio recovers from his wound and marries Bianca.


Post One in the Othello series

The place: an outpost on the coast of Northern Cyprus. The time: a week during the Renaissance.
The characters: three male and three female leads, all of them stereotypes: the leader (Othello), the lieutenant (Cassio), the traitor (Iago), the ingénue (Desdemona), the soubrette (Emilia), and the femme fatale (Bianca).

Othello is, thus, the easiest to stage of Shakespeare's major tragedies: no change of place or time skip, only six major characters.
The plot itself is rather enthralling, since it invokes the idea that all leading characters have a goal: Iago wants to kill Cassio (either for revenge or unrequited love), Cassio wants his commanding officer's trust back, Desdemona wants to help Cassio, Othello (tricked by Iago) wants to punish Desdemona and Cassio for allegedly having an affair behind his back, Bianca wants Cassio to love her the way she loves him, and Emilia (the only one aware of Iago's schemes) wants the truth to be known and justice to be done.

It comes as no surprise that it is one of my favorite plays. And the themes it discusses (racism, peer pressure, gender violence, identity crisis, unrequited love) are still relevant in our days.


A few posts ago, I informed you readers that I had to do a speech on the 2012 Les Misérables film.
Do you wonder how it turned out?
Well, it went perfectly! And the trailer I finished my exposition with was the cherry on the cake!

miércoles, 27 de febrero de 2013


As a matter of fact, good girls tend to go for bad boys.

I grew up with the Potter phenomenon, and I was 11 (the leading trio's age) when I first heard of Hogwarts. The main characters and I grew up simultaneously.
And I supported Draco's alleged relationship with Hermione.
So, I was rather disappointed to read, in the finale, about a grown-up Mrs. Hermione Weasley:

Hermione Granger: top-notch student,
 feminist, avid reader, my soulmate

         Ronald "Ron" Weasley: cowardly lion,                =  WTF?
class clown, Hermione's spouse?
Ron should marry Luna, or someone else with the same personality.

Yet the Bovary solution is open to Mrs. Hermione Weasley. Something tells us that the young witch should relish the writings of Gustave Flaubert, and take inspiration thereof:
Draco Malfoy. Former death-eater. =
Lethally blond.
Hermione Weasley, née Granger.  -
Reading Flaubert's Mme. Bovary.
Ronald "Ron" Weasley. +
(Luckily, female adultery is nowadays not as negatively seen as it was during the Victorian era)


Imagine what happened to Hansel and Gretel when they came of age, a decade after the candy house incident.
In this action film, that will premiere in Europe this springtime, it is shown that they became mercenaries specialized in tracking down and killing witches.
And witches were a scourge of early modern Europe...


She's been jilted. Impregnated against her will. Lied to. Fired. Destitute. Desperate. Nearly arrested. Infected by a consumptive customer, to die a slow and painful death.
But it all has turned out for good.

Anne Hathaway played star-crossed proletarian-turned-prostitute Fantine in this winter's cinematic rendition of Les Misérables. This character's life story, summed up in the first paragraph of this post, is no fairy tale.

However, Anne has recently had more luck than Fantine: she's Best Supporting Actress of 2012!
The musical based upon Hugo's magnum opus has received other two of the eight prospective Oscars:
the other two, for Best Hairstyling and Best Sound Mixing.
Anne Hathaway, AKA Fantine, in 2008.
Hathaway, who has won a Golden Globe before her Oscar, went on a diet and lost weight during the recording of Les Misérables to display the visible effects of the consumption (tuberculosis) that claimed her unfortunate character's life. She has currently recovered, unlike Fantine, from her weight loss.

sábado, 23 de febrero de 2013


This is a follow-up to the former post. In this one, I continue examining the "Handless Maiden" stories' ways of portraying the messenger's intoxication. Remember that the narcotic properties of ethanol are known since the Stone Age, and surely by other animal species before we evolved!

In Emaré, the husband goes forth to battle Muslims in France and leaves his wife as regent of the cute-looking, pastoral kingdom of Galys (perhaps the current Spanish region of Galicia?). Again, it is a queen mother residing between court and the front who welcomes and tricks the messenger (though she might have a hidden motivation: resentment for not being given the regency!).

Then she plied him with as much beer and wine as he could drink and got him very drunk. When she could see that he was fit for nothing but sleep, she led him to his chamber. And when he was unconscious, she rifled through his personal belongings, found the letter and threw it into a fire.
His comfort was well attended to, he was given bread and ale, and wine, and again became very intoxicated. And when he was fast asleep the king's mother searched for the letter he was carrying, found it and cast it into the fire. (Modern retelling)

The messenger stops off at the King's mother's castle on the way. He tells her of the news, and she proceeds to get him drunk. Once he is unconscious, she burns the letter and writes a new one to tell her son that his wife had given birth to a demon.
She again gets him drunk, and again burns the letter, and writes a new one informing Sir Kadore to exile Emaré. [···]
The King of Galys has returned home from the wars, and asks Sir Kadore for news. The King reads the false letter and says that he never wrote it. They interrogate the messenger who says that he stopped at the King's mother's castle. The King is furious and says he will burn her at the stake, but his lords decide instead that she should be exiled, and she flees (Wikipedia article)

But it is the original medieval retelling that contains a motif unseen in the modern ones. He is not "very intoxicated" or "drunk", but "bereft of reason":

She made hym dronken of ale and wyne, drunk
And when she sawe that hyt was tyme,
  Tho chambur she wolde hym lede.
And when he was on slepe browght,   
The qwene that was of wykked thowght,
  Tho chambur gan she wende. (SIC)
He made hym well at ese and fyne,   
Bothe of brede, ale and wyne,
  And that berafte hym hys reson.                       took away from him his reason

(or: stole his reason) When he was on slepe browght,
The false qwene hys lettur sowghte.

The messenger knewe no gile,
But rode hom mony a mile, 
By forest and by frith.

After the messenger ther they sente, 
The king askede what way he went: 
"Lord, by your moder fre." 

This Galys messenger is both "bereft of reason" and "brought on sleep (unconscious)".
The "theft of reason" metaphor will be later used, in the Elizabethan era, by one Lieutenant Cassio, a brisk young fellow that you blog readers shall get to know pretty soon. But let's continue with our study of weak-willed and naive war messengers in medieval folklore!

Gower's Confession of the Lover retains the Northumbrian setting, the Scots in Scotland as the enemy, and the names of Allan and Custance. Maybe because he knew Chaucer: both were courtiers.
Bot he with strong wyn which he dronk
Forth with the travail of the day
Was drunke, aslepe and while he lay,
Sche hath hise lettres overseie
And formed in an other weie.
But he from strong wine which he drank
And his exhaustion from the day
Fell sleeping drunk, and while he lay,
She took his letter from Allee
And formed another forgery.

Gower's messenger is a more realistic character: not only thirsty, but also worn out after a long ride (this reminds me of a certain Swedish poem by Carl Snoilsky: a lieutenant rides non-stop all the way from the war front to the royal court and, obviously, collapses unconscious on the throne-room pavement. Without losing her temper, the old Queen Grandmother offers him a drink and a seat, and thus the young officer comes to and brings expected tidings of a great victory).

French chronicle writer Nicolas Trivet offers us both an extreme case of acute intoxication and the subsequent painful hangover (like the narcotic effect of ethanol, known to humans since the Stone Age):

That night she made the messenger so drunk with an evil drink which laid hold of his brain, and bound his senses so strongly, that he lay as if insensible, and as a dead man.
Then, in the morning, the messenger arose, quite sick and ill-at-ease through the badness of the drink which had envenomed his brain.
Then, with these 

letters, the foolish messenger returned at an evil hour, 
by the way of Domild, and when he was come there 
he complained bitterly of the king's behaviour and 

manner. But the traitress comforted him greatly with 
her false show ; and that night she made him drunk, 
as before. 
They could not suspect treachery in any quarter but that 
of the messenger. And he at last said that he felt 
guilty of no treason, nevertheless he freely 
acknowledged to them his drunkenness at the court of Domild;
and if there were treason, there was 
the source.

The English expression "dead drunk" is pretty descriptive: I always think of pale, unconscious students lying on the street one Saturday or Sunday morning. Castilian playwright Calderón mentions narcotic drugs that leave the drinker "a living corpse" in Life a Dream. And don't forget Enjolras's comrade Grantaire, the resident "Blue Caterpillar" of Les Misérables! A deeply unconscious person is neither dead nor alive, and both at the same time.
As for the description of the "wrath of grapes" (and/or "wrath of hops"), it makes Trivet's more fleshed-out chronicles even closer to reality than others': neither Chaucer, nor the anonymous author(s) of Emaré, nor Gower mention hangovers!


PS. "Dead drunk" in a Renaissance source:
Likewise, in the Italian Figlia del re di Dacia, whose iteration of this episode takes place in Austria ("Sterlic", a "paese" whose name is a corruption of "Österreich"), the count's stepmother receives the messenger ("famiglio", manservant) for the night...

Dice lo conto que queste lettere furono date a uno savio e discreto famiglio del duca, il quale andasse a messere lo duca, da parte di questi quattro luoghitenenti. Mettesi in cammino: e andando, convenia passasse per quella terra dove la madre del duca abitava, cioè dove era madonna Lagia. Giunse adunque lo famiglio, credendo dargli grande allegrezza, disse: Madonna, [···] e per tale, madama, fate gioia e festa. La dama disse: Diquesto sono la più allegra che mai potesse al mondo adivenire; e, per le buone novelle, tu starai qui stasera, e domattina a buonora andirei a tuo viaggio. E per tale, stette lo famiglio la notte a posarsi colla madre del conte. Di che, quando il detto famiglio fu alla cena, la detta madre del conte gli fece dare certo beveraggio ch'egli non se ne avvide; e poi ricevuto, incontanente il famiglio si addormentò molto forte: quasi como morto egli fosse, così se stae.
Ecco che la mattina costui si sentì, e prese commiato dalla madre del conte, la quale l'avea ingannato molto falsamente e dislealmente, però ch'ella gli aveva tolto le lettere ch'egli portava da parte de' luoghitenenti del duca; e là donde eglino scrivevano al duca [···] la festa grande ch'eglino avevano fatto, e costei, perchè era malcontenta, iscrisse contrafatte lettere e suggelli, e disse così:

Giunse lo famiglio al campo, e fu dinanzi allo suo signore messer lo conte, o vero duca, Apardo; e subitamente con molta allegrezza gli diede questa lettera diciendo a bocca: Prò vi faccia, signor mio: voi avete il fanciullo maschio il tal dì. Aperse il duca le lettere, e quando vidde iscritto tanta tristizia quant'è e quell'era, egli si diè delle mani nel viso e cominciò a fare un gran lamento. Di questo tutti gli suoi baroni sono molti crucciosi, veggiendo fare tale pietà allo loro signore lo duca. Avenne che uno suo molto savio e fidato barone, sapiendo il fatto, disse subitamente: Signore mio, le lettere saranno state scanviate a costui. Ma nondimeno, fate lettere e comandate infino alla vostra tornata la donna com'ella è e quello ch'ella àe partorito, vi sia guardato e salvato: e non vi date per questo più pensiere.
Scritta furono subitamente a quegli che avevano a reggiere per lo duca: [···] Partissi il detto famiglio dal suo signore messer lo duca, e cammina tanto che giunse a punto là ove era la madre del duca, la quale faceva tutta volta stare giente avvisatamente per sapere quando il detto famiglio tornasse, per iscambiargli anche le lettere, [···]
Giunse lo fedele famiglio del duca a madonna Laggia madre del duca. Eglia gli fece gran festa, e grande domandare del suo figliuolo messer lo duca. Di che lo famiglio disse: Cierto, madonna, io non vidi mai monsigniore tanto malinconioso quanto egli è stato da poi ch'io gli appresentai le lettere che gli mandarono i suoi luoghitenenti; non so quello che voglia dire questo.
Rispuose la donna: Lasciamo stare questo fatto; ragioniamo di godere. Cenarono di buona voglia, e la donna comandòe che 'l famiglio fosse bene servito; e così fu fatto. Ma nondimeno, per questo modo ch'egli bevve allo andare illà, così bevve al tornare in quàe. Onde la mattina si leva costui, e àe le sue lettere scambiate e contraffatte. Partissi lo famiglio, e torna, e appresenta le lettere, credendo dare quelle che lo duca mandava; ed egli diede quelle contrafatte per la madre del duca, le quale dicevano in questo tenore:
"A voi miei sudditi leale e buoni, il vostro duca Apardo di Sterlic salute e buono amore. Comàndovi, a pena di morire, se del comandamento in atto veruno fallirete, ed eziandio innanzi a vostri occhi farò morire i vostri figli grandi e piccoli, se di ciò che le presenti lettere contano non farete subitamente; fatte che lette queste lettere, voi pigliate Elisa mia moglie e disleale, e lo figlio la quale ella ha partorito, e amendue insieme fategli ardiere in sulla piazza. Questo fate arditamente, senza avere niuna temenza, pero ch'ella e lo suo figliuolo sono nati per la morte mia e per la mia distruzione e di voi e di tutto nostro paese: fate questo, e non abbiate dotanza di cosa dal mondo".
Queste lettere, contraffatte di lettere e di suggello, appresentò il famiglio ai luoghitenenti del duca Apardo. Quando le lessero, non fu mai udito tanto dolore nè tanto martirio quanto costoro facevano insieme tutti e quattro. Alla fine disse l'uno di costoro agli tre suoi compagni: Che vi pare di fare? Noi abbiamo uno malvaggio caso alle mani. Tal di loro dicea: io mi voglio inanzi partire di questo paese e perdere ciò ch'io chi ò, ch'io faccia sì fatta cosa. Qual diceva: Io sono contento di ciò che voi farete. Rispuose l'uno, cioè questo più ardito, e disse: Voletemi voi diliberare questo fatto a me, e ch'io faccia di questi fatti ciò che mi piacie? Tutti quanti dissono che di ciò ch'egli farà, ci chiamamo e chiameremo molti contenti.

Notice the effects of the drug being described: 
Di che, quando il detto famiglio fu alla cena, la detta madre del conte gli fece dare certo beveraggio ch'egli non se ne avvide; e poi ricevuto, incontanente il famiglio si addormentò molto forte: quasi como morto egli fosse, così se stae.

Compare in Trivet:
That night she made the messenger so drunk with an evil drink which laid hold of his brain, and bound his senses so strongly, that he lay as if insensible, and as a dead man.

And Calderón:
la virtud de algunas hierbas,
cuyo tirano poder
y cuya secreta fuerza
así el humano discurso
priva, roba y enajena,
que deja vivo cadáver
a un hombre, y cuya violencia,
adormecido, le quita
los sentidos y potencias...
Viéndole ya enfurecido
con esto, que ha sido el tema
de su dolor, le brindé
con la pócima, y apenas
pasó desde el vaso al pecho
el licor, cuando las fuerzas
rindió al sueño, discurriendo
por los miembros y las venas
un sudor frío, de modo
que, a no saber yo que era
muerte fingida, dudara
de su vida. En esto llegan
las gentes de quien tú fías
el valor desta experiencia...



So, we have about a dozen of pilgrims from different parts of England and of different social standing. They decide to travel together for more safety, but they hardly know each other. So, to break the ice, the innkeeper suggests that each of the travellers shall tell a story en route to Canterbury, and the best story will be rewarded with a feast by the very landlord who came up with the idea of storytelling. Now, among the pilgrims there is a courtier who is also a bit of a poet. His name is Geoffrey Chaucer, and he sees the chance to compile all those folktales in verse.
A certain London lawyer tells, when his turn comes, a story of the green-eyed monster, miscommunication, war, beer, stupid husbands and a trophy wife with as little willpower as a rag doll:
On one of those days that seem completely ordinary, the young ruler of Northumbria (Northumberland) saves a foreign young woman from being harassed by one of his vassals (This woman, Custance, has already got a criminal record: she comes from a Syrian harem, but she was condemned to exile due to the slanders of jealous co-wives and in-laws). Quite obviously, they take to each other and marry. But then, war breaks out and separates them. So her consort goes forth to fight the Scots and leaves her in her alcove, waiting for his return.
Now this may appear to be a normal "love-and-war" plot, if it weren't for the messenger that conveys letters between the royal court and the war front. For unknown reasons (there might be no caves in the area and all inns may be fully booked), he spends the rainy nights at the retired Queen Mother's chateau. Now this clever and determined old lady (demonized by Chaucer and the Man of Law for being clever and determined!), to make her son break up with her daughter-in-law (Custance's Muslim attire and dark features may have aroused her suspicions), she exchanges the messenger's letters with forgeries of her own. To do so, she encourages the messenger not only to quench his thirst before having a rest, but to get him dead drunk. And the letters are swapped while he is unconscious.
For example: "Dear Allan, I am glad to inform you that our baby has survived. It's a rather cute boy! Would you like to call him Maurice?" is exchanged for "Dear Allan, the little monster should rather be dead! I wonder if the creature can be called my child, or even a human child at all!"
As a result, Allan has Custance set adrift in a boat. But then, he regrets and both have a lot of adventures until they meet again.
However, it was the messenger's intoxication that inspired me to write this article on the subject. The Custance story is one out of many folktales that exist in more than one version. And there is always the part when a malevolent third party drugs the messenger before the letter swap. In Part One of this article cycle, I will look at Chaucer's retelling of this part of the story.
First things first: humans must have known the narcotic effect of ethanol since the Stone Age, when fermented fruit and fruit juice were first consumed.
And now, to Chaucer. The messenger had drunk so much ale (lager) when he collapsed that "he slept like a swine". That's a pig. A fat, lazy, filthy pig. He is closer to one than to a human, for being unconscious and intoxicated.
With an oink here and some slurred words there, we skip a few verses until our messenger is once more inebriated. Chaucer says that he "underpinned his girdle". Now, quite obviously, lager makes you fat. But here, the reference to a "girdle" (that's a belt) refers to ingestion as much as to waist enlargement.
 To say it in modern English, he has this quantity of ale/lager under his belt. There are similar idioms in languages other than English: consumed ethylic fluids go into one's buff doublet (a leather jacket worn in the seventeenth century) in Spanish, into one's waistcoat in Swedish, and behind one's cravat (necktie) in French and German.

viernes, 22 de febrero de 2013


Gustavus Adolphus, Tilly, Wallenstein... and a teen boy in a kilt?
I couldn't think of any more suitable title for this post.
 So, there is this Victorian adventure novel: less known than other classics like Treasure Island, The Black Arrow, Around the World in 80 Days, etc.
The author is equally a hardly known one: George Alfred Henty (1832-1902) spent nearly all of his childhood in bed, reading books, due to health problems. When the Crimean War broke out, he left university for a military hospital, but he left the army to become a war correspondent after witnessing first-hand the horrors of war. Shortly after resigning, he married Elizabeth Finucane, who gave him four children.
Henty started his literary career as a story-telling father, his wife and children listening to tales that Henty himself had come up with. These stories, expanded later into novel length, were published throughout the late Victorian era.
Like episodes of Scooby-Doo and Sailor Moon, Henty's coming-of-age novels follow the same formula, only altering a few minor details (historical setting, some plot devices, etc). In this case:
- The (usually male) teen protagonist (a typical young person: idealistic, naive, somewhat impulsive) receives a call to adventure, and is then sent abroad (either out of wanderlust, exiled, or recruited).
- The teen protagonist gets to know a great leader of the historical period, for whom he develops sincere admiration.
- The teen protagonist fights a powerful enemy, may be made a POW (Prisoner Of War) and then break prison, or may be wounded and then recover.
- The teen protagonist meets a local aristocrat of the opposite sex. They fall in love, become fiancés and finally marry, to "live happily ever after".
While surfing the Net a couple of years ago, I came across my first Henty novel: The Lion of the North, published in 1886. As the title suggests, Gustavus Adolphus is the great leader of this Henty novel, that describes in detail the Austro-Swedish phase (1630-1632) of the Thirty Years' War.
Enter Malcolm Graeme, a sixteen-year-old military officer, born and raised in a Lowland hold during the Jacobean era. His guardian (for Graeme was orphaned at an early age and is already a laird) wants him to go to university, but Colonel Munro, a friend of the guardian's, wants the lad to gain renown and glory on the battlefields of Central Europe.
In less time than it takes to say "This isn't Scotland anymore!", Graeme has been recruited and is at the service of the Swedish monarch, finishing off hordes of Imperial troops in Brandenburg-Prussia.
The raven-haired and beardless lad in a kilt grows to admire and idealize the "Lion of the North", whose strawberry-blond goatee and broader waist make him contrast with our laird. Henty's Gustavus Adolphus is charismatic, merry, dashing, brave leaning on reckless: the usual idealized portrayal.
The Imperial generals are depicted as usual: Tilly is fierce yet gallant and determined enough to play second fiddle to Gustavus Adolphus, while dark and reserved Wallenstein contrasts with both of them (yet the author portrays him as a sympathetic and open-minded gentleman ahead of his time).
The plot, if we low out Malcolm and only take the "historical truth" part for granted, leads to those who know the history of the seventeenth century well to draw foregone conclusions, such as:
- Gustavus Adolphus is practically invincible (until he meets his match).
- During the Crossing of the Lech (5th of April, 1632), Tilly will take a gunshot to the right thigh just above the knee. Thus, he will die, a fortnight later, of wounds received in action... and be replaced by Wallenstein.
- At Lützen (6th of November, 1632), Gustavus Adolphus, lost in the fog and gunsmoke, will rush into the enemy ranks, be shot in the back, fall off his steed, and be violently mistreated before he receives a headshot for a coup de grâce.
- After Lützen, the Swedes, no longer having the upper hand, will be routinely defeated by Wallenstein.
- Wallenstein will be assassinated by Imperial hitmen in his own bedchamber, in February 1633, for attempting to take over the Habsburg Empire.
All of these foregone conclusions I had drawn proved correct.
The Malcolm plot entwines with the "historical truth" part rather nicely. For example, our laird is wounded and falls unconscious at Lützen. He has been shot in the chest, and the bullet has punctured his lung. Then, he comes to in Leipzig, about a week later, and he is informed that Gustavus Adolphus has been killed in battle. Obviously, it comes as a shock to young Graeme, who nearly bursts into tears. After three weeks of convalescence and miraculous recovery, he has a chance encounter on the street with a young unmarried noblewoman called Thekla, and her father, an exiled and impoverished Saxon count, who happen to be staying at the same inn. Love at first sight, like in so many literary works.
The ending is self-biographical and mirrors Henty's most important decision: Graeme will, after two years of witnessing the horrors of war, return to his parents' home. The laird comes back with a lovely bride: Fräulein Thekla. Though this novel doesn't end with the words "happily ever after", it certainly could.


As a child, I misheard the Macbeth quote "Screw your courage to the sticking-place", quoted by Gaston in my favourite film Beauty and the Beast, as "SCREW YOUR CARROTS TO THE STICKING BLADES".
(Shakespeare would have stood up from his grave in response!)
Would you readers believe it?


At the tea-table, the celebrated Mad Hatter challenges the March Hare and Alice with the following riddle:
"Why is a raven like a writing-desk?"
Mad Hatter, as he appears in Disney's rendition of Alice.

Corvus corax, or European raven.

A writing desk.
He never gives the answer in the Alice books, nor has his "father", the late Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) betrayed it in other works, leaving the question unanswered when he shuffled off this mortal coil.
Charles "Lewis Carroll" Dodgson.

Thus, the incomplete riddle is sheer Carrollian nonsense. It is left unfinished for the same aesthetic effect that Michelangelo pursued in his unfinished sculptures (the Rondanini Pietà, for example).
Michelangelo Buonarotti's Rondanini Pietà, in which the sculptor allegedly considered the possibilities of unfinished sculpture.
However, many Carroll fans and philologists have been tempted to find an answer to the Mad Hatter's riddle. One that may fit Carroll's style has been written by chessmaster Sam Lloyd:
"Because Poe wrote on both!"

Contemporary photo of E.A. Poe
Illustration by Impressionist Édouard Manet,
 for Poe's The Raven (in French translation)
Those familiar with The Simpsons may recognize this poem, one of E. A. Poe's foremost works, from the animated rendition starring Bart as the titular raven, that goes "Nevermore! Nevermore!" instead of "Caw! Caw!"


DRAWLING, STRETCHING, AND FAINTING IN COILS: What is taught in Wonderland Art classes (instead of the Earth disciplines drawing, sketching, and painting in oils).
Last Friday I did some homework that included translating the Carroll fragment containing these puns into Spanish. I did it rather skilfully, but I wonder if Carroll is tossing and turning in his grave.
After all, he is one of those authors who employ puns ad nauseam. There is hardly a pun-free chapter in Alice, making it, in my humble opinion, the children's literary translator's Waterloo.
And knowing what my future profession will be, I look forward to doing my own Alice someday.


For Spanish homework, I have to give an oral exposition on a choice-free theme.
I have chosen the 2012 adaptation of Les Misérables.
The only problem I will have will be eye contact. I am shifty-eyed, that is, I can't lock eyes with other people in conversation. In Western culture, this is viewed negatively (but no in other cultures, with belief in the evil eye and/or a strict social hierarchy).
In spite of this relatively minor problem, I hope to do my best.

sábado, 16 de febrero de 2013


Consider the following excerpts:

But his face was strangely pale, and as he fell upon the deck the blood gushed from his ears and nostrils. He quivered for a little, and then he was still. 

Oscar Wilde, "A House of Pomegranates"

He had broken two ribs, they had wounded one of his lungs, and he breathed with great pain and difficulty, which increased daily.
Charles DickensGreat Expectations.

In spite of the difference between their styles, both authors describe injuries. This is one of the leitmotifs in my fictional works: there is always a character whose internal state is described in more or less detail when injured or drugged.


My stories often feature young aristocratic people of at least average attractiveness, who have to cope with feelings like loneliness, feeling left out, star-crossed love, regret, and dissappointment, in rural and semi-urban communities (royal courts, fortresses and barracks, outposts, military camps, the itinerant life of minstrels and performers). In the past few years, most of my stories ended with both leading characters together in death (the exception being "Ludwig and Károly", with a bittersweet ending: one of the titular rivals dies of his wounds and the other marries the heroine). Since the summer of 2012, I have changed these endings to "happily ever afters" embittered by the loss of one leading character, yet light and rife with hopes for the future.


From on now, I will start a series of posts about my own personal style when it comes to historical and fantasy short stories.  I have cultivated the genre since 2009, and I have written more than ten original tales (not to mention fandom and translation), set between the Thirty Years' War and the 1848 revolutions.
When it comes to detailing the influences I have received, I must mention Hans Christian Andersen, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Voltaire, and Julio Cortázar as my masters. As for authors not in the public domain, I would like to mention YA authors of the 00s who went for a retraux feel and experimental literature, such as Lemony Snicket and Philip Pullman.
Sometimes, I retell plots by other authors in the public domain: Chaucer's Knight's Tale transposed to eighteenth-century Prussia, or "magical flight" folktales, featuring active and dynamic heroines, between Czarist Russia and 1710s Sweden.
In some of my stories, the influence of one author is more patent than that of the rest."The Story of Katinka" reads without much detail, quickly, like a folktale. On the other hand, more Andersenian attention to detail is paid in "Les Enfants de la Patrie". "Kristina's Decision" has the rhythm of a French chanson and Dickens's characters' quirks and psychological depths reflected in the heroine.


Consider the two following quotes. The first one comes from the objective technical world, the second one from a literary fairy tale:

Form follows function.
Louis Sullivan, architect.

"As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful," said the Art Professor at the University.
Oscar Wilde, story writer.

I do sympathize with Wilde and the "form" view rather than rational Sullivan, partly because of my aesthetic sensitivity and creativity, partially because I am at a university myself!
And you, reader? Do you consider form or function of your creations the most relevant? 


L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz returns to the silver screen in springtime 2013, like it has never been told before.

Poster, from Wikipedia. Serious Theodora, dashing Oscar, innocent Glinda, and stunning Evanora.
The revisionist retelling Oz, the Great and Powerful tells how Oscar (James Franco), an impoverished stage magician, became the ruler of a magical land. Naturally, he arrived through a cyclone, like Dorothy would later do.
But the real stars of the show are the three witches of Oz, as relevant to this film as their Macbeth counterparts.
Elegant Wicked Witch of the West Theodora (in red) is played by Mila Kunis (Lily in Black Swan). Innocent Good Wich of the North Glinda (in white) is Michelle Williams (Dolores in Shutter Island).
But the most stunning of the trio is Rachel Weisz (Hypatia in Agora) as Wicked Witch of the East Evanora, wearing her provocative dark green headdress and crystal-studded gown that, together with her haircut, give her the air of a flapper.
The Wizard of Oz retold from the Wizard's viewpoint, and focusing on his relationships with the witches... I won't miss this film once it comes out (it is expected to reach Europe in April)!

viernes, 15 de febrero de 2013


(The Death of Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Lützen, Carl Wahlbom, 1855)

I have in my collection some exquisite Edwardian reference works, concerning history for schoolchildren and written by one M.B. Synge.
As a matter of fact, the author reuses entire paragraphs.
Brave Men and Brave Deeds, on characters considered heroes in Western culture, was published in 1907, four years before The Awakening of Europe, on the Baroque era and its highlights (Scientific Revolution, Protestant Reformation, religious wars...). Both covered the seventeenth-century Thirty Years' War, and focused on its turning point at Lützen, on the 6th of November 1632, when Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, lost on a chaotic battlefield, was killed in action.
Quite obviously, both books (written by the same author for the same purpose) present a black-and-white view of the conflict, starring Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, like most Victorian and Edwardian Protestant European school history books (a view also depicted in other genres, like poetry, adventure novels and even propaganda).
The champion of the Protestant cause and libertarian values meets his match in Albrecht von Wallenstein, generalissimo of the Catholic League, an eccentric personality viewed as Gustavus Adolphus's antagonist/foil and the cause of his sudden death in the heat of battle. The physical and personality contrast between both leaders is highlighted in Synge's vivid retelling:

“His sword in his hand, the word of command between his lips.” So died Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, the hero of the Thirty Years’ War. The story of how he fought against the great Wallenstein
on the battlefield of Lützen, how he lost his life, and how his army fought recklessly on without him and won the day, is one of the most thrilling in history. A greater contrast than these two great commanders never existed. They had never met before on the field of battle. They were never to meet again.

Albrecht von Wallenstein, portrayed by Van Dyck. 1630s.

Wallenstein, gloomy, silent, proud, ambition was the ruling power of his life; all stood in awe of him. Whole nights spent in a starry watchtower with his astrologer had made him superstitious. [...]. As the year advanced, and his enemy Gustavus carried all before him, Wallenstein became yet more gloomy; none dared approach him. “Hang the beast!” were his brief orders to enforce military discipline, which none dared disobey.

Gustavus Adolphus. Artist unknown. 1630s. 

Gustavus Adolphus, on the other hand, was open as the day; blue-eyed, frank, fearless, he was a man to whom guile and treachery were unknown. He had two objects in view—the growth of Protestantism, and the good of Sweden. He was respected by all, adored by his soldiers, and loved by his wife and children.
("The Death of Gustavus Adolphus", from Brave Men and Brave Deeds)

Nearly all of the retellings of such a tumultous period in European history draw upon the contrast between both opposing leaders: on one hand, blonde, outgoing, aristocratic Gustavus Adolphus; on the other, dark-haired, introverted, business-oriented Wallenstein. The former is idealized and the latter is demonized, though we have a fallen hero subject to death as any other person, who becomes legend by dying a too early and violent death (killed in battle, shot in the back).
The battle itself was a draw, though the Swedes claimed nearby Leipzig and launched an impressive propaganda campaign (the embalmed corpse of the deceased was displayed in public throughout Central Europe), which led to the Victorian/Edwardian view of the results as a posthumous pyrrhic victory for the Protestants.
Nevertheless, Lützen, and the fall of such a great leader ordered by his equal, will always be considered a turning-point of the Thirty Years' War.


Today, I've lost my muse. I can't get anything to write about.
However, here are some topics which I may later discuss:
- My own production (fandom and originals)
- Chaucer (messenger's drunkenness, Knight's Tale)
- Shakespeare's Othello
- Andersen (Fourth Story of "The Snow Queen")
- Folktales (types, influence in my works)
- La Fontaine (fate of the second young man, used as an epitaph for Gustavus Adolphus)
- Synge's portrayal of Gustavus Adolphus and of his nemesis, Wallenstein
- Henty historical fiction
- Allusions, puns and shout-outs within my own works.

jueves, 14 de febrero de 2013


First came the novel, a Victorian mastodont by Victor Hugo.
Then, in the twentieth century, came the musical.
 Last Christmas, the film premiered.
 The film of the musical of the novel, starring:
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Russell Crowe as Javert
Amanda Seyfried as Cosette
Eddie Redmayne as Marius
Samantha Barks as Éponine
Aaron Kyle Tveit as Enjolras
Sacha Baron Cohen as M. Thénardier
Helena Bonham-Carter as Mme. Thénardier
Anne Hathaway as Fantine.
 Nominated for eight Oscars, Les Misérables follows the plot of the novel closely: a choral epic depicting all the social classes and scenarios of 1830s France. Upon seeing it two months ago, I left the cinema speechless: in spite of its length, it is a real piece of art!
The DVD is expected to be released this summer, and I await it impatiently!
(I even fell for Enjolras, leader of the revolutionary students, to the extent of mourning his violent death!)


'Morning and welcome to my life's first blog post!
Naturally, deciding a theme was hard, but I have finally chosen literary classics, allusions, and  their persistance in modern-day popular culture.
Hope you stay in love with this blog, whether you like high culture or not!