jueves, 20 de febrero de 2014


The Ringstetten Saga is an online historical feuilleton, divided into three arcs (the third one is soon to be published). It chronicles the lives of a Swedish gentry family, from the Austro-Swedish phase of the Thirty Years' War to the outbreak of the French Revolution. The Ringstettens have a military tradition and golden blond locks, inherited through the decades.
The feuilleton was intended as a try at epic, whether classical (The Kalevala, The Aeneid) or modern (Les Misérables, War and Peace), by the mistress of this blog. Though references to the four epics above are constantly made (for instance, the first arc ends with Gerhard's epitaph, like Valjean's in Les Mis), the sources for the historical content are more or less unsung works of literature:




 Excerpt from A Brave Resolve

In the territory of Brandenburg, and on the borders of Lake Templin, the sombre and 
massive walls of a strong castle rose abruptly out of the tranquil waters. Built upon a 
promontory, it was on all sides surrounded by the unfathomable lake, and the only 
means of access lay through the heavy iron doors, upon the fortification of 
which the architect had brought to bear all the resources of his profession. 
The space inclosed by the walls was laid out partly as kitchen-garden,
 partly as stone-yard, and each day of the monotonous year a troop of 
silent and listless men might be seen engaged in laborious work as they 
performed the duties of the common ploughman,  or, what was worse still, 
the heavy task of breaking and quarrying the stone that was to fortify their prison. 
Dispersed through  the various groups were hard-featured and rough-handed 
overseers, whose ejaculations when inciting the prisoners to harder work, 
and the monotonous calls of the sentries were the only sounds that 
broke the silence of that sombre abode. 
Somewhat livelier were the environs of the guardhouse. There the soldiers not on duty 
amused themselves with cards, dice, and drink; there oaths and blasphemy, levity and
wantonness reigned supreme, and not a thought of pity was bestowed on the unhappy 
objects of their care. 
The principal building, which was occupied by the dwellings of the officers of the garrison,
 the arsenal, the cells of the prisoners, and the sick rooms, was a large, square block, 
with a verandah  running round it. Every point within the fortress might be seen at a glance
from this elevated position and here the commander of Templin was at this moment pacing 
up and down, throwing  ever and anon a searching  look around him. 
It seemed that something disturbed him, for he turned frequently to that part of 
the verandah which was nearest the guardhouse, and from which subdued sounds of 
merriment proceeded. 
At last, when a chorus of laughter reached his ears, he frowned, and in a sharp and 
irritated voice  called " Carolo." A young page appeared, and waited to be addressed. 
" Go to the captain of the guard and ascertain what is the origin of the loud merriment I 
hear. Have I not told him frequently that I will not allow brawls and drunken revelry
 within these walls ?" The page sped on his errand and returned in haste, reporting 
that it was no drunkenness, but that Wanza had again arrived with his goods, 
and that he was exposing them for sale to the soldiers. 
" What ! Wanza here again ? " said the commander of the fortress, stamping with his foot. 
" Ha! has he forgotten our promise last time ? We shall teach him to palm his forged goods 
on honest people, and enter these walls against our express command. Have him brought
 hither, Carolo, and silence those loud-mouthed fools." 
Carolo, expecting a good scene, flew to the guardhouse, and ere long he was conducted
 between two soldiers to the commander, who met them at the entrance of the building. He 
assumed a look of great  humility before the commander, but a cunning glance from under 
his eyelashes showed that he was tolerably at his ease. 
We follow Carolo into the guardhouse, whrer the garrison's officers and their families live:
The officer then entered the building, and opening the door of a room motioned Carolo to 
follow him. It was a richly-furnished apartment, hung round with tapestry. 
 With a touch of his foot he stirred the blocks, and threw something into the 
flame which made it shoot up and burn brightly. Then, having asked for some salt, 
he threw a handful of it in the flames, and gazed long and intently at 
mysterious figures described by the smoke. At last he turned round and 
seized the hand of the commander, who had watched him with suspended breath. 
Although the commander was superstitious, and put some faith in Carolo's 
words, it was still with considerable surprise that he received intelligence the 
same evening that two prisoners were to be brought to the castle; and found 
on their arrival the next day that one of them was a foreigner, a Scotsman, and 
that his name actually did commence with a W. Unacquainted with the 
peculiar circumstances which had inspired Wanza's  prophecy, he felt strangely
 attracted towards our hero. 
"If it be true," he mused, "that his life, health, and welfare are intimately connected 
with mine, then common prudence bids me take especial care of him." 
And thus, to his great astonishment, instead of being led to a subterranean cell, or 
doomed to spend his days in hard and unhealthy labour, Wyndham found himself 
reserved for the governor's own use. He was kept a prisoner, it is true, but 
without having to experience any great hardships. 
He slept in a good cell, he was fed from the governor's own table, and his work in the 
day time consisted in preparing those few records and books which the 
Imperial decree compelled that officer to keep. He was treated with the utmost
 deference, and the governor himself offered him the use of his library. 
It may be supposed that Harry, though entirely at a loss to comprehend 
the reason of this treatment, was nevertheless very thankful for it, and 
looked upon it as a special act of Providence. 
It would be both useless and tedious to follow Wyndham in his imprisonment. 
There was absolutely no variety in his life, there was no incident that would be 
worthwhile recording.
 News from the outside world there was none.
The governor remained ever scrupulously anxious about his welfare. He would 
frequently enter into conversation with his prisoner,  and make him tell the story of his
 life, which, as a sort of recompense, the latter was glad to give. He found his hearer 
very interested, but surprisingly superstitious on certain points, especially as 
to the fact of there existing some mysterious connection between them. 
Not knowing to what use this strange delusion might lead, he did not attempt to 
controvert it. The governor even supplied him with some English books 
which he had procured at a great cost, and had he dared he would have 
allowed him to roam at his ease over the whole castle. The strict discipline, 
however, limited even his power, and an hour each day in the square was all 
that was allowed him. Thus week succeeded week, and season followed season,
 till  Wyndham counted two long years, and began to wonder whether he was
 doomed to spend the rest of his life in this seclusion.
One day a peculiar kind of epidemic broke out amongst the prisoners, and in a few 
cases proved fatal. As soon as this was reported to the governor he seemed in 
the greatest trouble. His anxiety increased each day, and at last he resolved to 
send a messenger to the Imperial army, requesting a physician to be sent
One afternoon in September, fully two years having now elapsed since his 
imprisonment, Wyndham sat in the little room he usually occupied when 
engaged in his work, when he became aware of an object passing between
 him and the light. On looking up he saw on the verandah outside the window 
a tall form, wrapped in a long gown and covered with a strangely-fashioned hood.
 He had never seen the figure before, and as the face was perfectly unknown 
to him, he conjectured that it must be  the new physician arrived
 from the Imperial camp. But what was his astonishment when, on passing 
his window again, the strange visitor made a momentary pause and putting
 his fingers to a little hole in one of the many small panes of glass, threw a
piece of crumpled parchment into the room and  disappeared. In an instant Harry had 
seized the parchment and read these words in English, " The governor will visit you 
shortly. Feign illness." 
These few words, with their strange suggestion, little as they told him, made his 
heart leap. His blood ran wildly through his veins, and his temples throbbed as he read 
the two short sentences over and over again. Had he a friend in the castle, and that one 
of his own nation? The door opened and the governor entered on his usual morning 
 At that moment Harry was sitting before the table, his face covered with his hands. 
As the governor entered he assumed his ordinary position, but he could not 
hide from the other's watchful eyes his intense excitement. 
He trembled violently, there was an unusual colour in his cheeks and a sparkle in
 his eye that might have deceived any one. 
"You do not feel well, captain?" said the governor, seizing the youth's hand, his own 
trembling almost as much. "We must get the physician to look at you ;" and hastily 
he left the room, unaware how he had unconsciously helped the plan of which 
Harry knew only a  small part. Presently Harry heard footsteps approaching 
the room, and the voice of the governor in earnest conversation. Then the door 
opened, and the strange figure once more
stood before him. After frequent feeling of the pulse he recommended
 that the young man should be put to bed in a quiet room. "If possible..., he said, "
 let it be on the basement, and if you have no objection, let me inspect the room." 
The sound of the voice made Harry tremble; and the whole of that day, until 
he was removed in the evening to a cell at the bottom of the house, he puzzled
 his mind to recall where he had heard that voice before. But though the sound 
was perfectly familiar to him, he had no recollection of the face; and the agony 
of suspense as he construed and wondered over the English  words and over 
the sound of the voice would almost have been sufficient to work him into a fever. 
Exhausted at last by anxious listening, for it had grown totally dark in his room, 
he fell into a troubled slumber. 
Carolo meets Wyndham, when the young man awakes, and informs him that 
Gustavus is en route to Templin:
The King of Sweden lay with a large army within three days' march of the castle. 
His own friend Baverley was on his way to attack it with a considerable force, 
hoping to surprise it. 
"I greatly fear, however," he continued, "that the governor has been advised of it, 
and that when your friend arrives tomorrow he will find everything ready for his 
reception. We cannot therefore trust to this. Now listen to my plan; one life is 
worth another. In procuring this disguise I have already incurred very great risk. 
If you do not obey' me implicitly, therefore, my danger will have been incurred in 
vain. Here is a rope, bind me ; change your upper garments for mine, gag me, 
and disguised in my robe, leave this building. On the southernmost angle
 of the outer wall you will find a sentry, whom I have drugged; a rope ladder 
hangs down to the waterside, where a boat is in  readiness. The night is dark; 
all depends upon your agility and silence. Now, quickly." 
Luckily no one within the house obstructed the supposed physician, and in a few 
moments Harry breathed the air outside. It was completely dark, but he knew his 
way perfectly. The wall was gained, the sentry lay in a state of helpless torpor. 
Arming himself with the soldier's pistols and sword, he felt for the ladder. 
It was there. He descended,  — his foot was in the boat, — he was free. 

But the time for action was not yet gone by. 
His flight might be discovered and a pursuit begun. He seized the oars With vigour, and 
each stroke separated him farther from the sombre mass that rose out of the water. 
Suddenly his boat came in violent contact with an object on the water, and he was 
thrown  forward. 
Ere he could recover his position, he was seized, his mouth covered, and he himself 
dragged into another boat which was filled with men. "Who art thou, — friend or foe ? " 
asked a rough voice, in German. 
Luckily, they were allies of his and Carolo's!  

As may be supposed, William's boat was not the only one on Lake Templin that night. 
Ere the two friends had disengaged themselves from each other's embrace, another boat, 
and another, came gliding up noiselessly, all filled with men armed to the teeth. No time
 was to be lost.
With a sudden impulse Wyndham related in a few words how he had escaped, and how 
he found the sentry asleep. In a comparatively short time the wall was gained, and with 
a burning desire to set the other captives free, Wyndham led the way up the ladder, and 
found himself once more on the walls of the prison.
The rest is soon told. The garrison, not expecting this attack, was taken entirely by 
surprise. After a short  but sharp fight it was disarmed and the castle gained. 
But as they knew that assistance must without fail arrive from the nearest military 
post within a few hours, the prisoners were hastily liberated and armed, the garrison
 locked up in the cells, and the fortifications blown up. And when the sun rose the 
troop had again crossed the lake, and each horseman, with a liberated prisoner 
behind, was already on the road to the Swedish camp. 
The feuilleton style (a chapter at a time) reminds the reader of Victorian social novels (Dickens, Dumas, Hugo), usually written as newspaper feuilletons, while the fast-paced action and varied cast of characters, real-life and fictional, catch the readers' attention without much trouble. The style is magically realistic (creatures like trolls and fairies cohabit with humans), like in Nils Holgersson, with philosophical underpinnings and uplifting messages. And it reads like a Victorian novel, along the lines of Andersen's longer tales ("The Snow Queen", "The Daughter of the Swamp King"). The family saga genre is a tribute to both serious (Tales of the Regimental Surgeon) and parody (Blackadder) precedents, aside from an easy and entertaining way to showcase historical events as backdrop of the unsung characters' experiences. Furthermore, the idea of young people during wartime links this saga to the popular and traditional coming of age genre, and to the classical swashbuckler genre (adventures, duels, battles, conspiracies, escapes, feats of daring-do, all within the early modern Europe setting), which also dates back to Victorian-era feuilletons, as well.

Though perfection does not exist, this one deserves five stars: *****

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