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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Mongoliad and the Future of E-books

This is an article by Annalee Newitz that I came across recently. In it they discuss the future of publishing and the power of the e-book to be an entirely different format from the print book.

What was really interesting is the capacity that the book will have to be collaborative, especially when it comes to subjects that people are experts in, particularly things like sword fighting or martial arts. People who are experts on such things often find themselves disappointed by what they read or what they see in films. The author of the article talked about the ability to make the contributions of outsiders canon, so that people who really have something to contribute really can improve the quality of the piece.

What really interests me, and what really wasn't touched on in the article, was the suitability of the medieval period as a subject for these new formats. The project is being let by Neal Stephenson, among others. He is a science fiction author, but the title of this first work is going to be The Mongoliad. It is all going to be set in the Medieval period. At the end of the Annalee Newitz article it says:

Ready to download The Mongoliad and get medieval? Subutai plans to launch before the end of the year. Sign up for updates on the project via their official website.

It makes sense to have this project be an historical one because more people will have an expertise on the subject. And why not the medieval period, due to its inherent romanticism, and the plethora of people who are experts on medieval warfare. It really is a good subject for this project and I think as medievalists we should keep thinking about why.

Be sure to check it out.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Robin Hood Movie Review

As medievalists this year we have been treated to several films that build on a medieval theme, like How to Train your Dragon. Of course when we heard that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe were teaming up to do a Robin Hood movie we all waited with baited breath. Even the more cynical amongst us admitted we would probably watch it, even if we were determined not to like it.

Having seen it, I will freely admit that I loved it. Most who know me are not surprised by that statement. Even as a Public Historian, I loved it because if there is one thing you can say about the film is that it was committed to conveying a sense of history. The characters were likable, the plot I found to be engaging, and I came away entirely satisfied.

This does not mean that the film was without its problems. In fact most critics have panned it. If we look at it from the point of view of a medievalist there are several things that it does quite well, and there are several things that I am not sure added to the plot.

*spoiler alert*

In terms of inaccuracies, I am sure others picked up on more than I did. The hardest thing I found to digest was the pyre funeral for Walter of Locksley. With Churchmen standing by. Part of the belief in the Middle Ages was that your body would be resurrected along with your soul, so it was not within church practices to burn bodies. This is not to say that it would have been uniform everywhere, or that this couldn't have happened, but it seemed to me to be unlikely, and not to add to the plot which elsewhere was being so careful with details.

The other part that I found myself somewhat incredulous about was Marian joining the charge. Not that I think it would be inaccurate for some women to be involved in the assault on the beach, but I hadn't really understood this to be part of the character they created for Marian, and so it felt a bit forced. I was entirely with them when she picked up a sword to defend her village, but I think a lot of people were taken out of the film by this addition. Again, not because it was necessarily inaccurate but seemed a bit of a stretch based on the rest of the film.

One of my favourite parts of the history that was in the film was the portrayal of King Richard and King John. Here they were truer to the history than to the conventions of the Robin Hood story, and I really liked that. Richard was brutal and John was pretty nasty, though his real fault was not having the same carriage or demeanour as his brother. As well, he was not pure evil, which I liked.

Perhaps the biggest fault of the movie was that the message was not elegantly placed within the plot, but instead the audience was hit over the head with it. Robin is part of the movement that would lead to the signing of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta is certainly a big deal, and I could be corrected, but the Magna Carta at the time was mostly for the nobles who objected to John coming back and trying to take back some of the local power that Richard had lost because of his absenteeism. It was certainly about taxes, but part of that was John was a better administrator on the home front than his brother, and was dealing with the tremendous debt left by Richard. The movement was not really about the rights of the people, at least not all the people, though later politicians would understand it that way. What they were saying in the film seemed to be phrased, not so that it would be historically inaccurate, but so that audiences would recognize the ideals they were espousing as democracy, even though that's not really really what it was. In some ways Robin's espousal of these ideals seems forced, and it means that we lack some of the bravado and cockiness which was an appeal for earlier incarnations of Robin Hood.

But what it does do is place the whole story in a wider historical context, and it really does explain in many ways the momentum of the Magna Carta movement, though they never actually say the words 'Magna Carta.'

This Robin Hood, like Robin Hoods before it, tried to be relevant to today by exploiting elements of the history to show ongoing trends of injustice and resistance. As I say, I loved the film, but in its devotion to its message it lacked a bit of the fun that is to be found in other incarnations. And while Russell Crowe is excellent, his Robin Hood lacks the personality of others, and so he is by no means my favourite Robin.

In some ways, the final scenes of the films, with the camp and the greenwood, you come away with the sense that you would really liked to have seen more of that, that classic Robin Hood aesthetic. Though, in the end that is what we have seen before. It is just that I never tire of it.

Final note: Because I am a fan of Great Big Sea I enjoyed Alan Doyle as Alan-a-Dale. It didn't take me out of the movie too much, and as not that many are big fans like myself, I think it was an excellent choice.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Complexity in Simplicity

I like to work to deadline. I like to be figuring it out right up until the last second. For some this only causes panic and anxiety. Some procrastinate to the point where it becomes so overwhelming they can't even contemplate doing it any more.

I hope that I don't make myself into one of their number.

But as I reach the end of the year, and most projects are finished, save for some loose ends, I have somehow made things that are perhaps simple a little complicated. Not to the point of un-doable, but to the point that if most people had left it to this point they would be panicking.

For instance, as there has been no deadline for Interactive Exhibit Design I am still working on the electronic portion and the write-up. I have outlined on my website all the aspects of the project I intend to write about, but it is alarmingly blank at the moment.

And since I am still working on this I will have to make sure that I make at least one more trip to London this summer to return all of the electronics (and book) that I am still working with.

I will finish, or get as far as I can before I get stuck, since I think this may be one of the more useful things in my portfolio whichever direction my future career takes, and because I would really love to see this work.

For my internship I am working with the Simcoe County Museum this year. This may be not all I am doing, but I will keep people posted about this (maybe something with the R.O.M - not internship-y really, or with L'Anse aux Meadows) but I have been waiting to solidify this internship for several months. I have come to the conclusion that the Simcoe County Museum has never had an intern before, at least not under the current administration, and so they just did not have the ability to confirm this. It is feeling a little more solid now, though I do get the impression that I am forging new territory.

In addition, adding a little more complexity, I went over today to make appointments to talk to people at the museum and it looks like they would like to do some oral histories. That is really exciting, but a lot of work. When I told my dad that oral histories were going to involve a lot of paperwork that made him laugh.

So, a few things I am working on at the last possible minute. Some of this is by design, like completing my IED write-up while I work on the project, and some is by accident as there was no way to speed up my work at the Simcoe County Museum. While it seems to all be very complex, I am happy to report that things seem to be sorting themselves out in a rather simple sort of way.

P.S. Thanks to Devon for pointing out that IED also means Improvised Explosive Device, I had completely forgotten that acronym ... I mean, yay news!