content by

Michael Livingston

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Robin Hood Porn: The Virgins of Sherwood Forest

Content warning: This is a review of a medieval film that is offensive to every notion of history.

Oh, also, it’s a porn.

Additional content warning: (Don’t worry, this article is safe-for-work.)

The year 2000 brought us a great many odd things. Y2K freak-outs, Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” and (drum-roll, please) the Robin Hood porn The Virgins of Sherwood Forest, which was no doubt trying to capitalize on whatever was left of the Prince of Mullets excitement by combining it with porn.

No, Mom. It’s not hard porn. It’s, um, soft porn. Skinemax porn.

That means it has a plot. A real, actual plot.

Here it is: a down-on-her-luck low-budget film-director bonks her noggin (PHRASING!) and dreams she’s living in Sherwood Forest. Adventure ensues as she learns that the men of Sherwood are hardly the virtuous heroes of old.

I’m not saying it’s a great plot, mind you, but it’s a start.

Let’s press ‘play’.

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Believe in Heloise: Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint

Some months ago I was asked to read and review The Armored Saint, the new book by Myke Cole: it’s set in a quasi-medieval world, and since I’m the resident Medieval Guy (Twitter handle alert!) around here… well, someone thought it’d be a good match.

The thing is, Myke and I have written multiple articles together about ancient warfare. I’m telling you this up front because it’s the truth and I’m not about to hide it.

Something else I wouldn’t hide? My honest opinion.

And Myke knows it. So I don’t think he was surprised when I wrote and told him that if I agreed to review his book and it disappointed me, I was going to damn well say so. If that was going to be a problem between us, I told him, I needed to know.

Myke’s response? “Do it. I believe in this book.”

Well, Myke, I’ve read it. Twice… because I had to relive it again.

And you know what? I believe in it, too.

I believe in this world. I believe in its terrors and its taints. I believe in its humanity and, however small it is, its hope.

I believe in Heloise.

[Read more]

Dragon Blade: Jackie Chan and John Cusack Reinvent History on the Silk Road

Oh my god.

Did you know that in 2015 John Cusack and Adrien Brody made a movie with Jackie friggin Chan about a missing Roman legion along the fabled Silk Road?

Hell yeah it exists. It’s called Dragon Blade (dir. Daniel Lee). It is, as the opening titles say, a story “inspired by true events.”

Which means, of course, it is going to be entirely bonkers.

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Pathfinder: White Savior Nonsense, Viking Edition

A few weeks ago I ranked my personal top-five Beowulf films, and among them was Outlander, a semi-obscure 2008 alien-meets-Beowulf film starring Jim Caviezel. It ranked #3 not because I think it’s a very good film but because Beowulf films (outside of the amazing 13th Warrior) generally suck for one reason or another.

Anyway, every time I try to think of Outlander I find myself confusing it with Pathfinder, a 2007 film directed by Marcus Nispel starring Karl Urban. Since I was thinking about the one, I started thinking about the other and, well, here we are.

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Thor: Ragnarok vs. the Real Ragnarök

Ah-ah, ah!
Ah-ah, ah!

First, let me say that Thor: Ragnarok (2017; dir. Taika Waititi) is awesome. I’m delighted more each time I see it. Among Marvel films it’s no doubt top-5 for me. Yeah, I know that kind of statement is a fine way to pick a fight, but I really want to emphasize how I was blown away by the film from top to bottom.

This isn’t going to be a review of the film in any traditional sense, though. You’ve got one already.

I’m going to talk instead about the real Thor and the real Ragnarök. And to help me out, I’ve enlisted the help of my son, who is eleven years old and has read more than a few books on Norse mythology. (Like most of the huddled masses who watched Thor: Ragnarok, we’re gonna head straight from film to mythology and skip the comics in between.)

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Beowulf on the Big Screen: Good, Bad, and Even Worse

I don’t want to make you jealous or anything, but at least once a year I get to teach Beowulf.

I know, I know. You probably skimmed it once in some first-year literature survey class and you didn’t like it and … friends, you’re missing out. Beowulf is amazing. There’s a damn good reason that J.R.R. Tolkien was fascinated with it his whole life.

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale

If you’ve been following this column at all, you know that I enjoy teaching folks about the history of the real Middle Ages by pointing out the real issues with the reel Middle Ages.

This often leads to the misconceptions that I don’t “get” that many movies are meant to be “just fantasy” or that I hate most medieval movies. To such keen criticisms, I would reply that I totally get that fantasies aren’t meant to be historically accurate (though they clearly utilize that history and, fantasy or not, “teach” audiences about it), and oh my god I totally enjoy most medieval movies.

No. Scratch that. I adore most medieval movies — even the ones that cause me to roll my eyes at their historical inaccuracies.

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Pilgrims and Rocks and the Origins of Thanksgiving

I intended to write an “origins of Thanksgiving” post last year, but the release of The Gates of Hell and day-job matters got in the way. I promised in a subsequent “Origins of Xmas” post that I’d do it next year, which a reader has reminded me is now this year … so here we go!

When we think of the historical origins of Thanksgiving, we tend to get an image like the one above.Praying Pilgrims and helpful Indians, amirite? By now we’ve distilled the images even further into simple symbolism that pre-school kids can craft in construction paper. For the pilgrims: black hats with buckles upon them. For the Indians: loincloths and feathered headbands. Turkey with gravy on the table, and nostalgia about peace amid a religiosity of thankfulness.

It’s all lovely, and I quite like Thanksgiving, but its important to distinguish our modern conceptions from the historical realities. Because as quaint as our images are of that “First Thanksgiving,” they’re pretty much all wrong.

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Getting Medieval on Medieval Times

What do you get a medievalist for his (mumble)-second birthday?

A trip to the Middle Ages!


That’s right. My awesome wife—ahem, sorry, my lady—took me to Medieval Times, a dinner and entertainment show with “knights” and “swords” and … well, every noun in this article will probably need to be in quotation marks if I keep this up.

[Booze, rotisserie dragon, and a fight to the death!]

Series: Medieval Matters

History, Fantasy, and Weird Armor: Ladyhawke

I ran a poll a few months ago about which medieval movie folks wanted to see me to take on next, and the answer (by a thin margin) was Ladyhawke (1985), the classic fairy tale reimagining with Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauer, and Matthew Broderick. Thank the gods y’all didn’t set me onto Braveheart.

First, you should know that I’m not going to analyze this film’s deeper meanings. That’s not my shtick here. Leah Schnelbach already gave you just such an article, and it’s amazing.

This will stick to historical criticism, and we’ll still have plenty to talk about. Sorry/not sorry.

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Better Fiction Through Technology: Reconstructing the Lost City of Petra

I was 13 years old when I first became fascinated by the famous “Lost City” of Petra: about a week after its release, my parents took me to the movie theater and I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

Oh man, did I love that movie. Even today it’s in my list of top-ten favorite films. The acting, the direction, the music, the plot, the characterization, and even that meat-slap sound whenever Indy hit a bad guy… dang, I want to punch a Nazi just thinking about it. [Read more]

Jason Momoa Meets Robert E. Howard: Conan the Barbarian (2011 Remake)

So, Justice League is coming out soon. I’m semi-excited since (1) I friggin loved Wonder Woman, and (2) I hated most of the other DC movies. I’ll probably be seeing Justice League, though. Mostly because (1) I have a crush on Gal Gadot, and (2) my wife has a crush on Jason Momoa—though she does want me to note, for the record, that she likes the frontiers-y Momoa more than the clean-cut version. YMMV.

Anyway, in honor of this coming appearance of The Momoa, I sat down to watch 2011’s Conan the Barbarian, a remake of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film — this time starring Momoa as the titular hero from Robert Howard’s pulp-age novels. It was Momoa’s first big starring movie role, helped him land his fame-making role in Game of Thrones, and is your chance to see Khal Drogo Aquaman Conan shove his finger into a noseless man’s face.

[So let’s head on back to the Hyborian Age…]

Series: Medieval Matters

Medieval Matters: Game of Thrones and the Problem with Dragonstone

So “Dragonstone,” this season’s first episode of HBO’s enormously popular series Game of Thrones, was a welcome relief from too many months without our beloved characters. I enjoyed it, as I always do. Good times.

There’s one part, though, that was a bit of a shit show.

And no, I don’t mean Sam’s montage or Ed Sheeran’s cameo.


Series: Medieval Matters

Is Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Based on Cleopatra?

Since I’m not only a passionate fan of both George R.R. Martin’s powerful A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s remarkable Game of Thrones television series, but also a historian of the Middle Ages and of medieval military warfare in particular, I found myself watching with much interest the HBO special The Real History Behind Game of Thrones, which is on the final disc of the Season 5 collection. It’s a terrific special, featuring both Martin and the show’s producers but also a few excellent historians for color commentary.

Anyway, along the way one of the historians made the claim that Daenerys Targaryen is based upon Cleopatra. Since my novel The Shards of Heaven features the Egyptian queen as a character, I confess that the notion of using her in literature resonates with me.

But how well does she fit here? Is the Mother of Dragons the Pharaoh in disguise?

[Read more]