content by

Michael Livingston

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Medieval Matters: The Many Sins Of Braveheart

This is your fault.

Yes, you.

You bugged me on Twitter, at cons, at every moment you could. “What about Braveheart?” you asked. “Braveheart is accurate, right?”

Well, in all honesty, I have some fond memories of the movie—that “insane Irishman” being one of them—but I also recall plenty that makes my historical heart cringe.

To be fair, though, it’s been many years since I watched Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning 1995 film starring Mel Gibson as Scottish independence fighter William Wallace. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think it’ll be.

So let me fire up the DVD and see how this goes.

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Series: Medieval Matters

A Knight’s Tale is the Best Medieval Film (No, Really)

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.

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Michael Bay Make Arthur Go Boom: Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

With summer vacation done and school back in session, we’re back for more medieval movies, gang. First film on the syllabus? Michael Bay’s Transformers: the Last Knight (2017).

I sorta can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. I mean, there’s only one reason to watch a Transformers movie, and that’s to hear Optimus Prime doing The Voice. It is not—I repeat, not—to learn about Medieval History.

That probably should go without saying, but the fact is that Transformers: The Last Knight exists.

It shouldn’t. I mean, seriously, who the hell was sitting around brainstorming Transformers ideas and came up with “needs more knights”?

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Series: Medieval Matters

Bruckheimer Make Boom with the “Real” King Arthur (2004)

I’ve said it before, in talking about the brilliance of Firelord, Parke Godwin’s novel of Arthur, that I can trace my choice of professional study, at some deep level, to a love of Arthur and his knights. Sure, Arthur is kind of a nebbish in a lot of the tales—which makes me all the more amazed at what Godwin did with him—but there’s just a lot of great stuff in the vast mythic complex that surrounds him.

King Arthur, as I tell my students, is like a little snowball rolled off the top of a tall, snowy peak. It gathers snow to it as it rolls, getting bigger and bigger until it’s really hard to find any trace of the original little clump of stuff that started it off.

Which is one way of explaining why anyone who tells you they know who the real King Arthur was… is full of bull dung.

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Series: Medieval Matters

Assassin’s Creed Origins Makes Cleopatra’s Egypt Real

I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, so this won’t be your typical video game review.

I don’t think so, anyway. Because I don’t read video game reviews, either.

A couple years ago I bought an Xbox One for the family. I used it for the Blu-Ray player and Pandora. The kids used it for Minecraft.

The idea that I would use it for gaming wasn’t too much on my radar.

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The Barbarians: Conan Without Conan

Conan the Barbarian came out in 1982. It was a hit, and it catapulted a muscled Arnold Schwarzenegger into action stardom.

That success led to a sequel—Conan the Destroyer, in 1984—as well as a host of mid-80s Conan knock-offs like Krull (1983) and Masters of the Universe (1987).

These are all Really Bad Films, and I might well review them all before my time here is done.

Starting today… with The Barbarians (1987).

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Series: Medieval Matters

The Medieval Origins of Easter Traditions

Have you ever wondered just what a rabbit has to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Or what the word “Easter” really means? And, for that matter, what’s with all the eggs? Could it be, as Jon Stewart once wondered, that it’s because Jesus was allergic to eggs?

Alas, no. But how we got to all this egg and bunny business is nevertheless a cool and rather medieval story.

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Lessons in Fantasy Languages from Harry Potter and The Hobbit

Recently, I was honored to give a paper at the annual conference of the Philological Association of the Carolinas. I give a lot of lectures in a lot of venues on a lot of subjects—only one week before I was giving a keynote to a medical society on the battle head-wounds of David II of Scotland and Henry V of England—but this particular talk was one that I thought might interest y’all hereabouts: it was about using Harry Potter and The Hobbit to teach philology.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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

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