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Michael Livingston

Fiction and Excerpts [3]
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Fiction and Excerpts [3]

War Crimes on Westeros and Daenerys’ Missing Character Arc

The general consensus is that a lot has gone wrong in this last season of Game of Thrones. To quote a friend of mine, “Jon can’t pet Ghost, but Drogon can set fire to Twitter all the way from Westeros.”

And, look, Game of Thrones has done a lot right. The ratings are chart-breaking. The cultural footprint is ginormous. The money trucks backing up to HBO HQ are heavily loaded. All that is great and wonderful for all those involved. As amazing as it is, though, Game of Thrones isn’t as good as it could be. Both things can be true.

So spoiler warning, folks.

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Series: HBO’s Game of Thrones

Breaking Down the Battle of Winterfell from a Military Perspective

Aside from being great TV, Game of Thrones has been a wonderful way to bring academic expertise and public engagement together, and this most recent episode was no exception. So let’s talk about “The Long Night” and history. Put on your helmets, folks. (Should be plenty around, since most of the cast doesn’t use them…)

Warning: Spoilers to follow.

Also, let me preempt a whole line of comments by noting that, yes, I know this is fantasy. Real history doesn’t have dragons and undead and spells and all that jazz.

But you know what? Having all that fantasy stuff actually makes the real-world oddities of the Battle of Winterfell all the more glaring.

Again, spoilers to follow.

Seriously.

[Read more]

Series: HBO’s Game of Thrones

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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Kingdom of Heaven’s Disappointing Crusade Against History

In both my scholarship and my fiction, my mind has been on war of late.

I think that’s why I’ve decided to take a breather from my workloads by queuing up Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut (2006).

First, I must tell you that I saw Kingdom of Heaven when it first came out in theaters in 2005. It was both disappointing and exhausting: the main arc of the protagonist made no sense, the pacing was odd, and the historical events were portrayed, well, super wrong. Also, and I must get this out of the way upfront, I’m not a fan of Orlando Bloom in this kind of role. I don’t know what Hollywood was thinking by casting him as a crusader knight. It’s especially odd when so much of the rest of the cast is perfection.

Anyway, I saw it in the theaters, was very much not impressed, and that was that.

But then you, my dear readers, in comments to previous Medieval Matters columns, asked me again and again to review Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut. It’s better, y’all insisted.

So fine. Let’s give this a shot. God wills it!

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

Outlaw King Is a Lot Smarter About History Than Braveheart

So I more or less eviscerated Braveheart in my last column, and along the way more than one person asked about how Mel Gibson’s history hack compares to a new film dealing with the same period: Netflix’s Outlaw King (Dir. David Mackenzie), starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce—as the movie and popular tradition call him—the guy whose nickname really was Braveheart.

Well, let’s press Play on today’s column and find out!

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

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.

[Read more]

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”?

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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).

[Read more]

Series: Medieval Matters

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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