A repository for waffling about science-fiction, fantasy and literature.
WHAT OTHERS SAY: "Ah, so you're one of the clever people" - Steven Moffat "An exceptional blog" - Robert Shearman "I like your reviews and you seem sane" - Joseph Lidster "Very impressive" - Professor Karen J. Leeder, University of Oxford "A gifted young man" - Professor Joel Marcus, Duke University "Really rather annoying" - everybody else
The third season of Gallifrey brings to an end the opening phase of the spinoff's existence (and, for a good few years, it was thought that after Gallifrey III, that was it - no more). Stephen Cole's season opener, Fractures, is thus in some ways 'the beginning of the end' - we'll forget about anything from Gallifrey IV onwards for now. Fractures sees Gallifrey plunged into the civil war which the Season 2 finale promised, both a large-scale conflict of different factions and a more interpersonal war between Romana II and 'Romana I', or at least the latter's body as worn by Pandora, the embodiment of all future Time Lord evil. K9 serving on Pandora's side is another indication of how split and, well, fractious everything is. This is a war over what kind of society Gallifrey would like to be, perhaps even over what kind of series Gallifrey would like to be. Unsurprisingly, then, there's a bit of a struggle in Fractures with regard to what kind of season opener it would like to be. Following up the series' most self-consciously "epic" tale so far, Imperiatrix, is a tough ask. Trying to one-up its grandeur is tricky, but so is going too small and introspective (which turned out to be Cole's strength in his contribution to the previous season).
Bit of a mega-post, this, mostly because I haven't got round to updating anything at all over the last couple of weeks, so there's lots to catch up on.
Instalment 3 begins on the 7 July, with possibly the most exciting day on our entire trip so far (disclaimer: anyone whose interest in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and other associated Tolkien works is that of a normal person rather than an obsessive fan might want to skip this next part). It was on that day, of course, that Simon and I visited Hobbiton of the Shire, the fabled location used in Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The place itself is accessed via buses from Matamata: it's part of a huge rolling green landscape belonging to a farming family called the Alexanders. Peter Jackson discovered it in the late 90s and decided that the area was perfect for Hobbiton; their 3 main requirements in terms of the place's "look" (besides the obvious green hills and undulating scenery) were a huge tree that could represent Party Tree, a lake (with a bridge), and a big lawn in front of the tree where Bilbo's party could take place. The Alexander farm location had two of these three features - there was a swamp where the lawn should have been, but that was easily fixed. So Jackson makes The Lord of the Rings, both he and Mr Alexander make lots of money, Hobbiton gets pulled down, and everyone goes home happy. When Jackson returned to the site to film the trilogy that makes up The Hobbit, he and the Alexanders agreed to leave the set standing so fans could visit it and enjoy the experience of seeing such an iconic film location. God, I'm glad they did.
The finale of Gallifrey II, the 100-minute-long epic Imperiatrix,is assigned to Stewart Sheargold, so far responsible for the delightfully trippy Seventh Doctor story Red. The result is clearly the range's most ambitious story to date, as the major strands running throughout this second series - and even further back to Gallifrey I and Neverland, the first instances in which Romana was referred to as 'Imperiatrix' - are all woven into a heady cocktail. There is no messing around in Imperiatrix, which kicks off energetically right from the off with an explosion in the heart of the Time Lord Academy, follows up with all manner of consequences and ramifications, and pits Romana against Darkel in a gripping battle of wits - all before we've reached 15 minutes in. The stakes remain high throughout, with another almighty explosion at the story's midpoint, one which kills off K9-I, no less - and we get a few more such moments before the end. This structure strongly recalls The Deadly Assassin in my view: starting early on with a climactic event, then letting the investigation spool out whilst building up other threats alongside it. Unsurprisingly, given his good work on Red, Sheargold acquits himself well with a story full of twists and turns; Imperiatrix sees this second season back on solid form after last time's weaker effort.
One thing which has struck me several times whilst travelling around New Zealand so far is that its Tourist Marketing Board really ought to make more use of the slogan 'A Greener, Pleasanter Land'. It's not particularly original to observe that, in its undulating green countryside, pastures full of grazing sheep and cows, New Zealand resembles the United Kingdom - but a UK that is somehow cleaner and more unspoiled. Less prone to traffic jams. Less industrialised and exploited and full. Like all unoriginal observations, though, it's not the whole story: for in its longitudinal and latitudinal position New Zealand doesn't map onto the UK, in point of fact, but rather Spain. So it would be more accurate to describe it as a Spain unwarmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, a more temperate Spain, but still with a climate that's plenty warm enough to support forests of subtropical plants. Combine this with rolling English landscapes, quasi-Saharan sand dunes, snowy mountain ranges, and volcanic formations, and you're onto a pretty unique combination.
Ynglinga saga, the first saga in Snorri Sturluson’s thirteenth-century chronicle of the kings of Norway (and the one whose first words ‘kringlaheimsins’ give the larger work its name, Heimskringla(HK)), is concerned with the early Scandinavian monarchs that make up the Yngling dynasty.2In outlining each individual king within this genealogy, Snorri draws on the Norwegian skald Þjóðólfr órHvini’s late ninth-century poem Ynglingatalas a historical source.Like the majority of skalds, Þjóðólfr seems to have composed the poem in praise of a contemporaneous king – in this case ‘Rǫgnvaldrheiðumhár’, most likely RǫgnvaldrÓláfsson of Vestfold; rather than eulogizing the living monarch, however, Þjóðólfr’s focus is on the preceding twenty-seven generations, thereby ascribing to Rǫgnvaldr an extensive and noble heritage.However, as modern readers accustomed to jingoism, propaganda, and the familiar historiographical notion of poets portraying kings in as positive a light as possible, we are struck by Ynglingatal’s subversive undercurrent of absurdism. Þjóðólfr mostly limits himself to discussing the circumstances of each king’s death, and yet, especially in the first half of the saga, these are often deaths which are not exactly steeped in nobility, as would be expected; Gro Steinsland writes ‘most of the kings die in a rather strange way, without glory, a feature which scholars have found difficult to explain’.3As we read the frequently grotesque or ridiculous events that unfold in Ynglingatal– elaborated upon and retold in Snorri’s Ynglinga saga – we might be surprised by the dearth of stately, solemn reverence of the kind Richard II ascribes to ‘sad stories of the death of kings’ in the epigraph from Shakespeare above. A closer examination of the ‘bleakly humorous’fates of these early Scandinavian monarchs as Þjóðólfr and Snorri tell them will lean on an understanding of the power of incongruity in humour, and in particular how this incongruity can produce an effect of pathos in the audience, however absurd the event in question.4In studying individual instances, we must also discuss what separates these distinct portrayals and why Þjóðólfr and Snorri have treated them the way they have.
The mythological poem Vǫluspá recounts in some sixty-three stanzas of succinct, elusive Old Norse fornyrðislag verse a holistic mythological cosmology which involves both looking back to the creation of the world and looking forward to the world’s destruction and subsequent rebirth.1This ambitious subject matter is related by a prophetess or vǫlvawhopermits our entry into both past and future, describing both in our present moment (in which ‘our’ applies both to the instant of the poem’s performance and the instant of reading the extant manuscript today). Vǫluspáis thus ripe for an exploration of what John Lindow calls ‘mythic time’, particularly in terms of whether its presentation of time could be described as a linear or cyclical arrangement – whether the poem indicates an unbroken chronological progression or gestures towards an infinite set of endings and new beginnings.2This will involve (chronologically speaking) a detailed close reading of various aspects of Vǫluspáwhilstcomparing how they support either the linear or the cyclical models, a consideration of what relevance this question has on how we read the poem, and concluding remarks on the nature of this perceived linear/cyclical dichotomy and whether Vǫluspáin some way eludesattempts to place it within such a binary division.
In the BF stable at least, Steve Lyons is ahead of the pack when it comes to non-linear narratives and experimenting with how time, well, works. He's thus a logical fit for the frequently time-twisting Gallifrey II - it's no great surprise that they got him in eventually, and here he is contributing its fourth chapter, Insurgency. I was imagining something full of temporal twists, non-linearity, and high concepts (i.e. Pandora); what Lyons does instead is not what I anticipated at all - he's the first writer for this series of audio dramas to direct the spotlight away from the political heavyweights and onto a different group of people, namely, students at the Time Lord Academy. Yes, students at a prestigious institution have a cushy number compared to some, and they're hardly the oppressed Shabogans (I do long for their story to be told, almost more than anything), but what instantly comes to mind here - to my mind, certainly - is that there's some really interesting class-based stuff you can tap into about not feeling at home in an august, much-revered academic elite; about feeling out of place because of one's ethnic background or what kind of household you grew up in (I'm only being half-autobiographical here; for a whole raft of reasons, I was not as out of place at Oxford as many people in different situations, both known and unknown to me, but such an alienation is not a completely alien feeling either, let's put it that way - and pardon the pun).
My brother Simon and I have been planning to go to New Zealand for quite some time, possibly ever since The Lord of the Rings first seized our imagination some time around 2003/4. Peter Jackson's 6 Middle Earth films are notorious for boasting the spectacular New Zealand scenery as the backdrop to mythical creations and battles, and a whole industry has sprung up around Middle Earth 'tours', especially now Hobbiton, where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins live, is a permanent feature of the landscape near Matamata.
But in recent years we have had another motive: our uncle Steven lives near Palmerston North, towards the south of North Island, and while he's been over to Britain a few times in recent years neither Simon nor I had yet done the reverse trip, despite planning it or daydreaming of it on several occasions. And so it was that we decided to visit for definite in summer 2017: I've just finished my degree, and Simon is on his gap year between finishing school and starting at uni, so it's pretty perfect timing. The fact that it's winter over there rather than summer doesn't really perturb me (I'm a Nordic-Slavic soul at heart anyway, so I like winter; their winters have better weather than ours; it means things are cheaper because it's the tourism off-season). Anyway, here we are, it's July the 3rd, and what I'm calling our 'Antipodean Excursion' (because it sounds like a crap pulp thriller you'd find in an airport, and this amuses me. Most of my jokes amuse me and no one else, so this shouldn't be any different) has just begun. To all family, friends, and random strangers: you're very welcome to follow blog updates over the coming weeks - I'm envisaging about six such posts - if you want to know what we're getting up to (photos will be Google Image-y ones, not our own, because our own will be up on Facebook for those who want to see them).
In a luxurious and expansive, and yet somehow oppressive and restrictive room, the sizeable household of a wealthy Sicilian prince, Don Fabrizio Cobera, are gathered to pray before the altar in a repetitious low drone of "Ave Maria"s. They are predominantly dressed in fine black clothes, try to hide their concerns behind outward expressions of pious devotion, and are waited on by a gaggle of butlers and footmen. Behind the continuous sound of Latin learned by rote, the viewer catches the sounds of cries, shouts, fury. Servants glance at one another nervously; the Prince and his attendants do their utmost not to notice or let it disturb their ritual. The angry noises which disturb this stuffy interior's equilibrium come from the world beyond books and chandeliers and orchards - for it is 1860, and Garibaldi and his nationalists are sweeping through Palermo.