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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Screech Owls in Hyde Park

While I enjoyed Westward Ho! immensely, I'll admit that Charles Kingsley's erudite and verbose prose did leave me somewhat fatigued. Thus, for my next reading adventure, I went in search of a novel just as entertaining, but shorter and less demanding than Amyas Leigh's incredible journey. 

Attack on the Tower of London suited my needs perfectly. I've never read any of Roy MacGregor's stories, or for that matter any of the other novels in the Screech Owls series, but Roy's easy reading prose, simple character introductions, and his way of introducing the current story got me instantly involved. I particularly enjoyed meeting Travis, the captain of the children's Ice Hockey team, as the team flew on their Air Canada plane to London. 

It seems that sports officials in London are trying to rouse interest in an inline skating hockey championship. To found a league in their own country, they select a team from children in England, then announce an international competition. Any team from another country can be selected, and their trip will be completed paid for. Although the Screech Owls have never formally played hockey on inline skates, they all ride them for fun, and play impromptu inline street-hockey games in their off time. They also know that their coach, who would have gone on to a career in the National Hockey League had he not suffered a debilitating injury, loves English history. So the team members send in several entries, each time stating why (in a slightly different way, and in fifty words or less), they believe they are worthy of being chosen. Who wouldn't fall in love with a bunch of 12 and 13 year old kids who like their coach so much that they want to give him that kind of experience?

Additionally, the competition takes place the week after Halloween, which is the same week my wife and I stayed in London back in 2013.

Much of the critical action in the novel takes place in the Tower of London, which despite having made two visits to that city, I have yet to see. But one location the Screech Owls visit I could relate to, and that is Hyde Park. This large park, with the adjacent Kensington Park, serves as a huge green area in the center of this densely populated urban environment. On our visit in 2013, we walked through the two parks, watching all the leaves changing color on the trees, the meticulously groomed flower beds, the swans and birds swimming on the Serpentine (a river), and all the people out walking, chatting, playing, boating, or riding horses. Naturally, it rained on us, so we ducked into a little restaurant for a cup of tea and a bun, but then the rain went away, and everyone, including us, emerged, and the parks once more filled with people.

Unlike us, the Screech Owls enjoy good weather during their stay in England's capital. The competition organizers set up a rink in Hyde park, and as the Screech Owls arrive, their competition, the Young Lions of Wembley, are already warming up. 

It was a lovely day, the sun shining and the light breeze plucking the odd dead leaf from the trees and sending it spinning down. There were so few leaves on the ground, however, that Travis wondered if they had sweepers hiding behind the big trunks waiting for one to land so they could race out and be off with it before anyone noticed. He had never seen such a beautifully kept park.

I agree with you, Travis. Hyde Park (along with Kensington Park), is a beautiful place to be. Even in November, when it's cold out.

To the memory of
Queen Caroline
wife of George II
for whom
the Long Water
and the Serpentine
were created
1727 - 1731

Although Roy MacGregor wrote Attack on the Tower of London for children, I enjoyed accompanying Travis and his friends on their British adventure. From skimming the titles in the series, it looks like the Screech Owls' adventures take them to interesting places in their native Canada, several states in the U.S., and at least one European country. So, all in all, I don't think I'd object too strongly to reading another book in the series. Or for that matter, any other book in the series. But then, that's the magic of a well told story: it appeals to all children, regardless of sex, race, culture, or age.

Dragon Dave

Friday, August 28, 2015

How We Almost Curtailed Our British Adventure: Part 2

Walking the Long Bridge in Bideford, England

As I said in Part 1, our GPS unit was clearly malfunctioning. Lacking adequate maps, we had to follow the M road in the general direction of Amesbury, our destination for the night. We could only hope that we would reach it before darkness. 

Thankfully, England enjoys long summer days. Far longer, it would seem, than our stores of patience. At least, that is, after a twelve hour plane ride, and a couple hours of sleep.

Although we don't usually use rest areas, we pulled off in one this time. Given our troubles, we headed inside, where we used the restrooms, and asked a salesman in one of the shops for directions. Thankfully, he confirmed that we were following the correct route, and suggested an off ramp that would take us into Amesbury. From there, hopefully we could reach our hotel.

Are you familiar with English rest areas? Many of them resemble strip malls in the United States, and cater to a traveler's every need. In addition to the toilets and a gas station, this one had several fast food establishments, a coffee place, and a bookstore. Although we had never seen one during previous trips, this one had a large atlas, available for five pounds. We opened its pages, and found it gave us just the highly detailed information we desired. While it might not replace the street-by-street directions of a properly-functioning Satellite Navigation System, this old school book seemed like a godsend. We couldn't have been happier as we pulled back onto the M road, and continued our journey. That night, despite the wonky instructions of our GPS unit, we found our hotel. After hauling our suitcases up several staircases, we were finally able to relax in our comfortable room.

Later, we discovered that somehow, perhaps months ago during the planning stages of our trip, as we entered our destinations into the system, it had somehow got switched over to Pedestrian Mode. We switched it back to Driving Mode, and after that, we never had a problem again. In fact, this year's driving was even more pleasurable than before, given that we now had two available means of navigation handy.

Another view from the Long Bridge

Staying home and pretending to travel doesn't force one to face those fears and overcome them. Besides, it's often in navigating your way through any complications life throws into your path that make any journey an experience you treasure later on. Now I can look back on that difficult driving experience and smile. Plus, we've got an additional navigation aid, that will surely come in handy on a future visit to England.

Still, it's taken me awhile until I could write about that experience, which probably gives you an idea of how frustrating and bewildering we found it.

Does travel make a difference in one's life? It's hard to quantify an answer like that. All I know is that being in Bideford, really being in this north Devon town I had read about in Westward Ho!, to which I had already traveled vicariously through Charles Kingsley's eyes, soul, and pen, proved a meaningful experience that could never be enjoyed by the armchair adventurer. I don't know about you, but for me, that's a reason to travel. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to relax in my comfortable armchair and do a little reading. Right now, being an armchair adventurer sounds really appealing.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How We Almost Curtailed Our British Adventure: Part 1

The riverfront in Bideford, England

I once corresponded with a couple who never traveled anywhere. Aside from the occasional day trip, they never ventured far from home, and never spent the night elsewhere. They claimed that they could get all the benefits of travel from the comfort of their armchairs, either by watching a TV program, or reading about faraway places in books and online. Their approach saved them the monetary costs, the hassles and exertion, and all the planning that real-world travel demands. 

Needless to say, fears accompany any untried venture. And even with the best of planning, there are things that can go wrong during any trip. As happened during this year's trip to England.

As we pulled out of Heathrow Airport in our rental car, we had trouble following the instructions given by our satellite navigation system. We had bought the unit during our first visit to England, back in 2011, and it was old and out of warranty. Still, we had thought it would be fine for our trip. Instead, it started giving us all these strange instructions. When we missed a turn off, it kept on wanting us to backtrack instead of recalculating an alternate route. In an attempt to turn around, we got on one of the M roads (the British equivalent of freeways in the United States. There it really went wonky, telling us to turn off in places where there was no off ramp. Plus, the M road was full of traffic, which meant that we were headed nowhere, and almost certainly in opposite direction from that night's destination, really fast.

We had never found a good map book or atlas of England on our previous trips. Google Maps had changed the way it operated, so while I had calculated the estimated miles between destinations, I hadn't been able to print detailed directions. This left us to rely on our satellite navigation unit. But even after we got off the M road, and headed in what we believed was the right direction, the system still seemed wonky, telling us to go in a counter-clockwise (instead of the correct clockwise) direction around roundabouts, and turn off the roundabouts using lanes that would have us driving on the right side of the road (instead of the left). 

Somehow, by relying on the faulty unit, we managed to start heading in the right direction. But we were so frustrated by this time that, had my wife suggested we return the rental car, and try to use buses and trains for our journey, I would have agreed. It would have made our vacation much more expensive, and limited our options, but really, what were our options at this point? Could we really reach all the places we desired, without adequate maps, and a GPS system that was clearly malfunctioning?

We thought we had planned adequately for this adventure, but clearly we had not, and lacking an adequate means of navigation, was this what we could expect every day of trip? Does that sound like a vacation to you?

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 24, 2015

Understanding The Fantastic Four: Part 3

"Better run, T-Rex. It's clobbering time!"

The Ultimate Fantastic Four comic book series championed the brilliance and idealism of youth. It proved popular with fans, lasting for 60 issues, far longer than most Marvel comic book series endure these days. And ultimately, it served as a basis for this year's new Fantastic Four movie. The only question is: will anyone bother to see it?

Hollywood can be a strange place for a writer to navigate. Stories, or properties, are bought and sold, and most often not made into films or TV series. But whether these stories get made or don't get made, whether contracts are fulfilled or expire, buying rights to stories back, once they've been sold, can be a tricky business, argued out over years or decades via lawyers and the courts. Currently, Disney, a vast multimedia conglomerate that owns Marvel, Lucasfilm, and the ABC TV network (among, no doubts, hundreds or thousands of other media companies), are embroiled in a battle to win back the rights to make their own Fantastic Four movies. So they obviously don't want this new movie, made by a rival studio, to succeed. Marvel has also done some interesting things lately, including canceling the Fantastic Four comic book, and killing off the actors portraying the Fantastic Four in the movie in an issue of The Punisher

Sometimes, you really don't need that extra caffeine.

This situation no doubt puts Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis is a difficult situation. Here's a movie, which seems a fairly faithful adaptation of their story, and they're not allowed to promote it or celebrate its release. It pits two writers who have lived their lives regaling us with wondrous stories against other writers and artists who are attempting to translate their story into another medium. And in the process, it puts all of us, as readers and viewers, into a dilemma: Should we support Marvel and boycott this movie? Or should we embrace it and celebrate it for what it is, recognizing how true to Millar and Bendis' reimagined characters and story the filmmakers have remained? 

Prevent pest infestations before they start with
the Ultimate Fantastic Exterminators.

Still, I suppose we can't feel too bad for these two creators. Two years ago, the Queen awarded British citizen Mark Millar with an MBE for his services to film and literature. American Brian Michael Bendis has garnered plenty of awards over the years, and last week even celebrated his birthday. It seems an odd time and way to celebrate one's birthday, let alone the translation of one's story onto the silver screen, amid controversy and battles over ownership of classic characters and stories. But then, Bendis loves to tell stories about superheroes. And if there's one thing we know about superheroes, when they're not rescuing the innocent or defeating villains, they're fighting each other. This fact was illustrated most profoundly, perhaps, by Mark Millar's Civil War series, which serves as the basic for next year's Captain America movie. So perhaps it's fitting that, while the superheroes fight each other, Disney and Fox should be battling it out over who gets to make movies about the Fantastic Four.

Dr. Doom: the reason every smart homeowner buys Fire Insurance.

As for me, all I can suggest is that you see this movie and decide its merits for yourself. Ultimately, that's what superheroes are supposed to be fighting for anyway, isn't it? The ability for each of us to decide how to think and act, instead of allowing far more powerful entities to dominate our outlook and actions. That's certainly what young Reed Richards was trying to do, in the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, when he struggled against parents and school teachers who didn't understand him, and persisted with his experiments to develop the world's first working teleportation system.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Marvel Influences in the new Fantastic Four movie
Cast of FF movie killed in Punisher comic
Is Marvel sabotaging FF and X-Men movies?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Understanding The Fantastic Four: Part 2

In the Ultimate Fantastic Four origin story, written by Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis, Reed Richards leaves school to join the government-funded think tank run by Dr. Storm. There he meets Dr. Storm's children, Sue and Johnny, as well as Victor Van Damme. He spends four years there, working with other scientific prodigies to help iron out the problems in the experimental teleportation machine the group has constructed. Victor, meanwhile, works on his own projects, and never deigns to speak to anyone. Then, one day, Reed returns to his room, to find Victor there, going through his notes.

Reed: What are you doing, Victor?

Get out of here! This is my room!
Victor: You're doing them wrong.

Reed: Hey, what? You can't touch that!
Victor: You're attempting to calculate the densities as if they still held a gravity.
Reed: You can't touch my--these are my formulas!
Victor: You don't know the gravity equation in the--

Reed may force Victor out of his room that night, but later realizes that Victor is intelligent, and his participation may help speed the realization of his dream. So he approaches Victor, and asks him if he will join his team. 

Victor may be as intelligent as Reed, but he doesn't understand what Reed is doing. His overwhelming self-belief keeps him doubting Reed's conclusions. So he continually fiddles with Reed's calculations, and when the final test comes, of teleporting something organic through the machine (an apple), he corrects Reed's numbers again. Instead of teleporting the apple, the machine expands the field outward, drawing himself, Reed, Sue and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm into another dimension. When they emerge, this descrambling of their atoms, similar to the transporter systems on the USS Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek, has changed their physical forms. Instead of reassembling their bodies correctly, they are now, and will forever more, be known as Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Thing, The Human Torch, and Doctor Doom.

Victor may be intelligent, but his belief in his own infallibility gives him a god complex. Like so many intellectuals, he knows exactly how to order the world so that it functions at maximum efficiency. Unlike Reed, he cannot truly work with others. He believes he should be in charge, and anyone whose beliefs or actions are at variance with his becomes his enemy. And, as any enemy threatens the proper structure he wishes to impose on the world, they and all their allies are dangerous and must be destroyed.

This, naturally, makes all human governments his enemies.

The new Fantastic Four movie draws their conception of Victor from this template laid down by Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis. When the military continually frustrate his efforts, he leaves Dr. Storm's think tank to continue his work elsewhere, and destroys the group's computers (and presumably, much of their progress) on the way out. After Reed joins the group, Dr. Storm reaches out to Victor, who has not achieved his goals on his own, and convinces him to return to the Baxter Building. Unlike Reed, Victor has not learned humility. He will continue to believe that he should be in charge, that he should be running not just the think tank, but the world. And after he and the others are physically changed, and the military take complete charge of the think tank, Victor realizes that, regardless of how powerful he becomes, he will never be able to control everyone on Earth. 

People who truly wish to help and empower others would channel this realization into working with the present system to achieve their desired goals. Victor choses a different path, a more destructive one. But I'll let you discover how he responds to the world's rejection as he sees it, and how he earns the name Dr. Doom, should you venture out to the cinema to see The Fantastic Four.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Understanding The Fantastic Four: Part 1

While I enjoyed the new Fantastic Four movie, a lot of people didn't. Some fans hated it, and shared their outrage on social media. Casual superhero fans heard this outrage, took to heart the critics' poor reports (When do critics rate comic book movies highly?), and decided to spend their money on other movies. Some fans have even ranted about how terrible the movie is online, without having first made an effort to see it. But I'm convinced that most people simply didn't understand where the director and script writers were coming from in telling their story. So I thought I'd take a break from these posts on England to explain the movie to anyone who might be interested. 

The first thing you need to know is the source material for this movie is based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four series, which rebooted the classic series for Marvel's Ultimate Universe line. This series was the brainchild of Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis, two powerhouse writers beloved by comics readers. Both have written stories that have been adapted into movies. For Mark Millar, some stories of his that have been made into movies include Kick-Ass, Wanted, and this year's Kingsman: The Secret Service. Brian Michael Bendis has served as a consultant on Marvel-related animated TV shows, including Ultimate Spider-Man, and his series Powers has been adapted into a TV series. So it's safe to assume that Hollywood takes many of its cues from Millar and Bendis when making superhero movies and TV shows.

Ultimate Fantastic Four reimagines all the characters younger, and starts off with Reed Richard, a young boy struggling through school, brilliant but misunderstood. When he falls prey to bullies, Ben Grimm stands up for him and defends him. As a result, Reed welcomes him into his world. Even at a young age, he knows what he wants to do. Teleportation--the ability to instantly transport oneself from one location to another--has long been the stuff of science fiction. He wants to make it a reality. He looks to the real of real science, in which other dimensions are postulated. His idea is to use one or more of these other dimensions as a transit path or gateway. Or, as he explains to Ben Grimm about these other realms:

Reed: No, no, it's it's everywhere. It's all around us. There's, well, there's any number of dimensions of--of time and space right on top of us and next to us and under us and around the world that we live in.

We live in this one and we're genetically custom-made to fit here--on the planet. And well, right next to us, right here, right any number of other places and times. Any number of them. I mean, this is common knowledge. This is--yeah.

We just can't see or feel them. But they're there... They've always been there.

Ben: Dude, you are freaking me out.

Ben Grimm may not be able to visualize what Reed is trying to explain, but his ideas are drawn from current scientific speculation. Unfortunately, Reed's father is far less accepting of Reed's brilliance, especially when he takes apart household appliances and uses the components to build his teleportation devices. But Reed carries on, despite his father's displeasure and disbelief in him, and later presents his invention at the school science fair.

Reed: Whether it can be done (transported) for larger systems, such as atoms, remains a mystery. But my hypothesis here today is that instead of disembodiment, the real key to teleportation may be shifting objects through a parallel dimension. Shifting the objects through dimensions similar to our own, that are using the same space as our own. Once equations are properly calculated to breach this space, one would imagine that this kind of teleportation could, in fact, change every part of our society.

Starving people could have food distributed to them in an instant. Our transportation systems would totally change. The possibilities are endless. But this is only phase seven of my project. I can only transport a small object one way. Hopefully, by next year, I will personally be able to go and get my---uh... 

Well, uh... Maybe I'll just show you what I am talking about. Um, okay... You, uh, you might want to step back.

At this point, the fireworks start, and when they finish, Reed's model car has vanished, and the man wearing the red beret gets out his cell phone, dials a number, and says, "Yeah, it's me, Lumpkin. Found one."

A key difference between the film and the movie at this point is that, in the comic, Reed has only transported subatomic particles there and back again. Large items, such as the model car, have disappeared and proved unretrievable. But when the people on the other end of Lumpkin's cell phone invite Reed to join the prestigious, government-funded think tank operated by Professor Storm, he discovers that the team have built a much larger teleportation device. Within its confines, he can visibly see these other dimensions, or at least the gateway leading to them. And within them, floating like items cast into the ocean, are the model toys Reed has sent away with his small invention, but been unable to retrieve. 

Doesn't it stir your soul, to see an idealistic, hard-working person's years of creativity and persistence validated?

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Feeding Frenzy on a Bideford Barge

After enjoying the Burton Art Gallery, and walking the streets of Bideford, I noticed many of the shops were closing up. So we headed back to the car, thinking of stopping off at the local Morrison's supermarket before we headed back to our lodging in Milton Damerel. But I knew it would take us a minimum of an hour to get back, and as we still had plenty of light, I suggested we return to the barge so I could finish my sketch. 

Reclaiming our table from lunch, we enjoyed another alfresco meal. Then I got busy with my drawing. When we had last been here, the old ship next to the barge had been untouched by the water.

Now the River Torridge had surrounded the time-worn vessel in its loving embrace.

It was easy to think of Charles Kingsley's description of the gleaming white houses of Bideford as I worked.

Others no doubt found their surroundings equally inspiring.

After awhile, the cook, who was finishing up his day's labors in the hot kitchen, came on deck and banged a bucket of scraps against the rails. He wanted to attract the attention of the ducks nearby. But if they took note of his signals, they failed to respond. So he dumped his container of scraps overboard.

Needless to say, they did not go to waste. 

Is this what you call a feeding frenzy?

Ultimately, my holiday sketching work ethic overcame even my wife's patience, and so finishing my sketch would have to wait until another day. I worked on it, a little each day, until I was satisfied with it. 

It may not be the greatest achievement of all time, but it reminds me of my visit to Bideford whenever I look at it. And that, far more than any pride in my artistic abilities, makes me smile.

Dragon Dave

Friday, August 14, 2015

Reflections Of Bideford

Nature paints with her own palette, and chooses her brushes with care.

Images flow into being, different, but just as interesting, as those ever wrought by Human hands.

Those who thirst for beauty can drink to their hearts' content.*

Dragon Dave

*But please, don't drink untreated river water. I mean...really.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Beautiful Bideford: So Much To Offer

Bideford may not seem remarkable to the average tourist. Yet after reading Charles Kingsley's novel Westward Ho!, I enjoyed exploring the north Devon city where his protagonist Amyas Leigh grew up, attended school, and set off from on his maritime adventures. Kingsley references lay everywhere. His name adorned local businesses and streets. Restaurants and public houses took their name from characters in the novel. The Burton Art Gallery & Museum offered up a Charles Kingsley room. And of course, there was his statue, where he stood atop his gleaming pillar, surveying (or guarding) the park. 

There's the Long Bridge, one of the longest remaining medieval bridges in England. Cars and pedestrians cross it constantly. Standing along its thick stone walls, one can soak in magnificent views of the surrounding houses and countryside. 

From there, we could also see the barge where we ate lunch. At least, we fancied we could. It's really back there, resting behind the other ships that seem intent upon hiding it from view. From the Long Bridge, Bideford's modern counterpart looks like it must run directly over the barge, but it's far enough away that when you're on the barge, you can't hear the cars passing by, the drivers intent upon traveling to and from work, and otherwise going about their daily lives.

Bideford has plenty to offer, including historic churches, summer festivals that celebrate the regions heritage, and a weekly Panniers Market. It even has a Citizen's Advice Bureau. There, Bideford residents can emulate the example of Compo Simmonite in the Yorkshire town of Holmfirth. As related in the show Last of the Summer Wine, he once visited his local bureau with Nora Batty to confirm that renting a room from her for twenty years constituted a common law marriage. Much to his chagrin, the resident legal export couldn't confirm his contention, but still, isn't it nice that residents have a place to learn the answer to practical questions like that?

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 10, 2015

Riparian Reservations in Beautiful Bideford

Normally, my wife and I are early-risers. But England seemed to demand a different schedule. So it was that we arrived in Bideford shortly before noon. We left our car in a park, and as we stretched our legs, we came across an old barge along the river. It advertised good hot food, which is always attractive come lunchtime, so we walked onboard.

We could have eaten inside, but it was nice outside. So we decided to emulate the English, and dine alfresco whenever the weather allowed. 

It seemed a rather ironic place for Amyas Leigh to dream of a seafaring life at the beginning of Westward Ho!, given the low level of the River Torridge. 

On the other hand, the low river thrust those white houses Charles Kingsley described to the forefront. It was easy to imagine Amyas growing up in one of those, with his quiet but religious mother, and his much smarter brother Frank, who would grow up to tutor the children of wealthy families, and serve in Queen Elizabeth's court. 

While we ate, the tide came in. As the river swelled, the birds came too. The strong current, lapping against the river bed, served as gentle accompaniment to the calls of the birds. Seagulls flew, ducks swam, and the houses across the river, surrounded by verdant greens,  grew even more picturesque. 

There was so much I yearned to explore in Bideford, as well as the rest of this northern corner of Devon. I had done lots of research, and here was my chance to see it all! But part of a vacation is the idea of relaxing, just taking it easy. And then there is the subject of sketching. I'm not saying I'm a great artist, or that I ever will be. But I had vowed to do more sketching on this vacation. Still, I had to make a choice. Should I take it easy, and enjoy the scenic splendor of my riparian roost? Or should I abandon the nest, and camera in hand, strut my San Diego stuff through beautiful Bideford? In the words of The Clash: "Should I stay or should I go now?"

Westward Ho! Go Go GO! Yes Yes YES? Or no No NO?

What would you do?

Dragon Dave

Thursday, August 6, 2015

My Charles Kingsley: Westward Ho! Journey

You might never have heard of Bideford (pronounced Bid-E-ford), a town in Devon, England, but it's strongly associated with one author. His name was Charles Kingsley, a 19th century Church of England priest, whose sermons and service was so highly regarded that he eventually served as chaplain to Queen Elizabeth, tutored the Prince of Wales, and was appointed canon of Westminster Abbey. But it was largely for his contributions to literature that he is remembered, and foremost of those is his novel Westward Ho!

Yes, you saw that right: there is an exclamation mark in the book's title. 

Although he published it in 1855, the novel is set in the 16th Century. It's about Amyas Leigh, a young man who feels the call of the sea. After his father's death, he's overseen by a powerful local benefactor, who sends him out to serve under Sir Francis Drake. In time, he becomes a captain of his own vessel, searches for treasure and a city of gold, and leads his crew into battles against the Spanish. His military prowess is such that, in the novel's final section, Drake relies on him to help defend Britain against the dreaded Spanish Armada. It's an engaging read, if a little imposing at times, as Kingsley was a highly educated man, and his erudite prose makes the book anything but an easy read. 

Still, the novel offers a little something for everyone: Christianity versus Witchcraft, Adventure and Intrigue, Love and Revenge, even if the Spanish and the Catholics (specifically the Jesuits) are the antagonists. In fact, Kingsley has come under fire in recent decades for his anti-Catholic views, but he was writing of a time in which people in Britain were highly segregated in their religious views, and people associated Catholicism not only with the Spanish Inquisition, but also how the Spanish and the Catholic Church (mis)treated the peoples they subjugated in the Americas. Then there's the fact that the Pope declared Queen Elizabeth unworthy of being Queen, and the manner in which the Catholics hence viewed her could hardly have warmed the British to their Spanish neighbors. 

Kingsley's novel taught me a lot about 16th century England, and left me feeling as though I had gotten my money's worth. This proved especially true as I got it for free online, and it took me a couple months to read. Some say that you don't value what you get for free, but I'll be remembering Westward Ho! for a long time to come. Apart from the history, romance, sorrows and joys, thrills and drama, I'll remember Amyas Leigh's remarkable transformation from young teen to mature man. More importantly, it made me curious to see Bideford, that historic town along the River Torridge, and the other historic locales in North Devon that feature in the novel. 

What an incredible gift to receive from a book of fiction written over one hundred-and-fifty years ago! Onward, David! Westward Ho!

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Seeing Beatrix Potter, G. K. Chesterton & Jane Austen in Lyme Regis

The English seaside resort of Lyme Regis proved a pleasant place to spend a Sunday. While we found it windy and cold, we secured a bench on which to enjoy our picnic lunch, and take in the incredible view. 

Walking through this historical town provided a visual feast. So much history. So much detail!

Sightseers have long been visiting Lyme Regis. Check out this sketch by Beatrix Potter, drawn during a visit 101 years ago.

Photo courtesy of the Lyme Regis Museum

I tried to see G. K. Chesterton sitting on the porch of the Three Cups Hotel, writing one of his Father Brown mysteries (recently made into a popular TV series), or some poetry for his adopted children. I wondered if J. R. R. Tolkien got much writing done when he visited Lyme Regis. Or did he, like so many visitors, feel the attraction of the sea?

Sadly, the building sits vacant now, merely a reminder of what once was.

Jane Austen fell in love with the town, when she visited the resort town in 1804. Or as she wrote in her novel Persuasion, "A very strange stranger it must be, who does not see the charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better."

The Lyme Regis Museum helped us appreciate this town better, with its displays on famous locals, its literary heritage, and all the prehistoric fossils that have been discovered here. We ducked into the museum twice, absorbing more appreciation for this charming town with each visit. Then, reluctantly, it was time to return to our car, and head off toward our next destination.

Dragon Dave

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mike Shepherd Moscoe: Expert Tracker, Caring Guide

Cold Raked Launa's bare skin, but it was the fear clutching her heart that made her shiver. Beside her in the darkness, Star nickered and yanked on his primitive halter. When Launa asked what would happen if one of the animals bolted from the energy capsule, the scientists shrugged. They had built the time transport, but that didn't mean they understood it.

So begins First Dawn, the introductory novel of Mike Moscoe's Lost Millennium trilogy, and the first novel he published. It concerns Jack and Launa, two people from a contemporary Earth ravaged by a designer plague. A time machine has been developed, but returning is not in Jack and Launa's plans. Instead, these two people are sent by the United States government with one mission: to prevent a peaceful society that lived six thousand years ago from being slaughtered. 

Beautiful artwork (sadly uncredited)
adorns all three volumes of
Mike Moscoe's Lost Millennium trilogy.

It's a radical solution, one that allows no hope for those currently suffering or dying from the plague. But the hope is that Jack and Launa, by preserving this ancient society, can divert the evolution of the Human race onto a more peaceful track. Instead of nation fighting against nation, and terrorists plotting to destroy any aspect of society they disagree with, might it be possible to engineer a modern utopia in this manner? Well, there's always hope, right?

While preparing to attend a science fiction convention, I noticed that Mike Moscoe, a newly published author, would be attended. I attended a panel on which he participated, and afterward approached him with a few questions about his publishing experience. He told me that these were complex questions, and motioned me out of the room. To my surprise, he found us a comfortable and quiet area in which to sit, and proceeded to answer all my questions in the most exacting detail. 

For, believe it or not, one entire hour!

Never in the years since has a published author opened up to me like that, and explained the nuts and bolts of his or her publishing experience in such minute detail. Later, I realized that I wasn't ready to be published yet, but the guiding light Mike shone down the publication path gave me hope. In the meantime, I would go on to enjoy all three installments in his first trilogy, three space operas, and several installments of the Kris Longknife saga (published as Mike Shepherd). And as I read each one, I derived pleasure not only from Mike's prose, but from the memory of the time he lavished upon me. 

Someday, I hope to read more novels about Jack and Launa. Beyond that, I hope to have my own books published. Should the latter event occur, it will in no small way be due to people like Mike Moscoe, who took the time to sit down with an unformed, naive writer, and guide him along, for a few steps, down the narrow, difficult-to-follow deer track through the writing wilderness, that may eventually lead toward the primitive wood-and-thatch hut of publication. You know, the one you could walk around through the forest forever, passing by it time and again, but never spot it through the trees.

Happy Birthday, and eternal thanks, Mike (Shepherd) Moscoe. 

Dragon Dave