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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Charlotte Bronte Vs Jane Austen

I've read three Jane Austen novels, and enjoyed them all. But something keeps drawing me back to the Bronte sisters' novels. While I should have long since started reading Emma, Jane Austen's fourth novel, instead I'm reading Shirley, my Bronte sisters' fifth book. Austen fills her novels with plenty of social commentary, some of which she drops in as satire. They are by far easier reading than the Bronte sisters' fiction. And yet...

Like Jane Austen's novels, Shirley informs me about the time in which it was written. In this case, she's introducing me to life in Yorkshire, England during the Napoleonic Wars. While Textile Mill owners felt the need to industrialize to keep down expenses, this put tremendous numbers of people out of work. As Mill owners were not allowed to sell their textiles to America, as a result of treaty issues during the war, this severely limited their income. The need to industrialize put tremendous numbers of the poor out of work. This leads to the Luddite rebellion against industrialization. Through Robert Moore, the mill owner, we even learn of Wellington's tactics, victories, and failures during the Napoleonic Wars. Then, of course, there are attitudes toward women, and the role they were expected to play, in the early nineteenth century English society.

Perhaps it's the pain that undergirds the Bronte sisters' novels that imbue them with added richness and depth. There's no doubting that Jane Austen's characters undergo plenty of pain in her stories. But pain seems to seeps from the very pores of the Bronte sisters' novels. It bleeds from every scene, every page. Consider, for a minute, Caroline Helstone. Her father died, and her mother abandoned her. She lives with her uncle, who thinks that all women are simple, if not useless, creatures. He refuses to deal with her as a real person. His wife, by all accounts a beautiful young woman with spirit, ostensibly died ignored and unloved within a few years of their marriage. Shirley herself is an orphan, forced to operate in a man's world, with only her former governess for company. It's the pain, and the loss she senses, that draws Shirley to Caroline.

But then, unlike Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters lived in poverty. Due to poor living conditions, her brother Branwell and her sister Emily died while Charlotte was writing Shirley. Her remaining sister Anne died the year of Shirley's publication. I suppose it's that hard struggle for life, and the unavoidable reality of death, undergirds Shirley, and all the Bronte sisters' novels, with such vivid pain and loss. 

Still, while I apparently find the Bronte sisters' novels more compelling, I'm glad Jane Austen didn't have to experience that.

Dragon Dave

Monday, March 28, 2016

Charlotte Bronte on Heartless Priests & Career Women

The Bronte family church,
St. Michael And All Angels,
in Haworth, England

After a long break, I'm diving into the Bronte sisters' novels again. This time, it's Shirley, by Charlotte Bronte. She paints a vivid portrait of Yorkshire, England in the early nineteenth century. Two aspects of life she especially concentrates on are the role of priests and women. 

In Shirley, Charlotte Bronte introduces us to a trio of Curets, who are ruled with an iron hand by Reverend Helstone. The Curets seem disinterested in practical matters, and spend much of their time drinking and arguing. Reverend Helstone led his wife to an early grave, and regards his niece Caroline as property. He sends her off each day to be educated by the sister of Robert Moore, the local mill owner, but refuses to have a real conversation with her. 

After he has a dispute with Robert Moore, Reverend Helstone cuts short her lessons and forbids her to meet or speak with either again. Not only does this leave Caroline with nothing to do each day, but Robert's sister was a friend, and she had fallen in love with Robert. She grows depressed in her alienation, begins to see her future as an old maid, and wastes away. When she tries to take command of her life, and give herself something to live for, he refuses to allow her to work as a governess. He decides instead that all her ills will be cured if he buys her a pretty dress.

This portrait of a hard, cold, woman-hater as a priest is an interesting factor in Shirley. I don't know much about Charlotte's upbringing, but her father was a priest in the Church of England, and she grew up in the parsonage. I can't help but wonder if her depiction of Reverend Helstone, and his assistant priests, is in some ways a reflection of him. Even the name she gave him, a combination of Hell and Stone, seems suggestive, not just of the roles and characters of English priests, but also the types of sermons they preached.

But again, Shirley reflects a society in which women's roles were rather limited. When she meets the title character, Caroline shares her desire to have a career. But in some ways, Caroline is glad she doesn't, as working women tend to get hard and masculine as a result of their careers.

I wonder what Charlotte Bronte would think of priests, and the increased number of professional, career women, in contemporary society.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Talent Vs Persistence at Big Bear Lake

Sometimes, the weather at Big Bear Lake could be charitable.

Other days, it could be distinctly unkind.

But throughout all those sketching sessions, I enjoyed sitting in the car, and observing how it changed. (Okay, I didn't enjoy feeling cramped, or cold, but I did enjoy the view outside).

People sometimes tell me that I am talented. But I remember, all too well, how my Freshman Art teacher in High School always took issues with my efforts, and gave me a C in her class. I remember how my father always counseled me against pursuing art in favor of a real, paying career. Eventually, lacking any encouragement, art and I parted company. Oh, I pursued various hobbies, making crafts and simple projects, and gifts for friends and family. But never really attempted to create anything, which is the essence of art. At least not until recently, when my wife rediscovered the joy of sketching, and urged me to give it a try.

In the movie "Eddie The Eagle," Michael Edwards sits atop the ninety meter ramp at the Olympics. He's never attempted such an ambitious jump before. As he sits there, the commentators and observers wonder if he's freezing up. His allotted time is ticking away. Yet as he stares down the slope, what passes through his mind is all the people who told him he couldn't do this, and that he didn't deserve to be there. Then he launches himself off the ramp, and makes a new Olympic Ski Jump record for England.

I need to remember that.

Dragon Dave

Monday, March 21, 2016

Flying High With Eddie The Eagle: Part 3

The recent movie "Eddie The Eagle" depicted the real-life story of Olympic ski jumper Michael Edwards. In the movie, Eddie's efforts were partly inspired by those of fellow competitor Matti Nykanen. Also known as The Flying Finn, Matti was a genuine skiing legend. He won titles in all major world categories for Ski Jumping, and went on to win three gold medals at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada, where Eddie competed against him.

In the film, Eddie decides to compete in the ninety-meter event, despite never having attempted jumping that high before. When his name is called, he rides up in an elevator with Matti Nykanen. Eddie congratulates him on winning his gold medals. Matti shrugs. He tells Eddie that those are what the other athletes care about. For him, it's all about doing his best. If he lost the event and took home no medals, but felt he had achieved his best, that was what mattered most to him. He also admits that he's glimpsed that same spirit in Eddie, which has made him reassess his "amateur" competitor.

One of the recurring themes of the movie is this: Who deserves to compete in the Olympics? Should it be open to everyone who can qualify for events, or only those who have worked their way properly through the system? For everyone on the British Olympic team, and particularly for Dustin Target (played by Tim McInnery of "The Black Adder" fame), Eddie doesn't deserve to be there. He's just not good enough. They feel this way despite the fact that Britain has no official Ski Jumping competitors on their team, and continue to feel this way after he sets new Ski Jumping Records for England in the 1988 Winter Olympics. To them, Eddie is nothing more than a sideshow. A distraction from the main event.

After winning every major event in professional ski jumping, Matti Nykanen channeled his fame into a singing career, and hosted an internet cooking show. Yet economic hardships forced him to perform as a stripper, and been married and divorced three times. Marital relations with his fourth wife grew so tumultuous that he was charged with assault numerous times, and sent to jail once for grievous bodily harm.

Oh, and he was also spent another stint in jail for stabbing a man.

Michael Edwards' post Olympic career has seen its ups and downs. He suffered similar financial challenges to Nykanen, but worked through them as a TV and radio host, motivational speaker, and author. It'd be interesting to research all the athletes who "properly" competed for England in the 1988 Winter Olympics. I wonder if any of them inspired filmmakers to tell their stories. I wonder how their lives, after the Olympics, inspired the youth in their countries, and whether they did so in positive or negative ways. They, after all, were the professionals, the people who "deserved" to compete in the Olympics.

Next to them, Eddie The Eagle was just a rank amateur, a sideshow, a distraction. Right?

Dragon Dave

Friday, March 18, 2016

Flying High With Eddie The Eagle: Part 2

Should I feel let down because the movie "Eddie The Eagle" doesn't depict the life and exploits of Olympic ski jumper Michael Edwards accurately? I know I enjoyed the movie the way it was written and filmed. Actor Taron Egerton's portrayal of Eddie inspired me, and I liked how actor Hugh Jackman played his fictional coach Bronson. There were also some short but enjoyable performances from big name actors. These included Christopher Walken, who played Bronson's former coach, and Jim Broadbent, a TV commentator at the Olympics who gives Edwards his nickname. The movie even offered a short role for Tim McInnery, who played Lord Percy and Captain Darling in the 1980s British TV series "The Black Adder."

"Eddie The Eagle" did what good fiction always does. The movie gave me a protagonist I could care about, and a mentor in Bronson who helped the protagonist gain skills and mastery over his innate talent. It offered a few sidekicks, including his mother who helps fund his efforts, and Petra, the woman who gives Eddie room and board in Germany in return for working in her bar. It also offered an antagonist in the form of Dustin Target, played by Tim McInnery, the British official who routinely tries to block Eddie's Olympic dreams. 

All in all, I found "Eddie The Eagle" a really enjoyable film. I cannot fault the filmmakers for the story they told. Had it been entirely fictional, not one "based on a true story," I would be entirely happy with it. Having learned a little of Michael's real life story, I can't help but feel as though they could have told a great story, had they found a way to incorporate the real people and events into the story. But then, that would have been a different story, and would likely have cost more money to film. 

The fact of the matter is that every story is a compromise. Publishers and movie studios invest in stories they believe they can sell. The way "Eddie The Eagle" was written attracted name actors, and a sufficient budget, to allow the filmmakers to get some of Eddie the Eagle's story in the cinemas. Even if it was only five percent, as real life Michael Edwards claims, it was a really good five percent. 

Besides, it's pointless to compare a story that was completed with your ideas for what an improved version might be.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Flying High With Eddie The Eagle: Part 1

Last weekend, I went to the cinema to see the movie "Eddie The Eagle." I'm not all that interested in Skiing, let alone Ski Jumping. For that matter, I not all that interested in the Olympic Games. But of all the movies currently in release, the trailer made me want to see it. It made me smile. It made me laugh. And, as it looked like a British film, I suppose that hooked me as well.

The movie began with an unexpected bonus: a short segment in which actors Taron Egerton, who played title character Michael Edwards, and Hugh Jackman, who played his coach Bronson Peary, thanked viewers for watching their movie, and hoped that we enjoyed it as much as they enjoyed making it. Then the filmmakers whisked us off to England, where we meet Michael, a boy who dreams of one day competing in the Olympics.

Just like the preview, the film endeared me to Michael Edwards, whose tireless attempts to become an Olympic athlete won him the moniker "Eddie the Eagle." As with the preview, I smiled, laughed, and, okay, perhaps my eyes even got a little moist at times. (I did not cry! I never cried)! I walked out feeling like I had seen a good, heartwarming movie. I also felt inspired by "Eddie's" example: how he gave up everything else in his life in the pursuit of his fondest, lifelong dream.

That evening, my enjoyment of the movie inspired me to research "Eddie's" life. In doing so, I learned that his life differed in a great many respects from that depicted in the film. While Edwards' dreams of Olympic glory, and his achievements, were true enough, most of the film was fiction. There was no Bronson Peary in Edwards' life, although he was trained by two Americans. But they trained him in Calgary, not Germany, as depicted in the film. In short, I discovered so many differences between the film and his biography that I wondered how much of the film was real. I felt a little let down by "Eddie The Eagle." Then I thought: not only did I enjoy the film, but it helped me learn about the man, and thus his even more interesting story.

What do you think? Should a biopic hove as true to actual events as possible? Or should it be fictionalized, using forms and strictures designed to tug at our hearts, and inspire us to work a little harder to achieve our own dreams?

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Link
Hollywood Vs History: The Real Eddie The Eagle

Monday, March 14, 2016

Clovelly & Helpful Labels

A picturesque Travel destination:
The Harbor of Clovelly, England

Blogger offers a useful search feature. This is called Labels. It allows you to assign different labels to a blog, and list those labels as a way to help readers find the posts that they really want to read. Formerly, I placed all the labels into one category, which I somewhat imaginatively called Labels, and located it on the left sidebar. That list grew over time, until it seemed to cover any number of topics.

I don't know how many readers search my blog, but two of the most easily definable categories are Authors and Travel. So I've split my labels into those two categories. To look up entries regarding a particular author, scroll down the blog until you see that author's name listed on the left-hand side. Click the name, and it will take you to all entries related to the author.

Another type of post that people really respond to are my travel articles. So if you're interested in researching a future vacation, or just wish to revisit articles I've written about particular places, you can find those listed in the Travel section, located in the left sidebar, directly beneath the Author section. 

If, for example, the above photo from Clovelly intrigued you, you could locate Clovelly in the Travel section, click it, and read all my posts about Clovelly. When you read those posts, you will notice that I visited Clovelly because the village was mentioned in Charles Kingsley's novel Westward Ho! So if you enjoyed those articles on Clovelly, you could click on Charles Kingsley in the Author section, and Blogger will bring up all the articles in which I cited Charles Kingsley. Not only would you learn more about this important nineteenth century novel, but you would also read posts from other places mentioned in the novel, such as Bideford and Appledore.

Alternatively, if you have nothing to do all day, you could just click on England, located in the Travel section, and read all my posts on all the places I've visited in England. Doesn't that sound like a pleasant way to spend the day?

Hopefully, this reorganization of The Dragon's Cache will help you locate any previous post you would like to read, or research places you would like to visit. 

Dragon Dave

Friday, March 11, 2016

Libbie Hawker on Egypt & Palmyra

The lid of an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus
courtesy of the British Museum

In her novel Daughter of Sand and Stone, Libbie Hawker transports us to the ancient city of Palmyra. There we meet Zenobia, a young girl who dreams of greatness. Not for her are the typical roles allowed women. She wishes to rule, and to make the important decisions for her people. When she realizes invaders intend on attacking her city , she rides out to warn the Palmyran troops that the enemy has diverted them. Through her help, military leaders see through the ruse, and route the attackers before they can rape, pillage, and kill. 

Zenobia capitalizes on her newfound fame by catching the eye of the Roman governor. After he marries her, she achieves a measure of importance and power. But her dreams are bigger than merely sitting beside the man who rules her city. When her husband dies, she knows she must be bold, and grasp power in a big way, before what she has is taken away from her.

So she works with her Palmyran general, captures Egypt, and sets herself up as Queen of the new Palmyrene Empire.

On her website, Libbie Hawker describes herself as an Egypt geek. That's the first time I've heard such a term, but if I can be interested in England, why can't another American be in love with Egypt? She's channeled her love of Egypt into a number of historical books, including Daughter of Sand and Stone, which came out last year. Her novel dovetailed with my interest in the Roman Empire, and told me how, during a period of weak leadership, the struggling emperors retained their power by relying on a steady stream of luxury goods from Palmyria. These kept the citizens of Rome happy with their affluence, and perpetuated the belief that they were the center of the civilized world.

I also enjoyed learning about Zenobia, and how, for a time, she ruled the world. While Rome was the center of the world, Egypt was its breadbasket. Rome relied on Egyptian grain to feed its citizens and its troops. Ultimately, this was too important a resource not to be under Rome's direct control. So when a strong emperor took control, he made sure his forces deposed Zenobia and retook Egypt.

Some could argue that Zenobia should have accepted her allotted role in life. They may point out that she only ruled Egypt, and wielded tremendous influence, for a short time. But thanks to Libbie Hawker's novel, I'll remember her as a person who not only dreamed great dreams, but made them a reality. So what if she couldn't hold onto them forever? At least, for awhile, she was the Queen.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

C. S. Lewis on Egyptian Monotheism

Red Breccia figure of Egyptian goddess Taweret

According to the inscription for this figure in the British Museum, Taweret was the goddess of childhood, and was typically depicted as a hippo with the face of a lion. Her worshippers described her as the Lady of Heaven.

C. S. Lewis weighs in on Egyptian religion in his book Reflections on the Psalms. Surprisingly, he doesn't focus on polytheism, which was the dominant form of Egyptian religion. Instead, he mentions the Pharaoh Amenhetep IV, who called himself Akhenaten. Unlike his predecessors, Akhenaten ripped gods and goddesses like Taweret from the Egyptian heavens, and installed one supreme god, whom he called Aten, in their place.

In his chapter on Nature, Lewis describes how pagan polytheistic religions often pitted the gods against nature, and nature against man. Only if the gods took control of nature was man safe. In the Jewish psalms, God and Nature are one. Thus, to look at nature, you are looking at God. God doesn't need to take control of nature, as it is his physical manifestation. It is a part of him, just like a novel is part of an author. Thus, the psalmists often praise nature in the same way they would praise God.

The one religious poem that Lewis found close in relation to the psalms was Akhenaten's Hymn to the Sun. The poem is available online, should you care to peruse it. While the poem is of a different tenor to the psalms in praise of nature, Lewis compares passages to Psalm 139, the great nature psalm, and even Revelation 4:11. 

As the Jews spent a long time in Egypt, Lewis muses that Egyptian "Wisdom" poetry, and Akhenaten's in particular, influenced the development of their own religion. This would certainly prove the case for Moses, the man credited as the founder of the Jewish faith. He was raised in the Pharoah's palace, and would have been educated by the nation's best teachers. While Akhenaten's religious revolution ultimately failed, the man's glimpse of the truth served as a precursor to the Jewish faith, and hence Christianity. It's an interesting thought, don't you agree?

Dragon Dave

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Wealth of Humor & the British Museum

A Greek temple in the British Museum

Last month, I went out to the cinema to see "Zoolander 2." Although it was completely silly, I enjoyed the original "Zoolander," starring comedian Ben Stiller and was really looking forward to the sequel. Unfortunately, like "Night at the Museum 3," which was set in the British Museum, the nonstop gags were so completely over the top that I could never believe in the underlying reality of the story. The movie should have had a lot to make me love it. Like "Night at the Museum 3" and "Paddington," "Zoolander 2" was set in places I would like to visit someday, such as New York City and Rome. Instead, I merely watched it, and laughed with (or at) it.  But I was never into "Zoolander 2." The sequel was just a lot of gags to me. 

Sadly, the movie didn't even make me believe in the places where it was set. After seeing "Zoolander 2," I feel no greater desire to travel to New York City or Rome than I did before. That seems like another missed opportunity for the filmmaker. For even if you don't particularly bond with a character or a story, a TV show or film can often make a viewer want to visit a given location, based on how the place is presented. A person can even fall in love with a TV series or movie they initially disliked, simply because they believe in that particular place, and have come to love it.

Filmmakers set out to make a movie that everyone will want to see, and work hard to cram in as many laughs, or explosions, or dramatic moments as they can. Yet undergirding everything must be a good plot, and believable characters and situations. Sometimes a filmmaker needs to sacrifice a few gags, a few laughs, a lot of visual dazzle, or great dramatic moments in order to tell that story. Otherwise, it's just fake, and falls flat, no matter how much you like the lead actor, or the idea behind the story. 

This becomes especially important when you've got a movie featuring a star comedian, and other big name comedians in secondary roles. Everyone wants to get their jokes, gags, and silliness in the movie. Yet too much humor can stop a plot cold, and knock the viewer out of the story, as proved the case, at least for me, in "Zoolander 2."

If a filmmaker can restrain himself (or herself), and cut out everything that's good that doesn't service the story, he has a chance of doing what "Paddington" did for me: draw me into a live-action story centered entirely around an animated bear who can walk, talk, eat marmalade, illegally emigrate from Peru to England, fight off a malicious taxidermist, and find an adoptive home there. If he can do that, he can probably do one more thing that "Night at the Museum 3" and "Zoolander 2" failed to do: make me want to see the place where the film was set, such as London's Natural History Museum in "Paddington."

Do you agree with me? Have you ever found yourself re-watching a TV series or movie in which you didn't like the characters or the story because you found the place where it was set appealing?

Dragon Dave

Friday, March 4, 2016

Night at the British Museum

An Egyptian bust in the British Museum

Last year, I saw "Night at the Museum 3" in the cinema. I had looked forward to seeing the movie, as the story was set in the British Museum, which I had visited a few months previous. While the production featured a scene in the iconic atrium of the British Museum, most of the museum interiors looked completely different, as did the nature of the exhibits on display. I can only conclude the producers set the film in the British Museum for two reasons: 1) because the British Museum equates with England in viewers' minds, and 2) so they could make a statue of King Arthur come alive. 

Had I not visited the museum previously, I suspect I would have dismissed the movie as harmless fun, fueled by a passable reason for a plot, and lots of gags. Instead, it seemed odd to me that the filmmakers didn't make a movie about what's actually in the British Museum. The museum features a wealth of history which they could have built on to make a gripping, and funny movie. Instead, "Night at the Museum 3" seemed fake, unreal. It's not as if I wished to find fault with the movie. I love Ben Stiller movies. I've enjoyed most of the Ben Stiller movies I've seen. But as I watched that day in the cinema, I simply could not suspend my disbelief. 

Thus, the movie was something occasionally laughed at (or with). But it was never something I was into. But then, I suppose I should have been prepared for that, for while I had thoroughly enjoyed the original movie, the second left me dissatisfied.

Like "Night at the Museum 3," the movie "Paddington," based on the character and book series written and created by Michael Bond, was set in London. As with "Night at the Museum 3," part of the action takes place in a famous London museum. In the case of "Paddington, key scenes take place in the Natural History Museum. I've never visited the Natural History Museum, so I cannot say how much of the movie was filmed there. What I can tell you is that, unlike "Night at the Museum 3," I found "Paddington" completely gripping. It picked me up and took me along for the ride. I wasn't just watching it, I was into it. It remains one of my three favorite films released in the past two years.

What are your favorite films of the past two years? Do any of them feature destinations you would like to visit? Or are they special because you've already traveled there, and the places hold special memories for you?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Neil Gaiman & the British Museum

The iconic atrium of the British Museum

On our first visit to England, my wife and I walked around London, stopping at all the places on that day's itinerary. In the afternoon, and after getting lost (and getting directions), we finally arrived at the British Museum. Then a strange thing happened. We realized we had other places we wanted to see more, and only so much more time remained to us that day. So we got no farther inside than the iconic atrium before we turned around and headed off.

Later, while reading the novel Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, I came to regret that decision. Although his fantasy takes place mostly within the London Underground, a few scenes featured his characters into the British Museum. That reminded me of our abortive attempt to see the museum. Thus, when we planned our next trip to England in 2013, we made sure we set out a day for the British Museum.

I can't say that subsequent visit brought the novel to life more vividly for me, or made the story more important to me. I cannot tell you why the novel made me feel like I needed to visit the British Museum in the first place. It's not as if I'm particularly a museum lover. I visit museums rarely, if ever, at home. All I can tell you is that, while a fantasy, Neil Gaiman's novel became real enough, and important enough, to make me want to see this particular museum. 

Most of us live where we want to live because we like where we live. We've chosen to be there. Yet sometimes, a particular story becomes so important to us that it pulls us to a place we would never otherwise visit. How does that happen? How does an author weave such magic? 

Where have your favorite stories taken you?

Dragon Dave