Showing posts with label avengers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label avengers. Show all posts

30 January 2020

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered...


First of all, a big shout out to Janet Rudolph and her posting of one of the funniest - and truest - reads I've seen in a while:  "Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village" by Maureen Johnson.  (Read the whole HERE)  Read it now, and then come back and  I'll continue on with some more handy tips.

When it comes to English Villages, I bow to her amazing expertise and only add one extra warning:  Don't be a spy.

Half of episodes of the 1960s TV show The Avengers were Mrs. Peel and John Steed tracking down dead / missing spies or each other in quaint English villages.  (The Town of No Return, Small Game for Big Hunters, The Living Dead, etc.)

My personal favorite was Epic (Season 5, Episode 11), where a bunch of has-been retired silent film stars kidnap Emma to make "The Death of Emma Peel" which was, from the scenes we see being filmed, a mish-mash of everything from Mourning Becomes Electra to The Perils of Pauline.  Absolutely hilarious.




When it comes to American small towns, the immediately obvious murder victims are:

The man/woman everyone hates.  And there is always at least one.

The town gossip.  These come in two types:  mean and relatively harmless.  In real life, the mean ones almost never get killed (mainly because they're very scary) while the harmless ones sometimes do when they get hold of the right information at the wrong time and pass it on to the wrong person.

The unknown ex-_________ of someone important who comes to town and pretends they're just passing through.  Next thing you know, they're dead.  If you're someone's ex, don't visit their small town unannounced.

The person on the phone who is just about to give valuable information about who / what / where / why.  (This was more fun back in the days when they got coshed on the head at a public phone booth, but cycling at the gym while on the smartphone works, too.)

There are no impoverished aristocrats.  However, there is always at least one Pioneer Family who by now has run to seed and drugs.  (See Neil Inveig, found shot to death in the opening of my own Public Immunity, who was Laskin's drug dealer among the upper crust.  There's still considerable argument in Laskin about who actually killed him, and it crops up every once in a while.)  Anyway, this feckless person is usually the catalyst, and occasionally the victim, of murder.

The pregnant girlfriend of the man everyone hates, the feckless Pioneer descendant, the sleazy politician / sheriff / officer.  This ties right into the basic American trope of:  if a woman wants to stay alive, she must not have sex with anyone outside of marriage, but even within marriage, don't marry the hero!  See my February column, Why There Always Has to Be a Virgin.

Don't be any of these.

As far as dangerous places in American small towns, there are some significant differences from English villages:

If you're in the High Plains and / or the West, "quaint" is not the term to use for many small towns.  Windswept, yes.  Desolate, even.  But not quaint.

The Last Picture Show (1971)
Shot of "Anarene, TX" main street  from The Last Picture Show, IMDB


Also, no American bar is as sacred in the same way as the English pub.  Murders happen.

On the other hand, not many people get murdered in American churches (gunned down by a mass shooter is another story), perhaps because that steeple is an obvious target for God's wrath in the form of a bolt of lightning, and most everyone truly believes in God's wrath.  After all, they've lived through floods, fires, tornadoes, (hurricanes on the coasts) massive thunderstorms, earthquakes, hail at harvest time, droughts, etc.  Most farmers and ranchers expect wrath to be unleashed at various intervals, so it's best not to anticipate it by downright blasphemy.

People are not nearly as fetishistic about trains in America as in Britain.  Oh, they have their fans, and most people enjoy a nostalgic ride on one, but the truth is when it comes to trains, Sheldon Cooper is far more British than American.

I think some of the reason is that Americans prefer individual transportation.  Fast cars.  Pick up trucks.  Small planes are popular.  Also ATVs, jetskis, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and anything else that can make a significant amount of noise and cover a lot of ground fast.

There are no marble busts in American small towns.  There are (more or less) bronze statues.

The varieties of death available to the average American increases dramatically as you head into the hinterlands.  Farms often have passels of hogs (which will eat anything), and other large animals that could be used to stomp someone to death, not to mention lots of heavy equipment.  Even in town, there are sheds stuffed to the gills with the odd stuff that could be used for nefarious purposes, from post-hole diggers to sledgehammers.  One of the reasons that English villages are quaint is that they apparently never need of any of these things.  Gardening shears seem to be as much as they ever use, at least on TV.

But the main difference, of course, between America and England is lots and lots and lots of guns.

'Nuff said.

11 April 2019

Arthur and the Avengers


I watched PBS' Secrets of the Dead:  King Arthur's Lost Kingdom, a couple of weeks ago, and loved it.

Now I'm an Arthurian enthusiast, which is a polite term for freaking fan!  I've read as many of the patchwork of legends and stories and (barely) histories of King Arthur as I could get my hands on, from the Historia Brittonum (around 828 CE) the Annales Cambriae (to sum it up:  Battle of Badon, Arthur v. Medraut a/k/a Mordred and a 21 year later rematch at the Strife of Camlann) to T. H. White's brilliant The Once and Future King (which invented the whole idea of Merlin living backwards) and many, many more.

The development and complexity of King Arthur's court at Camelot, his knights and their adventures, the increasing romance and chivalry combined with constant warfare and strange witches and magicians, the astounding character of Merlin, the literally bewitching Morgan le Fay and the fairly boring Guinevere (adultery and constant rescues - not my style.  Although I have to admire the aftermath in Tennyson's Guinevere, which has one of the saddest lines in all of poetry:  "Will no one tell the king I love him though too late?"),,,  The Arthurian legend is so old, so multi-cultural, and written over time by so many authors, that is perhaps one of the greatest legends in all of history, with immense mysteries, tangles, and knots that have never been solved, and perhaps cannot be solved.


King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.jpg
But that's not what I want to talk about right now.  I want to talk about the Marvel Universe.

Just the other day I saw a press conference, surrounding by a lot of trailers, for the new Avengers movie, Avengers:  Endgame.  Now I can't be the first to have noticed that everyone in the entire Marvel Universe is apparently turning up in what were stand-alone comics/movies, and there are more and more of them all the time.
NOTE: And before that, in everyone else's comic books. I remember Batman and Superman duking it out, at least on the cover. (I was never into either of them. My personal favorite comic book as a teen was Killraven, but that's another story.) 
The Fantastic Four have hosted the Hulk, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Silver Surfer. The Avengers originally consisted of Ant-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the Wasp.  That changed over time, and by the time we get to the first movie version we have Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, the Black Widow, and Hawkeye joining forces to save the universe.  I remember when the first four all had their own comic strips. Now they work together. The next movie - more superheros! The Guardians of the Galaxy! Black Panther! Scarlet Witch! Falcon! Winter Soldier! God only knows how many more superheroes are going to join in the latest one.

Image result for avengers endgame junket photo
Avengers: Endgame Junket Press Conference
https://filmreviewonline.com/2019/04/09/avengers-endgame-surprising-reveal-at-press-conference/
Now at a certain point I was muttering things like, How in the world does each one get a line, much less a whole action sequence, much less a whole backstory?  I kept thinking about an old Doonesbury - "Jim, I got 46 other stars here. Next!")

Yes, I know, obsessive comicons know each and every character and their backstory, future story, occasional love interest(s), quirks, foibles, weaknesses.  I have sat in a van with a bunch of college students who discussed when/how Superman's cape changed for four hours.  So I get that.  But still, 16 superheros out to save the universe still seems like a lot, compared to the old days (yes, I'm getting old and nostalgic) when one - or at most four - were all that was needed to save Gotham, the planet, the universe, and whatever else was out there.

But wait!  It finally occurred to me that the Arthurian universe is exactly the same!  Not in armor or superhuman powers.  But in the fact that over the long, long, centuries and multiplicity of writers, every hero from almost every European culture got included in the Legend.  So here are some highlights from the major players:

Arthur Tapestry in The Cloisters, New York
King Arthur begins as straight Briton legend and moves on to become the Great King.  But his wife, Guinevere, is Welsh, according to the medieval Welsh Triads.  Her name in Welsh, Gwenhwyfar (or Gwenhwyvar), can be translated as "The White Enchantress", which would indicate that somewhere along the line, she had a story of her own.  And old one.  And perhaps - since Arthur as Christian king goes back to the Historia Brittonum, when he carried an image of St. Mary on his shoulders (or on his shield) - it could be a record of the Christian Briton King marrying the Welsh Pagan Princess.

We'll get into Guinevere's fling with Lancelot in a minute, because there are a lot more Welsh Pagan Princesses out there, including Morgan Le Fay.  She and Morgause are Arthur's older half-sisters.  Morgan is a witch, and (before some later legends made her evil) was Merlin's ally and friend.  She's also one of the ladies who take the dying Arthur to the Isle of Avalon, where he is waiting for his time to come back to save Briton.  (Note to Arthur:  Brexit needs you now.)

Morgause is much more problematic from the get-go.  Oh, the hell with political correctness:  she's a villain.  Married to Lot, the King of Orkney (one of the northernmost islands of Britain, and a far piece from Wales or Cornwall), they have four sons:  Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris and Gareth, all of whom become knights of the Round Table, most of them heroic.  She also has a fifth son with her half-brother, King Arthur, under circumstances that allowed them both to declare they didn't know their relationship at the time.  This story-line is proof, BTW, that
(1) Alcohol and darkness are a very old plot device to make sure the wrong people end up bedding each other and
(2) In the great sagas, ignorance never equals innocence.  Or at least, not freedom from consequences.  That fifth son is Mordred, who will eventually come to Camelot and destroy it.

Gawain and the Green Knight
illustration from original ms.
Wikipedia
But Gawain is a noble knight, one of the great heroes of the Arthurian sagas.  Pure Celt, but is he British?  There are indications that Gawain was co-opted from the early Welsh superhero Gwalchmei.  Or it could also be  - as Sir Bors says in White's The Once and Future King, "I suppose, they would have pronounced it Cuchullain in the North? You can't tell with ancient languages." Cuchullainn is, of course, the great Irish superhero of the Táin Bó Cúailnge ("Cattle Raid of Cooley").  Either way, there's a definite crossover.  Gawain stars in many adventures of his own, the best being Gawain and the Green Knight.
There's nothing quite like a green giant showing up at Camelot at Christmastime, demanding - as a boon - a beheading contest with a knight.  Gawain takes him up on it, and after being beheaded, the Giant picks up his head and demands that Gawain show up at his castle to reciprocate.  Adventures ensue.  It's one hell of a tale.  Among others, Dorothy Sayers and J. R. R. Tolkein did wonderful translations of it.  
Kay is one of the oldest characters in the legends.  Arthur's foster-brother and seneschal, i.e., steward, he's kind of the Arthurian Hulk/Bruce Bannon:  sometimes he's boorish, violent, rude, and sometimes he's a great warrior. He has superhuman powers: no one is able to brave fire or water like him, he can go nine days and nine nights without the need to breathe or to sleep, he can grow as "tall as the tallest tree in the forest if he pleased" and has the ability to radiate supernatural heat from his hands.

Meanwhile, Lancelot is probably a then-modernization (yes, every age has always thought we're the most modern on the planet, and we've always been right) of a tale that has been told for millennia:  A royal infant, stolen by a water fairy (du Lac), grows up, and is presented to the world of warriors at a tournament (war games), where he fights three consecutive days in three different disguises, wins every time, and later, he rescues the queen (or princess) from a prison.  The love affair with Guinevere is a later addition, probably was introduced in the 12th century, perhaps at Eleanor of Aquitaine's Court at Poitiers (well known as the haven for troubadors), where they practically invented romantic love.

Sir Percival, a/k/a Parsifal, is the original Questor for the Holy Grail.  Chrétien de Troyes wrote his saga (while on the First Crusade, apparently), basing it (he said) on an older manuscript belonging to his patron, Philip I Count of Flanders.  The original manuscript is the first mention not only of Percival, but the Quest, and the Fisher King (which is a whole, mysterious, and beautiful legend in and of itself).

But the true Grail hero is, of course, Sir Galahad - the illegitimate son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine.  Some people think that Sir Galahad comes from legends of the Cistercian or other monastic orders (although I'd say he sounds more like a Knight Templar), with his absolute virtue and great martial skills.  "My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure" (Tennyson, Idylls of the King).  Galahad is the greatest knight, the purest knight, and he is the one who not only sees the Grail but is accepted by the Grail:  he gets to take it to heaven and neither ever come back.  (Sorry, Dan Brown.)

And Merlin.  Merlin Ambrosius, in Welsh Myrddin, enchanter, wizard, conceived by a demon, born of a woman, who sees the future, who perhaps goes mad, who lives backwards in time, who knows what will happen and cannot stop it, who has superhuman powers, and who is seduced and locked away by a woman, Nimue...  There are many traditions about him, and each author chose only a few. 

And that is only a handful of a huge, multi-national, multi-ethnic cast, with powers that range from simple military ability to supernatural powers.  Each new writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, Thomas Mallory, Tennyson, Charles Williams, T. H. White, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and on and on and on have added a new layer, and often new characters to the Arthurian Universe.  See the Camelot Project at the University of Rochester, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and King Arthur and the Holy Grail, for a nice combination of starter sites.  Oh, and read the books.

Sadly, imho, most of the movies about Camelot and Arthur have been pretty lame.  Mostly because, instead of embracing its richness and complexity, they try to contain the entire King Arthur story in 2 hours.  No, no, no.  What we need is a Peter Jackson version.  Three, four movies at the very least, maybe endlessly, like the Star Wars saga, the Star Trek saga, the Marvel Universe saga.  It would be wonderful...