Cornwell’s Waste of Time

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Bernard Cornwell has given me wonderful read after wonderful read since Bob Heartsong first lent me the archer series on Gun Club Road. Cornwell quotes have sprinkled pKnatz blog since its inception the way other readings had fertilized K. I’m now 2/3 through Enemy of God, a King Arthur novel, the second in that series. Merlin has looked for, found, and lost some magical treasure of old Britain: the “Cauldron.” He worries that Guinevere’s devotion to the goddess Isis is “wasting time searching for a power that does not exist”! Wow.

Realize the Britains of these novels were in the Fifth Century: “pagans.” Merlin was a Druid: one of the old magicians. Christian missionaries are everywhere underfoot. It’s a century since Constantine made Christianity compulsory for his empire. It’s a century since the Christians destroyed the library of Alexandria, several centuries since Christians have been writing and re-writing gospels, introducing mistakes, falsehoods, palming forgeries … God may send messages, but man intercepts them, crucifies the message bearer, rewrites the messages to suit himself, to flatter himself … But Arthur and the bulk of his Britains are not Christian! “Enemy of God” is an insult hurled at Arthur by the evil fool of a Christian bishop in the novel.

Cornwell does what I do: he doesn’t deny God, but he doesn’t deny Mithras either! He hints that some of the Christians’ “magic” is fraud, but he doesn’t altogether subscribe to Merlin’s magic either: though it’s clear: Merlin, Arthur, the Britains; not the Saxons, not the Danes, are the heroes here. (The narrator is with Arthur but was born Saxon.)

Anyway, I just love it: Merlin worries that Guinevere is wasting time searching for a power that does not exist? Man, don’t we all?!
Don’t I too?!

Justice! Truth! Knowledge! Science! Sanity! A positive vector for evolution!!!
Powers, gods, qualities, essences … a direction for existence to try.

I don’t know that they exist; I’m trying to help give them birth!


Furthermore: The Britains around Arthur are not English! There were no English yet, there was yet no English language. Think of them as Celts: Welsh, Irish, Bretons … Scots to the north, far north. Neither would the Normans arrive for another five or six hundred years. Franks came, left no major imprint in Britain I’m aware of.

Realize further: Rome had ruled Britain earlier, then retreated. But before then Rome had knocked the Celts down, stolen their salt mines: crippled their excellent culture forever! The Celts were already several pegs lower than they had been long before the Saxons, Angles, and Danes started arriving from northern seas.

In the US you think something is French, suddenly it’s English. You think something is English, suddenly it’s Irish. You think it’s Irish, suddenly it’s Puerto Rican!

Americans act as though English is the God-given language for America. Well: I speak English, I write English, I love English! But: look at a language map across time: one year Algonquin is spoken at territory X, then Dutch, then English … then Spanish. I’ll consider us lucky, undeservedly, if any human language is spoken there in a hundred years.

Notes: Bob Heartsong: I’ll check his full name: the man from Jupiter FL accused of murdering his wife, I remember that he and his wife changed their names to come up with Heartsong, or something like it. I utterly believed his claim of innocence, and don’t trust anything a prosecutor says.

Gun Club Road: the West Palm Beach jail, the old man’s dorm, where he was my bunk mate, friend, my supplier of warm clothing, coffee, books, and puzzles! His claim to the upper bed seemed to be deeply established. I gladly took the lower bed. Bless you, Bob.
Bob loaned all three Cornwell archer novels to me in order (not to mention a lot of sudoku puzzles). And I’ve read a jillion other Cornwells since.

There sure are some good historical novelists around. Check out Jennings, Conn Iggulden … The Genghis Khan novels are fabulous.

2012 05 13 I’ve finished Enemy of God: wonderful, more wonderful than I anticipated, the denouement is wonderful. Now where’s novel three? My library doesn’t show sign of a concluding Arthur novel yet. I particularly loved Nimue’s defense of Guinevere:

She’s quicker than all of you put together, but any idea she ever had was put before a pack of dull, ponderous men.

Pagan Note
What an awful word. “Pagan” doesn’t specify any god, creed, moral imperative, taboo … Theologically, cosmologically it just means Brand X: Not a majority creed. “Barbarian” doesn’t specify that it’s a Hun trespassing on a Greek: it just means foreigner. “Enemy” is similarly nonspecific.

2013 02 28 Now I’m reading Cornwell’s Agincourt and loving it too: another good portrait of an archer. He’s so good with betrayals, persecutions, battles … rape, rescuing maidens, failing to rescue maidens, rescuing and failing non-maidens …

TV Cornwell
2016 07 10 I’ve just watched episode 1 of a Cornwell series made for TV: the Last Kingdom. Excellent, can’t wait to see more.

We launch amid Saxons. Danish Vikings attack: looking for land, treasrue, slaves. No Celts are visible, but here come the northern raiders. A Saxon prince is taken as a slave: we watch him grow as a Dane.

One comment before I return to my new drama: the Saxon chief says: we came, we conquered. We ruled by power. If one wants land, treasure, power, one must take it: no one is going to give it. Fine: an honest marauder. At the end of episode 1 the Saxon turned Dane visits his family fortress, throws a severed head onto the bridge: shouts “I’m coming for what’s mine”. Mine? Nothing is anyone’s: until you take it: and it’s only yours till someone takes it away from you. Turn your back on something, blink, and it’s gone. It’s not yours! Not unless you’re holding it.

Prick to Throat
2016 07 11 I’m enjoying the hell out of this production: but note an oddity or two. The males are all warriors, and conventionally religious, etc. etc; the women “liberated” relative to your normal Ivanhoe behavior: except the girlfriend of the hero, Britta, is exceptionally foul mouthed. “I will cut you prick to throat”, she threatens the priest. She spends a lot of time locked in dungeons, but her behavior remains similar. Uh uh: they’d cut her, cuny (Bowdlerizing K. 2016 07 29) to throat, before they’d let her run around polluting the society. But: it’s TV, so what the hell: it’s not as though any culture has ever been honest.

2016 07 14 Now I’m reminded of the pushy little archer-daughter in Game of Thrones. These prickly female parts seem to be required writing for contemporary fiction, whether mythic (as in Thrones) or semi-historical (as in Cornwell). And now I’m recalling two details in Kingdom where the actress who plays Brida is effective:
1) The hero goes after her tits, wrestles, tugs, and yanks. Uumphh. Nice.
2) The hero passes her in the morning where she’s at the barrel of water douching herself by hand. Nice long legs, we look right up into her crotch, or would have been had we been quick enough to see it coming. I liked the tone of the moment: she’s sluicing water into her pussy, letting it drip out onto the floor: the castle is full of people going about their business in the alley, ignoring her. C-, so what?

I mostly despised Thrones, but this Kingdom could go one forever by my lights.

Iseult’s Magic
2016 07 26 I’m winding on toward the end, I’ll finish watching this evening. Before I do there are two points I want to praise. 1) Queen Iseult as a magical priestess 2) and Queen Iseult’s magical grief.
Oh, and 3) Guthram’s appreciation of King Alfred’s literacy as a form of very reliable magic. The last I’ll let stand for itself, obvious once you contemplate it. Iseult needs background:
Our hero, Uhtred, is cheated by Alfred’s nitwit Christian court. His kingdom is Wessex: all the other British kindoms have fallen to the Saxons or to the Danes: others have come and gone: Roman, Frank … Uhtred wants wealth, he earns some, finds some more, loses it, is cheated, is abused by Alfred and his feeble Christian priests: while he allows himself to be lied to by knave nobles. So: Uhtred goes to raid Cornwall. We know Cornwall, from Wagner: King Mark, Tristan, Iseult … Well there’s a Celtic queen sorceress Iseult here too, a virgin, a seeress, a healer, pure. Uhtred dresses his troop as Danes, not far off the mark as he, a Soxon lord was kidnapped and raised by Danes: so Uhtred can be Brit or Saxon or Dane depending. He likes Iseult, who wouldn’t, she likes him, but they keep her a virgin just the same. Guthram puts Alfred and citizenry to flight: now there are no British kingdoms, the Brits have lost (and serve them right). Alfred and his wife and their infant prince, a sickly kid and a few priests and followers hide in the swamp, more Danish ships come up the Severn, they’re held together by, who else, Uhtred: who’s sleeping with Iseult without them actually humping. The prince is dying. The priests prayers haven’t saved him. Uhtred’s heroics haven’t saved him. All but the priests convince Alfred that only Iseult can save the baby. Alread drags his feet: it’s OK, if the kid dies they’ll blame Iseult, not God, not the priests, not stupid Alfred with his stupid literacy.
OK, that’s the plot by the time we roll through episode 7. Alfred gives the prince to Iseult, she mixes some mud, cooks some herbs. The prince recovers. But Iseult is wailing and grieving in the mud as the Severn flows near. What’s wrong? Simple:
By the Law of Conservation of Magic, Iseult’s magic can same the prince; but only is some other baby dies in his place!
So the savior is a murderess!

I love Iseult. First she’s played by an attractive actress. I love her sense of Fate’s books having to balance, the universe finite: actually, small. And I love her practical wisdom: if the prince dies, she’ll the blamed: first, as a witch, then as a woman. If the child lives, the priests will give credit to God, and to themselves, after all that praying. Uhtred knows better too. Ah, but I bet he’ll get some justice is this upcoming final chapter. Go, Uhtred.

Viking Town
2016 08 04 I tust I’ve made it clear that I love Cornwell’s novels. I love feeling history aware of who’s where doing what when: The Celts are here, and there, the Britons here and there, the Saxons there, and her and there wander the Vikings. Romans went home, so did the Franks, and the Normans are yet to arrive. Christianity has a toe print but not a toe hold. Etc.
Well, let me tell you I love the additional history I’m now picking up in Tales of Irish Castles!

Did you know that Dublin was where the Vikings had their ships built? Dublin was a Viking town!
I love the idea of the English lords living it up in their castles but that they darenot venture very far out of them: the Irish would eat them alive. Ireland was still 99% Irish, but there were spots of English here, Viking there.

King John didn’t waste any time expanding through Ireland. What a beautiful place. Imagine fly fishing there for trout! Mmm.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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2 Responses to Cornwell’s Waste of Time

  1. Pingback: Bernard Cornwell Guilty of Historical Inaccuracy in Azincourt? | Mark Lord's Praeter Naturam: Medieval (Middle Ages) History, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Historical Fiction

  2. pk says:

    This guy finds an error of history in Cornwell’s Azingcourt.

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