Percy Shelley and His Insane Love Triangle, Most Scandalous

Percy Shelley. You know him as one of those poetry dudes.

He was a privileged young English poet in the 1810s, who had a progressive, yet romantic voice that attempted to influence religion and politics. But, his very brief life was full of secrets and intrigue that eclipse anything he put down on paper. Percy Shelley was at the heart of one of the most mysterious, scandalous love triangles recorded in history. Many women. Two wives. Pregnancies. Deceit. Money. Extortion. Mysterious Death.

What you are about to read is the account that you won’t find in any classroom textbook. This is the story of Percy Shelley and his insane love triangle, most scandalous.

Before the Ladies: Little Percy Breaks All the Rules

Percy Shelley was the first-born child of seven, whelped into a prosperous family with grand expectations and the means to make them happen. He came into this world in 1792, the sire of a member of British Parliament. He was a lucky child who had the breeding and coin to toil his life as a poet, and man, did he meet that opportunity.

Percy Shelley young.jpg

He was known to be a delicate flower who was oft bullied at Eton College. He was a vegetarian, liberal, proponent of sexual freedom, and probably a pampered brat who wasn’t like the other boys. Though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While most boys were burning toads and playing grab-ass, Percy had published two gothic novels and two volumes of poetry, all before he had come of age.

By 1810, Percy enrolled at University College, Oxford, where he quickly found a disciple in a classmate named Thomas Hogg. The two wrote together (and if we’re honest, probably explored the notions of sexual freedom quite closely), eventually penning a  pamphlet entitled The Necessity of Atheism, which ultimately got Percy expelled from school. His family was fuming with outrage and demanded he tow the line. Percy would do nothing of the sort, and was cut off from his family and their pocketbooks.

This sets the stage for a life of juggling his passionate, artistic nature along with his more practical needs for income and survival. Never able to reconcile these two sets of needs, Percy would embark on a life where he is pulled around by purse strings, emotion, and pleasure.

Continue reading “Percy Shelley and His Insane Love Triangle, Most Scandalous”

The Trembling Heroine in Fantasy Literature

She trembles. She bites her lips and feels shaking all over. She is a beaten dog who is filled with righteous fear and a sudden articulated need to vomit or evacuate her system through other orifices. She shakes and hesitates, and has traumatic flashbacks of the terrible times that came before. And she fidgets her way through spilled soups, clumsy meetings where she averts her eyes, physical stumbles, and horrid dreams that make readers pay for their faith in the author. As soon as she catches a cross glance, she loses her appetite. She befriends other underdogs and creates a bench of friends that she treats like Disney animal companions. And most assuredly she feels that her knees will buckle at the most critical moments of her experience, and prays that no one notices her tremors. Her brain tells her to run, but somehow she continues her stride in spite of her instincts.

Will she ever overcome this? Will she ever find her strength and become her own woman? After all, adversity knocks at her door once more, and dear reader, we are eavesdroppers. Can she pull it off?

The answer is, of course, yes. She is the modern young adult fantasy heroine. In spite of her palsy and digestive failings, she manages to do the impossible and vanquish the evil! Oh, hooray for the reluctant savior who wins the day and overcomes insurmountable odds!

Except that I hate her.

I hate her overly bitten lip and fidgeting. I hate the way she devours broth and bread and fights to hold it down. I hate those moments when she stares at her shoes and prays to move on unnoticed. Our tormented lady is weak, naive, and far too easily intimidated. And she keeps showing up in a number of modern young adult fantasy books.

For the life of me, I cannot understand what the authors are thinking. Are they convinced that they need their own Bella Swan to sell copies? Are there really so many women in the modern world who relate to this?

I don’t know about you, but I face adversity like a motherfucking woman. I fly across the Atlantic Ocean by myself, rent cars and drive on the totally improper side of the road, dodging cows and tractors. I stand up at a funeral when no one else will, and deliver a eulogy that brings to life a most beloved family member. I have changed diapers full of diarrhea and have chopped down trees. And do I tremble? Do I bite my lip?

No. I fight through it. And maybe I need a swig of gin at the end of it, and maybe I need to sob in an embarrassing way when I reach the end of a long week and have a little Sam Cooke playing. But I motherfucking own my struggles and only fight impulses to lunge or shout or at least give one hell of a death glare.

Yes, let’s acknowledge that there are a variety of traumas the likes of which I have never experienced. And I am the first one to sing the praises of the traumatized who tremble and hesitate during their recovery. Facing demons is damn heroic.

Let us also concede, however, that only a portion of these quivering piles of feminine gelatin have any proposed traumas in their backstory. Enter Bella Swan again. Theoretically, she was drawn as a clumsy underdog to make her relatable to the “every girl”. Same with Anastasia Steele. If they seem mortal and vulnerable, then any girl can find love with Edward or Christian (…and be physically abused by her partner–wait, that’s a different feminist literary issue).

The problem, of course, is that in the wide, wild world of women, we possess so many other different types of charms that the simple, shaken variety needn’t be our go-to. Coy and embarrassed isn’t a good look on most people, and I dread the thought of teenaged girls putting on the “oops” act to seem like they need a caregiver more than a partner or minion.

Now, there are plenty of instances where the heroine is good-and-plenty traumatized, as in the newest book I just picked up, “Poison Study”, by Maria V. Snyder. Her “lady of woe” is Yelena, and she seems to have assertiveness Tourette’s. One moment she is too shell-shocked to focus on swirling visions in front of her, and the next she is leaping to her feet and chiding or threatening a powerful superior who could execute her with a crook of his finger. There is something very real about her suffering and paralyzing flashbacks, but I picked up the book not to read about recovery and perseverance, but rather to read about a fantastical life at court with poisons and intrigue. The author has snagged us with a bait and switch. Utilizing trauma as a plot device is a bit like torture porn or grief porn. Every now and then I can stomach it, but not too often.

Where have all the plucky heroines gone? I am craving a leading lady who is so gritty that she tells herself, “Fuck the tremors, I want some revenge. Where’s the plunger and a hot poker?” I want more Rachel Morgans and Mercy Thompsons. Us grown-ass ladies know how wonderful and deliciously wicked they are, but the young folk may not realize what a firebrand the hard-luck lady can be.

If you still aren’t convinced, consider carefully that you almost never read novels with male protagonists who tremble and cower, who bite their lower lip, stutter, and twirl their locks nervously around their fingers. They can eat their broth without spilling a drop, and they certainly don’t swoon. This is a woman problem.

So what kind of commentary is this on young women in our time? To all of the authors out there, I want you to remember that ladies, even those of us who have been terribly hurt, are not beaten dogs. We are fierce fucking bears who lie in wait for our moment to strike. So let’s start showing the literary world what it’s like when we show our teeth.

If You Were Stranded On a Desert Island, and You Could Only Have…

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only play one favorite workplace lunchroom game…it would have to be the ol’ desert island scenario.

There you are, you poor bastard. You’re stranded on a very tiny desert island for what you can only assume is an indefinite amount of time. A few concessions are made by the universe toward your predicament: Apparently, you have at least a meager source of fresh water and food–enough to survive, even if you get the “coconut runs” daily. Sadly, though, it is presumed in most scenarios that you have no companionship.

Curiously enough, whatever crisis led to your surprise crash or abandonment on the little island, you are given some options–maybe by the grace of generous pirates? Well-connected mer-people? So, now is the time to choose. Your benevolent porpoise or pirate wench has given you but moments to decide the small comfort you may be afforded for your eternal, sandy sabbatical. I hope you have your answers ready to go. Wish-granting squids are notoriously impatient.

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only have…

Two Books

This is the standard smartass conundrum. Are you one of those insufferables who believes you are terribly clever in declaring that you would bring a guide to building boats? Or the longest book possible so the pages may act as kindling?

Piss off, if you are. That isn’t the exercise. The point is to decide what you read for your mind, spirit, and soul. And the merman will tell you so. Offend the merfolk and they’ll swim off and leave you with nothing, you wanker.

Trilogies, series, etc. are against the rules, mostly because the porpoises can only carry two books, and the pirates are far too drunk to retrieve more. You don’t get a little coconut library.

Here’s the the issue: It isn’t just about the title, but also the tone of which books you pick. For example, I’d be tempted to select some Poe short stories, a Stephen King novel, or Catcher in the Rye. But I have to be careful not to pick anything too damn depressing. The whole idea is to promote survival and sanity. I want to be removed to a happy place where I can remember the beauty of humanity and maintain my imagination.

So what would you pick? The Bible? A medical guide? Moby Dick? David Copperfield? Watership Down? Dune? The Hobbit? A comic book? A baby book? An autobiography? A diary–maybe an empty one (one of those from the stationary store that comes with a pen)?

Here are my picks:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Since my own game rules won’t permit me to have the whole series, I will limit myself to just the first book. And even on its own, this book is worthy of one of my choices. It’s light, enchanting, and whimsical. It’s absolutely the perfect bit of fantasy to forget how much sand is in uncomfortable places.

     2. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg

Perhaps you can tell by these selections that I have a fondness for young, doe-eyed characters who face adversity but still have heart and imagination. I think facing down the prospect of rancid water, raw crab meat (okay, yum) and pouring rain storms, I might need a reminder of innocence, optimism, and imagination. And this book is like chicken noodle soup. If you haven’t read it yet, you must.

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only have…

Two Movies

Continue reading “If You Were Stranded On a Desert Island, and You Could Only Have…”

Avonlea Showdown: Which Anne of Green Gables is Better?

Three different versions of our Anne-girl.

L.M. Montgomery’s classic, Anne of Green Gables has inspired dozens and dozens of Annes on film and television since the book’s original publication in 1908. But, to my mind, there are only three worth real consideration: First, the famous and extremely popular 1985 adaptation that starred Megan Follows, long considered the modern gold standard of Montgomery’s vision. And then there have been two new versions causing quite a flutter recently, with fresh takes on Carrots and her fellow Prince Edward Island adventurers. The first came out late 2016 and aired in the U.S. chiefly on PBS stations (though the first installment is currently available to Amazon Prime streaming subscribers). The second debuted on Netflix in 2017.

So how do they stack up? Are any of these new Annes worthy of the Lake of Shining Waters or puff sleeves? I’m spitting out my lime once more, setting down my glass of gin, and cracking my knuckles in anticipation of another great showdown between rival cinematic loves. Just as with the Longbourn Showdown (Ahem, Pride and Prejudice fans), this will be much like Thunderdome, but with ipecac and red currant wine! So scoop the mouse out of the plumb pudding sauce and get ready!

Anne Shirley

Anne of Green Gables ShowdownMegan Follows vs. Ella Ballentine vs. Amybeth McNulty

I thought my Anne would always be Megan Follows, whose 1985 take was dramatically serious in her imagination and fantasies. Every dream and speech was an audition for  play, a sworn oath, with her gaze constantly averted skyward, and it was easy to imagine that Follows’s Anne was maybe destined for the stage. She never lacked sweetness, but came across as a bit more self-centered, at least, at first. And she was always a bit embarrassing. But I just took it for granted that this was sort of baked into the character.

In 2016, we got a fresh Anne from Ella Ballentine. And I’m just gonna say it–she’s awful. Sure her look is sweetly generic, but her freckles are irritatingly fake, as is her grin, and her overly sunny disposition plays as a carefree girl who could make it anywhere. She’s the Mary Tyler Moore of Avonlea. Plus, Ballentine reminds me of a young Lindsey Lohan. And that thought hobbles me like smelling cheap whiskey. I’ve been burned before.

By 2017, we got a very different Anne from Amybeth McNulty. Darker, grittier, and slightly traumatizing to my youth, retroactively. McNulty has a very distinct look that isn’t too adorable or charming. Like a young Shelley Duvall. She’s the orphan that’s a little more difficult for the residents of Avonlea to welcome. And, this is a traumatized Anne who is precocious, but also damaged. She is appropriately distrusting, but still sees the wonder in people and moments. In fact, McNulty’s Anne strikes just the right chord between fear, passion, and silly-heartedness.

This is a tough call. But for age, tone, and looks, McNulty’s Anne is the most believable. She seems real and touching, even with all her imperfections. I’m so sorry to slight Megan Follows this way. She was wonderful, but she was played the role a bit too old, and lacked a certain brightness of youth that McNulty can pull off poetically.

Winner: Amybeth McNulty as Anne Shirley 

McNulty


Marilla Cuthbert

Marilla Cuthbert ShowdownColleen Dewhurst vs. Sara Botsford vs. Geraldine James

Three brilliant women who do a great service to one of my favorite literary characters of all time: Marilla Cuthbert. Geraldine James’s take stands out the most as a little bit harder around the edges, which matches her version’s tone. Still, she manages to thaw beautifully, as does each of our Marillas. Sara Botsford was maybe a little too accommodating and lovable, making her Marilla a little shallower and easy to please. Almost too easy.

But I note that while grasping for criticism. All the ladies are wonderful. But there must be one winner! And of course, it has to be Colleen Dewhurst. Our husky-voiced Marilla knows how to be harsh and deep, but incredibly loving all the same. Her boisterous anger at the neighbors is brilliant, and yet she can be subtle in her emotions. She is simply perfect, and I wish our Marilla was still around.

Continue reading “Avonlea Showdown: Which Anne of Green Gables is Better?”

Update: Bran Stark is Still the Villain No One Saw Coming

(Hey BranFans! This update was crafter after the airing of Season 7, and is still totally worth reading. Once you’ve done that, be sure to head to my conclusion of Bran’s Season 8 finale.)

Brandon Stark is a villain. Make no mistake. If you are a Game of Thrones fan and have not already read my argument on How Bran Stark is the Villain No One Saw Coming, please do take a few moments and read the case to be made for his dark nature and what may be driving him.

Now that season 7 of the television series has aired, it is worth examining how my theory has held up in the season or so since I first published it.

Bran Stark Heart Tree.jpg

Team Ice vs. Team Fire

Let us start with the most rudimentary means of examining the Westerosi standings thus far. As I pointed out previously, the television show–which is based on the books from A Song of Ice and Fire series–is most basically broken down to Team Ice versus Team Fire. Let us review where the teams stand:

Team Fire

– Targaryens (Jon included)
– Dragons: Drogon and Rhaegal
– R’hllor and the Red Preists / Priestesses
– The New Gods
– The pyromancers of King’s Landing
– The Night’s Watch (“I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn…”)

Team Ice

– White Walkers
– Children of the Forest
– The Old Gods
– Dragon: Viserion
– Brandon Stark, aka the Three-Eyed Raven

If you see Brandon sitting fireside at Winterfell and suppose that his return must indicate that he is on Team Fire, then you are mistaken.

Note the new addition to Team Ice? A dragon. A blue fire-breathing dragon. That is quite a remarkable shift in power, so how is it that Bran has not warned anyone? Even if we assume he didn’t see it coming, he most assuredly must be aware that it has occurred. After all, it happened weeks or months before Viserion took down a chunk of the Wall. Should Bran not be telling Sansa? Or messaging Jon? Or at least telling Samwell?? I mean, com’on, Bran, maybe Jon’s lineage isn’t the most super important news alert right now. (And don’t tell me that little perv doesn’t have his mind on Jon’s genes because he isn’t watching Dany and Jon rocking the boat! Eyes on the fire, Bran!)

The Children: A History Lesson

But there’s one big glaring problem that makes Bran’s omission even more ominous. And to understand it, first you need a quick history lesson.

Long ago in our Song of Ice and Fire world, there was something called the Long Night, a period that followed significant and costly wars between the children and First Men. A pact was reached though, and the two factions seemed to live in relative peace, with the Children relegated to the far north, long before there was a wall.

According to man’s legends, the white walkers emerged from…nowhere, allegedly, terrorized both races during the Long Night, and then were vanquished only after men and children banded together. It was then heroic Bran the Builder who engaged in rallying men, giants, and the children to all pitch in and build the Wall, lest the white walkers ever return. And for good measure, Bran asked the children to weave spells into the Wall, protecting everything south from the white walkers.

Of course, you could drive a mammoth through the holes in those legends told by men. And to quote Samwell Tarly of the books:

“The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it.”

The white walkers didn’t just appear. The children made them with their own magic. Why? Maybe they didn’t like being told to stay up north. Maybe they thought that the men were invaders on their land, and it was time to take some of it back. So maybe during the Long Night, the children weren’t terrorized quite as much as they let on.

The Wall’s Magic

Back to that wall, the one that no one believed could be demolished so easily. Especially since Bran gave them no warning that the Night King had become (*gag*) a dragon rider.

Side Note: I really, really hate you, Benioff and Weiss.

Beyond Bran’s lack of wall-melty notice, the really disturbing idea is that the dragon even could melt the wall. It turns out that maybe the routed children, who had been playing both sides of the battlefield during the Long Night agreed to weave spells into the Wall. But did they ever do it?

And even if they did as they swore, there is a good reason that blue dragon fire could break the enchantments: Their magic is of the same source. I cannot emphasize enough that the children are on Team Ice with the moth-eaten dragon that just melted man’s wall without blinking a blue eye, and using their own magic to do it. And they are on Team Bran as well.

What the Hell is He Doing at Winterfell, Anyway?

Still not convinced that Bran’s lack of help or historical knowledge (of which he has total omnipotence, allegedly) is evidence that he’s not on the side of good?

Bran Stark Villain

At this point, I think it’s important to point out something critical about Bran, as he sits toasting himself at Winterfell: He doesn’t claim to be a man anymore. He isn’t Bran. We heard that from his own lips. He’s now the Three-Eyed Raven. So it is highly questionable that The Artist Formerly Known as Bran is even on the side of men, all ancillary evidence aside.

With his motives and allegiances in such dubious standing, I desperately want to know what on earth is Bran, aka Raven Lump, is up to during season 7. His sight isn’t doing anyone much good. In addition to keeping mum about a zombie dragon, he hasn’t let on to anyone what he knows about the genesis of the walkers.

And he’s failed to mention that he established some sort of magical link between himself and the Night King. Maybe that has dissolved already. But maybe it hasn’t.

Bran and the Night King.jpg

It might’ve also been helpful for Jon to have any information about the goings on of the Greyjoys, the Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Iron Bank, etc., etc. So one has to wonder (ahem, Sansa), what the hell good is he? What is he playing at?

If he isn’t helping the cause to protect and Jon and his allies, and he isn’t monitoring and reporting the progress of the white walkers, then it’s a little hard to understand what he’s doing at Winterfell, besides staying warm and fed. It seems to me that he’s a bit like a parasite. Or one of those evil, hairy spiders that lives in my basement each winter, and surely plots to murder me in my sleep. He’s using Winterfell and Sansa and Arya until his time comes.

The End Game

In my first post on this topic, I predicted that both Targaryens will ultimately need to rain fire down on the north to eliminate the walkers, and Brandon Stark as well. I stand by that.

Do not underestimate how big Bran’s role will be by the end. We didn’t spend hours and hours and hours of Bran being dragged through snow and ice, and all those three-eyed raven dream sequences for nothing. He is a much, much bigger player than most fans realize at this point. And his role is not setting up to be a happy, pretty, heroic one.

I mean, sure, I have a few doubts about the TV series, since I believe Benioff and Weiss collectively lack the imagination that the gods give to the average walnut. So maybe they’ll be satisfied with a hero arc for Bran. That would be neat and easy. But even if they do, I still believe that George R.R. Martin has something very dark in mind for the crippled Stark.

He is the secret weapon that the children snuck into Winterfell. The bushy-eyebrowed Three-Eyed Branven has infiltrated the realms of men, and will sow discord from within. So now, my only question is, how much damage will he do, and who will be the one to finally stop him?

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 1

Offred is a protagonist who lives in a world gone crazy. In a cautionary tale that borders on post-apocalyptic mania, The Handmaid’s Tale pulls a Planet of the Apes and seduces us into the horrors of Offred’s world and then reveals them to be our own. Offered is us. This is meant to terrify us and indulge our worst slippery slope fears. Rarely does that make for enjoyable entertainment, though. Thus, I blooped my way to Hulu’s new series, with my dog-eared, annotation-scribbled copy of the book still on my nightstand, wondering if I even wanted to spend hours of my life sucked into a vortex of depression. What I found, though, oddly delighted me. It turns out my paranoia enjoyed being indulged.

After an alleged terrorist attack on U.S. Congress, martial law is declared in Offred’s America, and there is a public movement for a return to basic values–which includes women staying in the home and owning no property. This would be terrifying enough, but Margaret Atwood, author of the book from which Hulu plucked its content, chose to add a special science-fiction twist: For reasons unstated, women and men face obliterating infertility rates. This warps the nightmare into a nation with a breeding program in which the “lucky” women are turned into procreational sex slaves.

This is the turn of the screw that is supposed to draw you in. Hook you. Women as forced breeders, wearing wimples and enslaved under such miserable conditions that most opt for one form of suicide or another. As a book reader, I was almost a bit disappointed that Atwood took it to this level. Sure, it makes the story stunning and tragic, but takes it just slightly beyond the grasp of what feels realistic. It disconnects us from feeling the likelihood that this could happen to us.

And it could. Atwood has warned of it herself. Were it not for the fertility plot line, this forced female servitude feels like it is only one international crisis away. One cry for a return to our “values”. One coordinated and well-funded grassroots movement away from decrying that women are not permitted to work outside of the home because, the children. Because the 1950s was when we were a pure and righteous nation, right? When men were men, and women knew their place. So the movements call and chant and wail that we need to go back to our roots, and they share it feverishly across social media. And in turn Facebook and Twitter accounts and voter registration records are used to identify who is a “patriot” or a “believer”, whichever bent the crusade takes. Add a pinch of racism and misogyny, a whirlwind of fear, and some financial incentives, and you’ve got yourself a real modern dystopia.

This is why I am so grateful for the updates and tweaks that Hulu has thoughtfully provided to Atwood’s mad world. It warms the world and makes it feel like it could have been our own once. Yes the show preserves the infertility thread–no way to avoid that– but it takes care to modernize the technology and add some haunting (an sometimes jaunty) soundtracks. I know those songs. Pre-Offred Elizabeth Moss knows those songs. And she orders pretentious coffee, swipes on Tinder, and worries about her profile pic. Sure the original names are still very 1980s, which is when the story was originally penned. Lydia. Janine. Angela. But there I am with Pre-Offred, believing I could hang out with her, or that I could at least pass her on the street. She is a real, modern flesh-and-blood American.

Continue reading “Review: The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 1”

Game of Thrones: How it Parallels the Wars of the Roses

I’ve been a bit obsessed by the The Wars of the Roses lately. Maybe that’s hard for some people to understand, but I look at it like a really, really old season of Scandal, just with much worse hygiene. But apparently I’m not alone in my fascination, because author George RR Martin has made no secret that his A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) is based loosely on The Wars of the Roses. Cool. GRRM gets it.

Now, while the books/TV show that you and I know by heart is no allegory for the multi-decade conflict, there are a whole lot of parallels we can draw. So here is where I tear into the major characters like I am Henry VIII clawing apart a whole roasted chicken (I know, I know, the Tudors come later, but seriously, that man could really eat!).

The Lancasters Always Pay Their Debts

First, you need to understand that the (over-simplistic and somewhat misleading) gist of real-life The Wars of the Roses is that it’s a tale of two families battling for the English throne.

First, the Lancasters ruled. Then the Yorks.

And back and forth, and a bit wiggly all around for a while. Complicated. Now, notice the similarities in the names. Familiar, eh?

Lancaster = Lannister,  York = Stark

Lancaster’s (alleged) red rose sigil = Lannister’s red lion sigil

York’s (alleged) white rose sigil = Stark’s white dire wolf sigil

You see? Even linguistically and symbolically, it’s pretty obvious where GRRM started. Even the map of Westeros loosely resembles the UK.

In fact, the only place where the allegory really falls apart is how kindly the Starks are portrayed by GRRM. The real-life Yorks were mostly some really greedy assholes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oh, and if you want to learn more about the Wars of the Roses in a fun and delightful way, I retell the history here. One can never get enough of laughing at history.

Okay, let’s just jump in and look at how I see the characters lining up:

Richard II = Mad King Aerys (Aerys II)Richard II and Aerys

Richard II

King Richard II is largely considered the first major victim of The Wars of the Roses (TWOTR). See, Richard II had ruled the kingdom since he was only ten years old, and by most accounts, he had grown up to be a right little shit. His egocentric hobbies included building monuments to himself and surrounding himself with sycophants. After his wife, Anne of Bohemia, died, Richard started to become outwardly paranoid and began executing and banishing most of his rivals. This didn’t go over so well with his (recently banished) cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who raised an army against him, and threw him in prison, where he shortly thereafter died–possibly murdered, possibly starved to death, accounts differ.

Mad King Aerys II

Aerys II also ascended to the throne via largely non-disputed lineage. Good for him. But that didn’t help him much after his paranoia and general insanity caused him to start offing rivals, oh yeah, and playing with fire. As with Richard II, those who had once been close to him started throwing shade his way, distrusting the king’s actions and motives. Eventually Aerys II was overthrown in Robert’s Rebellion. Of course, Aerys’s death was much swifter…and pointier. No prison for him.

There are, of course, many differences between the characters. Aerys’s affinity for kidnapping and pyrotechnics sets him apart from his historical doppelgänger. But ultimately, both lost the throne that rightfully belonged to them because they lost their grip on reality. And when that happens, there is always someone waiting in the wings to pluck the crown of the king’s head.


King Henry IV = Robert Baratheon

Henry IV

As we already noted above, Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke, as-was) raised an army to overthrow his king and take the crown for himself. Had he been unsuccessful, this would have been foul treason. Luckily for him, his successful campaign put him and his family in a position of power. Not so luckily, this also set a dangerous precedent that family members could overthrow each other in order to take the crown. His reign was marked by ongoing war with France (started by his grandpappy, Edward III), but was otherwise largely unremarkable. Henry IV lived to the age of 45, and died in his bed of still-undiagnosed mystery disease(s). The throne passed to his son, Henry V without incident.

Robert Baratheon, First of His Name

Yeah, tying these two together almost exclusively hinges on their common rebellions, and the fact that they both died in bed-–in Robert’s case, suffering from a boar mauling while hunting. In both cases, the case for the rebellion seemed, to most historical perspectives, at least partially righteous given the foulness of their predecessors. But in both cases, the bloodshed to take the throne may have been the first bit of dye spilled in what would become horrible and magnificent wars to follow. Thanks, Robert. Thanks, Henry. Your kingdoms owe you.


Richard, Duke of York = Ned StarkRichard and Ned

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (3rd Duke of York)

We now speed forward in Roses history to approximately 60 years after Henry IV took the throne. His grandson, Henry VI, is the out-to-lunch King of Great Britain.

At the royal court, Richard, Duke of York, by all accounts, was a loyal servant to his Lancaster king, Henry VI, and worked tirelessly to protect the realm, especially once King Nuttypants went into a a catatonic stupor at the age of 32. Once that happened, Richard was named Protector of the Realm. Score. Unfortunately this did not sit well with Mrs. Queen Nuttypants, Margaret of Anjou, who was fiercely protective of the 7 year-old shithead son, the prince, and had every interest in keeping her drooling husband on the throne and preserving the power for her spawn. Protector Richard was a threat to all of that. She was especially rattled that Richard had openly accused her of illegitimately conceiving the little prince, since…you know…King Nuttypants had been staring at his toes and drooling for many moons before the child’s conception. Funny notion, eh? It didn’t help his case when Henry eventually “awoke” and declared that the child was fathered by the Holy Ghost.

Displeased by Protector Richard’s accusations and powerful role in the kingdom, Margaret of Anjou had Richard dismissed from office (picture Ned slamming his Hand of the King pin down on the table). Former Protector Richard was riled by the thought of this Queen dismissing loyal servants in order to put her bastard on the throne, and raised an army against her. Richard and the Yorks (cool band name, right?) ultimately routed Margaret’s forces, capturing the throne for themselves.

Sadly, though, Richard did not survive to see it. He died in battle, and his head was  placed on a spike atop the castle walls. His eldest surviving son would go on to become king in his place.

Eddard Stark

When you think of Ned Stark, you think loyalty. And maybe that sexy voice. No, stop it. We have to focus on history. Ned served his king, King Robert Baratheon, loyally and worked tirelessly as Hand of the King to protect the realm from the unscrupulous servants who borrowed money for king’s tourneys and poisoned the last Hand of the King. While Robert Baratheon didn’t check out due to mental health issues, his analogous undoing was a combination of the distracting whores who kept his attention away from the realm, and the boar that laid him low. Ned and Protector Richard both had bigger problems than distracted and disabled kings. They both had a queen problem. And when Ned ran afoul of Cersei and her children, he ended up with his head on a spike atop the castle walls, just like Headless Richard. Both started a battle with the noblest of intentions, more or less, and both didn’t live to see the fruits of their efforts. Did I say “fruits”? I meant shitstorm. Neither lived to see the shitstorms they started.


Margaret of Anjou  = Cersei LannisterMargaret Anjou Cersei

Margaret of Anjou

As we just learned above, Margaret of Anjou’s tale almost perfectly parallels Cersei’s beginnings. She had a king husband who had checked out–in her case, mentally. And she had a son, Edward of Westminster, who was said to be illegitimate (granted, by opposition forces), a real cruel shithead by most accounts, and had a very weak claim to the throne if pressed. Margaret ousted the king’s favorite and most loyal advisor, Richard, Duke of York, in favor of putting…(maybe her baby daddy?)…Edmund Beaufort in the Protector seat of power. No incest involved. Probably. This blond queen was a cunning upstart who surprised a lot of men in her grab for power. Her tale ends in defeat and exile. But she never knew the meaning of surrender.

Cersei Lannister

Cersei is such a strong and central figure that it’s hardly fair to compare her only to a single historical figure, especially as she evolves in later books/seasons. But her beginnings, at least, are very closely framed around the Margaret of Anjou story. Instead of Edmund Beaufort being her champion and baby daddy, she had her twin brother, Jaimie Lannister. Poor Baratheons and Lancasters. They never saw either of these ladies coming and lost it all to their fierceness, cunning, and love of their children. One wonders how Cersei’s story will end.


Edward of Westminster  =
Joffrey BaratheonEdward and Joff

Edward of Westminster

Edward of Westminster (aka Edward of Lancaster) was rumored to be a horrible little shit who loved violence and power. He was raised as the next in line to the throne after his (alleged) father, King “Nuttypants” Henry VI. He was well-indulged by his mother and took great delight in calling for executions, even for members of his advisors’ counsel. His mother, Margaret of Anjou, was not successful in putting him on the throne, despite her mighty and ferocious efforts. The little turd died on the battlefield at the age of 17, either in the course of battle, or captured and beheaded before the battle commenced. Or stabbed in front of the King. Th point is, he died.

Joffrey Baratheon

It’s hard to imagine that even Prince Edward was as vicious as Joff was. The crossbow-wielding mama’s boy liked to use whores for target practice and hide from battle. Sadly for the citizens of Westeros, his aversion to the battlefield meant that he never had a chance to meet the same end as his doppelgänger, Edward. Instead, he sat the throne ever so briefly. With both boys, it is well-implied that had they been sensible and intelligent, they may have been allowed to have and keep their crowns, and the ensuing wars may have never happened. But then we wouldn’t get to see the pigeon pie, and that would be just a shame.


King Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville =
Robb Stark & Jeyne Westerling / TalisaEdward and Elizabeth Robb and Talisa.jpg

King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Remember the poor ill-fated Richard, Duke of York (aka Ned Stark)? He ran afoul of the queen and ended up with his head on a spike? Well, I mentioned before that his York forces actually won the fray and claimed the throne. Since Headless Richard’s puss was dangling from a spike, his son, Edward had to take the throne in his place, and he became King Edward IV.

King Edward was (allegedly) a hunk-a eye candy who was naturally charismatic, talented in battle, and a decent monarch. But early on in his reign, he decided to marry a commoner in secret, and very much against the wishes of his advisors. His new bride, Elizabeth Woodville, had no international connections, nor a prominent family name. But she was pretty. And their match may have been genuinely romantic.

His marriage created such a division among his supporters that people started to plot against him–even his own brothers, perhaps right up until and still after the King’s death. King Edward IV died rather suddenly of (probably) pneumonia after he caught a cold on a fishing trip. He was only 41. History notes little about his illness, other than to remark how unexpected it was, so those of us with skeptical minds wonder if it was a mere illness, or something more devious that took him out, especially knowing how quickly opposing forces murdered his two boys after Eddie was laid to rest.

Elizabeth Woodville mourned her dead husband and sons, but went on to live fairly comfortably under the rule of the successive victorious kings.

Robb Stark and Talisa (Jeyne Westerling)

Robb Stark was another (arguably more) handsome young man who wasn’t groomed for the throne, but took up the mantle after his father died at the hands of a merciless blond queen and her psychotic son.

Robb may not have taken the Iron Throne proper, but declared himself king anyway. And much like his real-life counterpart, his advisors were quite tickled to wed him advantageously to secure the throne and stabilize his kingdom (as-was). But noooo, primping King Robb of the North couldn’t stand the thought of the poor Frey girls, so he got it on with…well, that depends. If you’re a book reader, he got it on with the woman who nursed him, Jeyne Westerling. If you’re a TV viewer, he got it on with war nurse Talisa. Whomever she is in your mind, Robb married Jeyne/Talisa in spite of her lack of political advantage or the ability to cross the Green Fork river at the Twins. But she was pretty, and their match was steamingly hot romantical.

This imprudent, if romantic marriage, caused some of his officers to plot against him, and ultimately allowed the long arm of Cersei’s power to reach all the way to the Twins and have him executed. This was hardly the death-by-sniffles end that King Edward IV met, but both men were cut short in (more or less) their primes.

Poor Talisa paid the ultimate, pointy price as well (and taking her son with her). But Martin’s Jeyne survives and lives a miserable, if comfortable existence in the shadow of the war victors.


George, Duke of Clarence + Richard III = Theon Greyjoy

George Duke of Clarence  Theon Greyjoy.jpg

George, Duke of Clarence & Richard, Duke of Gloucester

George, Duke of Clarence was the younger brother of King Edward IV of the House of York (aka Robb Stark). And George was an up-jumping ass. He was never satisfied that his older brother got to have the crown and made repeated attempts to overthrow his brother, all of which failed. Most notably, sometime shortly after 1469, George ran off to join forces with Margaret of Anjou (aka Cersei Lannister) in hopes that his brother would be overthrown, and he could take the throne instead. Except that George was a dolt, and when he realized that none of his cohorts were actually going to give him the throne, he ran back to the king begging for forgiveness.

King Edward IV had so much sympathy and love for brother George that he continually let him off the hook. But finally, in 1478, Volatile George crossed the line for the last time by having a servant executed, and King Edward was finally resigned to putting George to death, though he granted his beloved brother his choice of how he would die. George, always the fool, chose to be drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. And so he went to his grapey death in the Tower of London.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was the youngest brother of Edward IV and Wine-Soaked George, and he also had a taste for power. He kept quiet after the whole wine-drowning fiasco, and kindly waited until his King brother died (allegedly) from many diseases before making a move for the throne.

Even though King Eddie IV‘s sons were next in line for the throne, and his eldest was even named King Edward V, Ricky was not having any of it. So he locked 12 year-old Edward V and his little brother, 9 year-old Richard, in a tower. Tragically, Eddie V and Little Richard were probably murdered during their imprisonment. Probably. But to this day, a great mystery surrounds their disappearance from the tower. Most believe that Uncle Ricky was responsible for having them offed. Oh, and you probably know Uncle Ricky as King Richard III. Yeah, he snatched the crown with the boys out of the way.

Theon Greyjoy

Theon was every bit a brother to Robb Stark, so it came as a horrible shock to King Robb (though no one else in the Stark family), when Theon decided to turn coat and join up with his father’s forces in the hopes of securing the Iron Islands for himself as prince…or king…or something. Theon never thought very far ahead. There were certainly points when King Robb would’ve have spared Theon out of brotherly affection, had he come back on his knees, just as George Duke of Clarence had a habit of doing. But we all know he ran out of chances after convincing the world that he had executed the two small Stark boys (in reality, two farm boys).

In the world of Westeros, the official record is that Theon executed the two boys next in line for the northern throne. But, the realm has started to suspect what viewers and readers already know about the charred boys. So what is G.R.R. Martin trying to imply? Does he favor the historical side that believes Richard III could have never really killed his boy nephews? That he let them escape, but kept it secret?

Well, our Theon is still alive, if quite mutilated, and one cannot help but wonder how he might meet his end. Could a butt of wine be in his future? Or at least the infamous Sir Dontos wine bong? Or will he meet an end more like Richard III and be killed and dragged naked through the countryside by horses? Tough call. Tough call.


Henry Tudor = Daenerys TargaryenDaenerys and Henry Tudor.jpg

Henry Tudor (King Henry VII)

Henry Tudor was the descendant of a long-ago monarch, King Edward III. Sort of. Kind of. A wee bit. Okay, his legitimacy was spotty. But at the time that Henry Tudor, a strong, battle-tested warrior and wise ruler (by most accounts) started to reach for power, he was the Lancaster with the strongest claim to the throne. So it was around him that a number of Lancaster supporters flocked when they decided it was time to chuck King Edward IV…and then King Richard III, off the throne. He fought nobly and won the day. Okay, and maybe executed two little princes in a tower along the way and let Ricky III take the blame. Hey, war means death. And when you play a game of thrones you win or…

Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys “Stormborn” is the daughter of a sort-of-long-ago monarch, King Aerys II. Straight-up. No question, silver hair, love of fire, and all. And given that she is the only (known) remaining Targaryen heir left in the world, it is up to her to raise an army and chuck the Lannisters off the throne.

As for her fate? It seems to diverge quite a bit from Henry’s. Daenarys had too much fire in her blood to start a new dynasty. Had they played according to TWOTR script, Dany’s fate would have mirrored that of Hank VII, who married the daughter of a dead foe–and also the sister of the boys in the tower (read: Bran & Rickon) in order to unite the kingdom and solidify power. So if we reverse the genders, subtract the one, and multiply the whole thing by aaah-ooo-gaa!, that means she should have married Jon Snow and made a bunch of babies.

Of course, Henry lived within the realms of men. Long-ago England didn’t have to worry about White Walkers and The Children. And no dragons. And no Benioff and Weiss to utterly fuck it up because they are fascinated with superhero movies at the moment. Damn, the ending of the TV series was unbelievable bullshit. Maybe if the writers had cracked a few more history books, we all could’ve had a very interesting farewell to the show, and I could start writing about Dany’s son marrying six wives and getting fat at banquets. 

I never get my way. Someone get me my butt of Malmsey wine!

Longbourn Showdown: Which Pride and Prejudice Version is Better?

My good opinion once lost is lost forever.

Today in my Jane Austen confessional, I admit that I love both recent modern adaptations of Pride and Prejudice–that is to say, both the 1995 BBC version, and the 2005 Keira Knightley version. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, particularly when it comes to casting. I was recently mulling over a glass of gin, watching the lime wedge twirl around inside of it and muttering about what would make the perfect adaptation if only I could breed the two versions and add my own bits. There was a lot of wild gesturing, especially when I got to the bits about the Darcy performances. And since that seemed to keep me distracted for a couple hours, I figure it’s probably time that I put fingers to keyboard and organized my thoughts on the matter, sans gin.

Just to make this fun, let us do this in true showdown fashion. Like Thunderdome, but with more ribbons and carriages.

Elizabeth Bennet

Lizzie Bennets

Jennifer Ehle vs. Keira Knightley

Neither are the perfect Lizzie whom I pictured while reading the book. Ehle’s take on Lizzie is a little too sweet and coy. What is supposed to be a slightly cutting and wry wit is softened maybe just a tad too much. Whereas, Knightley goes too far in the opposite direction, making Lizzie a bit too moody and angry, and worst of all, not terribly clever. Appearance-wise, Knightley is almost entirely wrong. I do love her wardrobe immensely, but she is far, far too skinny for this role and would have been considered sickly looking for the time. In contrast, Ehle is much more fitting. It is only a shame that they did not allow her looks to be a little less formal. I wanted my Lizzie to have a just slightly feral look to her–not quite as buttoned up and pinned as her peers. Still, though I loved Knightley’s chemistry with her Darcy, this one hands down goes to Ehle!

Winner: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Best Elizabeth Bennet


Jane Bennet

The Better Jane Bennet

Susannah Harker vs. Rosamund Pike

Sweet, shy Jane. This is not a terribly challenging role, I imagine, but it is nevertheless important to pull off the perfect tone. Lean the wrong way, and Jane acts like a simple fool, or worse, a simpering lump of clay. And this is where Harker treads ever so slightly. Both Janes are all sweetness and humility, but Harker fails to demonstrate even the mildest passion, even when Jane is hushed away in a bedchamber with her little sister. Too sedate. Pike, on the other hand, was able to achieve the coyness and gentleness of spirit, while still seeming ensnared by the idea of romance. That extra breath of life gives Pike the edge. Plus…you know. Come on, let’s just out with it: There were some beauty issues with Harker. Allow me to declare firmly that Susannah Harker is a true beauty. But the 1995 styling did her no favors–especially in the hair department–and her pregnancy during filming altered her delicate facial features into a more mannish appearance. Trust me, she has my utmost sympathies on this count. While I dislike neither Jane, I must choose but one, so here it is.

Continue reading “Longbourn Showdown: Which Pride and Prejudice Version is Better?”

Game of Thrones: Bran Stark is the Super Villain No One Saw Coming

(Update: I’ve been cooking this theory since before season 7, so please read the primer in Bran’s villainy below, and then head over to read my Season 7 update and then roll your Branchair over to the Season 8 Bran Finale Discussion!)

Forget Joffrey and his crossbow. Or even Ramsey Bolton and his dogs (and his knife, and his sausage, etc.). It could just be that the biggest, most monstrous villain that Westeros has ever seen is, in fact, Bran Stark of Winterfell. Bran, the climbing boy who was pushed out of a tower window. The boy who dreamed of being a knight. It just might be that he found a lurking inner darkness and heeded the call of his very sinister destiny.

How All Great Villains Begin

bran-climbing

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was shoved from a tower window. Until that very moment that the air whooshed past his flailing body, Bran was a sweet, innocent boy with a loving family and a promising and privileged future ahead of him.

Of course, this is exactly how so many villain stories start.

Then, in keeping with villainous themes, this tragic thing happens to him. He is nearly murdered by a queen and her brother, and is left crippled. Gone are his dreams of being a knight. Gone are his days scaling the rooftops. The bitterness sets in. He cannot remember what has happened to him, so he doesn’t understand why or how. He was cheated.

bran-in-bed

Let this mark the beginning of his darkness. TV Bran wants to hear only dark and morbid stories, and he despises his mother’s absence (another common villain theme). He cares not anymore about learning or caring for his father’s subjugates.

But, what of it? He’s an adolescent who has been crippled. Wouldn’t anyone’s mind be in a dark place? Absolutely. It’s what Bran does next that defines his character.

Bran Murdered Hodor

bran-and-hodor

Continue reading “Game of Thrones: Bran Stark is the Super Villain No One Saw Coming”