The real Game of Thrones…

plantagenetsI’ve been looking forward to the new series of Game of Thrones as much as anyone. It just so happens that it’s started as I’m half way through reading Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets and, in comparison, the world of the Seven Kingdoms seems rather a tame place to live.

So there were no dragons flying about 13th century Europe at the time, but everything else is there: court intrigues, battles for succession, warring houses, pitched battles and sieges, and more rape and pillage than HBO would ever dare to show. We all crossed our legs when Theon Greyjoy was gelded in one particular scene in GoT, but this was nothing to the treatment of Simon de Montfort at the battle of Evesham in 1265. After being stabbed through the neck with a lance, the real fun began. According to the chronicle of Arnald FitzThedmar:

“The head of the Earl of Leicester, it is said, was severed from his body, and his testicles cut off and hung on either side of his nose; and in such guise the head was sent to the wife of Sir Roger de Mortimer, at Wiggemor Castle. His hands and feet were also cut off, and sent to divers places to enemies of his, as a great mark of dishonour to the deceased; the trunk of his body however, and that only, was given for burial in the church of Evesham.”

Add into the mix other real-life perils such as periodic eruptions of the plague, bouts of dysentery and various fevers, and terrifying rates of infant mortality and Westeros looks like Disneyland.

When did God become so dull?

God_answers_Job_from_the_Whirlwind_1803-05_(Butlin_461),_detailI’ve been reading some interesting books recently (Reza Aslan’s Zealot and Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God), on the historicity of Jesus. Strange reading material for an atheist perhaps, but I can’t help but be a ‘cultural Christian’ and the historical origins of these mythologies fascinate me endlessly.

What struck me most in my reading is how much more exciting and awe-inspiring the world of ancient belief was. The ancients hadn’t the modern conception of Heaven and Earth that we have. In many cases, the divine realm overlapped with and shared the world of men. Gods, angels and demons were all to be found in everyday life and their propitiation was as natural as baking bread and making babies.

It occurred to me how boring the God of my childhood seemed. Served by dour priests, desiccated nuns and bumbling but earnest religious education teachers, there was always something dull about the whole affair. Why were the intermediaries of the almighty so grim and austere?

Hadn’t they heard the ‘Good News’?

It seemed to me that if I did get run over while crossing the road – and if I had atoned enough for original sin already at that tender age – that hanging out with the Lord might have been about as exciting as an eternity in a dentist’s waiting room. But this after all was the God that supposedly enjoyed all those soporific hymns and wanted the same litanies to be repeated to him in a million churches, by billions of people every week.

His likeness too was always rendered as horrible, almost abstract, line drawings. I don’t know if there is a ‘Modern Catholic’ style (my artistic vocabulary fails me here), but as a child it was everywhere – from the Priests garments to the covers of hymnals and mass books. Jesus in my mind was always more ‘Badly Drawn Boy’ than Robert Powell or Ted Neeley.

Further, he was never a dynamic fighter against evil in my eyes. The cross that for many was such a symbol of redemption, to me seemed a depiction of utter failure; a dead man nailed to two planks of wood. This is born out by my reading, the Romans seemed to liberally decorate ancient Palestine and Judean countryside with the crucified at the slightest whiff of sedition.

Pre-Christian gods and monsters were fun though – give me Perseus over Paul and Tiamat over Thomas any day of the week. They’re so much more fun to play with in the childhood (and adult) imagination than anything that arrived anno domini.

Inspirations for Gape…

I’ve been busy putting up a series of images to illustrate some of the big influences on Gape. One of the problems of trying to be a bit more active on social media is having to take the decision of whether to duplicate content, so I’ll just post a link back to my Facebook page so that people can take a look if they are interested.

It’s been an fascinating little exercise in seeing just how many different sources fed into the book without me realising it at the time. But, don’t be put off by the references to Milton, Dante and medieval art. I stripped the bare essentials from these to construct my story – there’s very little that’s highbrow about Gape.

The images and references will continue to go up over the next week or so.

Childhood horror books…

Hamlyn Book of HorrorThere are (or were) two great, long-lost books from my childhood that I’d always wanted to track down. The first was Dennis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, which I managed to track down a couple of years ago. The second is a more recent acquisition: The Hamlyn Book of Horror by Daniel Farson (grand-nephew of Bram Stoker). While the former was a library book (that spent almost as much time in my house as it did in the library) the latter was a Christmas present and lived with me on a full-time basis. That is until I leant it to a school chum and never saw it again.

I won’t kid anyone though, it was the illustrations that really hooked me. While it told the stories of vampires, werewolves, ghouls and ghosts, it was the Oliver Frey artwork that really captured my imagination. People of a certain age and geography may remember him as the guy who did all those great covers for the CRASH and Zzap!64 computer gaming magazines, as well as a huge range of comics and fantasy publications.  It’s that great airbrushed artwork that you really don’t seem to see very much anymore now that everything is done digitally.

I spent hours and days thumbing through that book and was gutted when I changed schools and never saw it again. Now it’s back on my shelf (with a pleasing musty smell that my original copy never attained) and I’m going to make time to lose myself in it again this weekend.

(Thumbnail image shamelessly pinched from The Cobwebbed Room which I suggest that you visit forthwith!)