Monthly Archives: November 2008

National Geographic: New Levels of Tacky or Good Idea?

National Geographic now has licensed a hidden object videogame to go along with one of their overhyped TV specials. Yes, you can now buy and play National Geographic Presents: Herod’s Lost Tomb.

Here’s a couple of the many places offering this game.

BigFish Games

IWin Games

Hidden object games are pretty fun and they’re often based on history or travel stuff, so it’s not the worst fit in the world. And I suppose everybody has to make money these days. But… geez, they don’t know for sure it’s Herod’s tomb yet, and it just seems so trashy….

UPDATE: Okay, so I find it hard to resist hidden object games. Yes, I went and checked out the free sixty minute game preview. I have to say, the hidden object screens are pretty — especially the ones which re-create palatial rooms in ancient Israel. The mini-puzzles are also fun. But the level of difficulty is not high and the number of hints huge. I finished about a third of the game in an hour. The hardest thing was finding the objects on my small laptop screen. (Big screens are much better for this kind of game, unless you want to get eyestrain.) Also, there were some fairly nice “cutscreens” of both real life footage and re-creations of Herod’s time.

But I still find it hard to believe, with all the free promotional computer games available on many TV networks’ websites, that National Geographic is charging more than ten bucks for this game. Especially since it is so easy. OTOH, it is somewhat educational, in an unintimidating way; and this might well spark in players the desire to learn more about Herod the Great, Judea, and the Roman Empire. Also, it’s totally G-rated (unless partially bared Greek and Roman statues offend you) and totally nonviolent (unless pictures of weapons just sitting there offend you).

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You Have Fallen to the Bottum of My Estimation.

Joseph Bottum has dared to say that Half Magic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Misty of Chincoteague basically are mediocre, and people only bought them because there wasn’t anything better.

Look, critic creep. I was reading Lord of the Rings in 3rd grade, and I loved it, but I also recognized Marguerite Henry as the absolute pinnacle of the horse writing genre. Seward and Farley are decent reads, but there’s more real horse information and better pictures in Marguerite Henry. She was somewhat hampered by generally sticking to historical horse fiction or dramatizations of current horse events, but you also feel the ground more securely under your feet. You can’t visit Alec and the Black Stallion’s desert island. You can go visit Assateague and Chincoteague, or Siena, or the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Her evocation of place and excellent illustrators virtually demand that you do go visit. And so her readers do.

As for her skills as a historical writer, I have never caught her out. Again, she is spot on, and you are there and then, living alongside the people and horses of her story. That’s not mediocre; and it’s a skill badly wanted in today’s historical fiction, in any segment of the market.

I don’t feel any need to defend Edward Eager; people keep reprinting him, don’t they? And I surely don’t feel any need to defend E.L. Konigsburg. But honestly, slurs against Marguerite Henry? Obviously this guy was reading the wrong books in third grade. (And no, I won’t give any passes on the ground that only girls like horses, because this is obviously untrue. It was my younger brother who made the pilgrimage to the Spanish Riding School, and he didn’t read The White Stallion of Lipizza until he was an adult.)

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Catholic Ladies in Hats. (After Vatican II, Yet.)

Contra all the younger people who think that tradition automatically equals lace veils and mantillas, here’s a picture from 1965 of a typical bunch of American Catholic ladies dressed up for Mass. (They’re welcoming Pope Paul VI to New York in 1965, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; but the level of formality is pretty typical of what I vaguely remember Catholic ladies wearing on Sunday in Ohio in the early 1970’s.) If you click on the photo to see it enlarged, you will notice a lot of nice hats and simple scarves on the female half of the congregation, but not many lace veils at all. Some women don’t seem to be wearing anything on their heads, but they may be wearing gauzy see-through scarves, which were pretty common. Here’s a smaller shot that gives more of a close-up when enlarged; you’ll see some winter hats too. Another crowd shot of the Pope leaving – you can see some faces here.

But before Vatican II, here’s a huge crowd of be-wimpled nuns and be-hatted Catholic ladies at the Budapest Eucharistic Congress in 1938. By Margaret Bourke-White, no less.

This is not to say that it’s wrong to wear veils to church. It’s just modelling another part of tradition than what was done in my part of the US, or in most chunks of Europe.

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How Much Is That Doggie in the Cathedral?

Courtesy of that super-cool Time/Life photo archive, here’s some dog carvings from Toledo Cathedral. From his feet, I think one of them is either some kind of weird water spaniel or a mythical sea-dog.

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Actually, I’d Love an Illustration of This

What do you call Our Lady as patroness of Irish music and dancing?

Porta Ceili.

(And when I say that I’d love an illustration, I specifically prohibit you giving Mary one of those silly dancer wigs with artificial curly hair. Mary beckoning folks through the gates of Heaven, with tons of angels and saints playing fiddles and tinwhistles and bodhran — that would be awesome. And I bet this guy would like such an illustration, also.)

(Yes, I got this idea by making a typo.)

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Some Brief Thoughts about Women and the Fathers

I don’t think modern scholars give the Early Christians a very fair shake, when it comes to the Christian attitudes about women. Or sex either, but we’ll go with women.

1. The prevailing Greco-Roman culture was professionally misogynistic. As a hobby, it might occasionally like and respect women, but mostly only in its own weird way. Of course, if you were a rich woman, you could do pretty much what you wanted.

2. Jewish culture was pretty darned positive about women. Especially the part where women got something of a vacation from normal activities while menstruating. 13-20 weeks a year of vacation, baby! Also, culturally, mothers pretty much ruled and still do. Mwahaha.

3. Christianity mostly took after Judaism, when it came to Jewish mothers, and after rich, free Imperial Roman ladies on the Gentile side. Widows weren’t treated like crud — they got supported by the local church and sat in the front row! And you didn’t have to get married if you didn’t want to, so there. Oh, and matter was a good thing and God invented sex.

So why does early Christianity get ye badde rappe?

1. Celibate men trying not to be tempted to have sex did write a few commercials for themselves about the evil deceptive powers of women. Alas, we do not have commercials about the evils of men from your early Christian female celibates.

Of course, we don’t need to read them, as all you have to do is hang out around the woman at your office whose boyfriend just dumped her. The evil deceptive powers of men and their constant pusillanimity through the ages will be fully outlined for you. But it is only right and proper that men not be allowed to complain about women in such terms. Just ask the woman who just got dumped. 🙂

2. A lot of feminist scholars don’t like reading stuff about Mary. They also assume that any time any man says something nice about a virgin or virgin-martyr, they really are expressing hatred for all _real_ women. Many also are not particularly interested in paeans to maternal love. Or wifely devotion. Or famous women in the Bible. This pretty much gets rid of everything nice ever said by the Fathers about women.

3. Most of the folks with nasty tongues on them were misandrists as much as they were misogynists. Sometimes I start to think that Tertullian only ever liked his wife and Jesus. (Tertullian is probably the early Christian theologian most likely to have a second career as a Bond villain, with a secret lair, and a tendency to pet cats while laughing at the kidnapped Emperor being slowly lowered into a tank full of sharks with frickin’ laserbeams on their heads.)

4. Disconcerting tendency of some of the Fathers to praise specific women, and then commit wordplay on the theme that in Christ there is no male or female, so now I can call this chick a guy or a soldier. (I blame rhetoric classes. Or possibly they were trying to avoid rumors that they were hot for local consecrated widows, and that somehow the nice things they said about Judith and Jael were proof.)

5. Because scholars don’t like Mary, they miss the fact that Eve gets blamed every five minutes just so Mary can be praised in the next breath.

6. Victorian male translators. Maybe I’m being unfair, but it does seem sometimes that they translate with some interesting biases.

So here’s an example of what I mean. St. Ambrose (I think) has a bit where he goes on and on about Mary and Elizabeth and John and Jesus during the Visitation. He points out that Mary and Elizabeth both act as forerunners and teachers to John the Baptist, and also talks about the fellowship of the mothers and babies, and of Mary with John. And he points out that all the miraculous stuff and great prophecies are only what you’d expect, because salvation has started. As a woman brought evil into the world, “so in women all good things have their origin.” And then he points out that souls have no sex, and that women are now to cast off womanly ways and follow Christ no less boldly than men do.

Or you could read it that women saying anything intelligent was a miracle, that they’re only good to carry babies and teach unborn babies, and to be puppets of God’s plan of salvation. And something about women’s souls being inferior — let’s not forget that one. 🙂

I’m not saying there aren’t some problematic things said by the Fathers. But there are problematic things said today, on all sorts of subjects. We don’t give the Fathers enough slack.

And it absolutely made me cry that, as St. Augustine was on his deathbed, he took the time to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, that women did not lose their chastity or commit any sin if they were raped by the Goths and Alans invading North Africa. This was a deeply countercultural pronouncement for someone in Roman culture. (Lucretia.) Both after the Sack of Rome and during the invasion of North Africa, St. Augustine’s pronouncement probably saved many women from killing themselves, or from being killed by their relatives to spare them such “a fate worse than death”.

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World’s Oldest Mary Sue?

I’ve been reading Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius (aka Apollonios of Rhodes) over on my public domain audiobook podcast, Maria Lectrix. Yesterday, there was a pivotal section in which Medea starred.

Now Medea is a princess, who’s also a priestess of Hecate, who therefore knows and uses powerful magic. She’s beautiful. She is also clever — in fact, both Hera and Athene decide that since they can’t think of a good plan to help Jason get the Golden Fleece, their best bet is to get Medea to fall in love with Jason so that she will think of a plan to save him. So yeah, you could argue that she’s a typical exceptionally everything, know-it-all, do-it-all Mary Sue character.

But here’s the really interesting part.

As Medea (now in love with Jason, thanks to Eros and Aphrodite) tries to decide whether she should help Jason and betray her father, or betray Jason and obey her father, she has an dream. A very familiar sort of dream….

Now a deep slumber had relieved the maiden from her love-pains as she lay upon her couch. But straightway fearful dreams, deceitful, such as trouble one in grief, assailed her. And she thought that the stranger had taken on him the contest, not because he longed to win the ram’s fleece, and that he had not come on that account to Aeetes’ city, but to lead her away, his wedded wife, to his own home. And she dreamed that she herself contended with the oxen and wrought the task with exceeding ease. And that her own parents set at naught their promise, for it was not the maiden they had challenged to yoke the oxen but the stranger himself; from that arose a contention of doubtful issue between her father and the strangers. And both laid the decision upon her, to be as she should direct in her mind. But she suddenly, neglecting her parents, chose the stranger. And measureless anguish seized them and they shouted out in their wrath; and with the cry sleep released its hold upon her. Quivering with fear she started up, and stared round the walls of her chamber….

In some ways, Argonautica is startlingly contemporary. (Probably because the Hellenistic Age and our own share certain aesthetic preferences.) This examination of the frame of mind that leads to Mary Sue wish-fulfillment dreams is one such interesting touch.

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