Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Trials of Reading King Arthur's Autobiography

Awhile back, I came across King Arthur Uther Pendragon on the internet and immediately wondered who is this man? I needed to know, and like, now. Well that 'now' didn't happen until a year and a half later, when I finally ordered his 2003 published autobiography off of Amazon, at a whopping $0.97. I dove right into the book, written by Arthur and CJ Stone, a successful writer known for his publishings on "the counter culture of contemporary Britain and its protesters, hippies, punks, neo-pagans, ravers, and New Age travellers." Let's just say my love for Arthur remains strong, but his biography was...well it was a lot of things. Mostly terribly written. Mostly glorified and weird. So weird.

King Arthur Uther Pendragon was born John Timothy Rothwell in 1954 in Yorkshire, England. He joined the army, did his time, and then left after he "out-maneuvered the whole of the British army." Stone is referring to Rothwell being allowed to discharge from the army before his end date. He was allowed to discharge himself by a military officer. If that's out-maneuvering "the whole of the British army," then I think we've all out-maneuvered them in one way or another. After his army stint, Rothwell got married, became a biker (as one does), embraced their 'I'm a certifiable badass' culture, and got married. His "drugs were sweet tea, cigarettes, chips, and danger." cool.

With his parents now deceased and a pending divorce from his wife, Rothwell was left to his own devices, his own destiny. He felt a higher power beckoning to him and that power was the legendary King Arthur (mine is cake, but whatevs). So he began claiming he was King Arthur incarnate, gave up all of his materialistic comforts, and began establishing himself by legally changing his name. Rothwell's 'I'm King Arthur but still a certifiable badass' new life path was decided upon by a strong sense of fate and a series of odd coincidences.

While reading about King Arthur in a book, Rothwell began noticing similarities between him and the legendary King. Phrases like 'Arthur in his triumph' when Rothwell had a Triumph motorcycle himself, and 'His wife in Tintagel' when Rothwell's wife was in Tintagel resonated with him. Based on those two similarities alone, "He thought, 'Oh fuck, this is real shit.'" and said to his friend "You know, if I go for this, I go for it all the way? There's no turning back?" Later, on a visit to Stonehenge, a raven flew by him and its wing brushed his face in a "ghostly if something from nature had, priest-like, laid a hand upon his forehead to offer blessings for his chosen if his soul had been engineered for this task, and this task alone." So, um, that was enough reason for Rothwell. And the 20th century King Arthur Uther Pendragon was born.

At this point Stone feels like a couple disclaimers are needed, to ya know, convince you that Arthur isn't crazy. "Arthur was never what you would call clinically paranoid," to which Stone then gives you the standard definition of paranoia to drive his point home. Pages later we get another disclaimer explaining that Arthur "took the Mensa test and passed it. Mensa is an organisation that caters for people with the highest IQs - the top 2%." Ok, we get it.

Stone then goes on to create the super-awkward-tense moment when Arthur acquired his sword. "If the lights hadn't turned red, Angela would not have looked. If Angela hadn't have looked, she would never have seen. If she hadn't seen, they would have driven on oblivious. But the lights did turn, she did look, and she did see." Arthur's girlfriend spotted the medieval armory shop where Arthur purchased his sword, Excalibur, named after the legendary magical sword of King Arthur. Finding this sword was like divine intervention to Arthur and further proof (to himself and his island of misfit toy followers) that he is indeed King Arthur reborn.

So Arthur did what any valiant, noble king of Britain has done in centuries past: he became a Druid, campaigned tirelessly to prevent the destruction of trees, and made it his personal quest to reclaim Stonehenge from English Heritage's grip by making visitation free and accessible for all. He was repeatedly arrested during his protests and often chose to remain in jail (Stone will tell you it's because he would only be released if his conditions were met but maybe he was sick of sleeping under a tree and shitting in a self-dug hole (which was mentioned more than once)). Arthur continues the fight to this day.

The main issue I have with this biography is the writing and many indications that Stone was greatly embellishing events. I'm not an expert or anything. I can't construct perfect sentences and my grammar is ridonkulous, but I do attempt to sound coherent. Examples:
  • "Names are for the naming." wut?
  • "The myth is the living culture within us." wut?
  • "The only true magic is the magic of friends." wut?
  • "with a tongue that tasted like he'd been licking the inside of a dog's bottom all night." the inside?
  • Stone also uses picturesque metaphors to describe the English country landscape such as "like the opening of a uterus" and "like soft buttocks."
  • "He meets his daughter for the first time in 15 years, and then promptly gets her arrested. What date is it now? We have no idea. It was sometime in the 90s." It was the first time Arthur had ever met her. Call me fucking crazy, but if you take the date she was born, add 15 to that, you may get the present date.
  • "He had a keen wit and serious amount of writing skill." Stone modestly describing himself.

Besides the absurdity of the writing, there were also comments that I might have taken offense to if I was a rape survivor, deaf person, vegan, or cripple:
  • On trees being torn down to make way for a highway: "It was rape, no less." No less than rape? mmm you sure?
  • "So he had that odd nasal cadence in his tone that a lot of deaf people have." Oh, you abnormal sounding deaf people you...
  • "Not every vegan is a fascist by the way. Only some of them are. It probably arises out of the fact that, actually, they'd really like to tuck into a nice, juicy steak." I'm sure that's their problem.
  • "Arise Sir Knight, oops sorry you can't." On Arthur knighting a wheelchair-bound man.

The part that sums up Arthur best is something not even written by Stone, but by a Professor of History at Bristol University, in a letter published in the appendage of the book:

Regardless of his eccentricities, Arthur is a successful/totally lovable eco-campaigner and if you watch any videos of him floating around on the internet, he is super intelligent and educated about his causes. It's just, he thinks his farts smell like roses.

Friday, November 14, 2014

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb #10

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb is a round-up of brand spankin' new history articles, selected by yours truly. Click on the link to be directed to the home site where you can read a professional being professional in their entirety.

Sainsbury's 1914 Christmas truce ad exploits memory of Great War at Telegraph
Sainsbury's new commercial has people in a tizzy over claims that their dramatization of the WWI Christmas Truce ignores the message that war is a "pointless waste of young life." Whatever. The only thing that is offensive is the British soldier giving the German a candy bar of Willy Wonka proportion and in return getting a toaster strudel looking thingy. With no icing.

5,000-Year-Old Footprints Found in Denmark at Discovery
The prints reveal how Stone Age (little) people made strenuous attempts to save their fishing system from the destructive forces of the sea. The print came from a size 5.5 woman or size 9 man shoe.

On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, learn 10 surprising facts about the "iconic" Cold War symbol. So "iconic" that a piece of the wall stands in the bathroom of a Las Vegas casino.

9 astonishing deaths reported in Victorian newspapers at History Extra
A series of extraordinary deaths from the Victorian press including but not limited to: an actor stabbing another actor to death during a scene of a play because he kinda forgot he had a real knife, death-by-billiard-ball, a monkey slicing his master's throat, and a woman who shot herself in the mouth after reenacting a murder she witnessed.

Dollhouses will be throwing open their doors and drawing back their curtains at London's V&A Museum of Childhood in December. The houses, which were created between the 18th and 21st centuries, offer a miniature snapshot of the history of the home and changing family relationships over the past 300 years, as well as developments in architecture and design. I'm pretty sure one of them has a miniature bong.

It is believed that World War I had the highest number of active serving writers, artists, and musicians of any war in history. Influenced by their experiences, survivors created remarkable pieces of work, of which JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings remains one of the most influential and well-known.

Human Remains Recovered From Amphipolis Tomb at Archaeology
As you know by now, there are big happenings at Amphipolis flooding the historical news feed weekly. This week, remains were recovered from (probably) a male general.

'How Long Before You Quit This Insufferable Quiz on World War One?' 16 seconds

Experts Debunk Claim Jesus Was a Husband and Father at Discovery
Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered two children according to a new book blah blah blah based on findings in an ancient manuscript blah blah blah Christian community is freaking out blah blah.

Former Egyptian antiquities minister faces questions over theft from pyramid at The Guardian
The world’s most famous contemporary Egyptologist, Zahi Hawass, has been summoned for questioning over claims that he helped three German hobbyists steal rock samples from inside Egypt’s largest pyramid.

Friday, November 7, 2014

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb #9

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb is a round-up of brand spankin' new history articles, selected by yours truly. Click on the link to be directed to the home site where you can read a professional being professional in their entirety.

Starvation never looked so good.

17 Times Tumblr Proved It Was The Best History Teacher at BuzzFeed
The best one: "Selfie culture seems so tame by comparison when you realize that not only did old timey rich people spend a fortune commissioning artists to paint flattering images of them, they spent many hours sitting for these portraits. Who's the 'me' generation now?"

Because that was their last name.

When a vampire hysteria gripped Exeter, Rhode Island in 1892, its residents exhumed the bodies of one family stricken by consumption and tore the heart out of the corpse of one teenaged girl suspected of being undead. Today, her gravestone remains in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery. I know what I'm doing this weekend. (going there)

In 1954, inspired by the re-released “King Kong” and other Hollywood hits of the early 1950s, film producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided the time was right for Japan’s first monster movie. The monster’s name? “Gojira,” a combination of “gorilla” and “kujira,” the Japanese word for whale. Or, as it was later translated into English, go go Godzilla.

A very short history of bonfire night at History Extra
No one was more delighted by the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot than James VI and I, who had narrowly avoided becoming the first king to sit on a rocket-propelled throne. So he allowed bonfires to be lit to celebrate, to remember remember the 5th of November.

'Demon Traps' Found in 17th-Century English House at Discovery
English archaeologists have discovered seventeenth century “demon traps” under the floorboards of one of Britain’s most important historic houses. The witch marks were carved to ward off evil and prevent demonic possession in the period of superstition and paranoia that gripped England after the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

30 Pieces Of The Berlin Wall Spread Out All Over The World at BuzzFeed
There is also one at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, which didn't make this list. But I know it's there, so I'm making sure you know too.

Friday, October 31, 2014

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb #8

HTHS Weekly: History from the Interweb is a round-up of brand spankin' new history articles, selected by yours truly. Click on the link to be directed to the home site where you can read a professional being professional in their entirety.

Which Greek Goddess Are You? at BuzzFeed
"You got: Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. The first thing people notice is how gorgeous you are, inside and out. Your natural beauty is only matched by your sparkling personality, and you truly are one-of-a-kind." This is no way describes me.

15 Incredible Facts About Halloween in the US at Guff
Not really incredible, but kind of interesting.

New research confirms with a "high degree of certainty" that a fragment of aluminum from Amelia Earhart's plane has been found. Discovered in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, the fragment's fractures, tears, dents, and gouges could provide further clues to the fate and destination of the plane. Investigation is scheduled to resume at the supposed location of her 1937 crash in June.

After the examination of bones from 2nd century gladiators, it has been determined that the warriors often drank a concoction of vinegar and ash to get their pick-me-up. The bones also confirmed that the gladiator's diet consisted of mainly wheat, barley, and beans; a diet dubbed 'gladiatorial saginaw.'

Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Šprajc surveys a 1,200-mile stretch of unexplored land in southern Mexico while battling jaguars, pumas, poisonous snakes, and disease-transmitting insects. Doo do do-DOOOO. doo-doo dooo.

Why facial fuzz was/is important to gender, society, and culture.

KC lost, but we can still take a look back at 1985.

The Panarea III shipwreck near Italy's Aeolian Islands is thought to have sailed between Rome and Carthage sometime between 218 and 210 B.C.

WWII Pilot Found Buried in Italian Corn Field at Discovery
Italian Lieutenant Guerrino Bortolani died in an air fight with U.S. pilots in 1944. After narrowing down the suspected crash site, the 27 year old's remains were found 13 feet underground sitting on his parachute in the cockpit.

"Fasting specialist" Dr. Linda Hazzard was responsible for the deaths of nearly a dozen patients after suggesting they fast for an indefinite period of time. She would then appoint herself as executor of their estate and get mad rich.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

King Tut's 'Virtual Autopsy' is Visual Calamity

Remember when you didn't know what certain historical figures really looked like and were left to your imagination to visualize their physicality? Handsome dark-haired kings, rugged buff pioneers, beautiful mysterious assassins... Those were good times. Simpler times. Magical times. Time spent daydreaming of the physical makeup of people like Ötzi the Iceman and Richard III are a thing of the past, as we are now left with nightmare-inducing re-creations based on extracted DNA.

Image sources: History and Daily Mail

See what I mean?

In the latest physical ruination artistic rendering of an important historical figure, everyone's favorite boy king is front and center. Based on new CT scans and DNA analysis, the resulting image of the Egyptian King Tut is pretty gross.

Image source: Discovery

Really gross. Tut died 3,300 years ago at around the age of 19 and had a plethora of health issues including traces of malaria and a bone disorder which impeded walking. The recent testing also concludes that Tut had a club foot, an overbite, and "womanly" hips. This is what happens when your wife is your sister and your mother is your aunt.

The ailments that Tut suffered from are as numerous as the theories that surround his cause of death. Did he fall from a chariot? Was he murdered? Epilepsy? Sickle-cell anemia? Gynecomastia? Deadly leg infection? Death by hippo?

Who knows? All we know is that the king once synonymous with bling is now a fugly creature in a diaper in our collective memory.