Bruckheimer Make Boom with the “Real” King Arthur (2004)

I’ve said it before, in talking about the brilliance of Firelord, Parke Godwin’s novel of Arthur, that I can trace my choice of professional study, at some deep level, to a love of Arthur and his knights. Sure, Arthur is kind of a nebbish in a lot of the tales—which makes me all the more amazed at what Godwin did with him—but there’s just a lot of great stuff in the vast mythic complex that surrounds him.

King Arthur, as I tell my students, is like a little snowball rolled off the top of a tall, snowy peak. It gathers snow to it as it rolls, getting bigger and bigger until it’s really hard to find any trace of the original little clump of stuff that started it off.

Which is one way of explaining why anyone who tells you they know who the real King Arthur was… is ...

Assassin’s Creed Origins Makes Cleopatra’s Egypt Real

I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, so this won’t be your typical video game review.

I don’t think so, anyway. Because I don’t read video game reviews, either.

A couple years ago I bought an Xbox One for the family. I used it for the Blu-Ray player and Pandora. The kids used it for Minecraft.

The idea that I would use it for gaming wasn’t too much on my radar.

Not that I haven’t played games before. I’m not a n00b, kidz. (Please do picture your friend’s dad saying this, preferably whilst throwing ‘signs’, yo.)

It’s just that … well, I’m sorta old. And my own previous video game loves were largely of two varieties. Back in my NES days, I loved Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which in my PC days morphed into an abiding love of Civ-style games (full-add-on Civ4 is ...

Medieval Movie Cliché Bingo: Hayden Christensen and Nicolas Cage Go to China in Outcast

Today I’ll be taking a look at Outcast, a 2014 movie that a medieval colleague suggested I watch. He was laughing as he said it. I’m not sure if he wishes me ill or not.

Let’s see what the plot is, according to my iPhone:

Students: “I don’t need to learn another language. I have Google Translate.”

I see. Well, that’s … painful on several different grammatical levels. Gonna have to start the movie up to see if I can sort out something better. Here goes…

Opening shots are of Hayden Christensen dressed up like a crusader (chortle). He’s doing a Hayden Christensen-y voiceover about wishing for forgiveness while exuding very Hayden Christensen-y angst…which reminds me how Hayden Christensen-y he was in the Prequels That Must Not Be Named.

So we aren’t really starting off on the right foot, here.

Not pictured: Mr. Christensen’s stylist.

Okay, we’re getting ...

The Medieval Origins of Easter Traditions

Have you ever wondered just what a rabbit has to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Or what the word “Easter” really means? And, for that matter, what’s with all the eggs? Could it be, as Jon Stewart once wondered, that it’s because Jesus was allergic to eggs?

Alas, no. But how we got to all this egg and bunny business is nevertheless a cool and rather medieval story.

But before we get to the Middle Ages, there’s some earlier Christian history and theology to unpack to understand Easter’s importance and its resulting traditions. I’ll try to keep this as succinct (and objective) as I can.

Rome and Messiahs

12th Century icon of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem, Crucifixion, and Resurrection

Aside from a fringe of folks who subscribe to the Christ Myth Theory, there’s near universal scholarly consensus that a Palestinian Jew named Jesus preached in the first ...

Lessons in Fantasy Languages from Harry Potter and The Hobbit

Recently, I was honored to give a paper at the annual conference of the Philological Association of the Carolinas. I give a lot of lectures in a lot of venues on a lot of subjects—only one week before I was giving a keynote to a medical society on the battle head-wounds of David II of Scotland and Henry V of England—but this particular talk was one that I thought might interest y’all hereabouts: it was about using Harry Potter and The Hobbit to teach philology.

If you don’t know, philology is, broadly speaking, the study of language within (mostly) textual contexts. Philologists look at how languages form, how they relate to one another, how they impart meaning … and how we can know any of that at all. By its nature it brings together a diverse swath of academic interests from textual criticism, linguistics, and history and unites them into ...

Robin Hood Porn: The Virgins of Sherwood Forest

Content warning: This is a review of a medieval film that is offensive to every notion of history.

Oh, also, it’s a porn.

Additional content warning: (Don’t worry, this article is safe-for-work.)

The year 2000 brought us a great many odd things. Y2K freak-outs, Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” and (drum-roll, please) the Robin Hood porn The Virgins of Sherwood Forest, which was no doubt trying to capitalize on whatever was left of the Prince of Mullets excitement by combining it with porn.

No, Mom. It’s not hard porn. It’s, um, soft porn. Skinemax porn.

That means it has a plot. A real, actual plot.

Here it is: a down-on-her-luck low-budget film-director bonks her noggin (PHRASING!) and dreams she’s living in Sherwood Forest. Adventure ensues as she learns that the men of Sherwood are hardly the virtuous heroes of old.

I’m not saying it’s a great plot, mind ...

Robin Hood Porn: The Virgins of Sherwood Forest

Content warning: This is a review of a medieval film that is offensive to every notion of history.

Oh, also, it’s a porn.

Additional content warning: (Don’t worry, this article is safe-for-work.)

The year 2000 brought us a great many odd things. Y2K freak-outs, Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” and (drum-roll, please) the Robin Hood porn The Virgins of Sherwood Forest, which was no doubt trying to capitalize on whatever was left of the Prince of Mullets excitement by combining it with porn.

No, Mom. It’s not hard porn. It’s, um, soft porn. Skinemax porn.

That means it has a plot. A real, actual plot.

Here it is: a down-on-her-luck low-budget film-director bonks her noggin (PHRASING!) and dreams she’s living in Sherwood Forest. Adventure ensues as she learns that the men of Sherwood are hardly the virtuous heroes of old.

I’m not saying it’s a great plot, mind ...

Dragon Blade: Jackie Chan and John Cusack Reinvent History on the Silk Road

Oh my god.

Did you know that in 2015 John Cusack and Adrien Brody made a movie with Jackie friggin Chan about a missing Roman legion along the fabled Silk Road?

Hell yeah it exists. It’s called Dragon Blade (dir. Daniel Lee). It is, as the opening titles say, a story “inspired by true events.”

Which means, of course, it is going to be entirely bonkers.

I love that tag line.

The plot … well, I’ve paused the movie about 15 minutes in and I can tell you that it’s the year 50 BC (thanks, opening titles!). A Roman legion commanded by headband-wearing John Cusack has randomly showed up at the gates of a decaying walled city in the desert somewhere on the Silk Road that’s commanded by some guy whose name I didn’t catch … and Jackie Chan is there and he’s a prisoner but he’s also ...

Pathfinder: White Savior Nonsense, Viking Edition

A few weeks ago I ranked my personal top-five Beowulf films, and among them was Outlander, a semi-obscure 2008 alien-meets-Beowulf film starring Jim Caviezel. It ranked #3 not because I think it’s a very good film but because Beowulf films (outside of the amazing 13th Warrior) generally suck for one reason or another.

Anyway, every time I try to think of Outlander I find myself confusing it with Pathfinder, a 2007 film directed by Marcus Nispel starring Karl Urban. Since I was thinking about the one, I started thinking about the other and, well, here we are.

Pathfinder: How to fill a movie poster with action and stuff.

Pathfinder is loosely (oh so very loosely) based upon a historical fact: around the year 1000, Vikings made their way from Greenland to the shores of North America. They established a settlement, explored a little, and ...

Thor: Ragnarok vs. the Real Ragnarök

Ah-ah, ah!
Ah-ah, ah!

First, let me say that Thor: Ragnarok (2017; dir. Taika Waititi) is awesome. I’m delighted more each time I see it. Among Marvel films it’s no doubt top-5 for me. Yeah, I know that kind of statement is a fine way to pick a fight, but I really want to emphasize how I was blown away by the film from top to bottom.

This isn’t going to be a review of the film in any traditional sense, though. You’ve got one already.

I’m going to talk instead about the real Thor and the real Ragnarök. And to help me out, I’ve enlisted the help of my son, who is eleven years old and has read more than a few books on Norse mythology. (Like most of the huddled masses who watched Thor: Ragnarok, we’re gonna head straight from film to mythology and skip the comics ...

Beowulf on the Big Screen: Good, Bad, and Even Worse

I don’t want to make you jealous or anything, but at least once a year I get to teach Beowulf.

I know, I know. You probably skimmed it once in some first-year literature survey class and you didn’t like it and … friends, you’re missing out. Beowulf is amazing. There’s a damn good reason that J.R.R. Tolkien was fascinated with it his whole life.

(True story: I spent days in the Tolkien Archives poring over his handwritten translations of the poem, annotations, and lecture notes. The recent Beowulf volume put out by the Tolkien Estate does not do the professor’s work justice.)

First page of Beowulf in the manuscript. Being able to read this is tremendously good at parties, I can assure you.

The thing is, though, that most people don’t really get how deeply and powerfully resonant Beowulf remains—over a thousand years since monks wrote our ...

My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale

If you’ve been following this column at all, you know that I enjoy teaching folks about the history of the real Middle Ages by pointing out the real issues with the reel Middle Ages.

This often leads to the misconceptions that I don’t “get” that many movies are meant to be “just fantasy” or that I hate most medieval movies. To such keen criticisms, I would reply that I totally get that fantasies aren’t meant to be historically accurate (though they clearly utilize that history and, fantasy or not, “teach” audiences about it), and oh my god I totally enjoy most medieval movies.

No. Scratch that. I adore most medieval movies — even the ones that cause me to roll my eyes at their historical inaccuracies.

When I’m asked what my favorite medieval movie is, though, my answer is always the same: A Knight’s Tale (dir. Brian Helgeland, 2001). Largely ...

The Medieval Origins of Christmas Traditions

I’m smelling mulled cider on the stove, seeing mistletoe in the entryway, and hearing carols carried upon the wind. It’s Christmas time, so let’s talk about some of the origins behind my favorite holiday.

I know, I know. The holiday is about the birth of Jesus. And sure enough, “Cristes maesse” is first recorded in English in 1038 for “Christ’s Mass,” the mass held to honor of the birth of Jesus. “He’s the reason for the season,” as the church signs often say.

Except … maybe not this season. The Bible doesn’t give any actual date for the birth of Jesus. About the only biblical clue we have about the date is that, according to Luke 2:8, the shepherds were still residing in the field. Not much to go on, though our earliest recorded dates for the birth of Christ fall in line with more likely times for shepherds to ...

A 17th-century Ukrainian icon. I love the shepherd doffing his cap. Such a gent!
Antoine Callet, 'Saturnalia' (1783)
Chi-Rho page of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
I love this.

Pilgrims and Rocks and the Origins of Thanksgiving

I intended to write an “origins of Thanksgiving” post last year, but the release of The Gates of Hell and day-job matters got in the way. I promised in a subsequent “Origins of Xmas” post that I’d do it next year, which a reader has reminded me is now this year … so here we go!

When we think of the historical origins of Thanksgiving, we tend to get an image like the one above.Praying Pilgrims and helpful Indians, amirite? By now we’ve distilled the images even further into simple symbolism that pre-school kids can craft in construction paper. For the pilgrims: black hats with buckles upon them. For the Indians: loincloths and feathered headbands. Turkey with gravy on the table, and nostalgia about peace amid a religiosity of thankfulness.

It’s all lovely, and I quite like Thanksgiving, but its important to distinguish our modern conceptions from ...

Getting Medieval on Medieval Times

What do you get a medievalist for his (mumble)-second birthday?

A trip to the Middle Ages!


That’s right. My awesome wife—ahem, sorry, my lady—took me to Medieval Times, a dinner and entertainment show with “knights” and “swords” and … well, every noun in this article will probably need to be in quotation marks if I keep this up.

First off, I have to tell you that I had a blast.

The authenticity is real, people.

I mean, part of that was because my wife is mega-amazing and totally out of my league—hell, I don’t think we play the same sport—but also—

Go Yellow Knight!

Okay, yeah, I know, it’s ridiculous. Medieval Times is incredibly non-historical, and the action is essentially fake knights doing WWE choreography of pulled punches and planned swings. Oops, I fell over! Oh, I fell over again!

Seriously, there was so much flopping I felt like ...

History, Fantasy, and Weird Armor: Ladyhawke

I ran a poll a few months ago about which medieval movie folks wanted to see me to take on next, and the answer (by a thin margin) was Ladyhawke (1985), the classic fairy tale reimagining with Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauer, and Matthew Broderick. Thank the gods y’all didn’t set me onto Braveheart.

First, you should know that I’m not going to analyze this film’s deeper meanings. That’s not my shtick here. Leah Schnelbach already gave you just such an article, and it’s amazing.

This will stick to historical criticism, and we’ll still have plenty to talk about. Sorry/not sorry.

When I watch a movie for these articles, I take notes as the film proceeds. For Ladyhawke, my notes start off like this:

Medieval cells aren’t built like this at all.

Jeez… these outfits. Patches of mail. Fashion or could they not budget for more?

That’s a very nice ...

The Medieval Roots of Halloween

We’ve been knee-deep in pumpkin spice for weeks, now, which means (1) Starbucks may be part of a secret cabal intent on world domination through tasty means, and (2) Halloween is nigh. We all know what Halloween is these days—costumes and candy, pumpkins and fright nights—but that doesn’t mean the holiday makes sense. Sure, it’s fun to play dress-up and eat buckets of candy, but how did such a strange tradition start? Why do we do it on the same day every year? In short, where did this whole Halloween thing come from?

Well, like most awesome things (the medievalist said with all the bias), it begins in the Middle Ages.

How? Let’s start with the word and see: Halloween.

It’s a funny-looking word when you think about it, and it’s been spelled that way since at least 1785, when it appears as such in the poem “Halloween,” ...

"The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs" by Fra Angelico (c.1423-4)
And it works on zombies, too!
Dia de Muertas.
Mmmmmm … soul cakes!
Semi-skeletal, no?

Better Fiction Through Technology: Reconstructing the Lost City of Petra

I was 13 years old when I first became fascinated by the famous “Lost City” of Petra: about a week after its release, my parents took me to the movie theater and I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

Oh man, did I love that movie. Even today it’s in my list of top-ten favorite films. The acting, the direction, the music, the plot, the characterization, and even that meat-slap sound whenever Indy hit a bad guy… dang, I want to punch a Nazi just thinking about it.

My life as a professor is ever so slightly less exciting.

In addition to all that, I thought the incorporation of Real-World things was a fun and wonderful change from the rather fantastical turn of Temple of Doom. I mean, having Indy pop out of a sewer in the middle of a Venetian cafe (“Ah, Venice”) was positively delightful.

And ...

Jason Momoa Meets Robert E. Howard: Conan the Barbarian (2011 Remake)

So, Justice League is coming out soon. I’m semi-excited since (1) I friggin loved Wonder Woman, and (2) I hated most of the other DC movies. I’ll probably be seeing Justice League, though. Mostly because (1) I have a crush on Gal Gadot, and (2) my wife has a crush on Jason Momoa—though she does want me to note, for the record, that she likes the frontiers-y Momoa more than the clean-cut version. YMMV.

Anyway, in honor of this coming appearance of The Momoa, I sat down to watch 2011’s Conan the Barbarian, a remake of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film — this time starring Momoa as the titular hero from Robert Howard’s pulp-age novels. It was Momoa’s first big starring movie role, helped him land his fame-making role in Game of Thrones, and is your chance to see Khal Drogo Aquaman Conan shove his finger ...

Medieval Matters: Game of Thrones and the Problem with Dragonstone

So “Dragonstone,” this season’s first episode of HBO’s enormously popular series Game of Thrones, was a welcome relief from too many months without our beloved characters. I enjoyed it, as I always do. Good times. There’s one part, though, that was a bit of a shit show. And no, I don’t mean Sam’s montage or Ed Sheeran’s cameo. (I’m kidding, Ed! Your Hobbit theme remails one of the best things about those films.) SPOILERS Ahead. It was the part at the end of the episode: Dany’s arrival at Dragonstone. Shall we begin? Let me first say: this was cool. We’d been waiting for this moment since the show started. Dany’s been waiting almost her entire life. The visuals were stunning. The build-up, I thought, was perfectly on point. I applaud the amazing writers and directors for letting the moment unfold so deliberately. Spending such a long time on long ...