Rhodes, Ba’al, Bel, and the destruction of heritage

In 2015, ‘so-called’ IS militants captured the ancient city of Palmyra. They promptly destroyed some of the most historic buildings in the world, using the destruction as part of elaborate executions for added levels of atrocity. At the centre of this, was the temple of Bel (or Ba’al, I am confused about this point). To most in historical circles, this destruction was particularly upsetting. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons I have avoided writing about it until now.

However, to put a positive spin on such a shitty story, it’s nice to know that part of that temple is to be recreated as part of a temporary exhibit in Trafalgar Square, London.

(And if one positive story isn’t enough, you should also check out the Army, which is signing up ‘monuments men’ to go into war zones and rescue at-risk heritage.)

However, this is not the only time in recent history where the subject of destroying historical objects has reared its head. In America, over the last year, the subject of race relations on campus has been especially heated. Among the many changes that students are demanding is the removal of mascots, crests, statues and names of racist founders. This mirrors the banning of Confederate flags as symbols of white supremacy.

In the UK, one of the focal figures for this campaign is Cecil Rhodes, a man who played a huge role in the development of the British Empire. He was also, as were many of his peers, massively racially prejudiced. Fun fact; he also started the De Beers diamond company, who are also pretty shady characters. But, he also gave a lot of his money to education, including things like the ‘Rhodes Scholarships’, which has provided more than a few future heads of state with the chance to study at Oxford University.

This is what the UK’s imperial history looks like; a fat white dude who probably rendered at least one species of animal extinct

So, should Oxford University tear down Rhodes’ statue? Think very carefully, because if you said ‘yes’, that’s a similar sort of logic to that of those ‘so-called’ IS chaps. Granted, you probably weren’t going to murder anyone in the process, but that’s because you’re actually a pretty decent person, rather than a homicide-tourist.

IS destroys statues, temples and ancient monuments because these don’t agree with the IS philosophy. Are we going to damn the memory of our own historical figures because they don’t agree with our modern philosophy? On a day when Germany is finally reprinting Mein Kampf, should we monumentalise only our heroes? Or should our villains stay on plinths as well, so that we might never forget them?

This will always be an impassioned subject. We remember when Iraq was overthrown, images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled. However, in the Ukraine, which is currently still engaged in conflict with Russia, a different reaction has taken place. Rather than tear down one statue of Lenin, a local artist has turned it into something radically different:

Lenin Vader Statue

Perhaps the best way to maintain our history, is to accept that it did happen, but that it can still be relevant to the world we live in today.

3 Films That Shamelessly Rip Off Classic Literature

A couple of years ago, a guy called Christopher Booker came up with a theory that there are only seven (7) basic stories in existence. You’ve probably heard of it. According to Chrissy B, all the tales you know are based on these seven (7). No more, no less. Enterprising geniuses have since whittled this number down. But that generally means removing parallel points ’til all you have left is the theory of one story, wherein all you can say is that *plot happens*, which isn’t really all that genius.

However! If, like me, you enjoy watching films, you may have noticed that some of them seem oddly familiar. First, there’s this:

Pulp Fiction is Arthurian Legend

OK, I can sort-of see what’s going on here. Tarantino likes to borrow heavily from other genres. That said, it’s usually Hong Kong cinema and Westerns, right? There are a whole bunch of other things going on which rather undermine this theory. I’m pretty sure Arthurian legend doesn’t include sex dungeons or shoving family heirlooms into bodily orifices. But it’s true, it has been a while since I last read any, and the last adaptation I saw was Merlin, which, as a BBC show, probably wouldn’t depict that stuff anyway. On the other hand, this does actually lay on the religious side of things, which Merlin avoided completely, so what the hell, we’ll give it a pass. If nothing else, this does give a reason for the contrived way Vincent Vega ends up on a date with Mia Wallace.

O Brother Where Art Thou is Homer’s Odyssey

This one is no secret. The Coen brothers made plenty of allusions to their literary inspiration across the length and breath of this film. Everything from the hero’s name ‘Ulysses’ (the Roman version of ‘Odysseus’) to their adventures on the road. They are waylaid by sirens, assaulted by a one-eyed ‘cyclops’ and eventually have to see off a suitor who has been hanging round the hero’s wife.

Ulysses is supposed to be a smart guy, but in this scene, as throughout the movie, his biggest obstacle is water. Early on in the film he passes up the chance to get baptised, and is pursued by a policeman who is described as ‘the devil’. In this scene, three very wet sirens seduce and drug them. In the penultimate scene, he is caught in a flash flood. He survives by clinging to the remains of his old life, in the same manner as an Odyssean shipwreck.

Star Wars is the Downfall of the Roman Republic

Science fiction has been massively influenced by classical literature. Take, for example Star Trek, with its Romulans, Vulcans and James *Tiberius* Kirk. But, perhaps a better example is Star Wars, which borrows from both Roman history – not to mention the ‘immaculate conception’ of Anakin Skywalker.

What’s that? You want examples? Well alllllllrighty then! Darth Vader is Julius Caesar. Both men were generals, who were a little overconfident in their abilities. Sure, both of them dabbled in politics, but they made their names in conflict situations. Furthermore, when they want to build their power, they do it through alliances. Even after passing his Jedi trials, Anakin is still hanging out with Obi Wan, and when he goes over to the dark side, it is to play an important role in a governing partnership with Darth Sidious (Always two, there are!).

Luke Skywalker is Caesar’s rumoured son Brutus blended with Caesar’s adopted son Octavian. Brutus and Caesar ended up on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but their fortunes were very much intertwined. Brutus was one of Caesar’s killers, whereas Darth Vader had a late change of heart, and gave his life to save his son. It is unknown whether Brutus actually knew or believed the rumours about his parentage, but HBO covers the subject pretty well. Sure, it’s no “I am your father.” But nothing is. And if Luke is Brutus, then Padmé Amidala represents Servilia, who was Caesar’s long-term on-the-sly shag buddy and paramour, as well as Brutus’ mother.

Han Solo is Mark Anthony. In the expanded universe, Han starts out as a beggar and pickpocket who subsequently joins the Imperial navy. Likewise, Mark Anthony was a plebian, who ran with street gangs as a teen, and ended up in the Roman army.Either way, after Caesar’s death he joined up with Octavian and one other dude to form a new government. Han also marries princess Leia, who is the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and the Sister of Luke Skywalker. Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor was the fourth of Mark Anthony’s five wives. And, yep, even that incest thing is paralleled.

Modern stories borrow heavily from history and classic literature, just as Shakespeare borrowed from Ovid. But it’s down to the individuals to decide whether those storylines are cleverly re-worked, or just lazily rehashed. If you have any other ideas, please let me know in the comments section.

A Bayeux Brofist

I first spotted the ‘Lucas, I am thy father‘ Star Wars-Bayeux Tapestry mash-up meme a while back, and I chuckled to myself, and carried on about my business. However, I have subsequently learned that this wasn’t a one-off, but a glorious conclusion to the Bildwirkerey von Bayeux storytelling project. I saw the URL, I followed the path. It was awesome.

Here’s what I came up with:

Bayeux Bros
This one owes some inspiration to this Hark! A Vagrant strip

Alright, not the most awesome start, but the toolkit is actually pretty limiting. Sure the Bayeux Tapestry is pretty long, but if I want to recreate a Norman Avengers team, can I find the Hulk and Iron Man? No. So there are some limitations.

Bayuex Batman

I mean, get it together guys. People need this kit. For… reasons, and stuff. That said, a lot of the inspiration can come directly from the tools themselves. I mean, check out this guy:

Bayeux Thriller

So, yeah… That was my weekend. How about you?

A Quiet Word With: Shakespeare’s Star Wars writer Ian Doescher

Last week we interviewed Nice Peter from Epic Rap Battles of History and, continuing the trend of talking to lovely Americans who are doing interesting things with history, this week we are talking to Ian Doescher, the man behind ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’. Just so you can revel in that a little bit more, let me hit you with some play titles; ‘Verily, a New Hope’; ‘The Empire Striketh Back’; ‘The Jedi Doth Return’. Seriously, this is awesome, and if I need to tell you that, you definitely need to read this blog more.

Shakespeare's Star Wars writer Ian Doescher
Shakespeare’s Star Wars writer Ian Doescher

History Mine: How much additional research into Shakespeare and Star Wars did you have to do for this project?

Ian Doescher: Not a lot — almost all of the Shakespearean references I used were stored in my head from having read or seen the plays. More research actually went into getting Star Wars right. I used the online script to get the names of minor characters correct, and to make sure some of the lines were right. When it was time to write the educator’s guide, I also did some checking into the terms for various literary devices used by Shakespeare.

HM: You are quite irreverent with the source material where other authors might have been tempted to play it straight-faced and let the humour come from the contrast. How important was that editorial freedom to you?

ID: All along, this was a project that was meant to be fun. I don’t know that you could write a straight Shakespearean take on Star Wars and expect it to come off seriously. But the editorial freedom you’re referring to was also a gift given to me early on by Lucasfilm. When I wrote the first draft of the first act, I stayed very close to the original movie in terms of plot line, dialogue, and so on. Lucasfilm reviewed that first act and responded by saying that they liked what I had done so far, but wanted me to feel free to have some fun with it and take the book outside the bounds of the movie. What a great gift to give a writer! After that, I added in more soliloquies and asides, and things like R2-D2 breaking into English.

HM: Why did you decide to publish as a script rather than in any other medium (for example, as a book or a touring play)?

ID: My inspiration was really just the way that Shakespeare’s plays appear in print. I’m a big fan of the Arden Shakespeare series, so I wanted the book to approximate that look as much as possible. Arden isn’t a version of the plays that is meant to be performed; they are meant to be read. Similarly, as I wroteWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars I actually never thought of it as a play to be performed. In my mind, it was always going to be a book. But I wanted that book to look like a Shakespearean play as much as possible (for that reason, adding in the line numbers was very important to me!).

HM: How did you manage to square copyright?

ID: Dumb luck. After I had the idea for the book, I approached Quirk Books because I knew they had published several mash-ups. Once they were on board, they took that first version of act one to Lucasfilm. Once I had satisfied Lucasfilm that I could play with the script more and have fun with it, Lucasfilm was prepared to work out the licensing deal with Quirk. From there, I’m pretty much blissfully unaware of the details. But I do know I am lucky to have had Quirk trying to make the deal on my behalf instead of approaching Lucasfilm myself, which would have been more difficult.

HM: Where will you go after the original trilogy?

ID: I don’t know how many more Shakespearean parodies the world has interest in. That said, if someone approached me to do something like William Shakespeare’s Star Trek or William Shakespeare’s The Godfather, I would probably say yes. In the meantime, I’m working on a new project that is in some ways a natural next step from William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, but is also very much its own thing.

HM: You are now a bestselling author; could you ever have imagined doing it this way?

ID: Absolutely not. I always hoped I might publish a book, but because of my academic background I thought it might be an academic book. I never would have guessed I would end up on the New York Times bestseller list, and certainly not in the hardcover fiction category. It has been both an exciting and a humbling experience.

Thankyou Ian! If anyone know’s anyone else I should interview, please get in touch (particularly if they aren’t male, white or American – represent yo)!