Sign of the Consummate Nerd:

Today, I handed in my thesis. I know *exactly* where the major problem is. But on the other hand I’m reasonably certain where all the good bits are, and there’s more good bits than problem. And it has a pretty title page, that has to count for something.

Anyhoo. That wasn’t the thing I came here to tell you. I came here to tell you that, if you ever had doubts about my academic nerdery, it will be dispelled when I tell you what I did to ‘reward’ myself for finishing my thesis.

I bought books. Which is to be expected, for a book addict. But I bought academic books. I couldn’t help it! The Co-Op Bookstore had a sale on!

I bought two copies of McCluskey’s Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, for less than ten dollars each (one for me and one for the college library). And, what’s better:

The Lettres Gothiques edition of Chretien’s Conte du Graal, for about a fifth of the RRP, and the Pauphilet edition of La Queste del Saint Graal, for about a fifth of its RRP.

I must be some kind of masochist. Buying academic books as a reward for writing a thesis. MAD. But they’re so interesting!

The Nesting Habits of the Thesis!Bird…

Meli just posted a photo of her academic workspace- I like the look of the desk, with the glass top and space to slide things under it :). My desk is rather boring, having only a computer, pens, a phone, a box of tea, and assorted Things I Have Not Yet Put Away lurking on it.

Instead, have a photo of the nest I had built for myself in the college library last weekend:

It looks quite spacious, but that’s because I was the only person left down there when I took the photo. For most of the weeked, K had her essay-fortifications built opposite me, and various other people were occupying the far end of the table.

On the far end of the desk, observe my review copy of the new Brepols book on Old English Homilies:

I was sitting here at 2am, minding my own business and thesis-ing away into the wee hours of Sunday morning… when my solitude was interrupted by two stark-naked men, whose clothes had apparently been stolen by a college resident. They saw fit to sit down and have a long-drawn out chat with me, while various senior sorts of residents tried to extract information like who the hell were they, why were they here, and how precisely did they intend to get home while stark naked?

Your Semi-Medieval Humour for Today is…

> REYKJAVIK (AP) — Snorri Sturluson, a 12th-century Icelandic poet,
> today filed suit against J.R.R. Tolkien for plagiarizing dwarf-names
> from his work, The Prose Edda.

> Mr. Sturluson, who emerged from a volcano in western Iceland where
> he has been hibernating for 800 years, said that he had only recently
> learned of the similarities between his work and Prof. Tolkien’s The
> Hobbit.

> “Just look at it,” said Mr. Sturluson when interviewed today. “I’ve
> got a Thorin; he’s got a Thorin. I’ve got a Gandalf; he’s got a
> Gandalf. I’ve got Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, and Ori: so has
> he. Coincidence? I think not!”

Full report at calimac’s livejournal.

Still ranting…

In case anyone’s interested in the fate of the Internet in Australia, I have another post on how the proposed filtering is SUPPOSED to work, but won’t. And, haha, guess what? Even if it DOES work, it won’t prevent any of the government’s identified top-five threats to children online. WTF, K-Rudd, WTF?

(For the uninformed, K-Rudd, AKA the Ruddbot, aka Keven 747, is sometimes known as Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia. In Australia, disrespecting politicians is a national sport.)

There are still no major news stories on this in the Australian media, and the government haven’t released any official details. I’m getting my information from Electronic Frontiers Australia, who have done quite a lot of background research.

The best part of thesis writing…

I just wrote the most satisfying piece of thesis, bar none. No, not the final sentence, although I’ve written that too (in fact, I’m not sure about it, and will probably spend the next week fiddling with it).

The best part was, in fact, not the pretty frontispiece with Wulfstan’s handwriting on it, nor the title page (whoo! I have a title). ‘Twas the acknowledgements.

And because I’m feeling so full of affection and enthusiasm for all those so acknowledged, let me reproduce that paragraph here:

I wish to sincerely thank Dr Daniel Anlezark for his invaluable constructive input in supervision of this thesis, and for the unerring patience with which said input has been delivered. Furthermore, I wish to thank Dr Melanie Heyworth for several years of excellent and exacting teaching, in addition to much appreciated mentoring and assistance in matters academic. Thanks also go to Associate Professor John Pryor, for first introducing me to the marvelous world of medieval studies, and for enouraging me in further study. Finally, thanks must go to Drs Alex Jones, Lawrence Warner, David Juste, and the members of the Centre for Medieval Studies, Old English Reading Group and Middle English Reading Group at the Universtity of Sydney, without whose assistance, encouragement and friendship my university experience would have been considerably less rich.

So there. These people are unerringly, unbelievably fabulous, and if I’m glad of nothing else, I’m glad I did this because it meant I got to work with them.

Look! A Distraction!

While I’m engaged in a probably-doomed effort to finish my thesis in the next twelve hours, you should all go over here. Eggs Maledict, another of our nutty crowd of wannabe medievalists at USyd, has a little rant about how ‘history from below’ hasn’t penetrated the ranks of medieval boy history military historians.

Delbrück, the Clausewitz-ian (my term, clearly) historian, decided that medieval warfare was essentially individualist, primitive and stupid. His entire writing on the topic displays poor use of sources and a number of conclusions based on faulty assumptions. Verbruggen cut Delbrück to pieces in his work, but it’s been almost ignored by modern historians. I have my own conspiracy theories about this which relate to another ‘great’ historian of medieval warfare, Smail. He published shortly after Verbruggen and somehow managed to completely eclipse the Belgian, who, in an edited and expanded edition of his original work, showed a number of holes in Smail’s work. Almost no-one acknowledges Verbruggen, which is strange, because he makes his arguments much more incisively than Smail, particularly in his criticism of Delbrück; Verbruggen is especially sharp on Delbrück’s use of sources and suggests that the German lacked familiarity with them, being over-reliant on his students.

You tell ’em, Eggs :D. And better you than me: I’ll be over here with my early 11th century manuscript historians.

ED: Oh, and while we’re at it, if you follow this link you will find that K has a “Who’s Who In The Holy Land From 1174 to 1187” type post.

Evolving Mythology: Arthurian Fanfic and Medieval Tradition

I don’t have here the jotting books I had with me through high school, or I’d quote to you directly from  Kevin Crossley- Holland’s “The King Who Was And Will Be”, an illustrated miscellany of athurian legend and medieval culture designed for kids of around thirteen. Something he said in the introduction stuck with me to this day (sadly, i can no longer quote it directly from memory): Camelot was never a place. Camelot has always been in people’s minds and hearts, never on a map. We don’t need to ask where or when Camelot was: we need to ask what it meant and what it means now.

You don’t need to have read much modern Arthurian fantasy to know that Camelot tells us more about the author’s time than Arthur’s: T.H. White ruined a good story with a lot of pondering about power and nationhood, during and following World War Two; Marion Zimmer Bradley put together cringe-worthy New Age Celtomania with criticisms of Christianity and a laudable desire to see stronger female characters; don’t ask me what the 2004 movie says about modern society, aside from the fact that we like to see Keira Knightley running into battle dressed in leather and blue paint.

On discovering the purist joys of medieval lit, I thought to wash my hands of such terrible inauthentic modern creations. Unfortunately, one can only spend so long with high medieval texts before realising that they are all in connection with each other: poets and authors create and recreate characters, extend one anothers’ stories, and recast old tales in new ways. As Hannah pointed out the other day, the late Middle English poem The Grene Knight reads like bad, bad SGGK fanfiction: but even our best texts don’t stand in a vacuum. I am increasingly convinced that the Gawain of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is substantially the same as Chretien’s Gawain, and that our Gawain’s adventures in a watery forest chapel are in some way connected to and commenting on Yvain’s adventures in a simiilar setting. Thomas Malory is fabulous, but his work is largely a compilation of earlier poets’ tales, with considerable effort put into ironing out the inconsistencies.

This is what mythology does: it is recast and retold, adapted to the tastes of new authors and new audiences. Most of you know that there’s a flourishing market for fantasy novels in general out there, and a sizeable corner of that market for Arthurian fantasy. Today, I shall bring you a few recommendations as to the best of Arthurian fanfic: non-professional stories (although some are by professional writers under psuedonyms) written for the author’s personal entertainment and/or for particular online audiences. There’s some truly horrific writing out there on the internet, and Arthurian fandom is no exception. But there is also some very, very very good writing out there. This is people taking up Arthurian legend- starting from medieval sources or from Marion Zimmer Bradley- and making it their own.

The best place I’ve found yet for Arthurian fic online is the aptly named LJ community arthurian_fic. Go, browse. Do be warned that, like all Arthurian lit, these works reflect the concerns and interests of their authors and audiences. Fandoms interests include, but are not limited to: romance, strong female characters, slash and lots of it (slash being m/m or, sometimes, f/f pairings), angst, serious literary commentary, dark and hopeless situations, and porn. All fics are posted under cuts or with links to other websites, so pay attention to the pairing and rating before you click to read.

In my opinion, the best medieval fic in the business is written by irisbleufic. She knows her medieval source texts well, and writes Roland/Oliver and Gawain/Bertilak. I heartily recommend Men Well Met, a retelling of parts of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written for the Yuletide 2005 Challenge. It’s work-safe, and lightly alliterated. The description she gives on the Yuletide database is: I’d like to suggest that there is more than one sequence of seduction scenes in the narrative, and I’m not referring to the parallel hunts, either. Happy Yule! (Rated PG-13)

Another excellent piece is Written in the Stars, by odette_river: Morgan considers her brother Arthur. Rated PG-13 for incest.

The Good That Won’t Come Out by ladybedivere is a delightful piece, from the point of view of Sir Bedivere, about age, wisdom and what makes a knight worthy. Rated PG.

And my absolute favourite, Their Mouths Were Fire, a 200 word drabble by Mhari. It’s rated R, because it’s set in the middle of a sex scene: its pairing is Mordred/Galahad, and it’s from Galahad’s POV. A beautiful and delicate exploration of the space between the good knight and the bad, between Arthur’s son and Lancelot’s. Galahad has always been my favourite Grail character, and it’s nice to see him written as something other than a total wet blanket.

So there you have it. Arthurian legend is alive and flourishing on the interwubs. 🙂