Tag Archives: medieval

Merlin (2008 TV Series)

BBC

AKA: The Adventures of Merlin

Status: Complete (5 seasons/65 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 (if I’m being honest about the show’s merits) or 6 of 5 (if I’m expressing my undying love of this amazing show)

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there are certain events which are so deeply a part of Arthurian legend that I can’t honestly consider them spoilers and as such, I may discuss the show’s treatment of them, at least a bit. So if you want a completely spoiler-free impression of this show, just go watch it . . . seriously, what are you waiting for?

Into the heart of Camelot, a kingdom where Uther its king has long made the practice of magic a capital offence, wanders a young man for whom magic is such an integral part of his being as his own breath. Merlin. He’s been sent by a desperate mother to be mentored by the one person she trusts, Uther’s court physician Gaius . . . but deeper and more ancient forces of destiny are at work than a mother’s worry. Merlin rapidly becomes fast friends with the Lady Morgana’s serving girl, Gwen, and just as rapidly gets on the bad side of the prattish prince Arthur. But just because Arthur’s a prat doesn’t mean Merlin wants to see him dead, so he manages to save the prince’s life (secretly using magic) and get himself rewarded by becoming the prince’s manservant (what an honor!). Destiny is at work, though, bringing these two together–the Once and Future King and Emrys, the greatest sorcerer to ever live who will help this king unite the land of Albion, little though they may know it. They may, in time, even become friends, although you’d be hard pressed to get Arthur to admit it.

I love Merlin so very much, and it’s one of those shows that gets better with time–both as you get further into the series and as you watch it again. Certainly, it has its faults (which will be discussed in a bit), but the characters grow on you so very much and their relationships are so rich that the problems with the show are easy to overlook (or at least I have found it so). Essentially, this show is a loose retelling of Arthurian legend–and I mean it when I say it’s a loose retelling. There are certain things that carry over strongly from the classic tales such as names/characters (Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Guinevere, Sir Gwaine, Lancelot, etc.) and events (for instance, you can probably guess how the story ends right from the beginning, the tragedies of Morgana and Mordred, etc.). There’s a lot of original material too, though; the Arthurian legends are only a rough framework for what is essentially an original story. As I said above, there are some things this show doesn’t do so amazingly. The first couple seasons can be a bit repetitive (there are memes; just saying) if you’re looking at the plot of each episode in relation to the other surrounding episodes. This does get better as the show progresses, and I also find that it becomes less noticeable as the characters and their relationships grow on you–the episode framework becomes a background on which the characters are displayed, rather than the main focus of the story. The passage of time is a bit strange and hard to keep track of, too; obviously, only about 5 years passes for the actors, but clearly more time does in the lives of the characters over the course of the show . . . it’s just hard to tell how much time, since the actors haven’t aged to match the passage of time (ignoring the times when Merlin goes old, which are fabulous). The other problem I’ve noticed (and I know I’m not the only one) is that certain characters, particularly Uther and Morgana, are (while brilliantly portrayed by their respective actors) written in an overly one-sided sort of way. For instance, I find it hard to believe that Uther could be so utterly single-minded in his hatred of magic as he is portrayed to be. And Morgana’s change of heart seems too abrupt, too lacking in internal conflict, even considering all that she went through to get to that point. But despite its faults, Merlin is one of my absolute favorite shows ever. Merlin’s character is just brilliantly portrayed (thank you, Colin Morgan), with enough internal conflict and richness of character to totally make up for any lacks elsewhere. And there are so many other brilliant characters–Arthur (obviously; Bradley’s work here is fabulous), Gwen (highly underrated; I adore her), Gaius(amazing mentor character), Gwaine (how can you not love him?!), Leon (also highly underrated), and so many others. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur is so good, too. You can clearly see how they both change over time through their growing friendship, going from basically despising each other to “you’re the only friend I have and I couldn’t bear to lose you.” There’s this great bromance between them, full of sass and humor and teasing, but stemming from a friendship that runs deep. And Colin and Bradley do such a great job of portraying this!!! There are plenty of other cool fantasy/legendary aspects of this show, heartbreaking plots, breathtakingly funny bits . . . but it’s their friendship that makes me love this show so very much.

Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, & Julian Murphy/Written by Julian Jones/Produced by Julie Gardner & Bethan Jones/Starring Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson, Anthony Head, Nathaniel Parker, & John Hurt/Music by Rob Lane & Rohan Stevenson

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The Inquisitor’s Tale

Author: Adam Gidwitzthe-inquisitors-tale

Illustrator: Hatem Aly

My rating: 5 of 5

The year is 1242, and one dark evening a disconnected group of travelers find themselves together in a small French countryside inn, trading stories to pass the time. Surprisingly, the one evening it seems that all their stories are part of a larger story, a story of three children with seemingly miraculous powers and their faithful dog who is revered as a saint by local peasants. And the tale doesn’t end with the miracles these children have performed, for the very king of France has now declared war against these children. Perhaps, through their interwoven tales, the travelers can puzzle out why such a thing would be.

I was deeply impressed by Gidwitz’s work on The Inquisitor’s Tale. The story is obviously well researched, emulating a storytelling style similar to that of Chaucer’s tales (but in prose), which adds an air of authenticity. It also makes the development of the plot quite interesting, although the pace is slower than that of many tales because of the style. The story draws heavily on both historical research and on the saints tales and folklore of the day, creating a tale that is equal parts historical fiction and fantasy. It’s quite appealing. Also appealing are the characters and the manner in which they develop over the course of the book, particularly after the four of them begin traveling together. Oddly enough, the author does at times choose to use terms which wouldn’t have been common (or even known at all) in 1242–like “allergic” for instance; however, this practice does serve to keep the writing more colloquial, which fits the setting. One of the most powerful and poignant aspects of this story is the way in which it addresses the issues of ignorance and hatred of the alien that were present in that particular place and time, discussing these issues in a way that makes the reader sorely aware of the similarity there is to the discord present in our own day. A painful reminder that we could save so much heartache if we could just learn from history. I also appreciated the way in which complex and difficult theological ideas were incorporated into the story and the way in which the plot tended, ultimately, towards hope and encouraging the reader to be the change we want to see in the world. Demographically, The Inquisitor’s Tale is intended for an upper middle-grade audience, but I think it is an incredible story for anyone that age or older.

 

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Galavant (2015 TV Series)

ABC Studiosgalavant

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Once upon a time, our hero Knight Galavant had it all: fame, success, the love of the fair Madalena. That is, until King Richard kidnapped Madalena and she chose fame and fortune over true love. So, our hero did what any good hero would–lost himself in drink and self pity. Which is where the spunky Princess Isabella found him when she brought him a quest to save her family and win back Madalena’s love. But the road to true love and success is never as smooth as it first looks, especially for the music-loving Galavant.

I think that Galavant is the sort of show to be extremely polarizing–some will adore it while others will think it’s utter rubbish. And I should say at the outset that, if you don’t like musicals, you should avoid this show, for sure. I have to compare it to a Disney movie in that regard; at any given moment, the cast is liable to burst out in song. Plus, you know, Alan Menken is hugely involved in the writing of the music, so there’s a strong Disney feel to it there also. Also, the whole focus on true love and basically the whole story line follow that feel as well. But in a more adult way (well, at least with more innuendo and language) that is oddly combined with a middle-school boys’ locker room flavor (with all the bodily noises and awkward sexuality that goes with that). Actually, looking at the story objectively, it sounds kind of awful, but in the moment, it’s kind of enjoyable. There’s a lot of humor, some of it actually funny. Plus a great deal of fourth wall breaking and commentary on current events. And the cast is actually well-picked for their roles. Personally, my favorite is Timothy Omundson, whose character is kind of pathetic and despicable both at the beginning but who grows wonderfully over the course of the two seasons. Also, he’s just a great actor, and it’s fun to get to hear him sing. So yeah, Galavant is definitely not for everyone, but if you enjoy musicals and Disney–and are interested in a more adult-focused story in that style–it might be worth trying.

Created by Dan Fogelman/Executive Producers  Dan Fogelman, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, Chris Koch, Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, &  John Fortenberry/Produced by Marshall Boone & Helen Flint/Music by Alan Menken, Christopher Lennertz, & Glenn Slater/Starring Joshua Sasse, Timothy Omundson, Vinnie Jones, Mallory Jansen, Karen David, & Luke Youngblood/Narrated by Ben Presley

Note: This series consists of 2 seasons with a total of 18 episodes.

 

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The Ballad of Sir Dinadan

Author: Gerald Morristhe ballad of sir dinadan

The Squires Tales, vol. 5

My rating: 4.5 of 5

All Dinadan really wants to do with his life is be a minstrel, writing great ballads and accompanying himself on his rebec. The chances of actually getting to do that are pretty slim, though, when you’re the disappointing second son of a nobleman knight and the younger brother of a legend. Tristan has never returned to their home in the eight years since he set off to seek his fortune, but the tale of his skill still reach his family and their father never tires of pointing out the differences between his sons. Finally, after being humiliatingly knighted by his drunken father, Dinadan rides off, taking little but his armor and his rebec, to seek his own fortune. For his own part, he would be well-content to ride along incognito, earning his way with his music, but fate seems to have different plans as he continues to get drawn into the affairs (worst of all, the love affairs) of those around him. And worse yet, when he finally does meet his brother Tristan, he finds an arrogant idiot who has somehow managed to get himself ridiculously obsessed with some equally idiotic queen by the name of Iseult–yet another absurd love affair for Dinadan to get dragged into. He’s well on the way to swearing off of love forever!

I love, love, love Morris’ Squires Tale books–they’re good for numerous, frequent re-reads and they’re equally engaging and funny every time. Plus, I love the way their insight into human nature often tells me something important about myself as I’m reading. In any case, although The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is technically the fifth volume, the books are only loosely connected, so there’s nothing to be lost by reading this one independently. As I said, the prose is remarkably well-written, insightful and funny both, without taking itself too seriously. Actually, this volume is probably less serious than many of the other volumes, in spite of its  roots in the tragedy of Tristan and Iseult. Dinadan’s character is very well developed, and as he is the sort of person to think that this sort of love is rather absurd, we do get a more ridiculous perspective on it than in some stories. It’s actually pretty refreshing, particularly the way in which Dinadan eventually comes to discover that he can have true friendship and love without necessarily having to be “in love” with all the absurdities that entails. I think I’ve mentioned before that an intentional singleness isn’t something books often address, and it’s nice to see an author brave enough to broach the topic. In any case, there’s lots of good fun and adventure outside of Tristan’s story as well, and some incredible character development also. I would highly recommend The Ballad of Sir Dinadan to anyone, say, 15+ who enjoys Arthurian legends and retellings.

NOTE: Sorry, I’m doing the reviews of this series out of order. I’ll fill in the gaps soon. But really, with this set, it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

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The Squire’s Tale

the squire's taleAuthor: Gerald Morris

The Squire’s Tales, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Imagine spending your entire childhood being raised by someone who can see the future as clearly as you see the past and to whom the past is as dim as the future is to you. You can imagine, it would give you a different perspective . . . and cause you to accept that when that person says something’s going to happen, it will. Thus it is that Terence, who has grown up with the unusual hermit Trevisant, doesn’t question the old hermit when young Gawain rides up to their hermitage and Trevisant declares he will one day be a great knight. Nor does Terence argue greatly when the hermit sends him packing to be Gawain’s squire. And thus begins an adventure that will span the reaches of Arthur’s kingdom and beyond . . . and a lifelong friendship, whatever protocol may say about the relations between knights and squires.

I love The Squire’s Tale; actually, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read it by now, or how many times I’m likely to read it in the future. This is a book that only gets better the more you read it, although it’s a delight from the first. This book is a refreshing conglomeration of random traditional stories about Sir Gawain, knit together into a single story told from the perspective of Gawain’s squire, Terence. I love what Morris does with the stories–they all work together well and are told with an immense sense of humor and good sense. Moreover, they showcase that which is absolutely best about this story: the characters, especially Gawain and Terence. They’re both just really enjoyable characters to read (and people I’d actually like to meet in real life!)–practical, good-humored, men of character and courage, insightful, and not over-ready to bow to social norms just because they’re the norm. This book is very clean, and would be absolutely appropriate for late elementary and up, but I think The Squire’s Tale will be appreciated by some adults even more than by children; I know I often find insight into who I am and why I do things when I read this book and the others in this series. In any case, if you haven’t read this yet, you should check it out!

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Bub or The Very Best Thing

Author/Illustrator: Natalie Babbittbub or the very best thing

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The King and Queen love their little son the Prince very much. They want to provide for him in every way and make sure he has the very best to grow up well. Trouble is, they’re not entirely sure what the Very Best Thing for the Prince would be. So they go around the castle, asking everyone they meet. Too bad they don’t listen to the little Prince; he’s had the answer right from the start . . . but even if they never actually put a name to the Very Best Thing, I think the King and Queen figure it out pretty well.

I’ve always known Natalie Babbitt for her fantasies for somewhat older children, like Tuck Everlasting and The Search for Delicious; I never knew she also wrote and illustrated picture books.  I really enjoyed Bub or The Very Best Thing. It’s a cute story about two parents who really want to raise their child well but aren’t quite sure how to go about it. The pictures are drawn/painted from actual models, and have a very realistic aspect. It’s interesting (kind of disconcerting, in my opinion) seeing this in conjunction with the medieval setting they’re found in. Although never particularly mentioned, there’s a big golden retriever who accompanies the family throughout the castle–a fun addition for children reading the book, but it’s weird for me to see this breed in a medieval setting. Did they actually even exist as a breed at that time? Still, a fun addition. Also, the way they go from one courtier to another, repeating the same routine each time, is the sort of pattern that works well with younger readers. And this is definitely intended for younger readers; the protagonist (the Prince) is about 2 to 3 years old, and I’d say the story is written for that age range up to maybe 5 years old.  I do think Bub is a cute and fun story, particularly as a read-aloud story for younger children.

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The Half-a-Moon Inn

Author: Paul Fleischman

Illustrator: Kathy Jacobi

On the eve of his twelfth birthday, Aaron is given the greatest responsibility of his life to date: he is left to stay at home overnight while his mother takes the wool she’s dyed and woven to market. It was supposed to be a quick overnight trip, but a snowstorm blows in, blocking the roads. Aaron doesn’t know when his mother’s coming home, or if she’s stuck on the roadside or been attacked by highwaymen. All in a worry, the mute boy packs his bags and goes out to find his mother. Troubles pile on troubles, however, as he finds himself lost in the woods, unable to ask for help among a society where only the educated can read and write. Even worse, when he arrives at the Half-a-Moon inn, hoping to get help, he finds himself instead captured and forced to labor for the evil innkeeper. Will he ever find his mother?

Paul Fleischman is truly a gifted author, as is shown clearly in this little gem, The Half-a-Moon Inn. This small story is a delightful adventure, packing a much greater punch than you would expect from a tale less than a hundred pages long. Fleischman builds the atmosphere brilliantly, crafting a story that’s engaging and original, yet not too scary for younger readers (I’d say, around 8+). The setting is a unique blend of historical fiction and tall tale, evoking a feeling of England in the late-medieval era, yet drawing in fantastic elements such as seeing people’s dreams playing across their eyes when they sleep. I know it sounds kind of odd, but it works. I would definitely recommend The Half-a-Moon Inn to basically all readers early elementary and up; it’s exciting and atmospheric, with just the right touch of scariness.

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