Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Gift of Arms and Creativity

Christmas is just one more sleep away. How exciting, for the kid in all of us who celebrate it. The last couple of weeks I have been up late fashioning shields and swords (the safe kind) for my own little ones. It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of fabric, empty wine boxes from the liquor store, wrapping paper rolls and a bit of creativity. When my little imps showed an interest in swords and shields my ears perked up and I got to work. Evenings, I’m a bleary-eyed elf working away as I watch historical movies.

Now, working with cardboard, fabric and loads of white glue is nowhere near the real deal, heating and pounding out some iron like Hephaestus gone mad. Not at all. But, one can tap into the sense of accomplishment of having created something closely resembling a sword and shield. I’ve gone medieval with rampant unicorns on the small triangular shields. Swords are of course, cruciform and short. You could however, just as easily make an oval Roman cavalry shield and spatha. The trick once these babies are opened up on Christmas morning will be to have my little ones battle a common enemy and not each other. I’m thinking they could fight back to back against a dragon of some sort, namely moi.

All right, that’s enough of the crazy history dad. For myself, I’m always happy to receive arms and armour for Christmas or any other occasion. The writer who endeavours to take on a battle scene needs to practice some moves – common now, that’s really fun! Seriously, you need to find out if your moves are realistic, unless you are writing historical fantasy, in which case you can crack the boundaries of realism.

But where does one buy arms and armour? There are loads of places on-line in Canada, the UK and the US. Another cornucopia of chivalric art is the re-enactor's fair. When I was living in Somerset, England, we went out to the Oxford Re-enactors Fair at Blackbird Leys which was an amazing event held bi-annually, deadly to our pocket books. If you are in the market for anything from period fabrics and broaches, to broadswords or full suits of gothic armour, this is definitely the place. I even purchased a wax tablet and bronze stylus which I used to get the feel of writing on one for the characters in my books. The possibilities are endless and you are supporting independent artists at the same time. It is a win/win situation.

Anyhow, whatever the Christmas wishes for your family or yourself, I wish everyone a fantastic holiday and a happy, healthy and of course, creative New Year in 2012. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Historicals at the Holidays

I can’t believe that the holidays are here and Winter, officially around the corner. Where did the autumn go? Renaissance Fairs and Harvest time festivities have faded into Fall memory and now the malls and high street shops are choked with mad shoppers attempting to spread holiday cheer in an orgy of buying and selling. The sales are on!

It feels good to get home after a rush hour packed with bag-wielding commuters who squeezed in a few errands on their all-too-fleeting lunch breaks. At home, the tree is lit and twinkling softly in the middle of the room, a little winter oasis. One of my favourite things to do if I have the chance at this pre-Christmas anticipatory time is to sit down with a good historical movie to wrap presents, write cards and enjoy a good glog of boozed up egg nog. It’s great with a splash of Metaxa!
I tend to gravitate toward the middle ages at Yuletide, though we shouldn’t forget Saturnalia. This past weekend whilst putting up some cedar garland (indoors, of course!) I enjoyed watching the old Ivanhoe version with Robert Taylor and then sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. I had forgotten how great that movie is, especially the battle at the end between Ivanhoe and Bois Guilbert. Or how about Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood? Sure, he wears weird green tights but, having watched it as a kid, I still chuckle when he swings in with his “Welcome to Sherwhood Forest!” line.

If you like Robert Taylor classics, don’t forget The Knights of the Round Table which also features Ava Gardner; another great flick that overcomes the cheesiness with some great chivalric ideals. Anything Arthurian is fine by me! If the 12th century is your thing, you won’t want to miss out on the film version of The Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Catherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine. There is phenomenal acting to be seen! Also, for a tale about a young Henry II, do see Becket, with Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton in the title role.

Now, if the middle ages are not quite your thing, then the classical period has loads of silver screen tributes to choose from such as Quo Vadis (Robert Taylor and Peter Ustinov), The Robe (Richard Burton), Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and of course Spartacus (Kirk Douglas); classics all and very atmospheric for some holiday quiet time. For the very patient among us, The Fall of the Roman Empire with Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer and Sofia Loren is a fantastic look at the reign of Commodus and forerunner to Gladiator, which is always great.

I could go on and on and on with all my historical movie recommendations so, I’ll stop myself here. There are so many to choose from! I certainly don’t have enough time to view them all at the moment so I must be very selective. For those of you receiving Christmas cards from me, please excuse any lapses in thought, for, if I write ‘I am Spartacus!’ or ‘Long life to the Table Round!’, you will know where that is coming from.