On May 10, see the story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s early life, and how it inspired the legendary creation of Middle Earth:
From Director Peter Jackson comes the stunning documentary on World War I, They Shall Not Grow Old, using 100-year-old film that has been restored like never before. If you want to know what it’s like to travel back through time, check this out. Trailer:
Here’s a pair of books on four men of the 20th Century that still speak to us today: Churchill and Orwell and A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War. Not one of them was a talking head or armchair expert. Each was a veteran of one or more of the century’s — and mankind’s — worst wars.
Winston Churchill warned there was no appeasing totalitarian governments. Evil regimes only ceased their scourge when facing a people who refused to surrender. Churchill’s prophetic voice was nearly ignored in this, and of what the world was to become in the Cold War. Flaws and all, he reached a level few “leaders” today can approach.
George Orwell experienced in the Spanish Civil War that all totalitarian governments were indistinguishable — whether fascist or communist — in their aims and results. His politics were polar opposite of Churchill’s, but they arrived at the same truths through life, not hypothetical debate. His books Animal Farm and 1984 emerged from those experiences, becoming timeless warnings that wherever power existed, abuse of that power would occur.
After surviving the trenches of World War I, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien became academic scholars. While their contemporaries were writing dismal books on the dark future of humanity, Lewis and Tolkien refused to give in to such defeatism. They eschewed the materialistic and naturalistic philosophies that had brought the world to its knees, and were also being used to paint a future of darkness for humanity. Their fantasy novels were more than fairy tales — they unveiled the hope and the Story that had been gifted to men and women — and that Evil could be crushed.
Out of a dark age came these bright lights. We would be dangerously amiss to snuff them out.
Unlike many “reality” shows, the History Channel series, The Curse of Oak Island, has a real dose of history behind its premise. If you can bear with the typical reality show style editing and pacing, you will be rewarded with clues to the island’s history. However, as they say, there is much more to the story.
This region of the North Atlantic seems to hold many more secrets beyond what Oak Island may hold. Paul Chiasson writes in The Island of Seven Cities and Written in Ruins of evidence pointing to Chinese visitors to Cape Brenton Island. Mysterious ruins and Chinese words in native languages are among the clues.
Graeme Davis’ Vikings in America attempts to unravel the scope of Viking excursions into the Americas. No one questions they were here, only the extent and impact of their travels.
In Irresistible North, Andrea Di Robilant tracks down the legendary Zeno brothers of Venice. Did they make it to the New World?
And finally, no ancient mysteries would be complete without throwing the Knights Templars into the mix. In Templars in America, Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins trace a globe trotting mystery that may have crossed paths with the Zeno brothers and followed the trail first blazed by the Vikings.
So, are you ready for some exploring?
To our detriment, history is often distilled down to a few sentences in our schools. As writer Nathaniel Philbrick writes in Mayflower, “there is a surprising amount of truth” in our “threadbare story of the First Thanksgiving.” It is what happened before and after that people know so little about.
It is a vivid tale of “courage, community and war,” and out of this little told story, a country was shaped. Philbrick writes:
There are two possible responses to a world suddenly gripped by terror and contention…[one way is] to get mad and get even. But…unbridled arrogance and fear only feed the flames of violence. Then there is the [Benjamin] Church [a frontiersman born in Plymouth] way. Instead of loathing the enemy, try to learn as much as possible form him… try to bring him around to your way of thinking. First and foremost, treat him like a human being…and in this he anticipated the welcoming, transformative beast that eventually became — once the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were in place — the Untied States.
In an age where politicians and their followers knowingly try to divide people only to hold on to power, where some of them believe violence is acceptable, where people think wearing masks and harassing people is antifascist, and others think its nothing to fabricate fake fears and crisis to scare people onto their side, perhaps we should for once look to our own history.
We could learn from their trials and tribulations, far worse than our own. Then with crystal clarity, those who seek to undo what was born out of the good and the bad, will be unmasked and exposed.
Recently, I wrote that humanity can overcome the prophets of doom who predict all manner of ends to humanity. Perhaps their lack of hope arises from their belief the world is borne out of randomness. One may ask them, then why worry about our fate? For those who have not given up, who see purpose in the universe, and want to keep civilization from faltering, there are many tools at their disposal.
History is one.
What looks impossible in the present looks inevitable in hindsight.
Those are the words written by Lael Arrington when discussing the fate of ancient Rome. In hindsight, the events of history often evoke a certain question: How could they have not seen that coming? Probably because those people were saying: That could never happen to us.
If you have ever read about our ancestors, you were probably taught that, at the end of the last Ice Age, the citizens of North America hunted the many species of megafauna (giant mammals) to extinction. After all, why not assume terrible humans are responsible for all that death?
As it turns out, evidence has been growing of a planet-altering catastrophe as the cause. Most likely an impact event centered over North America (which endured most of the extinctions), with indications of impact craters littered across the East Coast.
Why is this so fascinating? Because it reminded me of the tendency of some people to immediately blame humans for every terrible event to befall the planet. These are the same people, with their dour and glum outlook, whom have been predicting for decades, that we only have a decade or two before we destroy the planet, run out of energy, and starve to death.
Then the decades pass, and the apocalyptic scenarios do not. Continue reading
Two important indie films that the politicians don’t want you to see are currently in theaters.
The second is Chappaquiddick, on the events surrounding the death Mary Jo Kopechne in a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy.
Someday history will look at that era as when abuse of power was institutionalized at an unimaginable level. There were a whole series of dark events like this in the 1960s. Only a few days ago, we read again how the family of Martin Luther King, Jr. believes James Earl Ray was framed for MLK’s assassination. Considering that, it’s disingenuous to continue to call this a conspiracy theory.
Some may ask, “Why does it matter all these years later?”
It matters because, then and now, people like to look the other way even when they know the official stories don’t square. They want to believe so hard that their leaders are so much better than them, that they allow themselves to be distracted and convinced what is wrong is right.
We let the government become what it is. And they have done far worse than the daily drama they put on for us — the fake angst and hand wringing against each other, only to have nothing change. They divide us with the frivolous so we never truly bother to look behind the curtain.
And as long as we are afraid to rip that curtain down, nothing will change and many will escape justice.
Fantasy tales are often populated with a wide array of beings. Elves, humans and dwarves are a common trio, along with trolls, orcs and countless other variations. Not all authors have filled their stories with these fantastic races to purposely tell stories of diversity or race-relations. However, long before terms like diversity were buzzing in everyone’s minds, two masters of fantasy had made a statement on equality among people. Joseph Loconte writes in A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War:
[J.R.R.] Tolkien and [C.S.] Lewis encountered the horrific progeny of [eugenics] in the trenches and barbed wire and mortars of the Great War [World War I] — and it gave them great pause about human potentiality…the characters in their novels possess a great nobility, creatures endowed with a unique capacity for virtue, courage, and love. Indeed, a vital theme throughout is the sacred worth of the individual soul in Middle-Earth and Narnia, every life is of immense consequence.
The “races” of Narnia and Middle-Earth are very much like us, always at odds with each other: Elves hate dwarves; elves look down on humans; hobbits are obviously different from their larger human cousins; orcs once were elves. And yet the fellowship of the ring throws together polar opposite, feuding races in a quest to the save the world.
Against all odds, they succeeded. A powerful message among the many in these stories.
Tolkien and Lewis began writing during a time when eugenics was on the rise. This misuse of science and philosophies pretending to be science was rationale to cleanse humanity of undesirable races, beliefs or attributes. People remember the result of this horror in World War II under the Nazis, yet don’t know that this thinking had been promoted among the “elite” thinkers and governments across the world for decades.
While many many post-WWI writers saw hopelessness, and others turned to Progress as a god to right humanity, Tolkien and Lewis saw the importance of every life. They wrote of evil that couldn’t be reasoned away — and could be hidden behind “science” and “progress.” The equality of peoples doesn’t automatically equate to the equality of ideas and actions. Even Tolkien’s “dreadful orcs are presented as rational beings” — but being rational isn’t the same as being on the side of virtue.
Middle-Earth and Narnia showed how mankind, even with its capacity for wrong, has innate qualities that can defeat the most terrible of evils; qualities that transcend superficial differences among people, and show that we are much more than a result of randomness and fate.
The Templars played a part in the history of Among the Shadow‘s origins. This was years ago, when the Knights Templar became the central focus of novels, revisionist history books and films. Suddenly, the medieval Knights were everywhere, from being in control of secret organizations, to being the key to finding lost treasures and solving religious mysteries. A new History Channel drama, Knightfall, may soon bring the Knight Templars back into the limelight (check out the trailer here).
The problem with many of the Templar books is that they are based on fake history , or create their own. Partially thanks to medieval fake news and propaganda spread by the Templar’s enemies, the Templars are easily abused by those with imaginative views of history.
In spite of this onslaught of fake history, the real history has always been largely available. There are the classics Dungeon, Fire and Sword and The Knights Templar, which give a complete picture. Others like God’s Battalions and The Templars and the Shroud of Christ address many of the claims of revisionists.
So how does this apply to my writing? Years ago, during the height of Templar mania, I was reading The Knights Templar, and came to chapter on the battle at the Horns of Hattin. During this battle, the Crusader army had brought with them what they thought was a relic of the True Cross. The battle was a catastrophic loss.
Instantly, though, I had an Inspiration Moment that would from the basis of Among the Shadows: Epic battles, legendary warriors and powerful relics. This would merge with my new found fascination with the fantasy genre and help define historical fantasy.
Ultimately, the Templars and the Battle of Hattin would recede into the background of the novel. The lost relic would remain prominent, as would threads of history — history that I wanted to remain accurate as opposed to how it was being handled by other writers. Of course, being fantasy, the fantastic is dropped against the historic backgrounds. Blurring the lines a bit, but leaving history intact, leave readers wondering what in myth and legend may be hints of forgotten truths.
Maybe the Templar connection will be explored again in future novels, but for now, their history remains part of our own all these centuries later.