All posts by tjwest3

About tjwest3

Thomas received a PhD in English--with an emphasis on film and media studies--from Syracuse University. He has published film and television criticism in both scholarly and popular venues. His work has been featured Medium, and he also curates his own blog, Queerly Different. he currently lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with his partner and cat, Beast.

Fantasy Classics: “Pawn of Prophecy” (by David Eddings)

Darcy and Winters

Sometimes, you just want to read a book that hits all the right notes of its chosen genre, that doesn’t really try to be something it’s not. So, when I decided that I wanted to read an epic fantasy in a style that isn’t quite as popular that it once was, I dug out my omnibus copies of The Belgariad and The Mallorean and decided to give them a re-read.

I’m glad I did. From the moment that I started reading Pawn of Prophecy, the first installment of The Belgariad, still retains much of the charm that drew me to it when I was an adolescent in the late ’90s, always looking for my next fantasy adventure to lose myself in.

The novel follows a young boy named Garion, who’s been raised on a farm in the practical kingdom of Sendar. Very soon, it becomes clear that he is part…

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Book Review: “Dune: House Atreides” (by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson)

Darcy and Winters

I’m about to make a very controversial statement. I actually like the series of books that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have written, building on the legacy left by Frank Herbert. Anyone who’s spent any time in the world of the Dune fandom knows that those who loved the original books are, for the most part, quite hostile to the efforts of the younger Brian. I’ve seen them described as potboilers, as exploitative cash grabs, as bastardizations of the elder Herbert’s grand philosophical vision that he set out in his original six volumes.

However, all of this is somewhat beside the point. Herbert and Anderson, like another scion of a great literary figure (Christopher Tolkien) have done a great deal to flesh out the world left behind by Frank Herbert. You can love it or hate it, but I personally like returning to this world, seeing the backstories of…

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Science Fiction Classics: “Heretics of Dune” (by Frank Herbert)

Darcy and Winters

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been slowly making my way through the various books of the Dune saga. I’ve now finished the fifth book in the original series, Heretics of Dune. This is one of the entries in the saga that has a rather mixed reception among fans, and I can see why. It’s not quite as focused as some of the other entries in the series and, given that it’s the first not to include one of the original Atreides (or at least a close descendant), it takes some getting used to.

That being said, I enjoyed God Emperor of Dune more than a lot of people, but I still thought it was a rather strange book, particularly in comparison to the ones that preceded it. I mean, it’s difficult to really get into a book in which a man has allowed himself to become a…

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Science Fiction Classics: God Emperor of Dune (by Frank Herbert)

Darcy and Winters

Now at last we come to one of the most divisive entries in the Dune Chronicles. It’s not hard to see why. After all, this is a novel that has as one of its main characters a man who managed to make himself a hybrid of human and sandworm. To be honest, when I long ago read the cover of this novel, I thought it sounded ridiculous, a far cry from how things had started out in Dune. Now that I’ve finally finished the first three volumes, the fourth does make more sense than I thought it would.

To be fair, the novel is weird, particularly in comparison to the other entries in the series. By this point, 3500 years have passed since Leto first began his transition into a human/sandworm hybrid. He now rules as the supreme authority in all of the universe, known as the God Emperor. Utterly…

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Science Fiction Classics: “Children of Dune” (by Frank Herbert)

Darcy and Winters

Having finished Dune Messiah, I decided to move right into Children of Dune, the third novel of Frank Herbert’s magisterial Dune Chronicles. While it still has the feel of the previous two novels, events have begun to move quite quickly, and the characters, particularly the titular children, have to move swiftly in order to keep up.

This novel has a bit of something for everyone. For those who enjoyed the political aspect of the original novel, there is a lot of palace intrigue, as various factions both within the court and outside of it scheme for power. For those who loved the Fremen and the sandworms, there’s some of that, too. And, of course, there is also a lot of philosophizing, particularly as young Leto II has to contend with the burdens placed on him by his father’s mission.

There are there tragedies that punctuate this story. The first is…

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Book Review: “Paul of Dune” (by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson)

Darcy and Winters

It’s quite common in the Dune fandom to take potshots at the expanded Duniverse, particularly the series of prequel and midquel novels published by Frank Herbert’s son Brian and his collaborator Kevin J. Anderson. In fact, the fandom has even coined a term to refer to that part of the canon: “McDune.” It’s actually a clever bit of derision, a means by which fans can register their disapproval of the perceived downgrading of Frank Herbert’s original novels.

Allow me to disagree.

Though there are times when Herbert and Anderson’s books are a bit pulpier than their predecessors, I personally find them more accessible. What’s more, they do still address some of the weightier philosophical issues that were such a key part of the original novels’ appeal. That is certainly the case with this novel.

Paul of Dune is set between the events of Dune and Dune Messiah, as well as…

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Science Fiction Classics: “Dune Messiah” (by Frank Herbert)

Darcy and Winters

Having finished Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece Dune, I decided to dive right in and begin the second volume, Dune Messiah. While it lacks some of the narrative richness of its predecessor, in many ways it is even more theologically and philosophically sophisticated, as Paul must contend not only with the consequences of the jihad he unleashed upon the universe, but also with a conspiracy and with the ever tightening noose of his own prescience.

The novel begins several years after Paul seized the throne. The Fremen have swept everyone before them, and Paul is now the undisputed ruler of the Imperium. However, there are those that see him as a danger that must be removed, among them a Navigator from the Spacing Guild, a Tleilaxu Face Dancer, the Princess Irulan, and a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit (none other than Gaius Helen Mohiam herself). While their plan ultimately…

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Science Fiction Classics: Dune (by Frank Herbert)

Darcy and Winters

I’m not sure what prompted me to go back and reread Dune, the science fiction masterpiece by Frank Herbert. I’ve read it several times now, but something just keeps drawing me back to it. Part of it, no doubt, is the fact that it is basically the sci-fi equivalent of The Lord of the Rings, and it focuses more on politics, philosophy, and religion than it does on science. Part of it also has to do with the fact that it continues to be a part of the cultural conversation, both because Herbert’s son Brian (along with his coauthor Kevin J. Anderson) continue adding to the series and because there is a hotly anticipated new film adaptation coming this fall.

For those who haven’t read it, the novel focuses on Paul, the heir to Duke Leto Atreides. When his family is betrayed and his father killed, he flees into the…

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Screening History: “The Tudors” (Season 1)

I’m not sure why I recently decided to watch Showtime’s The Tudors, that sudsy and soapy and gloriously sexy series about Henry VIII and his wives. Obviously, I’m a history buff, and the past is never far from my mind, and it’s true that I haven’t had a chance to revisit it at length since it finished its run way back in 2010. Whatever the reason, I decided to just binge the whole thing again and share my thoughts with all of you.

There’s much to love about the first season, and the supporting players are a key part of that. Henry Cavill is a fantastic Charles Brandon, bringing just the right mix of rascality and nobility to his portrayal. His doomed romance with Henry’s sister Margaret is a little rushed, and it excises a great deal (including the three daughters that they had together, all of whom would come to play an important part of Tudor dynastic politics).

The MVPs of the first season, however, have to be Sam Neill and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Cardinal Wolsey and Katherine of Aragon, respectively. Of course, one always expects the best of Neill no matter what he appears in, but he really shines as Cardinal Wolsey, the most important member of the Tudor court outside of Henry himself. Watching him you can actually believe that he is the son of a humble butcher who managed to claw his way up the hierarchy of both temporal and spiritual power by sheer grit alone. Though he is a polished courtier, he’s also not afraid to use physical force when necessary. His fall from grace–and eventual death by his own hand–is one of the most moving aspects of the whole season, a heavy reminder of the wages of serving a capricious monarch like Henry VIII.

Maria Doyle Kennedy is, in a word, exquisite as the saintly Katherine of Aragon, though I realize that not everyone sees her in that light. (In fact, I was recently reminiscing with a friend of mine about the series, and her impression was that the series intended us to see Katherine as boring and old). For me, she embodies everything that I’ve always associated with Henry’s first wive. She is at once tenacious, vulnerable, loving, compassionate and, when her ire is aroused, vengeful. Somehow, Kennedy manages to combine all of those things, and you genuinely feel for her as she is increasingly distanced from Henry and from the court that she has ruled over for so long.

Though she won’t come into her own until season two, Natalie Dormer also deserves a lot of credit for her portrayal of Anne Boleyn. I strongly suspect that, along with Geneviève Bujold, hers will go down as one of the definitive portrayals of one of the most infamous queens to have ever strutted her way across the stage of English history. With her lips always slightly pouty and her unique looks (is there anyone who looks at all like her in film and television today?) she seems to have been born to play Anne Boleyn, a woman who was similarly described as being like no other woman at Henry’s court. What makes The Tudors so effective is that it makes us appreciate and understand her perspective–particularly the impossible position she occupies as a woman in this patriarchal world, her desires always submitted to theirs–even as it also allows us to occupy Katherine’s. For Anne’s part, she early on realizes that she will have to put aside her love for Thomas Wyatt, or else they will both face Henry’s wrath. Her spurning of him is one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the entire first season.

However, there is one huge, glaring problem with this season, and the series as a whole, and that is Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry. It probably goes without saying that he looks absolutely nothing like the historical figure. Aside from being far too young, he is also significantly shorter than Henry, and his dark brown hair is a far cry from the signature Tudor red of Henry and, except for a brief moment, he doesn’t sport a beard. It’s more than just his appearance, though. He seems to have three settings: shouting, brooding, and sexing. As a result, his depiction of Henry is curiously one-dimensional, and he emerges as little more than a petulant, screaming child, one giant, pulsing id.

That said, there are some redeeming qualities about Meyers’ portrayal. Though his style leaves much to be desired, and though he looks nothing at all like the real Henry, his model physique and face–both of which are sculpted, razor-sharp, and defined–manage to convey Henry’s capriciousness. Henry VIII was a man, after all, who was known for using and jettisoning courtiers at an almost frantic pace (sound familiar?) Furthermore, the fact that Meyers is little more than an id is, itself, a commentary on Henry’s reign which, in some ways, driven by Henry’s whims and sexual desires.

Thus, contrary to what most people at the time (and since) have asserted, I actually think that the series does have something serious to say about history, at least implicitly. While the series’ creator Michael Hirst commented–hopefully somewhat tongue-in-cheek–that Showtime commissioned him to write a soap opera and not history, he actually managed to do both. It is certainly true that The Tudors, especially the first season, pays more attention to the suds and the sex than it does to the events of the past, but that may be precisely the point. While it does allude to significant historical events–the meeting with Francis at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, for example–The Tudors is primarily interested in making us feel the past, to understand sex and desire as key to the unfolding of grand historical events. This may not be what many define as historical understanding, but it is a form of engagement with the past, and it should be recognized and respected as such.

Stay tuned for my review of the second season which, in my humble opinion, is when the series reaches its apotheosis.

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Before and After” (S2, Ep. 15)

I have to admit that, contrary to what I usually say, this isn’t one of my favourite episodes of The Golden Girls. There’s nothing wrong with it, really, it’s just that it rather lacks the dynamic energy that characterizes so many of the other episodes of this season. In it, Rose has what she at first believes is a heart attack (it’s actually just an esophageal spasm), which makes her decide that she’s going to “eat life,” and her new lifestyle clashes with her roommates. As a result, she moves out, only to realize that nothing can replace the community she has with the other girls.

Among other things, this episode reveals a fundamental aspect of Rose’s personality, i.e. her willingness to sacrifice her own happiness in order to volunteer for others. The opening moments of the episode reveal the truly staggering array of activities in which Rose is involved, ranging from helping the neighbors by baking a wedding cake to various types of community service. While all of the women–including Sophia–frequently engage in community activities, there’s no question that Rose is the most involved in that regard. This episode is one of the few times that she starts to question the intrinsic worth of those efforts.

As with so many episodes of The Golden Girls, this episode addresses the fundamental issue of death. Given that all of them are over fifty, the reality is that death is always a possibility. In this case, it makes Rose reconsider all of the things that she has done and the way that she has lived her life. One can hardly blame her for this moment of self-reflection. After all she, like the other women, isn’t getting any younger, and so it would make sense for her to want to make sure that she gets the most out of her life while she still can. However, one can question the way that she goes about it, which seems by nature designed to alienate the women that she has already built such a strong relationship with, and the quickness of her decision to move out is, I think, one of Rose’s least-charming moments.

This is also one of the handful of episodes that sees one of the women takes up residence with someone else (Sophia does so in a later episode, for similar reasons). While the episode lacks the sort of social commentary that makes The Golden Girls such a wonderful series to watch, her exchanges with her new roommates does, I think, reflect something essential about how the series views personal relationships. For these new women, their living arrangement is one purely of convenience. They are, as one of them says, roommates, not friends. One can see this in every exchange that occurs , whether that’s one roommates leaving the room while Rose is in the middle of a story, the other roommate mistaking Rose for the other roommate’s mother, or the fact that the women know nothing about one another.

The purpose of these exchanges is, of course, to highlight the difference between these living arrangements and those shared by Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia. At a deeper level, however, I also think it says something about the state of American society in the mid-80s and about the fraying social bonds that once tied people together. It’s hard to imagine these other two women having any friends which is, I think, the saddest and most profound statement about the nature of American culture in the ’80s in the entire episode.

Next up, we come to an episode in which Blanche has to confront the decisions that she’s made as a mother.