The Border Men – A Study of Masculinity

Very few people these days probably remember the Zane Grey novels or the wonderful stories they tell.  I have read a couple of them, but my favorites are the ones that pertain to the Zane family.  The author himself was the great-grandson of Ebenezer Zane, and the great-grandnephew of Jonathan and Betty Zane.  His family were the founders of Zanesville in Ohio, and great patriots and scouts of the frontier.  So, he wrote a trilogy that elaborated on his family; as well as their relationship with great border man, Lewis Wetzel, or Deathwind as he was called by the Native American Indians.

The one thing people cannot deny when they read Betty Zane, Spirit of the Border, and The Last Trail is the utter and true masculinity of the men involved.  The frontier of Ohio during and after the American Revolution did not tolerate weaklings and peaceful men.  Those men came after the land had been settled and the area secured by more noble souls.

The two lead men who the reader hear most of in all three books are Jonathan Zane and Lew Wetzel.  While the first book does focus on the courage and speed of Betty Zane, the books always have something to say about the two border men.  Now, the definition of a border man was basically an Indian scout and tracker.  Both Zane and Wetzel were intimate with the ways of the Indians, as they had both been held captive by them at least once in their lives.  They had varying opinions about the Indians, for personal reasons.  Jonathan did not hate all Indians, he just didn’t trust them as far as he could throw them.  He had been kidnapped with all his brothers (he was one of five boys), and watched as his youngest brother, Isaac Zane, was separated from them for years. For Wetzel, it was different.  When he was about eleven-years-old, he went hunting with his thirteen-year-old brother.  Upon their return from hunting, they found their home burned and their parents and other siblings butchered and scalped by Indians.  This set Lewis Wetzel on a path of revenge that consumed the remainder of his life.

The first book in the trilogy is about Betty Zane, the youngest and only girl in the Zane family.  Naturally, she’s doted upon by her four (surviving) older brothers.  Throughout the story, Wetzel is soft spoken and caring of Betty, and when one of the villains tries to forcefully kiss her, Wetzel almost kills him.  That was how gentlemen viewed the honor of women: it was sacred.  Eventually in the book, he reveals to Betty that he is in love with her; but because of all the men he’s killed, he feels he is not good enough for her.  When the man she does love is stabbed in the dark by the aforementioned rogue, Wetzel hunts him down and kills him for Betty.  Because he loves her, he kills for her.  Then, he returns and helps defend Fort Henry against Indians and British forces, even holding an opening in the wall all by himself with just an ax.  Tragically in the end, Lew Wetzel must abstain from women, and Betty Zane marries another man.

The second book does focus more on Wetzel as he traverses the frontier around historical Fort Henry.  A wagon train has brought more settlers as well as Moravian missionaries, dedicated to converting the Indians, to the fort.  Two, identical twin brothers take separate paths: one is a missionary and a peaceful man; and the other wants to follow in the steps of Wetzel.  However, scheming renegades and dangerous Indians soon interrupt their lives and throw them all out of balance.  Wetzel is reaffirmed in his life choices when he finds the bodies of the young scout and the young girl he loved.  He buries them side by side and goes to save the second young couple.  In one of the pivotal scenes in the book, the renegade, Girty, attempts to rape a woman, while the missionary is bound nearby.  Wetzel and Zane come crashing in, and Wetzel savagely kills the outlaws for what they did before and what they were about to do.  Once again, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

In the third and final book, Grey focuses on his great-uncle, Jonathan Zane.  Zane is described as being a lover of nature and of the wild; a quiet, thoughtful man.  In the final book, he meets his match in the fiery Helen Shepard, a young girl from Virginia.  She is immediately smitten with him, but he does not reciprocate her feelings.  Through the matchmaking wiles of his siblings, Eb and Betty Zane; Jonathan and Helen are drawn into a sort of Much Ado About Nothing love trap.  However, a traitor within the fort has his eyes on Helen, and hates Jonathan Zane.  After being wounded, kidnapped, and then returned by Wetzel, Jonathan owns up to his feelings for Helen, but begs her not to return them.  But, he must also confess this to Wetzel when she is taken from the fort (not to mention that Wetzel basically called it from the first moment he met Helen).  His old friend tells him to leave their life of scouting and hunting and marry Helen, because he won’t let him miss his chance like he did with Betty.  In the end, Jonathan makes the right choice, and Wetzel continues his path alone.

Zane Grey wrote about real men; rough and rugged, but also kind and caring.  These men killed so that their families, or the families of others might live in peace.  Isn’t that honorable?  Isn’t that something to be admired; and not scorned?  It is truly a twisted world that doesn’t acknowledge real men, and instead, tries to beat them down.

And on that note, it’s been real!

 

Troy: Why It Almost Worked

I’m sure most people recall the movie Troy when it came out in 2004.  It was one of those big, ancient pieces.  And yes, while the event is based off an actual time in history, we must remember that it is most famous for Homer’s rendition of it in his very large book, The Iliad.  The movie was entertaining and featured plenty of action and a tragic love story; heroes, bold and brave; and a marvelous movie score.  However, it lacked a key element that would have made it very successful, and gone on to continue Homer’s work in The Odyssey.  It was missing the gods!

If you’ve read the original epic, or have a basic grasp of Greek mythology, you will remember that the whole war did start over a woman.  Three Greek goddesses were arguing over which one was the fairest: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite.  They went to the fairest man alive, Prince Paris of Troy.  They asked him to be the judge, and each offered him a reward for choosing them.  Hera offers him political power; Athena offers him victories in war; and Aphrodite offers him the most beautiful mortal woman.  Paris turns Hera down because he is already a Prince of Troy; he turns Athena down because he prefers love making to war mongering; and he accepts Aphrodite because he is a man fooled by appearances (Helen is taken back by her husband and makes comments about her adulterous relationship with Paris in The Odyssey).  He then steals Helen away from Menelaus, and flees to the safety of Troy.  Menelaus goes to his brother, King Agamemnon, and together, they rally the soldiers of Greece.  From there, the Greek gods take sides in the fight: Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite, and Artemis fighting with the Trojans; while Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Hermes, and Hephaestus fought for the Greeks.  Occasionally, Zeus would waggle a finger to aid this person or that, but he never took an official part or side.

The politics and drama between the gods would have added to the movie, making it grander.  Also, it would have explained to those who did not know, the reason why Achilles was killed by an arrow to the heel.  Just saying.

Another fact (which I mentioned above) is that it would have and should have led into The Odyssey, Homer’s tale of Odysseus’ long journey home.  Sean Bean was basically narrating the movie, so it would have made sense for his character to get the spin off he deserved.  The story of Odysseus’ road back to Ithaca is full of cunning and adventure and (yes) sex.  He sleeps with the nymphs Circe and Calisto for pity’s sake!  It would have been epic!  Anyway, I’m going off an a tangent because I really wanted to see that, but he’s too old now (sh*t!).  Anyway, that is why the movie, Troy, could have been better.  If they had modeled it more after Homer’s work, rather than guess at the actual historical event.

And on that note, it’s been real!

World War II – The Death Theater

World War II is one of the most famous wars in the history of wars.  Why?  Because it was a war that encompassed the globe on a grander scale than its previous counterpart, the Great War.  I have always been fascinated by the wars that ravaged Europe.  The complexities and the strategies always draw me in.  However, World War II was a sad war, just like the one that preceded it.  “But, all wars are sad,” you would say.  Yes, but some more than others.  I say this because World War II affected civilians in many countries, far more than most other wars.  This was because of air raids, nuclear bombs, and advancing armies.

American civilians were untouched by the war; but British, French, German, Dutch, Austrian, Italian, Polish, and Russian people were affected by it every day.  The Holocaust is a major topic of conversation whenever WWII is brought up.  Countless people lost their lives because they were Jewish.  I have read and watched many adaptations of Anne Frank and it makes me cry.  It’s almost ironically funny how the Nazis incriminated themselves by taking pictures and keeping all those documents.  The murderers were punished, but now, the entire country feels it needs to make reparations for the sins of the few, not the all.

However, there were other countless casualties that are glossed over because of who committed them.  The advancing Russian army killed so many German civilians in brutal ways, but nobody asked them to apologize.  They must have deserved it.  Did little children deserve to be shot at point blank range?  Did young girls deserved to be raped?  Did boys deserve to be tortured, and their bodies left at the side of the road?  No.  Stalin was not asked to pay for his crimes because he was with the Allies, instead of the Axis.

Another factor that has been discussed is that Roosevelt knew Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, but decided against informing the military stationed there.  Why?  Because then they would be prepared and the attack would not have the devastating affect he wanted it to have.  Men and women died so America could have a reason for entering the war.

In a way, many of the participants were villains.  Not the soldiers fighting and dying, but the men above them; the politicians.  Hitler tried to decimate an entire people and spread his ‘superior’ Aryan beliefs.  Stalin wanted to crush the Germans, and spread his Communistic beliefs.  Roosevelt wanted to make America the official world power, over the dead bodies of Europeans.  All wars are terrible and come at great cost.  World War II is just like the rest of them.  It just seemed to leave the biggest scar.

And on that note, it’s been real!

Sharpe’s Series: The Napoleonic War Down A Rifle Barrel

Now, most people would think that I would be too young to know what this series is about.  But, I’m not.  Well, I kind of am, but I’m cultured.  My dad mentioned it to me because “That guy who played Boromir in LOTR is the main character.  You might like it.”  I finally asked my brother if he saw them at the library to pick them up for me.  He returned with two episodes.  Episode 3 and Episode 4.  There are sixteen total.  I started watching them out of order, but was hooked with Episode 3.  Before they were this show, they were books, and I got the first book for my birthday, and read it in twenty-four hours.  My siblings just started getting me the books, and I know have eleven books, and five of the episodes.  I will explain what each episode is eventually, but right now, I think I’ll just talk about the main characters of the show.

Sean Bean is Richard Sharpe.  Richard Sharpe is the son of a prostitute, who grew up in an orphanage and volunteered for the army in order to fill his sergeant’s quota.  He was cruelly treated by that same sergeant, Sgt. Hakeswill, and his commanding officer, Cpt. Morris.  Sharpe was able to escape from them and he saved Sir Arthur Wellesley’s life.  The Commander of the British Forces on the Continent (Spain), then made Sharpe a lieutenant.  Since Sharpe is not an officer, he is looked down upon by the other officers because he is not ‘a gentleman’.  Sharpe doesn’t take crap from other people; if they are below him, he plays rough until they bend; if they are above him, he hides his disrespect beneath a layer of subtle sarcasm.  Sean Bean played the rule-breaking, rough-around-the-edges British Rifleman to a tee.  And he was certainly a heart throb.

Darragh O’Malley is Patrick Harper.  Patrick Harper is an Irishman, who joined the King’s Army so that he might not go hungry.  When he first meets Sharpe, the two start off as enemies: Sharpe disliking Harper for disrespecting him, and Harper disliking Sharpe because he’s not a proper officer.  After beating each other up, Harper starts to point stuff out and Sharpe listens to him.  Harper soon realizes that Sharpe is asset because he is an officer, but also used to be a common soldier.  Sharpe repeatedly tells his men, “That I know every dirty trick.  Why?  Because I was one of you.”  Harper soon becomes Sharpe’s most loyal friend and comrade-in-arms.  His position is very important because he finds himself frequently watching Sharpe’s back in fights.

The Sharpe Series became a treat for me at night when dinner and the kitchen were done, right before I went to bed.  I enjoyed the history, and the characters (the heroes) were all lovable and quirky in their own way.  I still have to collect the rest of the episodes and I am still missing a few books.  Well… my sibs know what to get me for birthdays and Christmas!

And on that note, it’s been real!

 

Master & Commander: The Far Side of the Theater

As I mentioned at the beginning of this week, Master & Commander had potential for being an epic period masterpiece.  There are five books in the entire series, and approximately four stories per book.  O’Brian’s books are the perfect material for a show.  One season could be two stories and so one.  That would have run for at least 10-11 seasons.  Decent length for a show, at least for one that has actual material to work off of.  But enough of how I could plan the perfect show, I’m talking about how the movie got panned.

Again, I believe some of the reasons it didn’t do well was because many people don’t have a proper understanding of History.  Facts to remember are that the Napoleonic War came about because of the French Revolution.  It was the cause, and Bonaparte was the affect.  The movie itself featured an all-male cast, and that might have been another problem.  Although moves like Expendables that also featured mostly male casts did fairly well, historical pieces are different.  It is usually nice to have at least one female character for us to fantasize getting together with the hero.  Aubrey’s love is hinted to at the beginning of the movie, but we don’t actually see her at all; and Dr. Maturin doesn’t have anybody but his sciences.  In the books, he had a dalliance with a rival, female spy for Bonaparte.  Dangerous and it would have been small screen gold!  Anyway, they did not have a female character at all.  Of course, we also have to take into consideration that they are on the far side of the world, literally!  They were a war ship, so they would never have been transporting civilians.  That, and no noble women would have been around, so for accuracy’s sake, they didn’t put a woman in; but that might have cost them some good publicity.

Another factor: the men might not have been good enough?  Now, for me personally, I liked the men they picked.  Russell Crowe was accurately cast in the lead.  Aubrey was described as a slightly heavy-set but capable man.  Maybe he wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea?  As for the secondary lead, Dr. Steven Maturin, Paul Bettany played the acerbic but thoughtful doctor to a tee.  He challenges Aubrey whenever he thinks he’s caring too much about his duty and not enough about his men.  Captain Aubrey is a man with a moral code, and that means following the orders he was given.  Maturin has to play conscience every once in a while.

If you have seen the movie and/or read the books, you would know that they left the movie open for more.  Unfortunately, nobody understands or appreciates History, so the movie did not do well, and no continuations were made.  However, I would fully condone a remake, as a series of course.  I would have Charlie Hunnam as Capt. ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey, and JJ Feild as Dr. Steven Maturin.  Their adventures would grace the small screen like a well played battle maneuver!

And on that note, it’s been real!

Vikings: Nordic Fact & Fiction

Whoever at the History Channel headquarters decided to make a show about the Vikings, was a genius.  The Vikings was a success and has been a fixture on their channel for several seasons (going on six now).  It has several characters we have all come to love and follow and many fronts on which to fight.  The series is based loosely on the actual viking, Ragnar Lothbrok, who was the first viking to begin raiding in Great Britain and Frankia.

The series quickly grew a cult following for its array of interesting characters, violence, adult content, and historical intrigue.  I believe that people are more captivated by the desires and ambitions of ancient kings than they are with modern politicians.  Kings maybe seem more human, and possibly unselfish in their reasoning’s.  Example: King Ecbert wants to be king of all Britannia in an attempt to end the constant power struggles taking place across the island.  Unselfish… right?  Ambitious?  Definitely!  Ragnar raids in the name of exploration.  Their world had been so small until he sailed west.  Rollo just wants to be thanked, to be appreciated for what he has given to the viking community.  None has been forth coming, so he made a strategic decision, married a Frankish princess, and became Lord of Paris.  He goes from nobody to somebody in a hurry!

Floki, a complicated (and insane) character, who has always lived to serve Ragnar, but he has his doubts throughout the series.  He picked on Athelstan because of his Christian beliefs and when they raided Britannia, he revealed his hatred for all things pertaining to Catholicism.  He murders Athelstan, claiming he’s protecting Ragnar.  I’m not going to lie, I started to dislike Floki a little more after that.  And then he began to harass Rollo for almost every decision he made.  Annoying!  Anyway…  The character of Floki has gone from being a ‘good’ guy to being a very morally ambiguous person.  He kills all Catholics with sickening glee and revels in their blood.  Not what you would consider normal or right.

Lagertha has gone through a transformation of her own.  She went from being Ragnar’s housewife (with a warrior’s background), to a warrior chief in her own rite, and finally, the Queen of Kattegat.  However, she can’t seem to find happiness with another man outside of Ragnar.  She left him of her own free will because he asked her to share her power and his affection with Princess Aslaug.  Lagertha is a proud woman and refused, so she left.  Lagertha has always stood up for herself and has gotten herself so far.  But now, she faces a war, a war for her position in Kattegat.  We shall see this season if she keeps her life and her throne.

Once more, a series has proven that through time, production money, and view-able characters, people can enjoy a period piece, and not even know they’re learning some history.

And on that note, it’s been real!

The Tudors: The First of Its Kind

Most people know about The Tudors when it comes to historical shows.  It was basically the first ever big retelling of an historical era.  And, it was very successful for the duration of its running time.  But, what made it so successful?  What was its secret?

It’s secret was having a decent dose of adult content (sexual), violence, politics, characters that kept us guessing, drama, and a dash of history.  I also think that even though the show was mainly about Henry VIII and all the changes he wrought in his kingdom (and the rest of Europe), most people watched it to see what happened to each wife.  Yes, we all know that he divorced Katherine of Aragon, beheaded Anne Boleyn, lost Jane Seymour, divorced Anne of Cleves, beheaded Katherine Howard, and died before Katherine Parr.  The actresses who were selected to play each wife were all beautiful in their own way, and acted them superbly.

As for the politics, they perfectly discussed each problem and revolutionary change that took place in England.  The dissolution of Catholicism and the beginning of the Anglican Church.  We watched the Act of Succession tear England apart, and in a way, destroy the family that helped set it on that path in the first place: the Boleyns.  We all saw how the Pilgrimage of Grace was brutally and cruelly crushed.  As a student of History, I was impressed by everything they did.   What was the secret?  They presented a complex time in history in a digestible and enjoyable manner for all to admire.  Series and shows are more capable of doing that than a movie.  That’s why I’m contemplating adjusting my Scarlet Pimpernel screenplay into a series instead of the movie format it is currently.  We shall see.

And on that note, it’s been real!