Letter 13: February 25, 2022
I’ve had a hard time writing this letter. Mainly because I am so very busy with new articles and other content. I want to write good letters because in the near future that’s all my free readers will be receiving. As I continue to amass paid subscriptions, I am progressively gratified that what I am doing is worth the cost.
One of the reasons I have been taking my time on this letter is because I wanted to wait until today, the one-year anniversary of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DESK. A full year spent learning what this platform could be and how to fulfill its promise. I have learned that not every subject, whether it be a theme or an individual, naturally leads me to inspired language. Some subjects stifle the creative urge by being so finite. What thrilled me on the gallery wall or in the shelves of bookshops now stops me cold. I have to work my way around the subject, and that may take me weeks or months to do. Anyone to whom I have communicated a desire to write about your work, and have expected it to be finished in the past, you’ll have to forgive me while I develop how to define it. It’s not that I doubt the power of these sources, but my relationship to them has to be established with the use of my own language, and that takes time.
There are so many subjects, and so many interpretations of them. Though I am mainly focused on visual art and literature, other things are seeping into my consciousness, like film and television. In the last year we got a digital TV and started watched streamed programs. This allowed me to invest fully in the full backlog of episodes for a certain show, and spending weeks on end watching them without having to wait for once-a-week programs. One of my favorites during the last month or so was VIKINGS, which originally aired from 2013-2020 on the History channel. It’s part of how I’m wired that when something is popular, I want nothing to do with it. Once it’s become old hat, when other people have moved on, then I am attracted to it, and can give it my full attention without the distraction of social discussion. So this show that ended a year ago became my latest obsession.
I watched two, sometimes three episodes every evening, and at that rate it took two months to get through six seasons of the show. I haven’t been so obsessed since I watched the first five seasons of Game of Thrones in advance of the sixth season. I’ve been looking for something I would find equally engrossing, and what I found in VIKINGS was actually more satisfying in many ways. Though I enjoyed the complexity of GOT, its multiple timelines, its grand story slowly converging to specific roles and events that could never be completely expected or known until they happened; this was the magic of their source material. The History and Mythology that drove its characters made them infinitely more compelling. Behind all the pageantry and the stories trailing their way to an inexorable end, was a fear of the unknown.
With VIKINGS however, some of the background on its characters had a grounding in fact, or at least in legend. Their stories can be found on Wikipedia. The producers of the show have changed many of the facts to fit the story, but their individual histories have not changed all that much. What I liked about the show, and the history it presents, is that it gives an honest portrayal of what Viking society was really like in the 9th century. Its characters present an opportunity to gaze into the depths of Norse beliefs, and to understand how these myths inspired men to live like gods. Scandinavian society at that time was of the hunter/gatherer sort, with many people in various communities being farmers. Yet a part of their belief system also perpetuated the notion of all men, and even women, as warriors. There was an innate need to feed this role, and the way that they did so, besides warring with neighboring communities and other countries in the region, was to travel around to attack and pillage. This allowed them to feel like warriors, and if anyone died in these attacks, they would instantly be transported to Valhalla, the heaven for warriors, where every day is spent in glorious battle, and every evening in the ‘Hall of Heroes’ feasting on the victories of the day, surrounded by the gods and by one’s friends in life. This belief in a glorified afterlife undergirds all their actions in life, and their motivations to be great in all things. Of the characters who make up the story I will say little, because I could actually say so much that it would go on for pages and pages. Look for it on Hulu, and look for the new show, VIKINGS VALHALLA, launching today on Netflix.
Of books I have been reading, there are many. One of my great simple joys remains reading, and I have especially enjoyed many books I can download for free or cheap on my phone. Most of these are older titles that have fallen out of copyright. Many are pulp type stories, like the Barsoom and Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and The Conan the Barbarian books by Robert E. Howard. These were all originally published in pulp magazines like All-Story and Weird Tales, a major form of mass market entertainment in the era preceding comic books or television. Racy content and adventure heavy stories, sometimes with fantastical settings like foreign jungles or alien planets, presented an opportunity for the hard-working men and women of the WWI era to indulge in a handy entertainment at any magazine stand. I enjoy settling down to read such stories at the end of each day. I was a comic book reader as a child, and in the interim period between comic books and literature with a capital “L” I also read heavily in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, as well as the Victorian horror stories and mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the boyhood adventures by Jack London. I see a clear path between such authors and the more serious novels of Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Balzac, Turgenev, and others.
I’m looking forward to expounding further on types of story in books, TV, film, and more in the months to come. Consider a paid subscription, especially a monthly one. Thanks for reading!