Wednesday 8 June 2016

Interlude: A return to the Island in the Lake

I know, I know for a blog called the Talking Oak I have been silent since December. My PhD schedule has been crazy and finding inspiration for blogging when your mind is on academic stuff is really hard. But I have my annual review on Monday so will be back blogging during the lull in studies after that. The good news is my thesis 'The Celticist Infulences of Tennyson' is coming a long really well, I'm really proud of it.

For now though I would like to have a little return to musical versions of The Stolen Child by Yeats that I covered in chapter 6

Recently a beautiful new version by the fabulous American Cellist/Singer Unwoman as part of a collection of poems put to music.

Photo from facebook
I have been a fan of her's for a long time and it is really cool to hear her tackle one of my favourite poems. I also love how different it is to the versions I have already talked about. It is amazing that the same words can be used in so many different ways. While maybe not as mornful as The Waterboys or Loreena McKennitt's versions, there is still a sinister darkness that befits the intent of the Faeries in the poem. 
Take a listen for yourself:

Friday 18 December 2015

Chapter 25 - Of Splendour Falls and Roleplaying

I am a roleplayer

It started when I was 12 in the early 90s with Dungeons and Dragons and now I spend my Wednesday evenings with friends rolling dice and pretending to be Vampires in a story one of them devised. One of my favourite games is Changeling The Dreaming by White Wolf Games and the title of the short story anthology to go with the game should be familuar to fans of Victorian Poetry.

The Splendour Falls comes from Alfred Tennyson's The Princess (1847). Inspired by a holiday he took in Ireland to visit fellow poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere, it makes up one of the many "songs" that interject the main narartive of the poem. 

The splendor falls on castle walls
    And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
    And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,
    And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O, sweet and far from cliff and scar
    The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugles; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
    They faint on hill or field or river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
    And grow forever and forever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.
Sadly none of the stories in the collection are Victorian based (Changeling is game about Faeries set in Modern times) but this is a moment when two of my loves combine.

The book is long out of print but you can sill buy copies if you are a Faerie or Urband fantasy fan: US | UK

Also there is a Kickstarter for a new edition of the game. Check it out.

Saturday 5 December 2015

Chapter 24 - In the Bleak Midwinter

Another quick post due to PhD work.

Today is the 185th anniversay of the birth of Christina Rossetti, one of the best of all Victorian poets. 

Photo from PN Review
As many of you will know her posthumously published poem In the Bleak Midwinter has become a popular Christmas carol after being set to music by the English composer Gustav Holst.  To celebrate both Rossetti's birth and the festive season here is Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan performing her version of the carol (found on her 2006 festive album Wintersong). 

Buy Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan US | UK

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Chapter 23: Sir John Gielgud and Dame Ellen Terry

This is a quick entry as I am busy with PhD work, but the amazing Stephanie Graham Pina reminded me about this today when we were discussing the Victorian actress Dame Ellen Terry on Facebook.

Ellen Terry
Her great-nephew Sir John Gielgud, considered one of the greatest actors of the 20th Century, performed a wonderful version of part of Tennyson's Ulysses for a 1996 commercial for Union Bank of Switzerland.

I really like that it has the lines: "Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars, until I die" in it as they are perhaps my favourite lines in the history of poetry.  Gielgud's voice was perfect for a performance of the poem.

Terry herself perfomed Tennyson on stage in a number of his plays (Not as well known as his poetry but he did write a number of them). Most notability in the 1893 production of Becket (Photos of her in the role of  Rosamund can be found here and here)

Sunday 15 November 2015

Chapter 22: How They Met Themselves

Happy #PRBday everyone. To celebrate here is a use of the Pre Raphaelites that inspired the creation of this very blog. 

When I  last looked at Neil Gaiman I spoke about the writers use of the "story behind the story" trope. This is where a fictionalized version of an established writer or artist' work is inspired by a event that happened to them in the fictionalized world of the story they appear in. This is another case of the trope in Gaiman's work, this time within his famous Sandman series.

How they Met Themselves by D.G.Rossetti

First published in the comics anthology Vertigo: Winter's Edge #3 (2000) The Sandman: How They Met Themselves imagines the story behind Rossetti's painting of 1860-1864 as being based on a jounrey that he, Lizzie Siddal and Algernon Charles Swinburne took. During this winter excursion they meet the personifiaction of Desire (Sister/Brother of Dream, the main character of the Sandman), leading to the events that inspire the painting.

From Absolute Sandman vol.3
Gaiman's use of the character is perfect, from Rossetti using the Guggums nickname for Lizzie and his brash egotistical characterization, Lizzie's jealously and fears over losing Rossetti and Swinburne's plee to Desire (Which I will not spoil, but people who know his history will get a kick out of it). The story is helped by the beautiful artwork of Michael Zulli, an artist with noticeable Pre Raphaelite infulences. His likenesses are beautiful. 

I wish I could say more about the story but I can't as that would spoil it. It is a narartive that needs you need to come to without much infomation because spoliers rob it of it's imapct. 

While you can still find copies of Winter's Edge cheeply, you could alternatively buy the much more expensive Absoulte Sandman Volume 3, if only to see Zulli's beautiful artwork in a larger format. 

Buy Vertigo: Winters Edge #3 US|UK
Buy Absolute Sandman vol.3 US|UK

Saturday 31 October 2015

Chapter 21 - Happy Halloween from Crimson Peak

Happy Halloween everyone.

To celebrate I'm bending the rules of the blog a little bit to talk about a film that while set in the Victorian period doesn't feature any real life personalities or art but is still an excellent example of the tropes of the Gothic; Crimosn Peak.

As I mentioned in my post about Hellboy 2Guillermo del Toro is my favourite director and this, his ninth feature, is one of his best films. There may be some light spoliers in this review but I will try to keep them as vague as possible. 

The story concerns Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young American writer who falls in love with Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleson), an English baronet who is seeking the investment of her industrialist father. After her father is murdered, Edith moves with Thomas, and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to Allerdale Hall, also known as Crimson Peak, the Sharpe's ancestral home in Cumbria, England. But the house is haunted and Edith has to investigate exactly what has happened there, 

Photo from playbuzz
To call this a ghost story is a misnomer though. It is not a Gothic Horror story but a Gothic Romance that harks back to the original Gothic traditions of  the Romantic and Victorian periods. The ghosts exist to aide Edith in her investigations not serve as menace. It draws on the works of writers like Ann RadcliffeSheridan Le Fanu, Henry James & Bram Stoker (the interest in new technology contrasting with old world mysteries reminds me a lot of Dracula) along with echos of Bluebeard and creates a story that would have not been out of place in 19th Century fiction. 

The acting is excellent. Jessica Chastain and  Mia Wasikowska in particular shine as the two female leads (It is a very feminine movie, suiting the Gothic traditions  it is drawing upon.)  Tom Hiddleson, one of my favourite actors, also impresses in his role as Thomas. 

Photo from digital trends
The costumes and sets are beautiful, It being a del Toro film means that a lot of care and attention has gone into everything from the elegance of the dresses worn by the ladies in the parties in America to the house itself which has to be one of the most amazing sets you will ever see in film.  The ghosts are for the most part practical effects rather than computer generated. As someone who grew up in the period before CGI, I appreciate this. 

del Toro on set with Jessica Chastain (photo from Los Angeles Magazine)

All in all this is an easy film to recommend and sits just behind Pan's Labyrinth as my favourite of the directors work. 

Monday 26 October 2015

Chapter 20 - Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries is a Canadian crime drama currently in it's 9th season. Based on a series of novels written by Maureen Jennings it follows the adventures of late 19th Century (early 20th Century in later seasons) Toronto Detective William Murdoch (played by Yannick Bisson). 

While most of the crimes Murdoch solves involve ordinary criminals, several of his cases have involved teaming up with notable personalities of the era, including: Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. WellsEmma Goldman, Jack LondonAlexander Graham Bell, Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and, of course, a host of Canadian personalities. He has saved the life of Queen Victoria and captured Jack The Ripper. The show doesn't take itself too seriously with some Steampunk elements creeping into the show, including death rays and killer German robots but it is well written and it's fun to see all the historical characters mix it up with Bisson's Murdoch who is a likable and charismatic lead.  

I have to admit I haven't seen the show since the end of series 5 (The end of the 19th Century) so I can't comment on how well it covers the Edwardian period but for the early seasons are an easy recommendation for fans of Victorian Detectives.  

Buy Murdoch Mysteries Box sets:

Amazon US  | Amazon UK