Tag Archives: history

‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’, by Susanna Clarke – review

Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Magic and fairies are not the proprietary subjects of teenage novels or esoteric pagan reference books that are exclusive to a select few. They were part of a belief system kept by your distant and not-so-distant ancestors, learned or unlearned, which was a fountain of their norms and mores and acculturated even into a Christian organized religion. So much so that the world of supernatural was thus believed to be hidden in this world of terrestrial, enveloping the outer circle of the earth with a gossamer of ethereal air, thinning the boundary of corporeal and incorporeal. This system of belief has survived particularly in the British Isles, where Celtic mysticism has produced its fairy progenies and dispersed them beyond the watery boundaries of the Isles. Out of such British fairy progenies comes this wonderfully imaginative Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke whose mission is to prove the world that there are more things in earth and heaven than are dreamt of in your rational impulse.

The story is a fascinating hybrid of history, adventure, and fantasy all entertainingly interwoven in the magical tapestry of literature. It’s also a great house of imaginativeness built upon Clarke’s erudition of the subjects ranging from the rise and decline of English magicians to the changing social customs and values, all the marks upon her mastery of storytelling that will make you steeped in the pages after pages as if you were enchanted by her alchemy of words. Her characters are extraordinary, but their personalities are not far from the ordinary, which endows a sense of verisimilitude upon the story and leads you to a seemingly obvious path to the maze of her fascinating tale. It is Clarke’s own magic that creates this wondrous make-believe world of magicians and fairies who are indeed very much alive in her mind’s theater to which she invites you to join her in the bewitching festival via witchcraft of literature.

Her vivacious creativity doubled with her alchemy of words accounts for a thick volume of the handy little book, which is also extraordinary for a customary semblance of a paperback. This also shows Clarke’s ability to record supernatural events and things in the ordinary subjects with her dazzling narrative skills and ingenious composition of plots seamlessly connected to one another that would have been an infelicity of redundant multiplication of stories as a result of insufficient creative ammunition. Which is to say that this book will take you from the rut of your ordinary reality to the world beyond where you can summon a fairy to your service and make a wish, especially at this epochal moment of time when you need something delightful to read.

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‘Stupid Ancient History’, by Leland Gregory- review

Stupid Ancient HistoryStupid Ancient History by Leland Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The purpose of history is to transcend the subjectivity of times in the discovery of the truth about human nature with multidisciplinary approaches that aid in our understanding of the continuity of mankind. In this sense, history is an artifact of a collective human enterprise of culture and society, which mirrors how we humans have been, what we have done, and who we really are from the times immemorial to this date. If this sounds too stuffy and boring with the gravitas of an academic subject filled with dates and names and events to remember for exams, then you will love Stupid Ancient History by Leonard Gregory because it will make you both learned and amused with a course of delightful Amuse- Bouches throughout a solipsistic feast of reading to your heart’s content.

Filled with many unknown tidbits of ancient Greek and Roman history, this book is a pleasure to your brain overtly fed by fake-news, ego-inflated memoirs of successful people, revisionist histories in favor of political ideology, and vehemently subjective narratives of self-proclaimed outsiders away from the realities of daily lives. It’s also refreshingly accessible to all, average and academic, which shows the humble and benign character of the author who, despite his wealth of knowledge on the subject, translates the words of an academic into those of a student seemingly with a general reader in mind. The book reveals it all; it ranges from Cleopatra VII Thea Philopather, (aka Mark Anthony’s Egyptian Lover, who wasn’t really Egyptian) to Pliny the Elder, who believed that pouring vinegar over ships gave them some slight protection against storms, to Emperor Nero, who didn’t play the violin during the Great Fire of Rome but paid out of his pocket for the provisions and housing for the homeless due to the fire, to the great ancient thinker Plato, the name meaning “wide, broad, broad-shouldered” betrayed his real name Aristocres, and to many others that will wow your brain conditioned to believe what they weren’t really.

It’s a really a Eureka experience that you will get from reading this delightful book, and you will feel effortlessly erudite in the knowledge of history and positively enriched with the knowledge of humankind that has not changed a bit according to the racy but playfully innocent scribbles found in the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii. What’s more, by adopting the in-vogue trend of using short episodic vignettes, the book doesn’t require your following the entire chapters to sequence the narrative and makes it a very pleasing and flexible read for the benefit of simple mental pleasure. So, if you want to be conversant with the history of ancient Greece and Rome without being overwhelmed by stuffy words and boring typography in one sitting, this book is the genie to your wish.

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The Pathfinder of the American West – review

John C. Fremont: The Life and Legacy of the Legendary American Explorer Known as The PathfinderJohn C. Fremont: The Life and Legacy of the Legendary American Explorer Known as The Pathfinder by Charles River Editors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before the dawn of civilization set on the American West
With metal horses and electrical messages and gold mines,
The braveheart John Charles Fremont opened unpathed trails,
Uncharted rivers, and undreamed regions of the unknown
Crossing from the east of the Appalachians to the west of the Rockies,
Following the watery highways of the west of the Mississippi rivers
Enduring the perils of nature and hostilities of the ancient tribes
Defying the temptations of returning to civilization with all might
In the discovery of new hopes, new opportunities, and new beginnings
For those wishing for a surrendering of old yesterdays and a trust in new tomorrows.

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‘Tom Horn: The Controversial Life and Legacy of One of the Wild West’s Most Famous Gunslingers by Charles River Editors’, – review

Tom Horn: The Controversial Life and Legacy of One of the Wild West’s Most Famous GunslingersTom Horn: The Controversial Life and Legacy of One of the Wild West’s Most Famous Gunslingers by Charles River Editors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You may know what you are, but you don’t know what you may be. Things never seem to go in a way that you want them to, and life can’t always be lived at the same pitch as your heart’s content. For the fickle nature of life is beyond your mortal measure, which is called the vagaries of life according to the positions of the slings and arrows of the Wheel of Fortune on which someone’s loss can become your windfalls and vice versa. That’s why life isn’t fair, and you know it, but you just have to bear it with a grin in the manner of an obscure performer on stage getting the part you don’t like. It’s easy to be said and done, but that’s how the life of Tom Horn, one of the Wild West’s most famous and last gunslingers, seems to mirror how the play of the Fate in company of the juggernaut of an epoch betrays a man’s life despite his efforts to carve it out according to his will, which makes me question the validity of Calvin’s Doctrine of Predestination that I have thus far resisted.

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Steve Macqueen as Tom Horn

Tom Horn, born on November 20th, 1860 in Missouri, was an American scout, cowboy, soldier, cattle detective, and Pinkerton agent in the 19th-century and early 20th-century American Old West, spanning the two epochal societal and economic changes of the West that permeated the lives of the frontiersmen and women in all aspects of their contemporary life. However, nobody struggled to be accustomed to the changes more than the infamous Tom Horn, who allegedly committed 17 killings as a hired gunman throughout the west, including the dramatic capturing of the legendary Apache warrior Geronimo due to his commendable knowledge of Indian languages and negotiation skills. And yet, Tom Horn was not the usual footless gunslinger killing people for leisure or money, hanging around at saloons, or roaming about the town just to get kicks for scaring the onlookers with that usual contrived look of machismo. He was always working or in search of working out in the field, self-employed or employed, riding the horse from one end of the frontier to the other end where guns were a means of law and life. Until the U.S, Census Bureau officially closed the Western Frontier in 1900, Horn had been working as a mercenary assassin for the cattle industry whose job was to ambush cattle rustlers hired by local cattle lords. And it was during this employment that Horn was accused of killing a young boy in Iron Mountain, Wyoming as a result of a growing feud between the cattle and sheep industries breaking all borders of rationality.

Whether Horn really killed the boy remains unresolved on the grounds of insufficient substantial evidence, but upon my reading of the book in association with watching the selfsame movie, starring Steve McQueen as Tom Horn, I posit that Horn must have been framed for the murder of the boy because (1) he was always a lone wolf without attachments; (2) he had extensive working experiences of handling fugitives, criminals, and hostile natives as an expert marksman; and (3) he wasn’t as cunning and slick as others to protect himself from false accusations and other kinds of infamy.

In fact, Horn was a scapegoat for the changing social climate of the West in the transition from a lawless territory to a civilized society that slowly began to simulate the East Coast, where a man like Horn would be a subject of public farce, ridicule, and reprehension as an epitome of the barbarity of man deprived of the common constraints of civilization retorting back to the old law of teeth for teeth and eye for an eye. Horn’s glorious achievements as a dependable scout who guided the army through the unpatched perils trails packed full of unknown dangers to the frontier, a reliable bounty hunter who did his job well, and a good, conscientious employee obeying his employers were naught in the greedy minds of his cattle lords, and thus his existence was simply expendable just as another precarious serf who could be terminated for good at their wills.

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Steve McQueen during a break on the set of Tom Horn

Horn’s life was ended in the gallows generated by waters in a Wyoming prison on November 20, 1903. During his numbered days in a cell, Horn wrote his autobiography, Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter, published posthumously in 1904. Even Geronimo expressed his disbelief of Horn’s charges and the killing of the boy in a cold-blooded fashion. True that Tom Horn has become something of a Western saga with his larger-than-life figure. Nevertheless, he was not a fictional character but a real man who tried to make the best of his life in the wilderness of the West alone with what he had. I believe that Horn was a collective scapegoat sacrificed for expiating the barbarous past of the 19th Century western frontier for the want of a new zeitgeist of the 20th century civilized western society. For this, nobody sums up the tragedy of Tom Horns better than Elizabethan dramatist and poet Shakespeare: “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” This is why my resistance to the doctrine of Predestination is being inclined to the truce for consideration.

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the return of yankee jim

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Sometimes they either don’t know they are dead or wouldn’t accept it because of strong attachments to their once earthly abodes. You may think it’s a puerile imagining to believe in ghosts, but there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy. As someone who is keen on supernatural phenomena happening in the background of our ordinary landscape of daily life, it gave me a fillip when I came upon an article from my subscribed history magazine the other day about the historical capital punishments going horribly awry as though to use the grisly scenes of capital punishment as a reminder of societal retribution for eye for eye. It also reminded me of a story of the condemned whose ordeal of execution was so unbearably painful that he is still roaming around at his execution site as though with eternal lingering attachment to his earthly life.

Here in Southern California, the story of James Robinson (aka Yankee Jim) who was executed for an attempted grand larceny in San Diego in 1852, is something of haunted folklore that attracts tourists and ghost hunters. He was hanged on a gallows off the back of a wagon, but being a tall man with long legs, he resisted being killed by keeping his feet in the wagon but was at last pulled off. His body then swung like a pendulum until he strangled to death. And it was this very site of hanging that one Thomas Whaley, who happened to witness the execution himself, built his dream house where he and his family soon began to hear the unexpected phantom footsteps as if being made by the boots of a large man, walking noise, and the windows mysteriously unlatched and opened up. Lilian Whaley, the Whaleys’ youngest daughter living in the house until 1953 was certain that it was the ghost of Yankee Jim haunting their house. Now the Whaley House is the Whaley Museum, a California Historical Landmark located in Old Town, San Diego, California.

However, ‘Yankee Jim’ still lives there because although unseen, his presence is felt and heard by visitors and staff at the museum. Never malicious or naughty, the ghost of the hanged man is said to rather shyly manifest himself by footsteps, markings on the wall, or opening and closing of windows. So much so that the Whaley Museum, along with the Winchester Mystery House, is certified by the US Department of Commerce that it is genuinely haunted. So if you live in Southern California, it’s worth visiting the Museum and Jim. I think I may pay a visit. The address is 2476 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110.