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A Quest that begins in a Tavern... - Nothing New Under The Sun
(the ARX acta diurna)
bellatrys
bellatrys
A Quest that begins in a Tavern...
...with a female Paladin disguised as a man, sent by the ghost of Merlin the magician, meeting up with a halfling Thief, both of them competing to rescue a mixed-race Warrior, who is also a descendant of Hector and Andromache of Troy (their son Astyanax was secretly saved and hidden from the Greeks along with Hector's sword, which is an Augmented Weapon and the subject of several side quests in the campaign) from the stainless-steel castle where he's being held prisoner for his own safety (since he's a Chosen One of Prophecy whose presence will bring victory to either side but doomed to die young if he joins the battle) by an African sorcerer, who has a flying mount and uses a ruby-laser shield to knock his enemies out with stun-rays, is:

a) an example of "PC gone mad™" in the fantasy genre today;

b) the sort of insane mish-mash of cliches, anachronisms, mythology rip-offs and proper nouns improperly used that gives gaming a bad name;

c) taken directly from an internationally-bestselling work of serio-comic epic fantasy itself derived from earlier popular fantasy tales, which the author reworked and polished for decades, that was first published under the d'Estes in Renaissance Italy and ripped off subsequently by everybody from Edmund Spenser to Georg Friedrich Händel.



--Well, I haven't done a Trick Question in a long while...

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Comments
furikku From: furikku Date: December 30th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
d) the sort of campaign I would love to be part of.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 30th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

8D

I left out the bit where the halfling Rogue has a stolen Magic Ring (Invisibility and Dispell Enchantment) - wasn't sure if that would be a) too much of a reveal, b) too much of a wallbanger...
From: violaswamp Date: December 31st, 2008 01:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: 8D

...SERIOUSLY?
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 31st, 2008 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Yeah, it's actually Angelica's ring from the first book

which was never finished by the time of Boiardo's death, so Ariosto just made his own continuation in a similar style with much of the same canon, but adding new charas and plotlines, too. (There's apparently some controversial extra stuff that may or may not have been intended to be added in, which would have tied one of the villains and storylines he put in with the original "Song of Roland" conclusion, and may or may not have been finished, before Ariosto died - yeah, the similarities just keep stacking up, don't they?)

So anyway in Boiardo's story - you can read the first chapter for free online here - Angelica, the golden-haired princess of China and her brother Argalia (who's calling himself Umberto for reasons that don't make too much sense to me) show up out of nowhere accompanied by a bodyguard of giants, to the court of Charlemagne just like a scene out of Arthurian romance and challenge everyone to duel with Argalia for Angelica's hand. (We are not told if they are twins.) But this is all part of some cunning plot of the Khan's to conquer France with magic (earliest Yellow Peril in Pulp trope sighting?), including the ring, which is actually Argalia's but they take turns with it, and after he gets killed in a joust at some point (this is told right away in Orlando Furioso so not really spoilers) she inherits it, but it gets stolen by the dwarf Brunello, who is under orders from the Moorish king Agramante to get it so that they can "rescue" his nephew Ruggiero from Ruggiero's old tutor who just wants to keep him safe, to be their secret weapon in the coming battle, which is now about revenge and not just over Helen^h^h^h^hAngelica, since Agramante's father was killed in the previous book fighting against Roland, iirc. (Other canons have a dead brother too, from whom Roland took Durendal, which was originally Hector of Troy's sword. Nooooo, we are TOTALLY not spot-welding the Iliad onto the Song of Roland to provide character motivation for that story, whyever would you think so?)

The idea is that the ring will make it possible to get through all the wizard's defenses, and/or destroy them, since it conveys invisibility on the person holding it in their mouth (this ALWAYS seems problematic to me) and when worn, neutralizes all other spells in the immediate vicinity. (See the first chapter of Boiardo, for a demonstration.) However, Bradamante, who is one of Ariosto's many OFCs, and a Champion of Charlemagne's court (as well as an addition to a famous family of rebels from older French legend cycles, thus cousin of Ogier the Dane and Huon of the Horn etc) saw Ruggiero ONCE and fell madly in love with him so while her brother and all the other guys are chasing Angelica now, she's chasing Ruggiero. (But it's FATE!) So Merlin's ghost, through the medium of the Mage Melissa, tell her about the Ring and how she needs to steal it from Brunello so *she* can rescue Ruggiero herself and eventually have little proto-d'Estes with him.

Eventually Angelica - who gets interestingly demoted from proto-Dragon Lady to a moderately spunky Damsel-in-Distress between OI and OF - gets her ring back and uses it to rescue herself from bad situations, but I haven't ever finished the book because I keep getting about 1/3 of the way through and have to start making diagrams and family trees to keep everyone straight, and not having the prequel made it really hard (Ariosto does a better job than some authors of including relevant backstory info, but it's not 100%).
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 31st, 2008 02:01 am (UTC) (Link)

also

Frankly the problem is that Ruggerio is just kind of *lacking* as a noble hero, no matter how much the Author tries to tell us he's All That, so I am kind of wanting to slash Angelica and Bradamante, future d'Estes be hanged, as *my* fixfic on the whole stupid plotline of Angelica obsessing for months over Bradamante's brother Rinaldo who was a total jerk until they both drank from magic anti-love potions which reverse whatever emotion you feel towards someone and now Rinaldo's the one obsessed with her and she can't stand him which is [part of] the critical backstory from OI.

...Did I mention the super-intelligent matchmaking horse that's trying to fix up Angelica and Rinaldo because Angelica used to try to get Rinaldo to like her by bringing prezzies to his horse? And the ghost of Argalia popping up out of a river to scold his killer, who is currently trying to fish his helmet out of said river after dropping it in by accident? And - I haven't gotten this far yet, but - another paladin rides the hippogryph on yet another side Quest to the Moon, which is the repository it turns out for all lost things, including Roland's sanity (yes, he too, like so many a knight of romance, ends up running around naked in the woods deranged over a lost love - no, not THAT kind of romance! Though it would be a lot funnier if...)

And there's a totally anachronistic cannon Mysterious Superweapon made of bronze and explosives, too, which provides opportunities for yet another AN, this time about the awfulness of modern warfare and weaponry in this unchivalrous age. (Which Homer totally did about arrows back in the Bronze Age, btw.)

Yeah. Pure, unadulterated crackfic.
From: violaswamp Date: December 31st, 2008 04:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: also

I am kind of wanting to slash Angelica and Bradamante, future d'Estes be hanged, as *my* fixfic on the whole stupid plotline

OMG you should do it! I love femslash fixfic. And, hey, she can have sex with the guy ONCE to make a future d'Este, and then never touch him again. Or use a period-equivalent of a turkey baster.

Heh, the awfulness of warfare in this unchivalrous age. I guess that's another version of Kids These Days, huh?
From: violaswamp Date: December 31st, 2008 04:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yeah, it's actually Angelica's ring from the first book

That sounds like some fascinating crack. Thanks for the summary!
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 31st, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

The thing I love about it

is that Ariosto has all these heroes - *and* heroines - of different races and nationalities and heights all running around Europe, hanging out in inns, competing in sports events, going on quests, and nobody blinks. And nobody blinks at casual magic use, either - *anybody* may turn out to be a sorcerer with a book of spells in their pocket and the ability to summon up spirits just like that, or have some Augmented gear, or an Augmented mount. Even though it's supposed to be straight historical fic in a Christian setting :cough:

And apparently Renaissance European audiences didn't have a problem with this in their Epic Fantasy fic.

And if you rewrote it, with the names filed off and as prose (or a video game), and presented it as taking place in a Dragonlance-sort of world, IMMEDIATELY you would get a bunch of white fanboys-and-girls complaining about how "unrealistically-PC" it was. (Because there's nothing unrealistic about hippogryphs and laser shields and super intelligent horses and guys jumping 20' in full armor after fighting all day, but non-white, non-male Paladins are really stretching the suspension of disbelief...)
From: violaswamp Date: December 31st, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh how I hate that claim

"Unrealistically PC!" Gah.

So many people seem to think "historically accurate" means "conforming to my ignorant preconceptions about the time period."

I seem to recall that Pratchett, after writing Monstrous Regiment (which I've yet to read), was besieged with letters telling him that this could NEVER HAPPEN. (As opposed to the stark realism of dwarves and trolls!) But Pratchett had actually gotten the idea from history, from the large #s of women who actually did ride off to battle.

And of course there's no reason to write a woman or minority character except to be "PC"...*headdesk* I hate stupid people.
fridgepunk From: fridgepunk Date: December 31st, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh how I hate that claim

I've been reading Kate Adie's Corsets to Camoflage recently, and she's got all sorts of examples f women soldiers in periods when you'd think there weren't any - She tells this story (told to her by a serbian translator while she, her cameraman and the translator were hiding under a sink and hoping a passing serbian tank or mortar shell didn't knock a wall on top of them all and crush them to death) of a Vlora Sandee, the english daughter of an irish vicar who ended up gaining the rank of captain as a soldier in a serbian infantry regiment during ww1.

Also the little factoid about old sail navy vessels having washerwomen on board was illuminating.
From: deiseach Date: January 2nd, 2009 05:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh how I hate that claim

Just off the top of my head, two ballads from or about the Year of the French (1798):

from "The Boys of Wexford"

"In comes the captain's daughter,the captain of the Yeos,
Saying "Brave United Irishman, we'll ne'er again be foes.
A thousand pounds I'll give you and fly from home with thee,
And dress myself in man's attire and fight for liberty."

from "General Munroe"

"Then up came Munroe’s sister, she was all dressed in green,
With a sword by her side that was well-sharped and keen.
Giving three hearty cheers, away she did go
Saying, "I’ll have revenge for my brother Munroe."

It's uncountable the number of ballads about women disguising themselves as men and going to sea as sailors or joining the army to follow their lover or brother.

ann_leckie From: ann_leckie Date: December 30th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
e)a freaking awesome read, if handled right.
nenya_kanadka From: nenya_kanadka Date: December 30th, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
It sounds like an interesting story! :D
lyorn From: lyorn Date: December 30th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
b) and c) are not mutually exclusive. Setting consistency in fantasy (or historical romance) is a relatively modern idea, and every cliche was a trope once.

Many of the classics of fantasy and horror/gothic are so out there that they would be described today either as "postmodern" or "on crack".
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 30th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, but Orlando was cracky when it was fresh

also much with the cliches, some of them he seems - operative word "seems" - to have introduced, but I'm more and more inclined to think he just popularized them, that they were already "out there" in late medieval pop culture and what he did was take ALL of them and throw them into this giant mulligan stew, with snappy writing and a lot of humour plus Teh Sexay (and a lot more equal-opportunity than many modern creators.) And somehow it was *exactly* what Western European consumers of adventure fic wanted, right then.

But basically what he's doing is taking the plotline that Boiardo concocted - and I am *finally* almost about to be able to get a copy of the unabridged Orlando Innamorato, at a bargain price, so I'll be able to see what he invented/changed in his fanfic/fixfic - which was already a head-on collision of the existing Charlemagnian legends with The Mysterious East and oodles of fantasy cliches like giants and magic rings and enchanted armour and sentient horses and teleportation spells - and dialed it up to 11.

And it was *very* postmodern - he's explicitly ObReffing classical mythology like mad even while he knocks off entire sequences out of the Greco-Roman canon. This kind of thing was already being done by Chaucer (q.v. the Knight's Tale) but it takes a special kind of l'audace to invoke Hercules and Hector and Astrea and Athena, and then redo the entire Perseus-saves-Andromeda sequence starring your own characters and setting it on the coast of Ireland instead. While the famous, ubiquitous medieval "ZOMG WHALE NOT ISLAND" story is just a throw-away aside in the middle of a complete and unhidden remake of the Circe sequence done up as a whacky sex comedy with lots of monsters. It's kind of the Barbarella-meets-eighties-Flash Gordon of chivalric romance - and I haven't even touched the business with all these knights running around in the forest like characters in a Marx Bros. movie, or making Saiyan-style leaps in full armor. It's basically the exact opposite of the elegant, refined, erudite, Humanist culture you read about in history books, and people then *loved* it, which itself says about the times that has gotten left out of the official version of The Renaissance. Renaissance Humanism on crack - and flying off the shelves.

Thus you get Spenser remaking it and trying to make it significantly less cracky (and succeeding) and much more unified (and succeeding) but losing a lot of the bizarro charm of it. And Tasso the same, trying to write stuff in the same vein but more serious and "high-minded" as well as mindful of the Aristotelian unities. (Oh hey! Remember so-and-so who we last saw shipwrecked in Scotland, hundreds of pages ago? Getting back to him now...) As much as Boiardo's original (which was itself remade in a less-cracky fashion a few decades after Ariosto's sequel came out) I'd love to find some contemporary critical responses to the Furioso, because it's so much not the old, quirky "Matter of France" type stories that it's so-loosely based on, and so much the anticipator of madcap fantasy/drama in English lit, especially Shakespeare, and Shakespeare's plays gave the Serious Literary Folks fits back when because *they* didn't follow the Establishment's rules for fiction, *either*.
fledgist From: fledgist Date: December 31st, 2008 01:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Every cliché was once fresh and new.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 31st, 2008 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)

The thing is...

I'm not sure a lot of Ariosto's cliches were even new back when Homer used them. But there comes this point when you kind of just have to sit back and boggle in awe at the sheer audacity of the swiping - um, "homages" - AND the exuberance with which they're all hot-glued together into this monumental...THING.

It's kind of like somebody doing one of those massive garbage sculptures, the ones made of ten thousand bottlecaps and the hood of a VW beetle and baby doll heads and lava lamps and a Cessna propeller and a smashed set of Wedgewood and somehow it all comes together and becomes this amazingly wonderful monstrosity - only in this case, the "found object art" is a fifty-foot tall Nike of Samothrace made out of old silverware and bike frames and carnival beads and a gooseneck lamp and three lawn chairs and an actual lamella from a Roman cuirass and the large size model Millennium Falcon with the flashing lights and sound effects and an Andy Warhol poster dipped in plastic...
fledgist From: fledgist Date: December 31st, 2008 02:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The thing is...

All I can say is: *snort*
thoth From: thoth Date: December 30th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
z) The product of too many Hot Pockets and cans of Safeway Select.
tlachtga From: tlachtga Date: December 30th, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
b) the sort of insane mish-mash of cliches, anachronisms, mythology rip-offs and proper nouns improperly used that gives gaming a bad name;

Every writer steals; the question is how well it's used.

Also, good lord, how many halflings with magic rings are there?
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 31st, 2008 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Also, good lord, how many halflings with magic rings are there?

I'm not really familiar enough with the Matter of France to know how much we can blame on Boiardo/Ariosto, though even if they didn't come up with the Ring of Invisibility & Dispell Enchantment they certainly did mainstream the concept. (actually I suspect this is probably another mythology swipe, from the Ring of Gyges story - OI/OF as the "Legendary Journeys/Xena" of the 15th century?)
From: deiseach Date: December 31st, 2008 09:53 am (UTC) (Link)

*is hit over the bonce with the hammer of awesomeness*

"OI/OF as the "Legendary Journeys/Xena" of the 15th century?"

Damnation, that's it *exactly*! That is precisely what it is! Take all the old stories that everyone knows (or at least half-knows, in a 'floating around in the cultural background' way), toss in some modernizing, add in some topical references and in-jokes and celebrity gossip, and just let the whole thing stew. The way that episodes from the "Iliad" are recreated sounds exactly like the way I went "Hey, that's the scene from 'A Chinese Ghost Story', the first movie!" when they did it in "Xena", and I imagine Ariosto meant to evoke exactly the same reaction in his readers.

I'd be willing to bet that this also answers the question of what were the "contemporary critical responses"; the same way that Gower was considered a Serious Poet by his contemporaries, while Chaucer - yeah, nice guy, does some pretty little rhymes, but nothing that's gonna last like Johnny's stuff, ya know?

I can see the critics of the day sniffing about lowest common denominator and pandering to lowbrow taste and dumbing-down and of course it's wildly popular and making money hand-over-fist but in fifty years' time who'll still be reading it?

Actually, it sounds like a soap-opera: the enormous cast of characters who have increasingly more outrageous adventures, the characters who are killed off only to reappear as ghosts or their Evil Twins, the storylines that develop over seasons so that there are years' worth of backstory and the tangles of remembering exactly who married/abandoned/adopted/turned out to be the love-child of whom and all their friends, relations, and enemies.





bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 31st, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: *is hit over the bonce with the hammer of awesomeness*

I can see the critics of the day sniffing about lowest common denominator and pandering to lowbrow taste and dumbing-down and of course it's wildly popular and making money hand-over-fist but in fifty years' time who'll still be reading it?

Apparently even Tasso was too far out there - he sent *his* epic out to leading critics of the day and asked for their recommendations, and they wanted the magic out (passing the buck to the Inquisition), the far-ranging plot points out (passing the buck to Aristotle), the mushy romance out, etc. So we can safely say they must have been flipping out with each new illustrated edition of Orlando that came off the press.

Some of them must have been saying "Now, you just look Sannazaro! He's going to be the one people will still be talking about centuries from now," or "Wow, this new kid Trissino, HE knows how to write *epic*!" and continuing to be baffled when people kept on reading - and writing knockoffs - of Ariosto.

and I imagine Ariosto meant to evoke exactly the same reaction in his readers.

Yeah, he isn't even trying to hide it - it's not quite, but almost, "Here are the same adventures being repeated by a New Generation of Superheroes!" which, yanno, is another genre trope that hasn't exactly fallen into disuse either...

I also find it funny that the whole Orlando project is basically a fixfic of The Song of Roland - I didn't realize it at first, I thought it was just a knockoff, but learning about the Unfinished Cantos (which I need to track down too now) makes it clear that it wasn't just "New Adventures For Familiar Characters" but also an attempt to gapfill and provide plausible (for a given value of p) motivations for the events in Song of Roland, plus bringing in all the surrounding popular characters from *other* Charlemagnian legends and tying them into the action.

So the fight at Roncevalles (itself a strange updating/kludge of several different historical eras in one fiction, or, How come the "Moors" all have Visigothic names?) isn't just a clash of world powers over territory, or even religion, but a *personal* feud between knights and houses, AND gets tied into the ur-fiction of Europe for the past circa-2000 years, the Matter of Troy. (Given that we're STILL fighting over Who Owns Western Culture, this is probably a dissertation topic - how much of a ?sub?conscious attempt to deal with the fact that the return of so much Classical culture to Western Europe was via Arab scholars, I wonder..."Dammit, WE'RE the Real Trojans! Not you neo-Carthaginians! Just read Virgil!")

And then, apparently, he was going to give Ganelon a more plausible motivation for betraying everyone - manipulation by a vengeful Alcina (who is totally NOT Circe, Circe didn't have Morgan le Fay as a sister OR a harem of boytoys and sparkly unicorns to ride on, did she?) out to punish the main charas for destroying her Sekrit Island Base, instead of *just* that he's the Designated Bad Guy in canon...

the storylines that develop over seasons so that there are years' worth of backstory and the tangles of remembering exactly who married/abandoned/adopted/turned out to be the love-child of whom and all their friends, relations, and enemies.

It would make the crackiest Western-anime EVAR, wouldn't it?

From: deiseach Date: December 31st, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

It can never be repeated too often

Fanfiction has a long and distinguished pedigree; much of mediaeval literature was people filling in the gaps, or taking their favourite characters and writing the further adventures of..., or doing AUs, or all the other things so dear and familiar to fans.

"It would make the crackiest Western-anime EVAR, wouldn't it?"

It would have to be done that way, and even then, I can see some of the plot having to be scrapped as just too way-out there :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 6th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: It can never be repeated too often

I'd be ecstatic to see a good animated series (or reasonably-budgeted live-action series) of the Orlando romances. There's so much cool and cracky material there, and it's all public domain!

- Chris
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 31st, 2008 07:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: *is hit over the bonce with the hammer of awesomeness*

For an extra helping of crackiness, we have Arak, Son of Thunder (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arak_(comics)), a DC comics character of the early 80s. Arak was an American Indian raised by Vikings who wandered around Europe and Asia having adventures with the warrior woman Valda (daughter of Bradamante) and the world's last living satyr. The sorceress Angelica was his main enemy.

Fred
From: deiseach Date: December 31st, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Completely in the spirit of the original

I'm sure Ariosto would have loved to introduce a Native American hero, if he could have figured out any way to manage it.

Superhero comics are a great fit for this type of work - a character like Dr. Strange would be right at home in "Orlando Furioso", wouldn't he?
From: anna_wing Date: January 1st, 2009 04:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I have always thought of OF as the Western version of Journey To The West. Absolutely perfect material to be a 184-episode wuxia serial!

Though if our hostess wanted to re-write it as a ten (twenty!)-volume, modern-language fantasy epic, I would enjoy it a lot more than any of the current offerings in that sub-genre, all of which seem to be high on gloom, grime, sexism, and the kind of worldbuilding that I can only describe as glumly pedestrian.
sajia From: sajia Date: January 1st, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I second anna_wing's proposal.
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