Movie review — The 13th Warrior — thumbs up

The 13th Warrior is a 1999 film starring Antonio Banderas which did not receive terrific reviews at the time (or since) and apparently did not do well financially either. But I recommend it. 

The story is set in A.D. 922. Banderas plays a Muslim Arab diplomat who joins a group of Vikings who head north to aid a besieged king. (The story is intentionally similar to that of Beowulf, in that regard.)  

The movie has just a 6.6 rating on IMDB. It gets criticized because it’s too violent; the story line is pretty straightforward action/adventure bedlam once the Vikings and the Arab arrive up north; and there are some loose ends left hanging.

So first, about the violence. Yes, heads get chopped off; people are impaled, shot through the head with arrows, etc., and there’s a lot of blood. But it’s no worse than many movies from the 90s and afterward. No worse than Gladiator or Pulp Fiction, for example. I’m not sure why critics take such offense at Vikings getting decapitated here (ahem, spoiler alert) when other films just as violent were considered works of genius. Honestly — Tarantino was canonized for Pulp Fiction, but the violence in The 13th Warrior is no worse and is basically historically accurate, in the sense that the Vikings were certainly violent people. 

Second, the action/adventure plot. Yes, it’s an action/adventure movie. There are chases, skirmishes, and battles. Secret passages and torch-bearing mobs. An army of bad guys are besieging a village, and the main characters . . . fight the bad guys. It’s not My Dinner With Andre

Third, loose ends. Yes, a half-baked subplot with the maybe-treacherous son of an aging king is never really resolved. Also, Banderas ditches a love interest who would have been an interesting person to take back to the Middle East. A different director (Michael Crichton) took over the movie when it was nearly complete, and some balls were dropped.  It’s a good flick anyway. 

Another great thing about this movie is that it has a very rare, positive depiction of a Muslim. Banderas’s character is educated, urbane, literate (unlike his companions), and brave. He rescues a young Viking girl. He sticks to his beliefs in an alien environment. Why do I care? It’s just nice to see positive press for a Muslim when so often in Hollywood films they’re simply villains. Banderas’s character reminds me of the hardworking Muslim detective in A Perfect Murder and . . . not too many other roles that I can think of. 

The movie does well depicting the polyglot tenth-century world of Viking travelers — they really did travel far to the south of their homes, down into Russia and Middle East. Banderas’s character has to have a friend (Omar Sharif!) translate for him from Arabic into Greek, so that a Greek-speaking Viking can pass along information from his band — it’s well done. A good movie to check out. 


Dunters, a.k.a. red caps

Dunters, sometimes known as red caps, are somewhat like orcs but have . . . worse teeth, if that’s possible. 


Dunter holding musket – by Luka Cakic

They are technologically more savvy than orcs, although they copy rather than invent. They also have powerful females who will at least rule a fortified manor with an iron hand even if they don’t typically join war parties.

Probably the best-known depiction of a dunter commonly found online is from the 1978 book Faeries by Alan Lee and Brian Froud. I feel bad for these guys because their illustration is so seldom attributed:


From the fine 1978 book Faeries by Alan Lee and Brian Froud!









There is also a dunter to be seen on a beer label, but he’s gone bourgeois on us:







Rotoscoped orcs

Here begins a series of posts about orcs and dunters.

Some striking orcs appeared in the 1978 animated version of Lord of the Rings — at least my 11-year-old self thought they were striking.


Rotoscoped orcs from Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 LOTR movie

I thought these looked unique, and menacing. Of course, what was unique in 1978, when one was 11, may be less unique now — but then again, rotoscoping is still pretty rare. 

Now, many commenters online have panned these orcs . . . for example see this comprehensive treatment of the film by Erik David Even:

Quantum vis . . . regardless, I think these rotoscoped fellows are clearly better than the pig-nosed variants who appeared for awhile in Dungeons & Dragons books.



Heroic fantasy novel: High Iron

Aiman Shearer and his family are content to live on the edge of their world, far from the empires of wizards and the cities of young industry, slowly building a prosperous farm after decades of plague and fire. But marauding dunters are exploiting steam power to seize land, and the cities of wizards are determined to consolidate influence in this new age of rails and cannon. Neither can ignore Aiman’s flourishing alpine village of Emmervale. Aiman and Emmervale must seek allies where they can find them; this may mean reclusive dwarves or eccentric outlaws. 


The dwarf clasped my hand. I am sorry to say that I jolted, somewhat, because I realized he was missing a finger. He held up the hand; the smallest was indeed gone.

“Lost in the trade,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” I said.

“We were diggers, once. Now we are blasters as well. I could greet with my left, but that’s no improvement,” he said. He held up that hand, and it too was short a finger, or most of one—the pointer in this case. He nodded down toward his explosives. “There’s the problem. But they have not taken the rest of me yet.”

Keeping Shakespeare alive!


As we get farther and farther from Shakespeare, chronologically, English continues to change, and his language will be continually harder for modern readers to follow. One way to counteract this is to revive now-uncommon words that he used. 

“Brabble” is an old word for a fight which Shakespeare used in Twelfth Night and Titus Andronicus. It is defined on this amazing site:

Brabble appears in some current dictionaries as an obsolete word, but in its sense of prattle or jabber. But this meaning of “quarrel” is clear in the plays as cited, and is given by

Brabble is used this way in my new fantasy novel, High Iron. I give it to a dwarf, who is talking about a long-ago schoolyard fight (although he wasn’t actually in a schoolyard).

The word sounds like a fight already, doesn’t it? Easy enough for our brains to latch onto. 

Another old word I revive is bourn, which means boundary — either in a figurative sense, or literally a land boundary. It appears seven times in Shakespeare, according to the site above. Once again I give it to dwarves, in High Iron. Dwarves just seem Shakespearean, don’t they?

This word “bourn” doesn’t seem as intuitive to me as brabble does . . . but now perhaps my readers will grasp it with no second thoughts when they see it in Shakespeare. 

High Iron has a third Shakespearean word, also, which is . . . I can’t remember, and didn’t make a note. But readers will get it at least from context when they come to it, trust me!




Searching for Melamid

most700I heard a reference to Alex Melamid today, on a repeat NPR show — the TED Talk series. Alexander Melamid is the supposed Russian-born artist who collaborated with a Vitaly Komar in 1994 in a project which claimed to survey people around the world about what their favorite painting would look like, and then generate paintings to fit.

You’ve heard of this, right? It was an article in The Nation in March 1994, followed by a paint-by-numbers publication and a website.

A New York Times article of September 2014 outlines another odd project of Melamid’s — art based on plumbing:

–and the journalist, while asking questions that indicate she knows that his ideas are intentionally outrageous, seems to assume that he is who he says he is.

He even has an Encyclopedia Brittanica entry, with his sidekick Komar:

And he has a photo and biographical information on the site of a publication, Artenol — the name is claimed to be inspired by Tylenol — which includes photo and bios from a number of collaborators:

All well and good, but when the painting-for-the-masses article ran in The Nation twenty years ago, the editors appeared to acknowledge that the names Komar and Melamid were invented. They printed a letter to the editor which read:

“I greatly enjoyed your humor issue. Congratulations to whoever thought up the names for the “emigre artists.” “Komar” and “Melamid” sound like new miracle plastics from Du Pont.” — Dennis Cassidy, Portland Ore.  (The Nation, Letters, May 16 1994) (I paid the blasted ten bucks to be able to access the archive)

The editors also refer to readers who “got it.”

So it seems Melamid is an assumed name, a Yes Man before his time; but with the Yes Men, the internet has caught on, and one can find information about their actual names. Melamid, whoever he is, seems to have created an unchallenged persona.