Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.8): The Friar’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

Now it is time for a change of pace. Let’s brush away the awkward heteronormativity of the past and embrace something else, something like… moral lessons on money and extortion. Yeah.

                Chaucer’s The Friar’s Tale is one of a summoner, someone who works for the church and summons wrongdoers to stand-trial for their wrongdoings. Thing is, this summoner is an extortionist who charges people with false sins and then demands that he pay them for the charge to be erased. One day, though, he meets another young extortionist; the two pledge loyalty to one another, like a twisted kindergarten friendship before the summoner learns that his newly found friend is actually a fiend from Hell! Spooky. But, our summoner is unphased and the pair go scam hunting. While hunting, the summoner tries to extort money from a little old lady but the lady curses the summoner to Hell. Since the summoner had recently pledged himself to the fiend, the demon is obligated to drag the summoner to Hell. The end.

                In all, it is a nice god-fearing tale any Catholic or even protestant should feel at home in reading to their young. In fact, it is almost quaint.

                How would one re-enact this tale, then? As far as our Pilgrim Literary contestant is concerned, it is through tweets; enter Hugh Fryer’s (ugh) tale!

                Per the norm, the tale is re-told but with a modern aesthetic. Fryer tells his tale as a bystander looking on as he watches some shady business unfold, he tweeting developments as they happen supposedly in real-time. In this scenario, the summoner is a repo man, an occupation crooked even at the best of times. The devil in disguise is an unnamed mysterious stranger. From here, the tale, more or less, unfolds as it does according to Chaucer; instead of being dragged to Hell, though, the repo man is kidnapped by mafia thugs. Even the mid-story interruption by another tale-teller is represented thanks to conflicting tweets from another account, a clever way to represent inter-textual conflict.

                My response to “Hugh’s” tale is indifferent. I think it was clever of them to use tweets in the way that they did; the storyline, when read, had a voyeuristic element that Chaucer’s original lacked. Really, it was a fusion of thriller and suspense. So, there is a lot to praise. Yet, the tale was also repetitive; reading nothing but tweets can get monotonous. I cannot hold this element of the tale against it since many stories are told through nothing but text—like the Harry Potter based fan-fiction—but it still was something I didn’t think highly of all the same.

                But, it was original. So I will gladly give this tale a 7/10.

Summery Link:

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.7): The Wife of Bath’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

Undoubtedly the most famous of Chaucer’s tales, The Wife of Bath’s tale is one for any lover of literature. Critics still fiercely debate its feminist qualities and why is apparent. Told by a tale-teller who has had no less than five husbands since the age of twelve, the ensuing story is one of gender-role, womanly independence, and what it means to have a healthy relationship.

                The tale begins by inverting the Arthurian narrative. Here we see a knight who rapes a lady. As punishment, instead of being executed, he is sent off for a year in search of answering a single question—what is it that women want most in life? Through his travels, he encounters many answers. Eventually, though, and fortunately for him, he encounters the lady who claims to know the true answer. Returning to court, he utters his response: what women want most in life is to oversee their man (more or less). Correct! The knight’s life is spared but in return, the old woman who told him of the correct answer demands that the knight marry her; so, it is done but the knight is displeased. His new elderly wife so posits before him the following: the knight may have her young and beautiful but unfaithful or he can have her old and ugly but faithful. The knight knows not which answer and responds that she should be the one to choose. Of course, this is another test and in allowing the woman to choose—i.e., what woman want most in life—the knight is blessed with restored wife who is young and beautiful but also faithful. The end. They lived happily ever after.

                Clearly, this story is cut above any of the previous tales. It’s subject matter is weighty, it is not afraid to invert the standard, and it tackles gender and gender-roles, not to mention the gritty reality of knighting, head-on. This is to say that this is not your daddy’s Arthurian fable.

                I will spare you the back and forth on the theory, scholarship, and interpretations on this tale. Now is hardly the place. What is relevant to our investigation is that this is one of Chaucer’s best-known pieces and the turf where the ‘serious’ are separated from the ‘casual’ when it comes to Chaucerian studies. So, because of this, any modern re-telling would need to really pull out the big guns to impress.

                The modern tale-teller does fine. It is nothing over-the-top but I feel they hit their mark well.

                Choosing to use the username “Wife of Bath” instead of identifying themselves in any ostentatious manner, the contemporary tale-teller uses the device of a woman’s magazine advice column. She pretends to receive a letter from a woman frustrated that her husband can never take her hints about what she desires and then proceeds to relate to the fictional woman a story about a playboy—the Knight from Chaucer’s tale—who must figure out what woman want most in life prior to regaining his job after being suspended for sexual harassment.

                This tale is told plainly. There are no images, no GIFs, no videos, no audio. It is just good old-fashioned text. But, this work to its advantage. If we must suspend our disbelief and pretend that the tale is an advice column for woman, then this suits the subject matter; after all, does not Chaucer’s story essentially function as a woman-to-woman real talk session? Sure, the magical quality is retained and the ‘beautiful ideal’ is swapped for a ‘supermodel’, but as a recontextualization, the tale works wonderfully; there is no confusion, the logical threads are clearly perceived in relation to the original tale, and most importantly, the story feels correct.

                Yeah, the tale lacks flair but that is fine. I am happy with it as is and give it a 7.5/10.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Enchanted Assemblages: The End?

Well, it has been a nice ride, but this is the end of Enchanted Assemblages.

Wait, what?! I hear you exclaim; was it not just a week or so ago that there was a triumphant EA post? This is true; understand, though, that these posts I schedule months in advance. As I create content, things change while I focus on other projects; the content you see published every few days, was originally scheduled long ago and so as I push ahead, some things get left behind. It is part of this cycle of change which happened to EA.

Over the course of the 2017 spring semester, I returned to university after my protracted break. There, I took an excellent course on the poet John Milton. This course was not something I had planned on loving. To be honest, I had only taken it because one of my other courses was cancelled by the university and this one filled in the time slots which my original pick satisfied. So, I figured I would enroll, get an easy "A" and have plenty of time to devote to EA as part of a research seminar I had enrolled.

What I didn't plan on happening was loving John Milton, his life, his works, and the engagement with him in general. I took great pleasure in the course; this is why you have seen the appearance of the "Milton Journal" tag and Renaissance page, because I wanted to share my passion despite the fact that my main focus is still medieval oriented literature and history.

Early in my research seminar, for instance, I had listed my term project as EA and had planned on working diligently on EA for that whole term. But, as I grew to love Milton, as I learned more about his life, I knew that I had to re-orient; I just didn't have the passion for EA that I had for Milton and knew that I would be unhappy if I tried to pigeonhole EA when what I wanted was to simply work on an innovative Miltonic project.

So, this is what I did: I took aspects of EA and applied it to a new Milton project.

Dear reader, the labor I have invested in EA has not gone to waste, and if you were looking forward to playing the kind of game which EA would have shaped up to be, then you can find its spiritual successor in this Milton game.

I want to introduce you, then, to The Milton Underground!

The Underground is a Click Adventure, clickventure for short. Players explore an original narrative and game world while engaging in close reading "text challenges". Learn about Milton's life and discover why you are there while using literary theory to push yourself to the next level. Complete with an in-depth gameplay manual and open-world schematic, the Underground is a game for any lover of literature or D&D fan.

I will admit, though, that other projects have kept me busy. As a result, there is not a whole lot of content. After all, though this project is something that I loved working on during the school term, I still must think about what is going to be best for my future, and my time these days, I have found, simply do not allow much for clickventures. Even so, there is enough content to get the general idea of the game and the sort of experience offered. I will try and get more content up when I am free, but I want to stress that it can be played now and represents the kind of experience which EA would have blossomed into had I perused it to completion.

What does this mean for EA, then, does it mean that it will never again see the light of day? I honestly do not know. Presently, I have no plans on reigniting EA. I have the Underground to think about, and do not want to abandon it; I may not have a lot to time right now to work on the game, but I will have time here and there in the future, and so do fully plan on adding more content once my priorities shift.

Additionally, I do not think that having two clickventures organized around the same precepts would be very original or worth my while to produce. If I was to revive EA, I would want to reform it into a new clickventure, something unique from the Underground. I have at least one idea on how this may work but that would cost a not insubstantial amount of money which I simply do not have at the moment. Besides, the name itself, Enchanted Assemblages, I may appropriate for use in a different project (more on this later). So, in all, the prospects for a revived EA do not look bright. I do not say that it is impossible, however; let's admit it, part of my passion is creating these New Media, digital humanities artistic projects. Sooner or later, my existing projects will come to an end and I will have time to uptake new endeavors. At that time, EA may have a second life. Until then, though, we will simply have to be patient.

At this time, then, I would like to apologize to anyone who was earnestly looking forward to EA. It is always a shame when a game is cancelled, all the more if you were expecting it to be a full swing. Alas, my priorities shifted, and even if Milton is not your forte, then you can take comfort that at some point in the future, you can enjoy, possibly, a revamped EA experience.

In any case, stay tuned, friends, because I have major news which you will not want to miss!

Again, the link:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.6): The Man of Law’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

Onwards to the next great adventure!

                What is it this time around? Well, more heteronormativity, unfortunately. More Christian-mongering, and more Islamophobia. Oh, well.

                We move on to the Man of Law’s tale. It is a story of betrayal and all of the above. It starts with the sultan of Syria hearing of a beautiful Christian princess to wed, Constance. Since a suiter must be Christian to wed her, this sultan converts to Christ along with his subjects. He asks for the woman’s hand in marriage and receives it; soon after their wedding, though, the sultan’s family slaughters Constance’s family in what was bound to be a rather sucky honeymoon. So, Constance flees in a boat, washes up on Northumberland some time later, and marries a good Christian man. Unfortunately, the devil beguiles a knight, some murder happens, and Constance again flees to Rome where she’s tight with some imperial homies. More time passes, her old husband returns to her after learning of some deception which happens along the way, and everybody lives happily ever after (except Constance’s husband’s mother, who is killed by her son for messing with his marriage). Fantastic.

                As a tale, it feels inflated. This is something I have come to notice about the stories in The Canterbury Tales. So many of them simply feel like at least a quarter, if not half, of the content could have been left out and still retain the basic idea of the story. Undoubtedly, in the future, when I have given this tale a thorough close reading in its original Middle English, I will feel differently. For now, though, it seems ponderous and slightly phoned in as the content is little different in theme from some of the previous tales—morality, Christianity, and some good old fashioned moralizing on husbandry (the old definition, that is).

                But, that is just my own take on the tale. Let’s see what the modern take is as told through the contest hosted on Pilgrim Literary.

                Told by Hamish Campbell, this rendition of The Man of Law’s Tale uses short paragraphs, a short gif, a brief video, and a handful of images to recreate the plot. This time around, instead of sultans and knights, we have CEOs and entrepreneurs. Gone are letters and here are emails and hacking. Though the conversion narrative remains the same, Campbell injects some humor into the narrative by offering curt asides on the lawfulness of certain legal practices and how they clash today; namely, it is not very legal to drag a corpse to an MP’s front door and demand action.

                In all, Campbell’s re-telling is amusing but not particularly creative, I feel. At least as far as I have seen in some of the previous entries. This is not to say that her submission is bad, just that it is a little on the stilted side. She spends too long simply rearranging some pieces instead of reimaging the pieces; in my mind, what makes for an original iteration on a classic is a willingness to retain the core of the original text while remolding it in a new design which is noticeable modern, something strikingly a corpus of different techniques. Though I do see this here with the different pieces—gifs, images, text, video—it is in service of a lackluster narrative and makes me notice the degree of disintegration.

                At the end, I give Campbell’s take a 6.5/10.



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.5): The Cook’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

There is not a lot to say about this tale: the story is simple and comedic but vulgar and lacks the sophistication of the previous tales.

Meet “the cook”. He is an apprentice who likes to gamble and drink but with his master’s money. One day, the master has gotten sick of his underling wasting away his hard-earned cash and fires his lazy bottom. The apprentice, then, moves in with his buddy whose wife is a prostitute. The end.

Not much, as I said. The crux of this tale lies in shock value. The final lines in Chaucer’s original, after all, reads “Whose wife kept as a respectable front / A shop; but earned a living with her cunt” (114). It is vulgar but short and sweet. I supposed that back in the middle ages this was top of the line when it came to obscene literature, though it holds up not so well today in our world of late capitalist enterprise and culture industry.

In any case, and unfortunately, the modern response to The Cook’s Tale is unimpressive.

Told by a Roger Fleming via a stand-up comedy act, I simply didn’t know what was supposed to be amusing about his routine. Habitually, he apologized for certain vulgar or obscene aspects of his act, aspects which really were not that obscene compared to other stand-up comedians’ acts, and never seemed to go that extra mile; the act never felt authentic. Moreover, it simply wasn’t funny. He was going through the motions. I don’t know. Maybe I am being too harsh but it just was not for me.

I will give Fleming props, though; the idea of a stand-up comic fit the short format of the cook’s tale well. Though the content simply wasn’t to my liking, the medium was and kept things different. So, I will give Fleming’s rendition a 5/10 instead of the lower score I had intended for it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Chaucer Filmography

Do you like Chaucer? Do you like films? Do you like films adapted from Chaucer's works?

This is probably a hard question to answer since Hollywood is not exactly clamoring to make hundreds of Chaucer movies. In fact, you maybe have not even seen a film which concerns Chaucer (perhaps, besides, Heath Ledger's "A Knight's Tale").

If you to want to get the low down on some such texts, though, I would recommend checking out this link; it is a filmography of some film adaptations of Chaucer's pieces.Each entry is annotated with descriptions of the film and some technical details.

See also, the various other medieval oriented projects at the bottom of the linked page.

Have fun!


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.4): The Reeve’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

It is a point of some controversy, but The Reeve’s Tale is a story of rape. Really, it is another male-chauvinist fantasy.

                But, the plot is simple and it is another comedy. Here we find a miller, someone who grinds flower. Problem is, this miller is a cheat. He always skims off the top so that anyone who comes to him for his services, leaves with less than they came with. One day, a couple of Cambridge student feel that they can cheat the miller. But, while grinding their flower, the miller let’s their horse free; as they search for the horse, the miller takes some of their flower and tells his wife to make him a cake. After the students find the horse, it is late and ask to pay for lodgings for the night. Long story short, sexual hijinks ensue and the miller is cuckholded—in a way—while his daughter is defiled. The students make off with their horse, the cake, and without paying for the night’s lodging. Finally, someone cheats the cheat (the miller).

                Since both you and I do not live in an after-school special, we know the moral of this story—don’t steal from and cheat people. Unfortunately, this doesn’t ameliorate the underlying anti-femme violence, an amoral token taken for granted in male-dominated texts. Much like the previous tale, however, this is implicit within the intended audience. Just as in the last tale, the contents seemed directed toward the sit-com type of audience inherent in The Big Bang Theory, this tale, feels right at home copying the crudely animated television shows of today (South Park, Family Guy, etc.).

                Whether one agrees with this or believes that it is a stretch of logic too far is a debate for another time. In the meantime, we can examine a contemporary response to the miller’s tale and feel what one modern take does with such risqué material.

                This time around, it is a group affair. As the credits for this tale’s re-enactment states:

“’Ozzy Reeve's Tale’ was written by Rachel Shapiro and produced and directed by Christina Neuwirth. Photography and iPhone texts by Andrew Perry. Starring (in order of appearance) Andrew Perry as John and Mr Simkin, Jacques Tsiantar as Alan and Mr Simkin, Jessica Legacy as Rosalie Simkin and Rachel Shapiro as Katie Simkin”

So, what is this group affair? Essentially, it is a movie in pictures. The snapchat kind of images with short one-liners. Text messages bubbles interspace the images providing narration and context for the image-story. Taking cues from Chaucer’s miller, the plot re-arrangement focuses a down-and-out student forced to get revenge on a mechanic which has been cheating his professor (in exchange for a better grade, of course). Clearly, hijinks follow, though this time around of a much less rape oriented direction as things are kept to a PG-rating.

                My thoughts are that this is well-needed. It is a breath of fresh air. To see some of the people behind these adaptations in the flesh rejuvenates the project by reminding me that there is living, breathing persons behind the pen. The medium itself is intriguing as it tells a story through two different modes of entertainment: images and text bubbles. Each are used to reinforce the other and it feels closer to a movie than one would expect. Texting screenshots reminds one of the narration of the previous tale but as here they are used just sparingly, so readers encounter something just familiar enough to contextualize it in its new environment as the static version of voiceover narration. Candid, fun, bold. Great stuff.

                Handily, I give this tale a 9/10.

Synopsis Link: