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Archive for June, 2013

[This was initially supposed to be a post about the difficulties of reconstructing pre-Christian Slavic religious beliefs, but obviously, my mind wandered, and it should be fairly clear why.]

Studying the history of witchcraft trials in early modern Europe has inevitably put my patience under stress from understandings of those trials in popular culture—encountered every time I have to explain just what I’m studying for my Master’s degree to folks outside of the cozy academic womb. In Canada, the NFB’s The Burning Times (1990) is the main source of information for most. I’m amazed at how often people recommend that documentary to me, perhaps more amazed by how vigorously they defend it when I attempt to point out its errors, and completely dumbfounded that professors in English departments screen it for undergraduate courses. I’ve seen it, I dismissed it, but the damn thing keeps on coming back into my life.

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This is a long-belated response to John C. Wright’s blog post “Retrophobia”—belated, because I had simply put it out of mind until recent controversies in the SFWA brought it to mind again. So I looked back and noticed James Maliszewski and Tom Simon both gave it their stamp of approval and thought, “hey, maybe I should release some kind of official statement or something?” I know this is considered bad form among bloggers but anyone who follows this blog knows I don’t run on internet time, and that I have a Thing about staying out of ephemeral internet debates because they don’t make for very interesting reading once the storm has passed. But, if anything, waiting has given me time to formulate a proper response.

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Wiesiek Powaga, ed. and tr. The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy. New York: Dedalus/Hippocrene Books, 1996.

I’ve talked up Polish fantastika on this blog before, so it was probably only a matter of time before I got around to reviewing The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy, translated and edited by Wiesiek Powaga. Being in Canada, it is of course easier to get hold of translations of Polish works rather than the original texts unless we’re talking classics. This, of course, is a welcome book simply because it makes otherwise unknown materials available to an English-speaking audience.

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Another Short Story Sale

I just realized I never announced this here on One Last Sketch: I’ve managed to finally sell a second short story after my first publication in 2011.  The contract came in the mail yesterday; I scribbled off my signatures and clomped through the rain to drop off he pre-paid return envelope this morning.  Eventually, my story “Ink Skin” will appear in On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, but there’s still a bit of work to do before we get there—copyediting, obviously, and then the agonizing wait before it shows up in print.  (The wait, however, is worth it).

I got an email a little while back saying my story had been accepted, and it was a good thing my former roommate wasn’t in to interrupt the cry of delight and impromptu victory dance that followed.  Truly a wonderful occasion.  And after my frustrating interregnum, a huge relief.

The whole getting published thing a couple of years back wasn’t a fluke after all!

So yeah, I’ll inform y’all when the story appears (probably in 2014?) and after my MA is done I guess it’s back to writing fiction again.  I certainly have some excellent source material to work with that I found in my academic research; you’ll probably see what it inspires soon enough.

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Suzanne Magnanini. Fairy-Tale Science: Monstrous Generation in the Tales of Straparola and Basile. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Fairy-Tale Science: Monstrous Generation in the Tales of Straparola and Basile is a book about marvels. Specifically, it’s about the discourse of the marvellous in early modern Italy and the way fairy tale favola engaged with that discourse to produce “science fictions”, tales where learned theories in natural philosophy merged into a genre previously known for nonsense (9). At this point, the attention of any sf fan should be piqued—science fiction in the Renaissance? Really? The answer is, not quite. Though Zoan Straparola and Giambattista Basile’s favola engaged with then-current scholasticism and the New Science in similar ways as the more modern form of the wonder tale, the questions raised and issues explored were quite different both thematically and stylistically. Suzanne Magnanini situates the literary fairy tale of the Renaissance in its intellectual milieu and synthesizes a vast amount of contextual information to come to some truly fantastic conclusions.

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Odd Episodes from History

From the May 1650 newspaper A Perfect Diurnall of Some Passages and Proceedings of Parliament and in Relation to the Armies of England and Ireland:

very lately…at Milton in Barkeshire…[a] company of 5 Royalists at an alehouse, being drunke, they out of zeale and affection to their King at Bredagh, would drink his health in blood, and to effect this, unanimously agreed to cut a peece of their Buttocks and fry their flesh that was cut off on a grid-iron.

One of the Royalists’ wives interrupted their pact, beating the men with tongs, thus convincing her husband not to take part in this foolish enterprise. Unfortunately, while they were set to sit at the next quarter sessions of the assize judges, we have no idea what happened to this band of merry companions.

Source:

Angela McShane. “The Extraordinary Case of the Blood-Drinking and Flesh-Eating Cavaliers.” In The Extraordinary and the Everyday in Early Modern England, edited by Angela McShane and Garthine Walker, pp. 192-2010. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

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Physical torture was inadmissible as evidence in early modern English court except under exceptional circumstances. Witchcraft, however, was not considered “exceptional” in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The sorts of crimes people thought witches did were linked to the everyday misfortunes of agricultural life: causing illness, killing cattle, spoiling butter, ruining beer. While central judicial authority lapsed during the English Civil War, for the simple reason that assize judges couldn’t get to local courts, Justices of the Peace still didn’t accept confessions gained from straight physical torture, a key difference from judicial practices in the Holy Empire, France, Northern Italy and Switzerland, hearts of the so-called “witch-craze.”

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