more help needed

Nearly a month ago, I posted soliciting suggestions for readings I could use in a course proposal I’m putting together. With the wedding and mini-moon in my wake, the time has come for me to revisit this, and put the finishing touches on it.

anima_mecanique and intertext came the closest to guessing the course topic: historical fantasy. Specifically, I’m choosing out seven novels set in various historical periods around the world, all of them more in the vein of “real history with magic slipped in” rather than “alternate history.” (Which is why His Majesty’s Dragon is not on the list.) The six I’ve chosen for sure so far are:

  • Euryale, Kara Dalkey (Republican Rome)
  • Sky Knife, Marella Sands (Classic Maya)
  • The Fox Woman, Kij Johnson (Heian Japan)
  • Ink and Steel, Elizabeth Bear (Elizabethan England)
  • On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers (Caribbean piracy)
  • Territory, Emma Bull (Old West)

I need one more to start the course off with, something set in human prehistory. Clan of the Cave Bear was the first thing that came to mind, but I’ve never read it myself, and I’m not sure it has what I need. So: can anybody recommend a novel of “prehistoric fiction” that includes fantastical elements as literally true? I know Reindeer Moon by Elizabeth Marshall does, but I was underwhelmed by that book; I’d like to begin with something really good.

Also, I need nonfiction readings. (I’ll put those requests behind a cut so they don’t take up too much space.)

First, I still need a good, accessible theory piece on history — something to give my students grist for thinking about the way our own worldview affects how we perceive events and cultures of the past. Something maybe a bit post-modern, that doesn’t present history as objective, immutable fact.

Moving on through the syllabus: anima_mecanique, did you manage to turn up anything on the lives of women in Republican Rome? Also, can anybody give me a primary source (i.e. not Edith Hamilton) for the story of the Gorgons? Not just Perseus killing Medusa, but where the Gorgons came from.

For Heian Japan, I’d like something about the way we exoticize the Far East (especially the past of the Far East). Can anybody who’s read Orientalism tell me if that would work? I know Said’s writing about the Middle East, not the Far East, but I’m not sure if his points would still apply.

Any ideas on a concise introduction to (quoting Bear) “the complicated intersection of religious, political, and secular life in the Renaissance”?

How about eighteenth-century Caribbean piracy? Something about the Fountain of Youth? Voodoo and zombies? I haven’t quite settled on what the topics will be for On Stranger Tides. That last one would probably be good, to give my students a better understanding of voodoo and zombies than pop culture provides.

And finally, a piece on minority experiences along the American frontier, and something about the broader context of the O.K. Corral gunfight — the conflict between the Earps and the McLaurys and the Clantons.

I’m looking either for articles, or excerptable chapters from books. I’m operating under fairly limited guidelines for how much reading I can assign — that’s why we have two weeks per novel — so entire books are less desirable. (But you can suggest a book, and I can go looking for a chapter.)

Any ideas?

0 Responses to “more help needed”

    • Marie Brennan

      I’d like to go even earlier than that, if I can — more Stone Age than Bronze or Iron.

      • matociquala

        Problem being, there’s no history to have historical fiction of.

        Judith Tarr has an Akhenaten book.

        • Marie Brennan

          There is, however, archaelogy. The books can’t involve specific historical figures or events, sure, but they can still be based off what we know about (say) the Middle Eastern Neolithic, or Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, or whatever. I’m kind of interested in poking at the hard/soft attitudes toward primitivism.

          • matociquala

            Somebody or another was writing First Peoples fantasy, but damned if I remember who. Husband and wife team?

            Also, there was somebody writing prehistoric Celtic stuff revolving around a woman who formed the model for the goddess Epona. Think the title was THE WHITE MARE.

          • Marie Brennan

            The Gears, maybe? I’ve read one of their books, and liked it, but I don’t recall distinctly whether the mystical/religious stuff in it was presented as clearly real.

          • matociquala

            Yes, I think you have it right.

          • midnight_sidhe

            I’ve read all of them except for the very latest ones, and I would say that the magical/mystical/religious stuff is almost always treated as clearly real, particularly in the earliest books (‘earliest’ in both senses: historical and chronology of writing). There’s one exception that I can think of which is more of a detective story, but it’s one of the later ones.

          • Marie Brennan

            Awesome. So if I used, say, People of the Wolf, that would work? (I believe that’s the first one, and has to do with the crossing of the Bering Land Bridge. Please do correct me if I’m wrong.)

          • midnight_sidhe

            Yes, that’s the one. I think it would work pretty well; it’s not my favourite of the series, but it’s a pretty good one and probably the best choice for what you’re after. The mystical/religious stuff is integral to the storyline, and since People of the Wolf is first historically, it’s definitely Stone Age.

            (Your gut feeling about the Auel novels is spot-on, by the way!)

          • Marie Brennan

            Then I have that settled. Good!

            Now for the rest of the things I need to fill in . . . I really wish these proposals didn’t require an absolutely complete syllabus 10 months before the course is to be taught.

  1. gollumgollum

    And finally, a piece on minority experiences along the American frontier

    This i think i have. Give me a call Thursday afternoon or Friday and i’ll dig through my stuff to see (i won’t be home until then).

  2. drydem

    course design is my specialty

    “First, I still need a good, accessible theory piece on history — something to give my students grist for thinking about the way our own worldview affects how we perceive events and cultures of the past. Something maybe a bit post-modern, that doesn’t present history as objective, immutable fact.”

    I like Warren Susman’s “History and the American Intellectual: Uses of a Usable Past” published in American Quarterly in 1964. It involves the uses of history by people in a culture.

    “For Heian Japan, I’d like something about the way we exoticize the Far East (especially the past of the Far East). Can anybody who’s read Orientalism tell me if that would work? I know Said’s writing about the Middle East, not the Far East, but I’m not sure if his points would still apply.”

    I first read excerpts from Said for an East Asian culture class, so I would say it applies.

    “Any ideas on a concise introduction to (quoting Bear) “the complicated intersection of religious, political, and secular life in the Renaissance”?

    I know some good works on earlier social history in England, but not the Renaissance.

    “How about eighteenth-century Caribbean piracy? Something about the Fountain of Youth? Voodoo and zombies? I haven’t quite settled on what the topics will be for On Stranger Tides. That last one would probably be good, to give my students a better understanding of voodoo and zombies than pop culture provides.”

    Mama Lola is a good book on Voodoo, but more biographical ethnography than you might want.

    “And finally, a piece on minority experiences along the American frontier, and something about the broader context of the O.K. Corral gunfight — the conflict between the Earps and the McLaurys and the Clantons.”

    I have a nice piece by Robert Dykstra from his book The Cattle Towns which talks about personal violence in Cattle towns which might be useful.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: course design is my specialty

      Any chance I could borrow the Susman, Said, and Dykstra to look them over? If you have copies handy.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: course design is my specialty

      Actually, amend what I said before: I have a good history piece now, and I looked over a copy of Said, so the Dykstra is the only one I would need to borrow. (Technically Tombstone was a mining town, not a cattle town, but whatever.)

  3. sarcastibich

    Whether Clan of the Cave Bear would work or not depends on how much “fantasy” you want. I guess I would need a little more exploration of your criteria for “fantastical elements as literally true.”

    Having read Clan of the Cave Bear several times (although not for four years or so) I can say that it doesn’t really have magic-supernatural-wonder-type-fantasy. The main character, Ayla, is a human who is orphaned as a child and adopted into a cro-magnon (sp?) tribe. The book explores how the cro-magnons communicated (sign language, body language, simple vocalizations), hunted, traveled, and lived. Also their social structure within individual groupings and as a larger tribe/species during regular (I think every ten years) large gatherings. There is some supposition/theory explored by the author in the idea that the cro-magnon people inherit the memories of previous generations; as children they are taught something once or twice and then they just know it as memories of the previous generations (an extrapolation/evolution of instinct perhaps) kick in and then they just know the skill/fact. Lots of herbalism and use of psychotropic plants/shrooms for visions and “magic” are explored, but the author doesn’t really attribute any supernatural abilities to any characters.

    I’d say overall it more uses archeology and paleontology data and theories than fantasy as the basis of the setting. Later books in the series have Ayla inventing the spear thrower, discovering flint and pyrite as a fire source, inventing the needle and thread, and domesticating wolves and horses. The later books go from good to not quite bad but not really good anymore either, in my opinion.

    If this brief and amateur literature recommendation is any help, good. If not, I tried. Like I said, it depends on how you are defining fantasy.

    • Marie Brennan

      I can best clarify by comparison: Reindeer Moon (if I recall correctly) is narrated by the spirit of the main character after she has died, and goes back and forth between her spirit existence and flashbacks detailing the events that led up to her death. The beliefs of her people — that spirits linger on in a particular fashion — are treated as unambiguously true. By contrast, in the one book by the Gears I read, I only really remember a priest performing a winter solstice ceremony to bring back the sun, with no suggestion that his actions really and truly did cause the days to lengthen again.

      • sarcastibich

        I’m not familiar with Reindeer Moon, so i can’t say how it compares. Clan of the Cave Bear might certainly work if you want it as a “the shaman of the tribe does X which coincides with the seasons, but he didn’t cause the seasons to change” sort of thing. I guess the trick with the book is that there is a lot more guesswork and design of the culture of the cro-magnons rather than basis on fact, what with facts about cro-magnon culture being pretty rare. The book (and the series) has a strong feminist focus, so if that is gonna be an issue (i.e. not what you want to focus on for the course) it might not work as well.

        • Marie Brennan

          I don’t have any problem with feminism, but my impression of Clan of the Cave Bear (or at least of the series as a whole) is that it devolves into soft-core interspersed with Ayla inventing absolutely everything of importance to the period, which gets a little silly.

          My preference — since I guess I didn’t make it clear — is for the Reindeer Moon level of fantasy content, rather than the “shaman does something that may or may not be effective” approach. So I’m betting Auel really isn’t the author for me to use.

          • sarcastibich

            I don’t have any problem with feminism, but my impression of Clan of the Cave Bear (or at least of the series as a whole) is that it devolves into soft-core interspersed with Ayla inventing absolutely everything of importance to the period, which gets a little silly.

            I have never seen a more accurate summary of the series. *bows*
            ALthough the first book isn’t quite so bad as that, no soft-core just some rape.

    • mindstalk

      Aaagh. AFAIK Cro-Magnons *were* modern humans. A bit taller and more robust, but tool enabled and showing up after Australia was colonized and grading into the shorter agricultural humans. Did you mean Neanderthal or did Auel screw up? *wikipedia* Ah, raised among Neanderthals.

      Swan: I have dim memories of short stories with telepathic Neanderthals, but can’t remember any features. Whoops, got one — a Man-Kzin story, the world of bubble enclosed zoos (including old-style sentient Kzin females.) But something else, too… Googling Neanderthal fantasy finds _Shadow Moon_ by Pat Murphy, which has an explicit spirit but also high tech — time travel?

      If you’re covering our exoticization of the Far East, should you also look at the Far East’s exoticization of us? E.g. the traditional role of the Catholic Church in anime is to fight the hostile supernatural (Witch Hunter Robin, Chrono Crusade, Ghost Hunt), often in easy co-existence with other traditions (Ghost Hunt: a medium, shrine maiden, Buddhist monk, and Catholic priest: together they fight ghosts! And that series is based on novels.)

      I don’t know of any scholarly books, though I have a dim memory of talking with fallenrose about this.

  4. sora_blue

    There’s some discussion about exoticizing Japanese women in Kickboxing Geishas, but that’s more a study of modern Japan. Although, it could be a nice compliment to The Fox Woman, as Kitsune and Yoshifune’s wife (I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten her name) do flirt a little with modern feminist thinking. Maybe?

  5. wordweaver

    The only book I can think of that might meet your criteria is Peter Dickinson’s The Kin. While I’m not sure if it fulfills the ‘historical’ requirement so much – the story is set in 200,000 years ago in Africa, so there’s not that much ‘history’ to go on – it definitely fits the ‘beliefs of the people are actually true’ aspect.

    • Marie Brennan

      That still might be fine; I recognize that “prehistory” kind of means by definition that there won’t be much “history” to base it on. But if it’s based on archaeological research, I’ll be happy.

  6. mindstalk

    Neanderthal fiction

    Agh, forgot to comment — I assume you know of Golding’s _The Inheritors_? And the pedia page for that led me to
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dance_of_the_Tiger
    Both seem low to non-existent on the fantasy/magic scale, but I figured they were worth mentioning.

  7. difrancis

    This isn’t a theory piece on history, but I love it for the way that it shows that how you look at a culture depends a lot on your own preconceptions. Students really get a little bit of an eye opener–almost as good as having them read Swift’s Modest Proposal.

    http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/Nacirema.html

    Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.

    Di

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, that one’s a classic — up there with Motel of the Mysteries, which I think should be required reading for all archaeology students.

  8. countquestions

    As for the Gorgons:

    Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon by Stephen R. Wilk is a good resource.

    You may also want to find a transliterated The Bibliotheca (a.k.a. The Library) attributed to Apollodorus. I know that there are e-texts out there of it. I’m going to search for a link and get back to you.

    Hope these help.

    • Marie Brennan

      Ooh, the Wilk book looks potentially useful. Otherwise, having found out some primary sources, I’ll probably just have them read from Hesiod and Euripides and Apollodorus and Ovid and so on.

  9. moonandserpent

    Alan Moore’s “Voice of the Fire” is prehistoric for a bit. Other than that, Clan is the first that leaps to mind for me, too. Although I can’t help but feel I’m missing one on the tip of my tongue.

  10. diatryma

    I second the Gears and their People of the Blankyblank books. Auel has some mysticism in there, but it’s mostly dreams and portent-coincidences. I don’t think it’s what you’re looking for. The People books, besides not being quite so Mary Sue, are still tied up in mystical realism.

    • Marie Brennan

      Good to get another vote in their favor. I’ve only ever read People of the Silence, myself.

      • diatryma

        I read two of them, I think, before moving on. One had a kid named Rumbler in it. I liked them enough, but not enough to buy all of them, the way I did with a lot of other authors. They were a little older than I was, as opposed to Auel, who, even with the sex and soil lectures, was writing exactly my age of story (middle school and junior high, with older comfort reading).
        It sounds like an interesting class. Would that Design had such a reading list.

  11. kijjohnson

    Check out The Sun and the Moon by Vonda McIntyre. The court of the Sun King, very realistic, and (I think I remember) a World Fantasy Winner.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m guessing the magic of Google Alerts or some other such thing brought you here. πŸ™‚

      I’m keeping it to seven assigned novels; the course is fifteen weeks long, and given the level it’s aimed at, asking them to read a novel a week would be a bit much. As a result, there’s a lot of good European historical fiction that’s going by the wayside, to make room for more variety. But since one of the options for the final assignment is to read an additional novel and research its time period, I will be keeping a list of all the ones I can’t include on the syllabus, to give my students a place to start.

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