Thursday 24 November 2011

I’m thankful for Dicks!

            Today is Thanksgiving in the United States (alas, we missed Canadian Thanksgiving, which was in October), so in honor of the holiday, I’m going to discuss a few Richards whose existence has enhanced my life.
            I won’t be with my family this Thanksgiving, so this blog will have to cover any “what are you thankful for” questions. I must admit, though, that I don’t remember my family doing the whole go-around-the-table-and-say-what-you’re-thankful-for routine (I guess we’re a bunch of ungrateful punks!). Which, truthfully, is a bit of a relief because there are usually at least twelve people around the table, and you can’t all say “I’m thankful for my family” and then grin at everyone like they’re the greatest things since sliced bread. That invariable means a few people have to come off as insensitive superficial jerks because they’re reduced to saying things such as “I’m thankful the football season is over, and I don’t have to be in marching band anymore!” (which was something I was always thankful for). And last year, at my English Thanksgiving comprised of American ex-pats and British people who enjoy gorging themselves, I said I was thankful for the British Library (and I totally still am). So yeah, I’m obviously thankful for my family and friends (especially since they are the vast majority of the readers of this blog), but that’s about the least entertaining answer out there. So this year, let’s put some fun in Thanksgiving!

Real Richards

            As you might have noticed, this fine blog does not limit itself to discussing actual, flesh-and-blood dudes named Richard; it also covers fictional, ink-and-paper dudes named Richard. But I’ll give the real people their due first, since, after all, they were real.

            One: Richard III. I know it’s pretty messed up to be thankful for a usurping, murdering medieval king (not that Richard III was the only usurping, murdering medieval king), but that’s just how things go. Richard III’s existence has noticeably enriched my life – in both a figurative and monetary sense. The controversy surrounding Richard III (was he a murdering, hunch-backed monster or a pretty cool guy?) introduced me to the interpretative aspect of history – in other words, it showed me what real history is. History is NOT (contrary to what high school suggests) a bunch of names, dates, and facts. History is the gathering of evidence, the careful interpretation of evidence, and the use of that evidence to construct a reasonable, well-supported hypothesis about how people lived in the past. If you branch out beyond textbooks, you realize that our understanding of history is always changing, being modified as new evidence is found or as new scholars tackle new questions with new perspectives. High-school history is oversimplified, often boring, and sometimes incorrect. Real history is more of a detective adventure. It is way more awesome than what you get in school.
            Propaganda aside, Richard III made me want to be a historian. [If my dad ever gets a time machine, he now knows who to go back and punch in the face! Although he’s completely on-board with me being a historian, at one point he did advocate that I became something a tad more lucrative such as a doctor, lawyer, or pharmacist. Don’t worry, Dad, at some point I’ll be a doctor, just not of the high-earning sort.] Richard III, as a topic of conversation, also served as a point of common interest between me and a local professor, who was a sort-of mentor for me when I was in high school. Furthermore, Richard III gave me a great hook when writing my graduate school application essays. Recently, a society devoted to clearing the name of Richard III gave me money to do some research, so I owe the man a “thank-you” for some cold, hard cash. Not to mention Richard’s life has been a fertile field for sowing the seeds of historical fiction. Although many of these books are rubbish, some are pretty good, and all of them provide hours of wonderful entertainment. To sum up: Richard III has inspired my career path, helped me win money, and given me entertainment fodder. Richard, I owe you one, man. Thank you for existing, as your life has benefitted me.

            Two: Richard II. Not only did this king’s pathos-filled downfall inspire one of Shakespeare’s better history plays, his failure to have children has given me a dissertation topic. To quote Daniel Tosh of Tosh.O: “And for that, we thank you.”

            Three: Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. The nineteenth-century Richard Burton is on my short list for blog entries; I just need to read the most recent biography of him first. From what I already know, though, he sounds like a pretty cool guy. He translated and promoted both The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra in western culture. His reason for spreading the word about the Kama Sutra? To try to get Victorian Europeans to lighten up and enjoy sex more! A noble goal, although I’m not sure his efforts were as effective as he might have hoped. Burton also got circumcised as an adult in order to sneak into Mecca and see what the place was like. That’s dedication to your job.

Fictional Richards

            This blog does not discriminate against the fictional. If you are named Richard, this blog will attempt to do you justice. Physical existence not required!

            One: Dick Grayson. The original Robin, with his green short pants and pixie boots, will always hold a place in my heart. He is such a diggity dank character. Courtesy of his numerous appearances, which span the realms of comics, movies, television, cartoons, fan fiction, novels, and video games, I’m quite confident there’re enough portrayals of Dick Grayson out there to entertain me for a lifetime. According to the comic vine website, Dick has made over three thousand comic book appearances! And while that pales in comparison to the over seven thousand Batman has made, Dick outranks Wonder Woman (but only by about one hundred). So thank you, Dick, for making sure that whenever I’m bored, there will be a comic/story/movie/tv episode featuring you out there to entertain me.

            Two: Richard Lander. This Richard is a main character in the first two novels of the Ann Rinaldi Quilt Trilogy (the two books being A Stitch in Time and Broken Days). When I was in middle school, I loved the heck out of these young-adult books. Someday, I will devote a proper blog entry to Richard Lander, but (suffice it to say) he was an awesome character.

            Three: the Richards from The Black Arrow. This book was written by “Holy Robert Louis Stevenson,” and is one of his minor works. The protagonist, however, is named Richard Shelton, which means this work is aces in my book. The Black Arrow is the story of said Richard Shelton realizing that his father was murdered by his current guardian, and his adventures to avoid getting murdered himself and reclaim his birthright. He is helped along the way by the “Fellowship of the Black Arrow,” a group of outlaw dudes whose leader (the awesomely-named Ellis Duckworth) was a good buddy of Richard’s father. (So yeah, the book has obvious debts to Robin Hood, but Stevenson didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, he just needed to put food on the table). This book is made even more diggity dank by taking place during the Wars of the Roses, which means Richard III makes an appearance! Richard III appears in his full-hunchbacked glory, but isn’t really portrayed as a terrible guy. He is, however, considerably older than he was in actuality; pre-king Richard III leads men in battle during the book, but in real life he was just a kid. There’s also some romance thrown in and it has a happy ending, so it’s an all-around feel-good story. My main complaint is that the 1948 black-and-white movie version of this book is terrible! I mean, it sucks balls, people. They have swordfights in which people are killed yet miraculously shed no blood and the main character is supposed to be seventeen but is played by a forty-year-old man (who looks old). It’s a disgrace. The Wishbone episode on this book (which is, incidentally, how I found out about this novel in the first place) is a hundred times better – and Richard Shelton is a dog in that. But check the book out – it’s free on Kindle!

            I would also like to take this moment to express my gratitude to the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. You are two of the finest databases out there. If you are a college/university student reading this, check your library’s website. You should have free access to these electronic resources – use them. They are epic.

            Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday 17 November 2011

Richard, son of William the Conqueror

            Unbeknownst to many people, William the Conqueror (actually called William the Bastard in his own lifetime because he was illegitimate) had four sons, not just the three you hear about (Robert, William Rufus, and Henry). William’s second son was named Richard, but he died young; consequently, not much is known about him.
            According to William of Malmesbury in his Gesta Regum Anglorum (The History of the English Kings), Richard was a good egg. He “encouraged in the mind of his great-hearted father the hope that he would make his mark: he was an elegant boy and, for a child of that age, had high ambitions; but all that promise of a springtide flowing was quickly preyed upon and wasted by an early death. The story goes that while shooting stags in the New Forest he caught some sickness from breathing the foggy and corrupted air.” To die courtesy of the New Forest was a form of poetic justice on William, as he had actually moved entire villages out of the area which was to become his “New Forest.” So sadly, karma came back and bit William in the ass for wronging some poor Anglo-Saxon villagers, although it does seem a tad unjust of karma to kill his son instead of him.
            And while Richard was the first of the Conqueror’s sons to die in the New Forest, he was not the last. William Rufus, the third son (who probably became King of England because Richard was dead) also died while hunting in the new Forest (he was shot by an arrow). And a grandson of William’s, Richard son of Robert (the eldest son), also died in this same forest, either due to being shot by an arrow or hanged on a tree branch after his horse ran under it. All in all, the New Forest was not a good place for William’s immediate male descendants.

On a lighter note, there’s been a Richard in the news as of late. Perhaps you heard about the woman who honored her sister’s dying wish – marrying her husband! The dying married sister was the mother of three, and she wanted her sister to step in and help her husband raise the kids. Although initially put off by the idea, the single sister eventually changed her tune and married the widower. And, of course, the husband in question is named Richard!

Read the story here.

Information and quote from William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regvm Anglorvm: The History of the English Kings, Vol. I, ed. and trans. by R.A.B. Mynors, R.M. Thomson, and M. Winterbottom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 503, 505.

Friday 11 November 2011

Richard Doubledick

*In honor of Remembrance Day/Veterans' Day

            Seriously. I did not make this guy up. Although he is a fictional character (and thank God, with a name like that), you have the great Charles Dickens to thank, not I.
            Richard Doubledick is a character in the Dickens’ story The Seven Poor Travellers. From what I can tell (having only read selections within a large volume), The Seven Poor Travellers is a tale with a frame story, rather like The Canterbury Tales or Boccaccio’s Decameron. To that end, Richard Doubledick is a character within a character’s story (although the teller of the tale claims Doubledick is a relative of his).
            The tale of Richard Doubledick is relatively short, detailing how a down-and-out young man joined the British Army and fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Richard first joined because he had made some bad choices and disappointed his betrothed, who resolved not to marry him. Heartbroken, Richard joined the army, but was a drunken lout. He was headed for a bad, alcohol-besotted end, when a superior officer, Captain Taunton, took an interest in him. With the Captain’s friendship, Richard became a reformed man and a brave and noble soldier, who acquitted himself gloriously in a number of battles between 1799 and 1812. Both Richard and Taunton rose through the ranks, but in 1812, Major Taunton was killed by a Frenchman. Taunton requested Richard to carry a lock of his hair home to his mother in England, which Richard was finally able to do two years later, when he was in England on invalid leave. As the dearest friend of her departed only son, Richard and Widow Taunton became mother and son (Richard’s mother being long dead).
            In 1815, at the Battle of Waterloo, Richard was gravely wounded, and (at death’s door), he was taken to Brussels. As luck (and narrative necessity) would have it, Richard recovered, only to discover that his long-lost betrothed had come to Brussels to tend him. In addition, she had married Richard when he was half-delirious (which Richard was strangely cool with), thereby completing Doubledick’s joy. Eventually Richard, Widow Taunton, and Mrs. Doubledick return to England. Due to her health, Widow Taunton went to southern France to spend the winter, where she became good friends with a local family. When Richard goes to fetch her home, he meets the French family, only to discover that the husband/father/man-of-the-house is the very same man who killed Major Taunton in battle! As neither the Frenchman nor Widow Taunton know this, though, Richard keeps it to himself and forgives the Frenchman, knowing it is what his dead friend would want. After all, the man had killed Major Taunton in war, not out of personal enmity. And the Frenchman is so kind that Richard cannot hold his military actions against him. Richard and the Frenchman then go on to cultivate a beautiful friendship, which extends even into the next generation; the two men’s sons are great friends and fight together in battle in an unspecified war.
            So here we have a lovely tale of a broken man redeeming himself through the kind offices of a good friend, the support of women, and service to his country. Richard Doubledick progresses from a broken man to a brave, selfless soldier to a man who has a loving mother, loving wife, and wonderful friends. Thanks to the homosocial love and guidance of the slightly-older Major Taunton, Richard has fulfilled his potential and become a good man. It is a mildly heartwarming, if utterly-predictable, story.
            One final note concerns Richard’s last name. According to the opening paragraphs of the story, Richard, who was known as Dick (although he is never called this in the story) decided to trade in his old surname for one of his own invention. And his name of choice was Doubledick! That is odd on so many levels. Of all the last names in all the world... he had to pick that one. Dickens must have been smoking something.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Dick Cheney (born 30 January 1941)

            In honor of the US elections on Tuesday (if you live in Ohio, vote “NO” on Two!!!), I’m going to feature a former US Vice President – Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney.
            Cheney, obviously, is famous for being George W. Bush’s Vice President. Remember back in the day, before September 11th, when we used to joke that Cheney was really president because Bush was on vacation so much? Yeah, I miss those days. Back when the millennium was new and fresh, full of hope for tomorrow, and the Dub-ya looked like he’d become another Eisenhower, only famous for chillin’ at his ranch in Texas rather than for playing golf. Back when you could walk to an airport gate without a boarding pass, and instead of the TSA you had rent-a-cops manning (and womanning) the metal detectors. Those were the days. [Note: I don’t actually want to go back to those days, as I was in high school then, and once is enough. However, imagine (it’s easy if you try) how awesomely different things might be if September 2001 had been as boring as every other September and Bush had continued to spend 90% of his presidency on vacation. I’m sure Dub-ya and America would have both enjoyed his term of office that much more.]
            Moving on from that nostalgia-laced drivel (man, I was only one step away from walking uphill both ways to school in the snow), I consider Dick Cheney famous and worthy of note for three reasons.

1)      Practically being president despite having had so many heart attacks he was no longer actually alive (see Saturday Night Live, I believe, for more on this)
2)      Shooting his buddy in 2006 when the two were quail hunting
3)      Being the Penguin (thank you, Jon Stewart)

To quote: “Politics is wonderful. I can use all my lowest, slurpiest tricks, but now they’re legal.  Oh! I should have been a politician years ago.”


That quote was actually said by the Penguin (aka Burgess Meredith) in the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman episode “Hizzoner the Penguin.” However, I think it applies equally well to the Chenester. Wah! Wah! Wah!
            To give you a little information about the real (and therefore less interesting) Cheney, we turn to Wikipedia. I’m going to focus only on what I found interesting, which means there will be pretty much no discussion of politics.
            Cheney was born in Nebraska, but his family moved to Wyoming before he was in high school. When the time came for college, Cheney initially went to Yale, but flunked out twice (how do you flunk out of the same university twice? Do they let you back in after kicking you out the first time?) When Cheney went to Yale the school was still all-boys, as Yale didn’t go co-ed until 1969!
            Anyway, the Penguin got his shit together and pursued studies at the University of Wyoming, eventually receiving both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 1964, he married his wife Lynne, his high-school sweetheart. The two both went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue doctoral studies – Cheney in political science and Lynne in English (nineteenth-century Brit Lit). Cheney did not finish, but Lynne did. In fact, a professor I had as an undergraduate was also a PhD student at Wisconsin-Madison when Lynne Cheney was there. My professor said that Lynne was a few years ahead of her and really helped her out (mentoring her, if you will). However, Lynne never got a job in academia and has done other things.
            Apparently, before becoming a quail-hunting supervillain, Cheney was arrested for drunk driving in both 1962 and 1963. After that, he sobered up and went on to wreak other forms of havoc. One form of havoc he did not wreak, though, was fighting in Vietnam. From my glimpse at Wikipedia, it seems some people have a problem with Cheney getting five draft deferments. I have no problem with this, though. The man obviously needed to save his shooting prowess for his golden years when he would shower his buddies with birdshot.
            Cheney shares a common female ancestor with both Harry S. (“I don’t give ‘em hell, I just tell ‘em the truth and they think it’s hell!”) Truman and Barack (ba-rock the vote) Hussein Obama. I had heard rumors that Cheney and Obama were distantly related, but, for me, the real message in this story is “holy crap! Obama’s related to Truman!”
            Apparently, Cheney has also been likened to Darth Vader (how did I miss that?!). The man has even embraced the role for which I must give him props. Way to roll with the punches. Although, to be honest, if people publicly compared me to Darth Vader I wouldn’t know whether to be angry (they think I’m evil) or pleased (they think I’m such a badass). My guess is Cheney, showing a modicum of humor (so rare in politicians), has decided to jump on the “I’m a BAMF” bandwagon. Either that or he’s wishing he had a sweet Vader-suit to help keep him alive. (If you needed a suit like that for health reasons, do you think you could get the doctors to include James Earl Jones’ voice?)
            One final note: Cheney finally came out (of the closet) and spoke of his support for same-sex marriage. Huzzah! Although, really, the man ought to – his younger daughter Mary is a lesbian in a committed relationship.
            SNL? Check. Shouts out from Jon Stewart? Check. Likened to a Batman villain? Check. Share given names with two prominent Batman heroes? Check (that would be Bruce “I’m the goddamned Batman” Wayne and his youthful ward Dick - Robin/Nightwing - Grayson). Likened to the greatest Star Wars villain of all time? Check. And embraced it. Double check. Now that you’re no longer helping run the country, Richard Bruce Cheney, you can keep on keeping on.