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!

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