What Makes a Good Comedy?

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> DISCLAIMER: This post doesn’t answer the question from the title. It’s just me, rambling about comedy. Basically…

This is a question I asked myself after finally watching a sitcom I actually enjoyed. (More about the sitcom later on). I rarely watch sitcoms or comedies these days, because I often find them too silly to be actually funny. And I almost never read funny books (the closest to that are Terry Pratchett’s books). And I sometimes watch some funny tv shows, but I mostly just want to rewatch those I’ve seen before.

Why is this? Are the comedies nowadays really not that good, or am I the problem? The thing is, even some comedies which I found funny before are not as funny to me anymore. Did I become too old and bitter? I hope not, I’m only 26. XD

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As I thought about this, I asked myself what comedies and sitcoms I liked and why. What makes me laugh? And I realised that I liked a bitter kind of humour, humour that actually has something to say. And these things can vary. The most obvious one is social commentary. Now, I know what you are thinking (okay, not really, but some of you might be thinking this): Does humour really have to be socially aware to be funny? Shouldn’t the main point of humour be to relax and just not think about the millions of problems our world faces? And you would be right to ask that. But, if you think about the origin of comedy, it was always, at least a little bit, a social comentary.

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If we want to go to the very origin of comedy, it would probably be the Ancient Greek theatre. Humour certainly existed before Ancient Greece, but they were the first who put some rules on how comedy should look like, and are the ones who basically invented drama. Those Greek comedies were often satirical, even political. Even religion was not left out, and sometimes the myths were changed and incorporated in comedies. One of the rules which stayed to this day is that all comedies end happily, and the conflicts are resolved.

In the Middle Ages, comedy as it once was disappeared. Theatre completely changed, and was reduced to religious and biblical stagings, and on the other hand on mistrels and troubadurs who travelled and entertained. But something else took its place as main entertainment and escape from everyday problems – carnivals. Carnivals were the time when everything was allowed. The poorest peasant could pretend to be a king. Carnivals destroyed social rules and constructs, but at the same time they affirmed those same roles. How? Well, canivals made people’s everyday lives more bearable. They were allowed to make fun of the people above them, only to return to their own social role afterwards. Carnivals were a form or regulation at the same time as they were a form of entertainment. They also created typical (or stock) characters, which remained a part of comedy to this day, just in their more modern roles. It’s basically impossible to not have society influence comedy.

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Picture from Pixabay.com

Now we come to the Rennaissance and commedia dell’ arte, which coexisted with erudite comedy which followed the ancient rules. Commedia dell’ arte was based on the stock characters and the actors’ improvisation. The stock characters were easily recognized because they wore the same clothes and some of them had masks. This is something we have today – typical characters. And this is something that, in my opinion, good comedy should use in an intersting way. Good comedy should not accept the typical characters, but play with them. I guess that originality is also something that makes a piece of art (or entertainment) good. And originality doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from every single trope. It means using what we know in a unique way.

 

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Commedia dell’ arte was very popular, which means it wasn’t boring to people even though it always had the same types of charactes. It usually satirized recent events, often some local scandals, and that’s what made it entertaining. At this point I will stop with the history of comedy, and say that this is something that definitely makes comedy a good one – being current. This leads to the sitcom I actually enjoyed recently. (Yes, I’m finally getting there!) Master of None is created by Aziz Ansari (who also plays the main role) and Alan Yang. It deals with recent issues, such as race and multiculturality. It talks about subjects people actually face today. For example, it commented on the treatment of women in a way which I rarely see in TV shows – by using the actual arguments of women that I’d read many times online but never saw being validated like this. The main character Dev and his male friends are completely oblivious to some things women go though almost every day. This was stressed by Dev complaining that he had a horrible night out and mentioning some quite petty things in comparison to what the women he was talking to went through – she was followed by a man to her apartment. (And bonus points for the stalker guy exclaiming: “Oh, come on, let the nice guy win for once!” This “nice guy” thing really has to be talked about.) Master of None uses fresh subjects and fresh jokes, while also making a social commentary. It doesn’t use real-life issues just to make a joke and then validate the status quo. It actually makes you think about those issues and gives validation to them.

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But can a show that is recent be truly good if it’s not funny some ten, twenty, fifty years in the future? Seinfeld is a sitcom I enjoy so much, even today, though it was based on (then) recent events. I guess some topics are always relevant and some things (sadly) never change. So, yes, there’s a risk of becoming dated. And, sometimes, only time can tell if this will happen. Seinfeld points out certain small social pet peeves and problems that happen to everyone, and which in a certain way won’t change that quickly. I also want to add that this is a problem with Shakespeare, too. He’s taken too seriously! But Shakespeare wrote for the people. Even his tragedies have humour and, yes, sex jokes. The thing is, he uses the language of his own time, so those jokes go unnoticed. And no one is really looking for jokes when reading Shakespeare, because that’s not how he’s taught. I think it’s a missed opportunity… Of course, explaining jokes doesn’t make them funny, but making students aware of the context can be quite interesting. Can something be truly timeless, anyway? Especially humour?

Maybe we should consider some older tv shows, the ones that could be described as “timeless”, and one of them is certainly Blackadder. The humour in this show can be a bit dark, so maybe not for everyone, but I think it will never get old. Why? Because it’s mostly based on witty dialogue and wordplay. It’s also set in different periods in history, and it makes fun of certain historical figures. It plays with our expectations when it comes to those people. Another similar example is ‘Allo ‘Allo! which manages to make one of the darkest periods of history funny.

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But, is it necessary for humour to be timeless to be good? I’m actually not sure. I guess, in the end of the day, what’s important is that we have something that makes us laugh. So, what do you find funny? Which books, films, and tv shows made you laugh, and why?



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Currently Reading: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

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Company of Liars is, for now, exactly what I wanted it to be. Yes, I haven’t gotten far enough into it to give final judgement, but what I can say is that it portrays the Middle Ages very well. I just finished Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England so I’ve brushed up on my knowledge of the Medieval Period. I’ve always been fascinated by this era, and if you are, too, than I highly recommend Ian Mortimer’s book. It’s about how people actually lived during the fourteenth century, which is something that has always interested me.

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Now, back to Company of Liars. A lot of things mentioned in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England come to life in this novel. It takes place in England, in 1348, at that start of one of the plague outbreaks. Similar to some famous medieval works, such as The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron, it follows a group of people who try to escape the disease. And while the book is quite realistic and historically accurate (at least it seems so to me, but I’m just an enthusiast, not an expert), it also has elements of fantasy and the supernatural. This works really well because belief in the supernatural was very strong during the Middle Ages. And it makes the novel feel eerie, which I really like.

Hope may be an illusion, but it’s what keeps you from jumping in a river or swallowing hemlock. Hope is a beautiful lie and it requires talent to create it for others. And back then on that day when they say it all began, I truly believed that the creation of hope was the greatest of all the arts, the noblest of all the lies. I was wrong.

This quote I chose to share with you is from the very beginning of the novel. The man who says it sells relics which he knows are fake, but still, he believes they provide hope and comfort for people who buy them. I think it’s a very interesting thought. Is false hope completely bad, or can it do some good? I’m quite a sceptic, so false hope rarely works for me, but it might help some people in a way that it gives them power to move on and maybe even find a solution to their problems.

What do you think? Feel free to chat with me. Also, have you read this book? What did you think of it?


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Top 5 Wednesday: Favourite Polarizing Books

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There are certain books that people seem to either love or hate, with no in between. For this Top 5 Wednesday, I was supposed to chose 5 of those books that I like. Honesty, I’m not completely sure if these fall into this category, but from what I’ve heard I think they do. Also, some of these are not really favourites of mine, but I don’t hate them as some people do.

Let’s start!

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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I love this book and it’s one of my absolute favourites. I know a lot of people who share these feeling, but I’ve also come across a lot of people who kind of hate it… Which makes me a bit sad… Those people often say that characters are unlikeable, but I think the part of what makes this book great is the flawed characters. I did come to care for them, in spite of their flaws.

2. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

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I can understand why some people don’t like this book. It’s not a pleasant one to read. But I still loved it! I already mentioned it in a post about my favourite villains – the way it’s written is just amazing!

3. Medieval sagas

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I don’t think this is a case of love-or-hate, it’s more like: some people enjoy these sagas and others don’t read them at all. I loved The Song of the Nibelungs (or the Nibelungenlied), The Saga of the Volsungs (Völsunga saga) and I loved Beowulf. There’s just something about these stories that fascinates me. I’m kind of a medieval geek. XD

4. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

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You don’t read books like this for the wonderful prose, you read them for the fun and mystery. I was still in high school when I read it and I found it very interesting then. I also liked Angels and Demons. It was a perfect fast-paced summer read.

5. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

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I didn’t know which book to choose next, so here’s one I don’t actually like, but I don’t hate it as much as some do. Twilight is a book that really gets a lot of hate and a lot of love at the same time. And yes, it’s not a book I love, but I did like it when I first read it (this was also in high school) and I wanted to know what would happen next. The books get worse and worse as the series progresses, that I have to admit, but the first one wasn’t that bad.

So, do you have any thoughts about these books? I’d like to hear from you! 🙂

 

The Prince’s Friend

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A little snippet from my novel that is always in the making but never finished. XD It’s an introduction to some characters you’ve never met before…


Prince Edward had one true friend, which was more than many could hope for. William was not of noble blood, but his great-great-grandfather was a great soldier, a hero, and because of him the Cornwell family was always welcome at Court.
William had a lot to be proud of, but Edward never heard him brag. He did not care much for his heroic ancestor. He learned how to fight, of course, because he didn’t seem to have another choice. He was a skilled swordsman and rider from an early age and was now a member of the royal guard. Still, he never became a knight, which was a disappointment to his parents. It was not the kind of life he wanted to live. He knew that noble causes were just causes, without the misleading epithet.

“Tell me about your great-great-grandfather!” Edward would ask him. “Tell me how he fought and what a great hero he was!”

“Why are you so interested in those stories?” William seemed almost angry when Edward insisted.

“Of course I’m interested! Was he very brave? How big was his sword? Did he slay many enemies?” Edward was always impatient and was not used to his wishes being unanswered. He loved the stories about heroic knights and powerful warriors, and considered them a source of greatest inspiration. He wanted to be like them and never feel fear.

“I don’t want to talk about that. It’s boring. And half of it is made up anyway”, William responded with a frown on his face.

“Oh, no! It’s all real! I don’t understand how you are not intrigued by it. People say there were even dragons involved!” Edward looked very immature next to his friend.

William was not convinced that the story about dragons was true, even though his father was among those who claimed that at the very and of the battle, dragons really appeared and many soldiers were drowned in their breath of fire.

“You must be very proud of him”, said Edward calmly once he was aware that William would not answer him.

“Why would I be proud? Those were his actions, not mine”, William hissed through his teeth.

“But he is your ancestor. And he killed so many enemies”, Edward could not understand his friend’s reaction. He did not want to fight and he regretted starting this conversation. He would, however, repeat the same mistake many times again.

“You keep repeating that word – enemy. But were the people my presumably heroic ancestor killed really his enemies? Did they really do him any harm? I think they weren’t guilty of anything. They were only doing what they were told. And so was my great-great-grandfather. They listened to the orders, and I don’t think there is anything heroic about that”, William sulked.

Edward thought about his friend’s words. He was impressed how smart William was. He could never see things the way his friend did. Still, Edward was not convinced that William was right.
At the time this conversation took place, the boys were fourteen years old and they have already developed their personalities and attitudes. Edward was easily influenced by others, not because he was stupid, but because he was insecure. He listened to other people and found them more eloquent and wiser than himself. There was no harm in listening to others, he thought. It would help him become a better king one day. It would enable him to make his own decisions. When he thought about himself, Edward always pictured a little boy who still had a lot to learn. One day, he would also be wise, but not yet, not just yet…

The Tournament

On the first day of the tournament, there were no fights. It was the day when several short contests took place, and even the common people were allowed to participate in some of them. The most prestigious of the contests was archery, and many noblemen came with their finest bows and arrows to show their skills.

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I’ve been neglecting my blog AND my novel lately… So, now, I’m going to share a small part of my novel on my blog in order to make some progress on both sides. How sneaky of me!


 

On the first day of the tournament, there were no fights. It was the day when several short contests took place, and even the common people were allowed to participate in some of them. The most prestigious of the contests was archery, and many noblemen came with their finest bows and arrows to show their skills. The winner was a certain Sir Adlard, who hit the target time and time again with enviable precision.

The gallery where the king and queen were seated was raised on a platform higher than the rest of the auditorium, covered with a luxurious green curtain and decorated in golden reliefs. On each side of the gallery were the seats reserved for those chosen by the king and queen to be in their company. On the right side sat the Norrington family, as many times before, and on the left the Count of Ashire and his daughter, for the first time ever. It was also Evelyn’s first time attending the tournament. She sat next to Prince Edward, and she shared her impressions with him, asking him what the rules of each competition were.

The second day was the day of single combat. Evelyn did not find it as attractive, even though it was a competition for those of the higher rank and a more important one. It was not allowed to keep harming the opponent once he was down, but there was still a lot of blood on the ground, and many knights suffered serious injuries. Once again, Sir Adlard proved to be the best competitor.

On the third day, Edward’s seat was empty. Evelyn was greeted by William Cornwell.

“His Highness has told me to be in your service today, Lady Evelyn, since he won’t be able to spend time with you. He’s already preparing for the tournament.”

“I thank you for that. It is nice to meet you again, Sir William”, she bowed lightly.

“I’m not a knight, my lady”, he said.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was certain you were a knight. You look like one.”

“And how do knights look like, my lady?” his response confused her a little.

“Well I guess they look like you”, she chuckled.

William had never found a lady to be so sincerely charming. She nodded to him and took a seat next to her father. William was to remain close to them, and he stood next to Evelyn as her protector, still like a statue.

The trumpets announced the beginning of the tournament. Knights shined in strong armours, with bright shields and long spears. Soon, they would climb on their horses, take their places, one on each side of the terrain. They would then run towards each other and try to hit the opponent with the spear and push him from the horse. Evelyn was still unable to see Edward. The price would surely not appear among the first contestants, since he was the one everyone thought would win.

The first clash was over quickly. One of the knights managed to push the other from the horse in the first try. The defeated knight fell to the ground, with only his pride hurt.

It was the other round which made Evelyn feel uneasy. A knight’s spear struck his opponent dangerously, but he managed to remain on his horse. The knights ran towards each other again, but the injured knight could hardy hold his spear and he suffered another blow. Still, he did not withdraw. The third strike was too much for him, however, and he fell from his horse. He remained on the ground.

“Oh, no! He’s not dead, is he?” Evelyn asked but no one could give her a reply.

The fallen knight’s squire approached his master and slowly removed his helmet. There was blood on the knight’s face. The squire tried to wake him up, but the knight remained unresponsive. He was taken from the terrain so that the tournament could be continued.

“I don’t think he’s dead. I think I saw him breathing”, her father responded.

“That only means he is not dead yet”, William said, obviously displeased with the entire tournament. “But he might as well recover completely. It’s hard to tell.”

“Why does His Higness participate in the tournament?” Evelyn asked, scared for Edward’s well-being. “He doesn’t have to.”

“He just really likes it”, William smiled. “You shouldn’t worry, my lady. His Highness knows what he’s doing. He was never badly hurt.”

The time for the prince to compete came before Evelyn was ready for it. Several knights were injured, and her fear only grew. Edward rode into the terrain confidently. He was the only one who had a pearl white horse. The emblem of the royal family was carved into his shield.

Evelyn wanted to close her eyes, but she thought it would be disrespectful. She could hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears.

The knights clashed, and Edward’s opponent fell to the ground. The prince raised his spear in victory. Evelyn could breathe again.

As the tournament progressed, it was obvious that the best competitors were the prince and Sir Adlard. In the end, it all came to the two of them. Sir Adlard was on his auburn horse, upright and motionless. His face was hidden behind the helmet, and he seemed almost as an inhuman, mythical apparition. The prince’s white horse took its place on the opposite side of the terrain, equally tranquil, as if nothing was about to happen. Evelyn watched Edward as his fingers gripped the heavy spear and lifted it parallel to the horse’s body, just above the tip of its ears. She then turned to see Sir Adlard, who took the same pose.

The sound of the trumpet never sounded so threatening. Evelyn knew that she should not be doubting the Prince’s skills, but she had seen him insecure at times, close to falling from the horse. Sir Adlard defeated all of his opponents with such ease that she could not banish the feeling of immense danger approaching.

Prince Edward and Sir Adlard rushed towards each other so swiftly that Evelyn had barely the time to think about what was happening. She didn’t close her eyes. She focused on the centre of the terrain. Metal spears clashed, producing a loud, piercing clang followed by deep echo. Nothing happened. Both competitors were on their horses, riding slowly to the opposite side of the terrain. They had to face one another again.

The other clash resonated in a deeper, more sombre echo. Edward’s spear scraped the ground, but he managed to keep it in his hand. He was hit hard. While Sir Adlard rode back to his place, the Prince just stood there, on the middle of the terrain, holding his hand to his chest. Evelyn could see a dent in Edward’s armour. She wondered how badly he was hurt, but all she could do was sit and wait. She wasn’t sure if she was glad that Edward gathered all his strength and approached his position. She just wanted everything to end, end before tragedy strikes.

The two competitors ran towards each other for the third time. Evelyn wanted to look away but she couldn’t. There was no echo this time, and the clash was followed by a loud thud. The auburn horse reared, but it didn’t move from where it stood. The white horse kept running forward, disobeying the commands of its rider, and then suddenly stopped. Edward almost lost his balance. He held onto the horse with only one hand, while the other throbbed in pain as he tried not to drop the spear. This was in vain, and the spear fell to the ground. The only thing Edward could do was to look back to see what had happened to his opponent. The white horse soon regained its calm and turned obediently towards the centre of the terrain. Next to his horse’s hooves, lay Sir Adlard.

“His Highness, Prince Edward, is the champion!” the words sounded otherworldly.

Edward took off his helmet and raised his hand in victory. It was his time to be proud. He proved to everyone that he was worthy of becoming the king. He felt he was ready for it.

He looked after Evelyn. She raised from her seat and applauded. He wasn’t aware just how happy she was that the tournament was over, and how much she feared for his well-being. But he saw that she was smiling. Her face was shining with happiness.

It was the queen’s duty to bestow the champion’s coronal on the winners head. Edward rode to the royal gallery and greeted his mother with a wide smile. He bowed lightly and she put the coronal on his head. He raised his eyes and looked for hers. His mother was proud and smiling. He then looked at his father, a bit fearful. The king nodded, as if Edward only did what was expected of him, which made the future king feel like a young prince again. But he quickly gathered his thoughts. He was a champion and he should act like one! It was his time to rejoice.

Edward trotted around the terrain, noticing that Sir Adlard managed to raise and was slowly limping towards the crowd. He didn’t seem very proud now, and it made Edward feel great and powerful. After he did a full circle and greeted the entire audience, Edward was once again next to the royal gallery. His eyes met Evelyn’s. He was now close enough to see that they had teared up. He approached her and she came to greet him. They were aware that entire audience was staring at them, but it didn’t matter. Edward took off his coronal and put it on Evelyn’s black hair. The audience fell silent.

“You look like a fairy”, he smiled. “This is not just my victory. It is ours.”

William smiled at his friend’s words. He had never seen Edward act like that, never had he paid so much attention to a lady before. Maybe Edward’s decision to marry Lady Evelyn was not so crazy after all. He still felt it was rash, but he allowed himself believe that maybe they really were meant for each other.

Edward kept his gaze for a while, and Evelyn looked back at him. He then rode back to the terrain, saluting to the audience time and time again. They loved him. They worshipped him. He did it!

The Accolade

I see the sword drop. Sun rays are reflected off the sleek metal. The intense light almost hurts my eyes. How many have seen the same image, and then never saw anything, ever again?

To me, the sword doesn’t mean death, at least not for now.  What it brings to me is knighthood; honour and glory. It taps me on the shoulder as a kind friend who wants to make me feel proud of myself. But somehow, I feel the opposite. I feel shame.

“Hail to our brave hero!”

The Lady smiles. Everyone cheers, but all I can hear are screams. My nostrils can still smell blood.

Hail to me! Hail to the hero who saved us all!
Hail to me! Hail to the murderer who murdered them all!

 

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Edmund Blair Leighton (1852 – 1922) – “The Accolade”

 

Review: “The Sword in the Stone” and Pacifism

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“The Sword in the Stone” is the first book of T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, a retelling of Arthurian legends. As someone who is really fond of these kind of legends, I just had to pick it up. Finally.

First, I want to say something about the style. Some aspects of the story are explained and described in terms which did not exist in the Middle Ages – for example, the Badger speaks about his doctoral dissertation, which I found amusing. And really, mostly this is quite humorous, and it worked great. Sometimes, though, I wanted to be dragged into the world of king Arthur and this prevented me a little bit. However, I did find some references quite interesting as they referred to our time in a critical way, which gives another aspect to the novel. I also liked some references to the medieval tradition, for example Robin Hood appears in the novel. I especially liked how maid Marion was portrayed.

Now, let’s talk about the story. “The Sword in the Stone” part follows young Arthur’s childhood and education, the times when he was still called Wart. Wart is raised by Sir Ector and lives in the shadow of his son, Kay. Since Kay is Sir Ector’s real son, he’s supposed to become a knight, and Wart his squire. Wart wishes he could be a knight, but accepts his destiny. However, the boys’ tutor Merlyn pays much more attention to Wart.

Throughout the book, Merlyn gives Wart some life lessons and transforms him into different animals. By learning about the ways in which the animals live, Wart learns about the world in general. And here comes the part that I found most enjoyable. It’s easy for a book about knight and chivalry to portray fights and war as something interesting and almost good. However, T.H. White turns this around. For example, this is how a goose reacted when Wart asked her if geese have wars against other geese.

“What a horrible mind you must have! You have no right to say such things! And of course there are sentries.There are jer-falcons and the peregrines, aren’t there:the foxes and the ermines and the humans with their nets? These are natural enemies. But what creature would be so low as to go about in bands, to murder others of its own blood?” …

“I like fighting,” said the Wart. “It is knightly.”

“Because you’re a baby.”

Arthur is quite naive in the beginning. He looks up to the knights, who act funny and whose tournaments look like jokes – which is also a nice comment on violence. He also looks up to Kay, the boy he grew up with, even though Kay is vain and not kind to him. The author stresses this himself, and makes sure that the reader is aware of Wart’s naivety:

The Wart continued to be stupid, fond of Kay, and interested in birds.

Several years later, Wart has a conversation about fighting with the Badger, in which the Badger also says how humans wage war against each other, and how they are feared by all animals. Wart says that he would like to be a knight, go to war and show his courage. He also says that the ants fight against each other. And in the end, the Badger then puts everything in the right perspective:

“Which did you like best,” he asked, “the ants or the wild geese?”

The chapter ends here, but to the reader it’s obvious that Wart didn’t really like the ants, and that he enjoyed his time with the geese.

Silly Wart will become the great king Arthur, which is shown in the end, when he manages to draw the sward from the stone. To do this, he had to use all the knowledge he gained from Merlyn and the animals. II think this shows that he has the ability to grow and become wise. In the beginning of the second book (I’ve read only three chapters so far) Wart is still not completely changed, but Merlyn still teaches him the same values.

“(…) What is all this chivalry, anyway? It simply means being rich enough to have a castle and a suit of armour, and then, when you have them, you make the Saxon people do what you like. The only risk you run is of getting a few bruises if you happen to come across another knight. (…) All the barons can slice the poor people about as much as they want, and it is a day’s work to hurt each other, an the result is that the country is devastated. Might is Right, that’s the motto.

I really like Merlyn’s words and criticism, and it will be interesting to see how Arthur’s character will develop.

I will post another review once I finish the entire book. I’m really excited to see how it progresses. 🙂