Tag Archives: BBC

A Rosee outlook for Vikings in America

Viking house at L'Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, photo by Lars Walker
My photo of a reconstructed Viking house at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

It’s been some time since I did my public duty by updating our erudite audience on the latest news from the world of Viking studies.

This story has been making the rounds lately, and to be honest it’s got my ears standing up. Archaeologists have used satellite imagery to identify a site in southwest Newfoundland that looks very much like a Viking Age Norse settlement.

“I am absolutely thrilled,” says Parcak. “Typically in archaeology, you only ever get to write a footnote in the history books, but what we seem to have at Point Rosee may be the beginning of an entirely new chapter.

“This new site could unravel more secrets about the Vikings, whether they were the first Europeans to ‘occupy’ briefly in North America, and reveal that the Vikings dared to explore much further into the New World than we ever thought.”

It’s too early to know for sure yet, of course. When the Ingstad group excavated the one known Viking site in North America, L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, it took quite a lot of digging before they found something indisputably Norse – a ring-headed bronze pin, used for fastening a cloak. There’s a difference between finding a sod building, however much it might resemble the houses in Greenland, and finding something that couldn’t possibly have been left by Native Americans or English or Portuguese fishermen. That’s what they’ll be looking for now.

A lot of us have been waiting for something like this for some time. Prof. Helge Ingstad, having discovered his Vinland site in the 1960s, planted his metaphorical flag there and declared, “This is Vinland. This is all of Vinland there ever was. There’s no point for looking for any more traces of the Norse on this continent.” Everyone respects Ingstad immensely, and almost nobody agrees with that contention anymore. Ingstad thought that many of the saga descriptions, especially those speaking of grapes, were just folklore accretions to the story, because grapes have never grown at that latitude. Nowadays we take those descriptions more seriously – especially since butternuts were found in the excavations. Butternuts have also never grown at that latitude, but they do grow where grapes grow. This new site, further south along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, leads in the direction most scholars have been thinking of.

So this is exciting. We’ll be watching for more news.

‘Sherlock’ and the Case of the Jumped Shark

I knew better. But I was seduced.

OK, let me rephrase that.

I had decided, at the end of the last season of BBC’s Sherlock, to stop watching it. I’d liked the first season very much. The second season I liked quite a lot. The third season alienated me. The production went from being a detective show (featuring lively riffs on the original Conan Doyle stories) into being a soap opera about the friendship of two men. I was particularly irritated by the condescending attitude I thought I detected toward the original material. As if Doyle had been waiting for the 21st Century for someone to inform him what he’d really been writing about.

But then they offered a Christmas special, which aired last night on PBS, and they did it in period, set about 1895, with Holmes smoking a pipe again and Watson sporting a handlebar mustache. I couldn’t resist that, could I?

Well, I couldn’t. And I guess it’s just as well. It was only 90 minutes, and that was long enough to put me off the series permanently. Continue reading ‘Sherlock’ and the Case of the Jumped Shark

Crime Fighting, Old and New

“For me, Batman has the most spiritual narratives. I’d venture to say that, in general, D.C. excels Marvel in exploring the hero’s soul, and no soul is darker than Bruce Wayne’s.”

Smoking GuyBrad Fruhauff talks about his appreciation of Batman’s character and storyline, and he’s probably right. Batman wins by sheer force of will, despite the flood of evil he faces.

Turn the page. Author Christopher West says the Chinese were telling the equivalent of police procedurals far before anyone in the West.

A genre known as gong’an began in the Song dynasty (960 to 1279): the term means a magistrate’s desk, and the modern equivalent would be police procedural. Stories would be narrated by wandering storytellers or in puppet shows, and usually told of upright officials exposing corruption and cover-ups. No examples of these stories have survived, however. The oldest gong’an tales come from the next dynasty, the Yuan (1279 to 1368).

Turn another page. For a limited time, BBC Radio 4 is airing a production of an unfinished work by Alfred Hitchcock, The Blind Man. “The world premiere of Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman’s unfinished screenplay, the follow-up to North by Northwest, now completed by Mark Gatiss” stars Hugh Laurie and Kelly Burke.

“Set in 1961, a famous blind jazz pianist, Larry Keating [Laurie], agrees to a radical new medical procedure – an eye transplant. The operation is a success but his new eyes are those of a murdered man, and captured on their retina is the image of his murderer. Larry and his new nurse, Jenny [Burke], begin a quest to track him down – before someone else dies.”

Television Review: Sherlock: A Study In Pink

Although we naturally (and quite rightly) think of Sherlock Holmes as a character comfortably ensconced in Victorian London, with its hansom cabs rattling down cobblestone streets, yellow fog, and helmeted bobbies, the idea of updating the character isn’t actually a new one. The early Holmes films were always set in the year of their production, just as we today think nothing of seeing James Bond (whose stories were written in the 1950s and ’60s) using a laptop computer or carrying a cell phone. The first Holmes film actually set in period was The Hound of the Baskervilles, starring Basil Rathbone, released by Twentieth Century Fox in 1939. Then, after one more Victorian film for Fox (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), the series moved to Universal and back to the cheaper approach of updating.

I was prepared to dislike the new BBC series Sherlock, broadcast on PBS, but to my surprise I quite liked it. The new Holmes operates as a police consultant in contemporary London. The police are suspicious of him (one accuses him of being a “psychopath,” to which he replies that he’s a high-functioning sociopath). He doesn’t wear a deerstalker or Inverness cape, but those costume elements have tended to be overused (and inappropriately used) in films and TV shows anyway. The modern world doesn’t allow him to smoke, so he relies on multiple nicotine patches when he needs to think out a problem. He does take drugs. The actor who plays him (one who rejoices in the name Benedict Cumberbatch) looks too young for the part, but has the attitude exactly right. Continue reading Television Review: Sherlock: A Study In Pink