Thursday, January 12, 2012

On brushing up on one's medieval British history

Pnin, Willow and I recently finished listening to a Teaching Company course, The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest. It's been one of my favorite Teaching Company courses so far. The lectures are easy to follow and well-organized, and Paxton has a crisp, clear voice that works well for the medium. I'm a fan of Teaching Company courses primarily as gap fillers -- to pick up knowledge that I should've gotten somewhere along the way during the course of a decent liberal arts education, but didn't. So I've loaded up on classical music, for example, and on periods of history that I happened never to study. It's thus entirely possible that there are significant omissions or distortions that a real scholar of this stuff would notice that I'm not. But as far as I can tell, that's not been a problem for my purposes.

Relatedly, Pnin recently recommended Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels, which cover the same perid and place. I've made my way through the Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy and am now delving into the recently released Lionheart. I'd recommend them readily to George R.R. Martin fans. Penman's novels obviously lack the magical elements of the Song of Ice and Fire series, but they do feature similarly sprawling casts of characters faced with complicated, morally ambiguous situations.  Penman's technique of shifting rapidly between the points of view of different characters is also somewhat similar, though her cast isn't nearly so large nor separated in time and space as Martin's. Overall, very enjoyable thus far. 

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