My Favorite History Podcasts

Lonely car drives, walks, jogging, spring cleaning – I find many opportunities when it’s nice to have something to listen to. And while I’ve got an excellent library of music that can play for a week and a half without repeating a song if I let it go continuously, I’ve also become quite a big fan of podcasts over the years. And to no one’s surprise, my favorite podcasts are nearly all related to literature and history.

Here are my current favorite history podcasts – the literary ones will be in a later post, as I have more of them. I encourage you to give each of them a try. If you like them, subscribe to them on your favorite platform, and after you’ve listened awhile, give them a rating on whatever podcast or app store you got them from. Feel free, as well, to discuss them here, and to share your own favorite podcasts.

They are available through iTunes and the iPhone’s App Store.

HISTORY

norman-centuries-header“Norman Centuries”

by Lars Brownworth
https://normancenturies.com/
Episode length: expect 15 – 30 minutes

This is one of the first I discovered, several years back. Lars Brownworth is an excellent lecturer, with a voice that is clear and easy to listen to. Beginning with Rollo, the Viking leader who settled in the region of northern France now called Normandy, Brownworth tells the adventures of Rollo’s people as they established kingdoms in Britain and the Mediterranean. While not often nice people, the Normans were some of the most fascinating adventurers the world has ever known. Their story is entertaining and often thrilling – there’s nothing dry or boring about the Normans or the way Brownworth speaks about them!

Lars Brownworth also has another great podcast about 12 Byzantine Rulers, which can be found at https://12byzantinerulers.com/. He’s also authored books on these subjects.

The History of English Podcast

book-header3-1120x252by Kevin Stroud
http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/
Episode length: expect 45 minutes – 1 hour

This podcast is an incredibly impressive achievement in the organization and correlation of research. Kevin Stroud draws from many different sources to bring us the story of the English language itself – where its distant roots are in prehistory, how our ancestors migrated and found new words, how their livelihoods determined their vocabulary, and the myriad unexpected ways that people and their languages can change, shift, and bloom.

And it’s told as a story. This podcast is at once an epic (following thousands of years of wars, politics, migrations, and assorted adventures), a mystery (examining clues in words and writings to figure out what they really are, who was behind them, and what their effects are), and a human drama (often delving into the lives of specific historical figures to understand how they influenced other people and the popular spoken language).

Ancient Warfare Podcast

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by The History Network
https://thehistorynetwork.org/category/ancient-warfare-magazine/
Episode length: 30 minutes – over an hour

Most episodes seem to consist of roundtable discussions on some topic of – surprisingly! – ancient warfare by the hosts. I’ve listened to a bit, but they’re informative and cover and wide range of fascinating topics. Well worth checking out.

What are your favorite podcasts about history?

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Classic Remarks: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic?

Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)

Courtesy of IMDbUgh, this guy.

Let me be upfront: my judgment is on Joel Schumacher’s 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical. I haven’t seen any other film or stage version, nor have I read Gaston Leroux’s novel.

I believe I was in high school when I first saw the movie. It struck me as rather weak overall, and particularly infuriating in how it seemed to romanticize the abusive, creepy, criminal Phantom.

Oh sure, he has a tragic backstory to explain his deformed appearance and antisocial behavior. Although, if you ask me, the movie’s version of these “deformities” are less severe than I’ve seen on several other real-life people who nonetheless live their own lives with compassion, healthiness, and a fair bit of normality. Likewise many people have overcome far worse abuses than he is said to have suffered and live functional, non-murderous lives. Still, this is the reason the story gives us as to why he tends to murder people out of vengeance, or, you know, if he happens to see them during a ballet performance he really doesn’t like (R.I.P. poor stagehand). He’s given passionate songs with passionately creepy lyrics to sing, and I guess some people are impressed by the rose he leaves on Christine’s tomb nearly fifty years after the whole affair. Honestly, I find it difficult to sympathize with him.

This is a fellow who:

  • Uses a young, naïve woman as a tool to get revenge on society, despite the fact that the specific people who harmed him in the past won’t be affected by this revenge (making it not really revenge, but mere criminal actions)
  • Uses said woman to vicariously live a life of musical fame denied to him by his deformity, criminal activity, and general hatred of other people
  • Tries to seduce said woman with various techniques designed to strip her of her ability to make informed decisions, including:
    • lying about his identity and intentions
    • hypnotism
    • threats of violence against those she cares about
    • physically holding her captive
    • physically holding captive the man she actually loves
    • forcing her to wear a wedding dress and commanding her to marry him
    • blatant emotional manipulation in general
  • murdering an innocent stagehand
  • threatening terrorist acts upon the theater if they don’t do what he wants

At the end, he shows some remorse for his actions, and he does leave Christine and Raoul in peace for the rest of their lives. But he’s never brought to justice for his crimes, and his crimes are in no way romantic. It’s all the worse because the film musical never seems able to acknowledge the severity of his sins or the sort of repentance he really needs in order to be redeemed. I felt that it paints him as tragic, but sweet and impressive in his devotion and dramatics. I find him kind of disgusting.

It also hurts that he dresses so very similarly to the heroic vigilante of my own fiction for which this very blog is named. But that at least is without his control, and so I will try not to hold that against him. I like his dramatic style, but not his morals or actions.

Seriously, do an image search of “phantom of the opera unmasked” to compare the 2004’s deformities with the far more severe portrayals in other adaptations.

Classic Remarks: What to read after “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”

What Tolkien book would you recommend to a reader after they’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?

3306190There are a few possibilities for this one, depending on your tastes. But my first answer would be The Silmarillion. This is the book with all the tales of how Middle-Earth came to be. It has the history of the Elves, Men, Dwarves, and a bit of hobbit history too, although for such unadventurous folk their origins are rather mysterious. It is a magnificent tapestry of hundreds of stories that all form a cohesive, meaningful whole. Anyone who reads the tales of Bilbo and Frodo and wants to know more about Middle-Earth should turn first to The Silmarillion.

597790But perhaps you’re intimidated by the size and density of The Silmarillion? You’ve heard it described as “the Old Testament with Elves” and worry that it will be too dry or complicated to jump right into. Even in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s language has a dense, old flavor to it that can be hard to swallow for readers unfamiliar with that style, and the promise of more stories told in a still denser, older style can intimidate even those who want to experience the stories themselves. In that case, I would recommend The Children of Húrin. This book tells one of The Silmarillion’s stories in an expanded form closer to a short novel. The language is still high and beautiful, but it’s a quicker, more self-sufficient read, and will give you a good taste of what to expect in The Silmarillion. I do warn you, it’s a dark, tragic tale, but as epic and moving as they come. If you like it, you can rest assured that you will find more of that quality in The Silmarillion, but also many stories that are happier and more hopeful.

Happy reading!

Next up: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)

Exploring Middle-Earth every week with the Tolkien Professor

Hail and well-met!

Forgive me for not mentioning this a few months ago, but Dr. Corey Olsen — a.k.a. The Tolkien Professor of so many incredible podcast episodes — has been running a free weekly online seminar going through The Lord of the Rings chapter-by-chapter. Every Tuesday at 9:30PM EDT.

He broadcasts live on Twitch, and there’s an active chat room on Discord that runs simultaneously. Sometimes he even responds to viewer comments and questions! There’s also a forum here where you can carry on discussions throughout the week and post questions in advance for him to answer during the broadcast. I’ve done that a few times and definitely found my appreciation of Middle-Earth broadening.

If you play The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), he’s actually broadcasting from within the game, and you can join him and other players there in Hobbiton. But even if you don’t play the game, as I don’t, you can watch and take part in the discussion. After the chapter discussion, he takes viewers on a field trip through locations in the game that correspond to the locations that have just been read about in the book, and discusses the ways in which the game developers have interpreted Tolkien’s writing.

I’m in the middle of tonight’s broadcast right now, and hope some of you can join us later. Godspeed!

Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Classic

“I hardly saw any other children; only one was my friend, and my blackness did not keep him from loving me.”

Recommend a diverse classic. Or you can argue that a diverse book should be a classic or should be included in the canon. Or you can argue that the book should be a classic, but that you don’t want to see it in the canon.

A diverse classic? That’s an extremely vague phrase which could technically be interpreted in countless ways, but I get the gist. In the English-speaking world, the standard literary classics almost entirely come from Europe and the countries which developed from European colonies. It can also be argued that the most famous, mainstream works tend to deal with similar subjects, perhaps from similar or familiar perspectives. This is a chance to discuss a book that either comes from a different cultural milieu or deals with subjects or perspectives that are rare or unique in the Western literary canon. Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Classic”

Classic Remarks: Is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew misogynistic? Should we continue to stage it?

Because I don’t believe Shakespeare to be a true misogynist, I am reluctant to call his play misogynistic…

Is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew misogynistic? Should we continue to stage it?

Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Once again, I am at a disadvantage. I have not read the play in Shakespeare’s own words, and am mostly familiar with it in summary, by reputation, and by…the 1953 MGM film Kiss Me Kate, which I gather is a fairly loose adaptation. I have skimmed the Sparknotes document on The Taming of the Shrew, but admit that this is hardly a firm foundation from which to pass substantive judgment. So please forgive me if I seem over-cautious in my answer. If I say something which seems contradicted by the text, forgive me my error and kindly correct me in the comments! Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew misogynistic? Should we continue to stage it?”

Easter Worship

For this year’s Easter post, I thought I’d share an abbreviated version of what we do at my church. We’re a tiny congregation, which affords us the luxury of some habits which would be more difficult in larger congregations. On holidays, particularly Easter and Christmas, our worship service involves Scripture readings by members of the congregation, with our hymns and praise songs interspersed. The Scripture readings are hand-picked to tell the story of God’s redemption of mankind, from beginning to Christ. I pray that you are blessed by what you read here.


Man Made a Little Lower than God

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” …God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:27, 28, 31a)

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:1, 3-6a)

Continue reading “Easter Worship”