Transmog: The Wearing of the Green

Spring is almost upon us and its time to break out the green. We’ve put on our best spring transmogs just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

Erik here.

Here’s my Tauren warrior in what I call her Boreal Defender set.

And here’s my Dwarven hunter wearing her Luck o’ the Dwarvish set.

Eppu here.

Despite her resplendent golden, white, and turquoise dress, my fire mage also rocks green.

WoW StPats Mog Fire Mage

And my rogue decided to dual-wield golden hammers with green stone accents.

WoW StPats Mog Rogue

Here is her full set.

Do you typically do a special mog for spring?

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.


Option for Breaking out of Eurocentric Worldbuilding Mold: Yareta Plants

Yareta or llareta (Azorella compacta) is a low evergreen that grows in the Andes mountains in Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and Argentina.

Flickr Miguel Vieira Yareta Ollague Volcano Lookout

Looking at the landscape where it’s found, it seems that the yareta latches onto ground or rock and grows up and out into the rounded shape over the years.

Flickr Knut-Erik Helle Yareta Bolivian Altiplano

The rounded, cotton-ball-like shape reminds me of how some mosses grow. Unlike them, though, the yareta can grow in dry conditions and nutrient-poor soil, if slowly. (According to Wikipedia, their growth rate is approximately 1.5 cm / 0.6 inches per year; however, an article in Pharmacognosy Magazine cites 1 cm in 20 years.)

Apparently the Andean people used yareta since Pre-Columbian times for the treatment of colds, pains, diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, womb complaints, gastric disorders, backache, wounds, and altitude sickness (Pharmacognosy Magazine Aug 2014).

Yareta looks like a great option for speculative writers and artists looking to break out of the Eurocentric worldbuilding mold.

Images: Yareta at Ollague Volcano lookout by Miguel Vieira via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Yareta – Bolivian Altiplano by Knut-Erik Helle via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

British Library’s Exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic Now Online

The British Library has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to bring online their physical exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

British Library Google Harry Potter A History of Magic Exhibition

Apart from various aspects of the story and the movie series, the exhibition covers for example illustrations, the history of real-world magic, and early sketches and notes by J.K. Rowling. In addition, on display are a number of items from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

My favorite feature is perhaps the section covering the real-world history of various Hogwarts classes, closely followed by the animals and fantastical beasts section.

Found via Helsingin Sanomat.

Image: screencap from the Google Arts & Culture page for the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.


Race in Antiquity: Skin Color in Art

“What race were the ancient Greeks and Romans?”

It sounds like a simple question that ought to have a straightforward answer, but both the question and its answer are far more complicated than they appear. In these posts, I dig into the topic to explore what we know, what we don’t know, and what we mean by race in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Part 4: Skin Color in Art

In the previous post, we looked at how Greeks and Romans wrote about skin color. Today we look at how they represented it in art.

In looking at how ancient artists handled skin color, we have to begin by recognizing that not all ancient artworks have come down to us intact or preserving their original colors. We must especially shake off the association of ancient art with gleaming white marble. Marble was favored for sculpture in the ancient Mediterranean because the stone is slightly translucent and it reacts to light in a way similar to human skin, but marble statues were not usually left white. They were painted, often in bright colors which have faded or disappeared entirely after thousands of years of exposure. To get a more accurate sense of how ancient artists represented skin color, we have to choose our sources carefully and look for types of artwork that hold color better over time or that have been protected from exposure.

Although people of the ancient Mediterranean were aware that human skin tones could vary widely, they did not attach the same meaning to this variation that we tend to today. Since skin color was not a primary way of marking ethnic identity, artists could use it to convey other meanings, or simply for decorative effect.

It was a widespread custom in the ancient Mediterranean to use skin color as an indicator of gender. Men were often portrayed with dark reddish-brown skin, women with pale yellow-white skin. This artistic convention reflects a conventional ideology in which the socially acceptable activities for men were agriculture and war, outdoor occupations which exposed them to the sun. Women were similarly expected to stay indoors, working in the home and preserving their pale skin. For a man to be pale suggested that he worked indoors at trades that, though necessary for society, were less prestigious. Similarly, for a woman to appear dark-skinned suggested that she had to work outside the home, implying that her household was not rich enough to be self-sustaining. When patrons directed artists to depict them with conventional skin colors, they were responding to the social pressure to look their best. We cannot assume that artworks like these represent the actual appearance of their subjects.

Funerary statues of Rahotep and Nofret via Wikimedia (Egyptian Museum, Cairo; c. 2500 BCE; painted limestone)
Portrait of a couple from Pompeii via Wikimedia (Pompeii, currently Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli; 1st c. CE; fresco)


Skin color could also be used to indicate other features of identity. Darker skin, for instance, was associated with age, lighter skin with youth. Children were often depicted with light-colored skin, regardless of gender. In this portrait of the family of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, Septimius’ skin is distinctly darker than his wife Julia Domna’s, but their son Caracalla’s skin is even a little paler than his mother’s. (Their other son Geta’s face was obliterated in antiquity after Caracalla became emperor and assassinated his brother).

Portrait of Septimius Severus and family, photograph by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro via Wikimedia (currently Altes Museum, Berlin; c. 200 CE; painted panel)


The degree to which skin color was emphasized as a feature in art also varied between cultures and across time. These two examples of Etruscan tomb art from Tarquinia show how much variation there could be even within the same community. While both follow the dark men / light women pattern (gender is also marked by differences in clothing, hair style, and activity) one makes the distinction very stark and schematic while the other is much more subtle.

Banquet scene from the Tomb of the Leopards, photograph by AlMare via Wikimedia (Tarquinia; 480-450 BCE; fresco)
Banquet scene from the Tomb of the Shields via classconnection (Tarquinia; c. 340 BCE; fresco)


In many cases, the skin color of human figures in ancient art is dictated by the choice of medium more than by a desire to convey any message. The two sides of this vase, for instance, present similar scenes, the hero Heracles at a feast, in opposite color schemes.

“Bilingual” vase, composite of photographs via Wikimedia (Vulci, currently Staatliche Antikensammlung, Berlin; 520-510 BCE; pottery; believed to be by Andokides Painter)


This statue of the Tetrarchs, four emperors who governed the Roman Empire in a short-lived experiment in joint rule, is carved out of porphyry, a very hard stone with a dark purple hue. This stone was chosen for several reasons, partly because of the traditional association of purple with imperial power and partly because the dense, hard stone suggested the strength of the institution the joint rulers were trying to create. A realistic depiction of skin tone was not a priority.

Tetrarchs statue, photograph by Nino Barbieri via Wikimedia (currently St. Mark’s Square, Venice; early 4th c. CE; porphyry)


When depicting beings beyond the human realm, skin color could carry many other meanings. The Egyptian god of the dead, Osiris, was traditionally depicted with green skin, symbolic of regrowth and new life. In these wall paintings, the green-skinned Osiris appears in two different scenes in the company of other gods.

Wall paintings from the tomb of Horemheb, photograph be Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Wikimedia (Valley of the Kings; c. 1292 BCE; fresco)


Similarly, the Etruscan god Charu, who was responsible for guiding the souls of the dead into the afterlife, was typically shown with blue skin, representing decaying flesh.

Charu from the François Tomb, detail of photograph via Wikimedia (Vulci; c. 330 BCE; fresco)

Sometimes ancient artists used skin color to indicate ethnicity in ways that are easy for us to recognize, such as this vase representing two women’s faces. The light-skinned woman’s features, such as her pointed nose, thin lips, and wavy hair, suggest that she is meant to be of European descent while the black-skinned woman has features characteristic of a sub-Saharan African origin, such as a flat nose, fuller lips, and tightly coiled hair.

Janiform aryballos, photograph by Jastrow via Wikimedia (from Greece, currently Louvre; 520-510 BCE; pottery)


In other cases, we cannot be entirely sure what the skin color in ancient art is meant to convey. This fresco from Minoan Knossos depicts bull leapers in distinctly different skin tones, but it is difficult to be sure what significance, if any, that difference has. It may be meant to show differences in gender, although the figures’ similar proportions, clothing, and hair do not confirm it. It might be intended to indicate people of different ethnic origins. Alternatively, it could be simply for aesthetic variation. We do not know enough about Minoan culture and its conventions for representing ethnicity, gender, and other identities in art to be certain.

Bull leaping fresco (restored), photograph by Nikater via Wikimedia (Knossos; 1550-1450 BCE; fresco)


As with literary descriptions of skin color, we have to approach ancient artistic representations with a cautious awareness of how far removed we are from the cultures that created them. The artists who made these images and the patrons who commissioned them did not share many of our basic assumptions about what skin color means and how it should be represented. Their cultural context was unlike ours and they created their works to communicate with other people of their place and time, not to send time capsules to us millennia later. It is not enough for us to stroll through museums or flip through the pages of art books looking for faces that look the way we think people of different ethnic origins ought to look.

Ancient art is not a representative snapshot of ancient demographics. Art represents what people consider important, not necessarily the reality of the world they live in. In a world in which privilege, power, and identity were not wrapped up with race in the same way they are today, the representation of race in art was much less of a priority. Just because ancient artists, like ancient writers, often chose not to depict skin color as a defining mark of ethnic identity does not mean that they did not live surrounded by people of all different hues with ancestries spanning the globe. As with how we read literature, we have to learn to read ancient art in new ways if we are to make sense of it as evidence for the diversity of ancient Mediterranean societies.

Other posts on Race in Antiquity:

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.


A Wrinkle in Time Opens Today

We are headed to see A Wrinkle in Time.

Twitter IMAX A Wrinkle in Time Poster

It’s delightful to have many interesting picks in the theaters this spring after a year of mostly meh.

Image: A Wrinkle in Time IMAX poster via the IMAX Twitter account

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Rating: Doctor Who, Season 5

In between seasons 4 and 5 of new-series Doctor Who there is a series of specials starring David Tennant, but our copy of the discs turned out to be defective, so while we wait for a good opportunity to replace them, our rewatching and rating project carries on to season 5.

  1. “The Eleventh Hour” – 3
  2. “The Beast Below” – 3
  3. “Victory of the Daleks” – 4
  4. “The Time of the Angels” – 6
  5. “Flesh and Stone” – 1.5
  6. “The Vampires of Venice” – 2
  7. “Amy’s Choice” – 2
  8. “The Hungry Earth” – 5
  9. “Cold Blood” – 2
  10. “Vincent and the Doctor” – 5
  11. “The Lodger” – 4
  12. “The Pandorica Opens” – 5
  13. “The Big Bang” – 6

The average rating for this season is a rather dismal 3.7, a big come-down from season 4’s 6.9. Nothing rises above a ho-hum 6, and almost half the episodes this season rate less than a 4, which is pretty much our minimal cut-off for ever wanting to see an episode again.

This season of Doctor Who poses one big question, and that question is: what on Earth happened to Stephen Moffat?? Many of our favorite episodes of previous season were written by Moffat: “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” in season 1, “The Girl in the Fireplace” in season 2, “Blink” in season 3, “Silence in the Library” / “The Forest of the Dead” in season 4. All these episodes were intricately-constructed masterpieces in which every piece fit, every tantalizing question had a satisfying answer, and the gee-whizery of the sci-fi was balanced with sensitive emotional stories. We had great expectations for Moffat’s first season a showrunner, and instead we got… this? The writing is clunky, the plots are full of janky bits that don’t fit, the characters are unpleasant, and the whimsy feels forced. We wonder whether the demands of production didn’t leave him time to develop his scripts more fully, or if perhaps the quality of his earlier scripts depended in part on good editing by the previous production team.

The new cast doesn’t improve matters. We don’t care for Matt Smith’s interpretation of the Doctor, which relies too much on surface wackiness and feels emotionally hollow. But even worse is the new companion, Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. All credit to Ms. Gillan for her acting, but the character is written as a whiny, self-centered bully. Both of these characters reflect an unappealing turn in Moffat’s writing, also visible in his series Sherlock: the belief that if a person is very clever or otherwise special, they get a pass on basic human decency. That’s a position we can’t get behind.

The lowest-rated episode of this season is “Flesh and Stone,” at 1.5. It’s the second part after the rather decent “The Time of the Angels,” following the Doctor’s adventures with a band of futuristic warrior priests in an underground labyrinth filled with Weeping Angels. The first episode give us a reasonably good set-up which the second just fails to pay off. The momentum built up in the first part sputters out as the second part pays its dues to the season-long “crack in the universe” arc. The Weeping Angels were one of Moffat’s most interesting creations in “Blink,” but they would have been better left alone than recycled for this episode.

The best episodes, both at 6, are “The Time of the Angels” and “The Big Bang.” “The Big Bang” does a better job of delivering the old Moffat magic with a complicated time-woven story about the Doctor and his friends racing to stop the end of the universe that was set off in the previous episode. It has some good moments and finally gives Amy’s Stockholm Syndrome victim boyfriend Rory something to do, but it never quite rises to its potential.

All in all, a real let-down of a season for us, but we know there are other folks out there who feel differently, including fans of Amy Pond and Matt Smith’s Doctor. What episodes this season did you love (or not)? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Doctor Who season 5 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Texts from Shakespeare Characters: Do You Bite Your Thumb at Us, Sir?

This panel from a slew of Texts from Shakespeare Characters totally cracked me up:

Tumblr Texts from Shakespeare Characters Do You Bite Thumb

random Capulet loser: [thumbs up emoji]

phone owner, NOT a Capulet loser: “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”

An insightful combination of Shakespeare and modern tech and culture. Dare I say it: thumbs up!

Image: Texts from Shakespeare Characters from SparkNotes’s SparkLife, found via Abbie A. Aaronson on Tumblr

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Black Panther Reaction Links

Sharing links to and quotes from some reaction pieces on the Black Panther movie adaptation.

Brandon O’Brien at “Building Bridges: Black Panther and the Difference Between Rage and Revolution”

“[Nakia]’s been doing it all alone, with no backup, even insisting on not being disturbed as she trots about the globe, righting capitalist neo-imperialist wrongs through her own wits. Nakia sees the value of providing a more lasting sense of peace for the disenfranchised, and knows that the late stage of that goal requires the commitment of Wakanda—not to wage war on other countries, but to seek out the downtrodden and lift them up and out of struggle. In her first scene in the film, she even has the empathy to see a child soldier as a boy first and an aggressor second, preferring to send him back home than to fight him.”


Brandon O’Brien at “‘Who are you?’: Black Panther and the Politics of Belonging”

Black Panther, however, is a revolution. Not merely in the sense that “it is revolutionary to see blackness this way,” though it is. But also in the sense that this movie is a revolutionary dialogue. […]

“Most of the introductions in the film happen in a very particular way. When Wakandans ask each other ‘Who are you?’, it happens not with any distrust or confusion, but with a display of pride. They are asking you to confess yourself, to admit that you are one of their own with the gusto of someone who deeply values what that means. You get to be someone. You get to be.”


Bridget Boakye at Face 2 Face Africa: “The Legendary Dahomey Amazons Are the Real-Life All-Women’s Army in Black Panther

“In the 1800s, there was an all-female army in modern-day Benin that pledged a similar loyalty to the throne [as Dora Milaje did]. They were known as the Dahomey Warriors and were praised for their bravery and strength by local leaders and European colonizers alike who encountered them.”


Chika Oduah at The Root: “Audiences Across Africa Hail Black Panther for Humanizing Black Characters”

“For many Africans, the film brought to the big screen a reality that they see every day—the Basotho blankets the warriors used as a protective shield, the queen’s Zulu hat, the ochre-dyed locks of the Himba, the flowing fabrics of the Wolof. It was the sheer Pan-Africanism of it all that astounded me. The cinematic display of the diversity of Africanness was beautiful.”


Damon Young at Very Smart Brothas / The Root: “Yet Another Reason Why Shuri From Black Panther Is the Greatest Disney Princess Ever”

“In the last half of the movie alone, [Shuri] saved a man’s life—even if the man was ‘another broken white boy.’ She guided said primitive white boy on how to use the advanced technology she created, which ultimately helped save the entire planet from mass war and anarchy. And then she went out and literally fought (and held her own for a while) against a supervillain. Cinderella ain’t got shit on her. [original emphasis]”


Emily Asher-Perrin at “Why Are You Reading Reviews About Black Panther When You Could Be Watching Black Panther?”

“You could call it Shakespearean, you could call it mythic, but that’s not where the film lives. It’s not about the broad strokes, it’s about the details. It’s about all the little choices in concert, creating something brand new, and creating it on a scale that cinema has never seen before.”


Karlton Jahmal at Hot New Hip Hop: Black Panther‘s Killmonger Is the Best Supervillain Since The Dark Knight‘s Joker”

“[T]he emotion that Michael B. Jordan left me with was more powerful than anything I’ve felt at the movies. That painful rage, that feeling of angst that builds up when the topic of slavery or Jim Crown is brought up. That acrimonious tension that resonates in my gut when I see videos of police brutality or ignorant politicians fueling a race war. That feeling was replaced. A resolve, a euphoric feeling of relief spread from inside me instead.”


Liz Bourke at “Sleeps With Monsters: The Women of Black Panther Are Amazing”

“It’s also a film that, while it centres on a man—and on questions of kingship, legitimacy, and responsibility—is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen to surround its main male character with women who are in many ways equally powerful, and who don’t depend on him for purpose or characterisation. No, seriously: this is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen—maybe the first SFF film I’ve ever seen—where pretty much the hero’s entire back-up team, his entire support network, were women. Women who teased him and challenged him and demanded he do better.”


Samuel James at Black Girl in Maine: “The Reality of Blackness in the Fiction of Black Panther

“[…] Black Panther shows Black characters in an unusual way. In the movie, not only are we not drug dealers and pimps and rapists, we are intellectuals and leaders and heroes—but not only are we intellectuals and leaders and heroes, we multifaceted and complicated. We are human. Black Panther celebrates the humanity of Blackness.”


Shay Stewart Bouley at Black Girl in Maine: “A Film and the Affirmation of Blackness… My Musings on Black Panther

“In a world that centers all things white, whiteness and proximity to whiteness, a blockbuster film that centers Blackness and uplifts Black women is a much-needed paradigm shift. It is not just a new way to re-envision our world through the lens of Afro-futurism but it is also an opportunity to take stock of the Nakia’s, Okoye’s and Shuri’s who are already in our midst but who are often overlooked. I imagine a world where a Black woman won’t feel that she is traveling life without a roadmap as an anomaly but instead will know that she is another in a long line of changemakers because Blackness will not be relegated to the margins.”


Finally, a great video clip where co-writer and director Ryan Coogler breaks down a section of the casino fight scene:

Black Panther’s Director Ryan Coogler Breaks Down a Fight Scene | Notes on a Scene | Vanity Fair

(Our random thoughts on the movie are here.)

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Quotes: Conflict Is One Kind of Behavior

“Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin

I’d like my speculative fiction actually inventive, you know. Just like a human being is rarely reducible to one trait, yet that treatment is often used in storytelling as a shortcut, especially when it comes to characters deemed less important, like women, children, old people, or minorities of various stripes.

Which is not to say that stereotypes, caricatures, or the like don’t or cannot have a place in storytelling. However, if the majority of storytelling focuses on nothing else than characters or story elements reduced to their bare bones, it’s bound to become boring and empty.

There is so much more to our world, let alone imaginary worlds!

Found via Martha Wells on Tumblr.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.


Doctor Who Fan Video: Series 11 Opening Scene Concept

Excitement over the thirteenth Doctor is ramping up! Here’s a short fan video of how she should begin her tenure:

Doctor Who Series 11 – Episode 1 Opening Scene – The Girl Who Fell From The Stars! by Vlogzy

Maker Vlogzy explains:

“There are many great stories, but none as great as this. This is the story of the girl who fell from the stars. And this is how it begins…

“Without the Tardis and without hope, the Doctor is sent plummeting towards the planet below. The Doctor must come to terms with her new body quickly and escape her incoming demise.

“Here is a concept scene I’ve created for the upcoming debut episode for the Thirteenth Doctor! Just a bit of fun really but actually turned relatively believable. I have this theory in my mind that the Tardis would materialise underneath the Doctor as she’s falling and catches her. I’ve tried to imagine this as best as possible in this video!

“What do you think will happen in episode 1? How will the Doctor get out of this one? Would love to hear your thoughts/theories below!”

Really great job! The sequence could almost be copypasted into canon as-is.

I confess I haven’t even watched all of Capaldi’s Who because the stories couldn’t keep my interest after the eighth season. I hope Jodie Whittaker is given outstanding material to show her acting chops with.

I do have one quibble about the metadata for this video, though: calling adult women girls is infantilizing. We’re grown-ass women; ergo, call us women.

Found via File 770.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.