A Very Short Introduction to Intertextuality

Intertextuality—besides being an excellent Scrabble word—is a useful tool for thinking about literature and storytelling.

Intertextuality is when one literary work refers to or places itself in the context of another work. While different thinkers have used the term in different ways, it is often used to refer to cases in which the meaning of the later work is shaped by or depends upon knowledge of the first.

To make things a little more concrete, take the example of Arthurian legend. The early literary versions of King Arthur’s tales come from several different authors across several centuries, each of whom took certain basic ideas about a legendary king and his family and followers, and added in new characters, told new stories, or shifted the tales to new settings. Each of these literary works was engaged in intertextuality, drawing on a set of characters, stories, and ideas that their audience already knew while adding something new and different to the mix.

Or, to take it a step further, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is intertextual with the whole lot. The movie features such staple characters of Arthurian legend as King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Gawain, and references to Camelot and the Holy Grail. Even though Monty Python’s take on the Arthurian legendarium goes in a very different direction than the traditional tales, it explicitly places itself in relationship to them. You don’t exactly have to know Arthurian legend in order to appreciate Holy Grail, but many of the jokes are built around subverting or parodying standard parts of the mythology.

By contrast, although Star Wars also makes use of Arthurian ideas—a farm boy who discovers his secret destiny, a magical sword, a wise mentor who disappears partway through the story—it is not intertextual with Arthurian legend in the same way that Holy Grail is. Star Wars does not have characters named Arthur or Lancelot. There is no planet Camelot. Even though Star Wars invokes some Arthurian themes, it does not use them to reproduce or comment on the Arthurian legends themselves: Luke does not become king, assemble a round table of Jedi knights, or go in search of a mystical cup.

We live in a great age of intertextuality, an age of cinematic universes, boundless fan fiction, and knowing parodies. It’s a useful idea to have at hand for thinking and talking about the stories in the world around us.

Images: Still from Monty Python and the Holy Grail via IMDb. Still from Star Wars IV: A New Hope via IMDb.

Story Time is an occasional feature all about stories and story-telling. Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, this is about how stories work and what makes us love the ones we love.

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First Rise of Azshara Impression & Some Bad Jokes

Rise of Azshara is out! We’ve been taking it slowly, partly because the new zones remind us of Argus (and not always in positive ways—for example the drop rates, the rep farming) and partly because adulting is a thing. Mechagon looks fun, albeit maybe small; we’ve barely started there.

WoW BfA RoA Nazjatar South Monk on Mount

Anyway, the other night we first played some new zone content, especially Nazjatar, and then rolled through earlier Battle for Azeroth dungeons when my brain apparently went into bad jokes mode. Here are three of the funnier ones:

You could say that the drop rate for these Fathom Flesh is… abysmal.

I really hit the bottom with that one!

A tank and a healer walk into a 5-man dungeon. Three hours later they walk out.

Told you they were bad! 🙂

(Okay, fortunately it really doesn’t take three hours for the two of us to clear a BfA dungeon, but it does feel like very slow going!)

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

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 10

It’s a mostly forgettable season 10 for our favorite turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto detective. Here’s our take on this season’s episodes:

  1. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 1” – 5
  2. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 2” – 6
  3. “A Study in Pink” – 6.5
  4. “Concocting a Killer” – 6
  5. “Jagged Little Pill” – 6.5
  6. “Bend it Like Brackenreid” – 6
  7. “Painted Ladies” – 4
  8. “Weekend at Murdoch’s” – 8
  9. “Excitable Chap” – 4
  10. “The Devil Inside” – 0
  11. “A Murdog Mystery” – 6
  12. “The Missing” – 6.5
  13. “Mr. Murdoch’s Neighborhood” – 5.5
  14. “From Murdoch to Eternity” – 3
  15. “Hades Hath No Fury” – 4
  16. “Master Lovecraft” – 3
  17. “Hot Wheels of Thunder” – 6
  18. “Hell to Pay” – 0

At an average rating of only 4.8, this season is the lowest of the series, dragged down by a number of episodes that are competent but uninspiring, and a few that we found entirely unwatchable, with little at the upper end to balance them out.

This season rings in with a pair of 0s in “The Devil Inside,” one more unnecessary slog with serial-killer Murdoch-fan James Gillies, who we thought we were done with for good back in season 7, and “Hell to Pay,” an unimaginative “conspiracy to frame the detective” cliffhanger with the added detriment of killing off one familiar female character and leaving another one in peril. These sorts of episodes are clearly an attempt by the writers to “add drama” and “make it personal” in the most tired and cliched of ways.

Some of the season’s other episodes, though not disastrous, didn’t work very well for us. The period pieces “Excitable Chap,” (4) a Murdoch version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and “Master Lovercraft,” (3) about a young H. P. Lovecraft stumbling across a dead body on a visit to Toronto, both have some clever moments but are hampered by poor writing and lackluster acting. The new recurring character Detective Watts is charmingly quirky, but feels more like one writer’s pet project than an organic part of the Murdoch universe.

Besides these weaknesses, though, there are good points to the season. The season-opening two-parter, “Great Balls of Fire” parts 1 (5) and 2 (6), deals with the 1904 Great Fire of Toronto in a way that is both respectful of the historical tragedy and well-integrated into the series’ story and the lives of its characters. We enjoyed the return of Murdoch’s old friend and private detective Freddie Pink in “A Study in Pink” (6.5). Miss James gets to run an investigation of her own in “Jagged Little Pill” (6.5). And there is some delightful nonsense in “A Murdog Mystery” (6), an episode that kicks off with a murdered show dog, and “Hot Wheels of Thunder” (6), which brings roller derby shenanigans to the Murdoch world.

The one standout episode of the season, though, is “Weekend at Murdoch’s” (8), a gleefully silly romp using the Weekend at Bernie’s gimmick in which Murdoch goes to increasingly absurd lengths to try to lure out a killer using the corpse of our old favorite upper-class twit Roger Newsome (of the Mimico Newsomes). While this episode spells the end for Roger, we are happily left with his equally preposterous sister, Ruth, who becomes a new returning character.

Season 10 isn’t altogether bad, but it is a low point in the series. Here’s hoping for an upswing in season 11.

Image: The late Roger Newsome, from “Weekend at Murdoch’s” via IMDb

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

Quotes: There Was No Room for Romance

I don’t usually like to do two quotes posts in a row, but the interview at A Mighty Girl blog with Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden was too good to pass. So:

“We didn’t take some kind of firm stance like ‘There will be no romance in this movie’ at the beginning. But as we were exploring the character and exploring what the story was really about, it was about her humanity and, ultimately, her friendships. Not just her buddy friendship that she makes with Nick Fury over the course of the journey but that key, essential friendship with Maria Rambeau from her past that helps link her to her own humanity. And even her friendship with Talos, the Skrull leader, which is a surprising friendship, as she kind of recognizes the humanity in him as well. There was no room for romance. That wasn’t the point. The point was about her connection to these friendships. That felt like a more true story to tell for this character.” [original emphasis]

– Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden

Bang on. It really annoys me when action movie writers deign to put in a lone Smurfette of a woman, they’ll apparently also have to squeeze in a romance—usually poorly written and atrociously justified with respect to the rest of the story. It’s like regardless of the story, the presence of Wimmin Parts Dictates That There Must Be Romance(TM) Because Otherwise the World Will End. (Although sometimes they work for me, like in The Terminator, but that was better justified, not superficially tacked on.)

Women are people, and like most people, we are able to focus on multiple issues and shift our focus as needed. A war-invasion would definitely be the kind of a situation that takes most of one’s concentration! Besides, not everyone is interested in romance.

It makes for more realistic, genuine, accurate storytelling to show people acting like they do in real life, and to show various kinds of people within a group, any group. It’s so refreshing that the writers of Captain Marvel recognized that; I can’t believe Hollywood’s taken this long to realize it (and/or listen to the storytellers that do).

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

Away from Reality Rezzed #1 – Tentacular

I used to make a World of Warcraft comic called Away from Reality. I loved doing it, but it took a lot of work, so about four years ago, I gave it up. I don’t have the time or energy to start it up again, but every now and then I get an idea and think to myself: “That would make a good AFR comic.” And so I proudly present to you the first AFR Rezzed, an occasional return to the lives of Gord the long-suffering warrior, Alaxia the gentle druid, Hurgon the grumpy priest, Targe the blissfully ignorant hunter, Thizzible the role-playing lore-obsessed mage, and Morgatha the smart-ass warlock.

There’s an awful lot of tentacles around Azeroth these days, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Image by Erik Jensen

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

Quotes: Lords of Creation Don’t Take Advise

I’m (re)reading some things from my childhood, except in English instead of a Finnish translation. This paragraph made me gawk:

“Amy’s lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it till long afterward; men seldom do, for when women are the advisers, the lords of creation don’t take the advise till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do; then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it; if it fails, they generously give her the whole.”

– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Whoa! Little Women isn’t really the kind of book where you’d expect to see sarcasm this sharp; it sounds more like Jane Austen.

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 [reissued; published by Puffin 1953; first published 1868], p. 571.

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

Deleted Scenes: Greeks and Romans

In the spirit of deleted scenes from movies, here are a few more snippets from Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World that didn’t make it to the final draft. Today’s selections concern the relationship between Greek culture and Roman culture, and the formation of the cultural fusion we know as Greco-Roman.

On the Etruscans as early mediators between Greece and Rome:

The fact that Greek culture first came to the Romans second-hand through the Etruscans explains some oddities in things like the spelling of names. It is easier to see how the name of the Greek hero Heracles became Hercules in Roman mouths, for instance, when we know that in between he was the the Etruscans’ Herkle. In the same way, Greek Persephone became Etruscan Persipnei, who in turn became Roman Proserpina.

 

On the dynamics of power and culture:

While Rome’s military supremacy only grew over time, the power to confer cultural legitimacy within the larger Mediterranean political and diplomatic sphere remained for a long time the property of the Greeks. The narrative that power lay in Rome but culture in Greece could be tuned to either side’s advantage: it flattered Roman vanity while giving Greeks a claim to special status under Roman rule.

 

On the similarities between Greece and Rome:

Greek and Roman cultures were compatible in many ways. Both were grounded in the geography of the Mediterranean, tied to its networks of trade and travel, and dependent on the “Mediterranean triad” of wheat, olives, and grapes. The climate and the demands of agriculture imposed regular annual rhythms that structured much of economic and social life. Both were, at least in their formative centuries, city-state societies whose politics revolved around balancing the ambitions of the rich and powerful against agitation from the less well-off. In their early years, their military power depended on unpaid citizen armies. Their economies depended on large slave populations. These fundamental similarities helped bridge the many differences between the two cultures.

 

On the uses of Greco-Roman culture:

There was no denying the imbalance of power between Greeks and Romans. Greco-Roman culture was not a collaboration of equal partners but a common ground on which relations of political power and cultural authority could be negotiated.

All of these passages got cut for various reasons—because the sections they were in got reworked, because I found a better way to express the same idea, or just for space, but it is nice to bring them out into the light again.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Historical Miniaturization: An Astronomical Ring that Opens into a Sphere

The Swedish History Museum shared this nifty gadget on their Facebook page:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring1

We all know looks can be deceiving, right? That’s definitely the case with this item. It’s a German 16th-century ring that turns into an astronomical sphere:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring2

It’s a brilliant example of the possibilities of miniaturization technologies. I’m immediately thinking of a fantasy or alternate history world where a (rich!) scholar takes this with them when traveling for work.

Images by Historiska museet via Facebook

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Quotes: Who Do You Want Me to Talk into Loving You This Time?

Rich-throned, immortal Aphrodite,

daughter of crafty Zeus, I beg you,

my lady, do not weigh down my spirit

with overflowing grief,

but come to me now, if ever you came before

when you heard my voice, far away,

leaving your father’s golden house,

you yoked

your chariot and came. Swift and beautiful

sparrows brought you over the dark earth

with a thick whir of wings across the borders of heaven.

At once they brought you, happy one,

with a smile your ageless face,

to ask what troubled me, why

I called you,

and what my frantic spirit

most wished for. “Who do you want me to

talk into loving you this time? Who has

wounded you, Sappho?

If she runs away now, soon she will be chasing you.

If now she won’t take your gifts, she will give to you.

If she doesn’t love you now, soon she will,

even if she doesn’t want to.”

Come to me now, soothe

my anxious mind. Fulfill everything

my heart desires and be

my ally.

– Sappho, quoted in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the Arrangement of Words 23

(My own translation)

This is the only poem by the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho to come down to us from antiquity intact. In its structure and form, it follows the conventions of a prayer: invoking the god or goddess whose help is sought, celebrating their noble lineage and superhuman powers, reminding them of their past relationship with the person making the prayer, and finally imploring them to use their full powers to help with the current problem. Sappho slyly takes this formula and turns it into a love poem about the anxiety of unrequited affection. With a little gentle self-mockery, she pictures herself repeatedly falling into one-sided love and Aphrodite as the long-suffering friend who comforts her when things don’t work out.

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

Second Spider-Man: Far from Home Trailer

It’s two weeks to the release of Spider-Man: Far from Home, and end of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (I think, although Wikipedia disagrees with me.)

Here’s the second trailer, and it’s VERY SPOILERY unless you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME – Official Trailer by Sony Pictures Entertainment on YouTube

Alright, looking good. There are more tidbits about the plot and Peter Parker maybe becoming the next Iron Man. Perhaps the most intriguing bit is how they’re hinting that the multiverse might become a part of the MCU (althought I’m really hazy on this aspect since I haven’t read any U.S. comics, only some of the translated ones and even that was years ago). If that’s the plan, I wish the writers all the best—it’s not going to be an easy task.

Like I mentioned earlier, the first Spider-Man movie was enjoyable. If these trailers don’t lie, the sequel seems to do many of the same things; can’t wait! Also, it looks we might see more of MJ, and Maria Hill is back; both great in my book.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.