The whole point

I may not remember exactly what I wrote in my controversial (at least to its author) review of the T. E. Lawrence biography; in fact, I can’t even find it on Amazon UK or US. Very odd. But at least I remembered what the point of my criticism was, and it still stands. So to make it clear here, I’ll stick to the bare facts. I’m not naming either the book or its author (my remarks were ‚almost libellous‘ to him, after all), so for simplicity’s sake he’ll be Mr X in this post.

Aside from the extremely interesting research on Lawrence’s parents and extended family, Mr X set out, like so many before him, to reveal the identity of ‚S.A.‘ of the famous dedication. To him, it is Farida al Akle, and up to a certain point I agree with him. ‚S.A.‘, to me, does not simply mean a person, but a time and place in Lawrence’s life as well, and two persons in it, of which Ms al Akle is one. Lawrence’s psychology is very complex, and this post is not about my interpretation of S.A., so I won’t go into it in the detail it requires. What I disagree with is Mr X’s exclusive interpretation of Farida al Akle as S.A.
A famous or infamous candidate throughout the decades has been Dahoum. Now, a fact is that when this assertion was first made, it was still a scandal. And I’m sorry to say that for many Lawrence scholars, fans and members of the T. E. Lawrence Society, it still is, especially since many of them are of the older generation. They still view the very idea that Lawrence might have been homosexual as an insult. And thus, they rally to his defence, sometimes quite vehemently. Mr X appears to be of their mindset, and several of the notable scholars he quotes as agreeing with his findings share the same view. And also many of the aforementioned fans and Society members agree with his findings, because they justify their own opinion and, buffered by good arguments, offer comfort.

Now, I don’t happen to share that view, either that suggesting homosexuality is an insult to Lawrence, or that Lawrence was heterosexual. I don’t share the often quoted ‚fact‘ of his asexuality either. I believe Lawrence had strong homosexual leanings but never acted on them in any meaningful way. And no, that is not the same as asexuality. I do believe that as a young man, when he met Farida al Akle, she was his ideal of chivalric love, as Mr X writes. But I also believe that at that time, he was not really sure about his sexuality. I believe Dahoum was the beginning of his journey, but he only truly realised that he was attracted to his own sex during the desert campaign.

The point: Mr X’s entire thesis hangs on Deraa. The same people I mentioned above are convinced the Deraa incident happened, which is odd, in my personal opinion – they would rather Lawrence had been raped than lied about it? And there are strong indications Deraa did *not* happen, but not even Jeremy Wilson was objective enough to say: ‚These things point to a trauma… those things make the episode doubtful.‘ Simply listing the pros and cons. So ’shame on me‘ (quote) for criticising even Wilson now?
Mr X’s arguments are valid only so long as the Deraa incident happened. If it didn’t, then his whole theory falls apart. That is what I was saying in my review.

Ouch…

Darn. Yesterday was partly spent puzzling over a Lawrence biographer’s rather rude e-mails in response to my Amazon review of his book from a year or so ago. I know my reviews can be snarky, so – fair is fair. But it’s been so long, I didn’t remember much of what I had written, and I thought (and still think) he completely overreacted. I had suggested his research was fake? What? I really liked his research, unlike his conclusions.
My subconscious must have figured out what the problem was, for late last night it finally dawned on me. Clarissa’s subtleties. No one gets them. I should never use them!
What I wrote or meant to say was that *if* someone wanted to question this author’s research, it would be easy for them to do as all his interview partners were long dead by this point, so nothing could be verified. Me, personally? I never doubted the veracity of those interviews. It was a theoretical case scenario only, because I have come across too much shoddy source criticism in my time and it always touches a nerve. But the author only sees me questioning his research, and cannot be persuaded to view it in a different light.
I just remembered: Not only did he list all the famous people who agreed with his findings in the e-mails, he did that in his book as well. So apparently the whole point for him is that he wants to be taken seriously as a Lawrence scholar. Consequently, to him, I threaten that, and that is why he flew off the handle like that. I would laugh at the disproportionality of it but actually I think it’s rather sad. (No doubt he would think me ‚patronising‘ again for it.)

Große Ereignisse…

Nun ja, ganz so groß sind sie nicht, aber vermutlich kann ich in absehbarer Zeit eine interessante Neuigkeit in Sachen Marta Hillers vermelden. Derzeit ist natürlich alles überschattet von den Corona-Maßnahmen (gar nicht mal so sehr von Corona selbst).
Bleiben Sie gesund, und lassen Sie sich nicht hysterisch machen!

The Eagles and the Wolves: An Assassin’s Creed episode

Albany, 1757

From their vantage point on Fort Frederick’s walls, Liam and Kesegowaase watched the attack continue below. Flames and smoke rose from the town, but the fighting had moved to the fort that the British still managed to defend. They fought valiantly, not least thanks to their commander who was right there in the thickest of it alongside them. Under different circumstances, Liam might have admired the man’s courage and tenacity. As it was, Monro needed to die, for many reasons. Without him, the French would carry the day, and the colonies would be rid of one of the most influencial secret puppetmasters pulling the strings of the British to establish their chokehold on the New World. The Assassins had harried him since Fort William Henry. He should have died there; he should have died several times after. Today, his luck finally ran out.
“Look,” Kesegowaase said, pointing at something in the distance beyond the town. His usually stoical face tightened in an expression of hatred, stretching the fresh scar tissue on his left cheek where his skin had been burned. Liam followed his gaze and felt his own mien freeze.
The Morrigan had laid alongside the pier, proudly flying the British flag as though to taunt him. Before long, Liam saw a familiar figure appear down among the breached ramparts, cutting down French soldiers, aiding the British defenders and especially their Templar commander. Liam found himself clenching his fists so hard they hurt. It was not that he had not believed Kesegowaase before. But to witness the truth with his own eyes cut deep. He had mourned and buried his best friend as rash and misguided perhaps but still as a good man. This creature, however, who’d clawed his way out of death’s jaws was neither. He’d made a choice Liam would never had thought him capable of making, a choice that mocked everything Liam stood for and Shay himself had professed to believe in. He didn’t even look like Shay anymore, this hard-faced stranger who fought with a determination and focus that had been but an unrealized promise before. Why did it have to be the Templars to bring out that potential? Liam almost drew his pistol then, but Shay was far out of range, and a small piece of Liam was glad for it.
Before long, the fighting down below came to a hold. The British had held Fort Frederick for the time being, and the two men responsible for the success now met among the defenses and spoke. Liam’s Eagle Vision was not strong enough to enable him to hear what was said, but he tensed when he saw Monro produce a familiar-looking book.
“Is that…?”
“Yes,” Kesegowaase confirmed, likewise watching the goings-on in the courtyard with hard eyes.
The stolen manuscript they had believed lost to the sea forever. This was an unexpected boon. From their perch, Liam and Kesegowaase watched as Monro tried to pass the manuscript on to Shay who declined. There was a wretched moment of what appeared to be light-hearted bantering between the two men. Liam saw an expression of amused exasperation flit over Monro’s face, the same expression he had seen many times before on the faces of his fellow Assassins, no doubt the same expression Liam himself had often worn when dealing with Shay. How quickly Shay had adapted, Liam thought bitterly, being friends with the enemy now.
The two men below split up, Monro leaving in the direction of the town and docks, Shay apparently staying behind to see to the defenses. A better opportunity to strike Liam and Kesegowaase could not have wished for.
“Follow Monro,” Kesegowaase said, never taking his eyes off of Shay’s black-clad form.
Liam threw him a quick glance. While his brother Assassin had his own good reason for going after Shay, Kesegowaase was also being kind in his matter-of-fact way. He was sparing Liam the burden of confronting and killing his former best friend – for that was whom Liam would have felt he needed to choose if the decision had been left to him. But Kesegowaase had decided for him. And Liam was grateful.
He nodded once, quickly descended the tower, and followed the Templar colonel over the walls of the fort.

 


 

Notes

 

The eagle and wolf symbolism has been treated somewhere before, I’m sure. To sum it up here: The eagle has been the Assassins symbol right from the beginning. The wolf as a symbol for the Templars came much later and has not been used consistently in the AC games but appears to be on the rise now. Examples are:

AC III: The first mentioning of the idea. “Wolves often travel in packs,” is the famous quote by not-so-line-toeing Templar Edward Braddock about his brethren that informed the use of the wolf symbolism from here on. Interestingly, in the AC III add-on/DLC The Tyranny of King Washington where everything is very different from what we know, Ratonhnhaké:ton wears a wolf hood, and the wolf is also one of his spirit animals (along with the eagle).
Rogue: Chock-full of the symbolism, which doesn’t really surprise. The sweeping intro follows the flight of an eagle and passes over a wolf pack before coming to rest on our Assassin/Templar protagonist. Shay’s ship, the Morrigan, features a wolf figurehead as well as stylized wolves on her sails after Shay begins working with the Templars. In a related symbolism, he is called the Templar’s “hunting dog” or simply “dog” by the Assassins several times.
Origins: While the precursor (ha) of the Templars, the Order of Ancients’ symbol, is the snake, things begin to shift toward the end of the story. Septimius asks to be Caesar’s, the Order’s leader’s, “wolf”, corresponding to the wolf pelt he wears. This, of course, harkens back to Rogue where the wolf symbolizes the hunter.
Odyssey: Not quite as clear-cut, since the two factions don’t really exist as yet. What we find are concepts. The Cult of Cosmos are dedicated to chaos, making them precursors of the Assassins, as far as the two opposing forces go. Their white masks also /bring to mind the Assassins’ white hoods. Protagonist Kassandra or Alexios respectively stands for order, the red of their Spartan armour reminiscent of the red Templar cross. However, the Cult as an organization has much in common with the later Order of Ancients or Templars while Kassandra/Alexios and their companions more closely resemble the early Hidden Ones. There is another layer as well: The warring Spartans and Athenians are also representative of the order/chaos concept (not to mention of modern US politics with their “red” and “blue” affiliation). Rigid, ordered Sparta and artistic, free-thinking Athens are the same polar opposites that the Templars and Assassins will later represent. It doesn’t surprise, therefore, that we find the wolf symbol among the Spartans, in Nikolaos, “the Wolf of Sparta”, while Kassandra/Alexios have their pet eagle Icaros.

I know I keep repeating myself, but I truly love Rogue as a story. It is a story without villains, quite a feat for an Assassin’s Creed game. Its characters are all, without exception, trying to do what is right, and for the first time, we get to understand both sides of the conflict. Even more so than in AC III, the Templars are rounded, three-dimensional characters, each with their own distinctive personality. There is a great dynamic between them; they form friendships; they have fun.
Oh, and did anyone notice that the end scene at Versailles echoes the opening scene at the opera in AC III?

Greek tragedy never died: Assassin’s Creed III as the modern incarnation of a very old genre

I’ve been musing about this for a while now, but I never seriously formulated the thought until Haytham actually said it in my short story “Endings (and Beginnings)”. So this post marks something of a departure from my biography-centered texts. I’m always fascinated by the subject matter, the art of storytelling, with – if done right – its use of archetypes and themes in many different forms. Too often, critics and reviewers overlook this art in video games, snobbishly considered to be beneath “real” art. But the better ones of them also follow the classic Hero’s Journey and are written by actual script writers. (Not to mention voiced by some excellent actors who give their characters another level of depth.) I’ve come across some brilliant examples in my time.
One of them is the topic of this post, Assassin’s Creed III. For those readers unfamiliar with it, I recommend watching it on YouTube, as I will not give a summary of the complex plot and backstory here; there are some good cut-scene movies to enjoy. (I’ve embedded my favourite an the end of this post.)
A big mistake I notice many players and fans make is that they consider the main character in any of the AC games to be the hero – in a real sense of the word. For them, the fact the protagonist *is* the protagonist means that he (or she) is automatically right, and anyone who opposes them is automatically wrong. A clear divide between good and evil. But by adopting this way of thinking the players are missing out on the very best part of the story. Protagonist Connor of AC III, for example, is not special as a character, no matter what we are supposed to believe. As a character, he could not carry the plot. The secret is the situation in which he is set. For AC III is a Greek tragedy in disguise: The hero (or heroine) faces an impossible choice and can only lose one way or the other. One early manifestation of it, of course, is Connor’s mixed heritage, half white, half Native.
Let’s take a look.

The game starts with the biggest deception of all that is also a manifestation of the underlying theme: Which side are we on, anyway? We are led to believe Haytham and his associates are Assassins, even though there are clever, subtle hints all the way through.
We get a bittersweet love story without a future and a child whose existence is kept from his father. A classic.
A brilliant piece of story device that I can’t stress enough is five-year-old Connor’s meeting with Charles Lee & Co. Everything Connor does from here on is coloured, influenced by the fears of a little boy. He sees those men as monsters. We have seen them as ordinary men, and by and by an adult Connor does, too, but he is never, throughout the game, rational in his reaction to them.
Connor misinterprets Juno’s message as well. She attempts to keep the 18th century Templars from finding the Precursor site and messing with its vital function in their ignorance. (The Seismic Temples of Rogue, anyone?) Connor believes the Templars are threatening his people. And so he seeks out Achilles – again, the classic Hero’s Journey, except Achilles comes with his own bias and misconceptions. Since Rogue, I see Achilles’ motivations and actions in a very different light. Does he really believe the Templars are supporting the British or does he still feed on the information from the Seven Years‘ War? Is he so adamant about Connor having to kill Haytham because the Grand Master holds all the threads together – or because of Achilles’ own personal grudge against him? Is Achilles subconsciously just as a pawn to his fears and hatred as Connor is to his?
So Connor buys into yet another misconception. It is not until he actually meets Haytham that all the questions that have been piling up are finally answered… and the situation turns out to be quite different from what Connor had believed. The Templars support American independence, not work with the British. The “monsters” tried to prevent bloodshed and to protect Native lands. Goals that Connor in his ignorance has made impossible, by casting his lot with the very people who murdered his mother. His course not only leads him to kill his best friend and his father (another classic) but also insures that his people lose their land, their rights, their freedom… everything Connor set out to secure.

This is Greek tragedy at its finest.

Secondary main character, both protagonist and antagonist, Haytham, described in an early character draft as a “dark James Bond” which I really don’t get (what does that even mean? That he’s British?), luckily for all evolved into a far more complex character independent of any pop culture icon. In fact, he is one of those characters that develop a life of their own. “Blessing or curse, I am my own man.” From a storytelling point of view, he’s a stand-in for the king in Greek tragedies: The young hero who becomes the young king who in turn becomes the old king who then has to face the young hero/prince.

There is another level as well. AC III is a story about fathers and sons. William and Desmond, Haytham and Connor, even Vidic and Daniel Cross are the obvious candidates, but there’s also Achilles who, despite his lack of outward affection, gives Connor the name of his own late son, and there is also Haytham and Charles Lee (the writers fudged a bit there, since Lee is only seven years younger than Haytham). Connor and Haytham try valiantly to make their relationship work, but it’s a doomed effort because both are already committed to another father figure and surrogate son respectively, men much closer to their own hearts and convictions than the real deal that is only DNA, after all.
It is, by the way, a very popular story device in AC. We find it in Altaïr and Al Mualim, Shay and George Monro, Arno and François de la Serre, in a twisted sort of way in Jacob and Jack, not to mention all the very classic instances in Odyssey.

I love these aspects. The art of storytelling. It makes AC so much more interesting than mere jumping and stabbing.

P.S.: I left out the fact that Connor did, by proxy, save the world, simply because a classic Greek tragedy never looks at the long-term results of its characters‘ actions. It would be immensely interesting if it did.

Published

Heute in der Post vorgefunden: Ausgabe Vol. 29, No. 1 des Journal of the T. E. Lawrence Society, in der meine Übersetzung des Jaroljmek-Artikels abgedruckt ist. Was lange währt. 🙂 Zwar wird der gute Mann im Vorwort durchgängig als „Jorljmek“ bezeichnet, aber hey – ich weiß auch nicht, wie man ihn ausspricht.
Natürlich bin ich gespannter auf die nächste Ausgabe in einem halben Jahr, in der hoffentlich der Mikusch-Artikel erscheint.