video portals to the past

My new novel project has some History in it. Actually, it kind of takes place in History, because there is Time Travel. (I know, what am I thinking?) And this means I’ve been doing some Research.

My Medieval Studies degree is useful for about three things, and historical fiction is debatably one of them. But I don’t know all the details by heart. I know a few things about William the Conqueror, and they are these:

1. He was from Falaise, the tiny town in Normandy where I spent three soggy weeks on an exchange in 9th grade.

2. He had a castle there.

3. He conquered England in 1066.

Needless to say, I need the help of seasoned historians. And while I love to get library books out and will actually (gladly) spend 2 hours engrossed in a fine-printed book on the history of the French language, I will also take any excuse to watch historical infotainment on YouTube. Because really, what is YouTube if not a wormhole to days of yore?

Award for Best CG Backdrop goes to this one, which forces poor Dale Dye to weatherman his hands around a greenscreen while what looks like a map of England superimposed over a loadscreen from Oblivion flickers behind him. Also great is the reenactment of William yelling “…with God’s help, I will conquer!” It’s about as great as the scene in The Last of the Mohicans when Hawkeye tells his father that he is, wait for it, the last of the Mohicans. I think that’s what we call Dramatic Irony (I think?)


Oh my God. Badly-dubbed English, CG animations of trees bursting out of William’s mother Herleva (here called by her much cutesier name “Arlette”), pronouncing it “dinnesty” instead of “dyenesty,” dramatic recreations on par with not-too-great courtroom drawings, AND ominous bell-tolling sounds about every five seconds.

The ol’ bait-and-switch! You think you’re just going to see some stuff about “the greatest amphibious invasion in history” BUT NO, it’s just a big WWII psyche-out to get your feeble mind to realize where Normandy is in France. Host Michael Wood’s got some scholarly seventies sideburns and the soundtrack’s got some Rite of Spring lite sturm and drang.

Also, this quote: “Normans are as fiercely proud of their separateness as Yorkshiremen.” Uh. I’ll take your word on that one, Mike.

It’s the details that make this one interesting. I don’t just mean that this video somehow knows that William the Conqueror was a redhead or that the strolling narrator has that kind of Ken-Doll haircut that seems to stick out of his head more than it should. I mean about thirty seconds in when the voiceover says “seck-shoo-ull innnnnntrigue” in the Britishest way possible.

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