Misogyny is a Greek Word

I wrote a comedy. It has Scythians, and lots of mashed-up quotes. Beware: political topicality.

 

Misogyny is a Greek Word

A comedy in one act
by Bryn Hammond

Like trucks the Scythian wagons pull to a stop in a circle, and women climb down from the driver’s seats.

The trader said:

On my business trips into Scythia I deal exclusively with women. Cash transactions, foreign commerce: these are in the wives’ charge. Classified as household, by extension, I think, from spoils – which, if not on four feet, go straight into the women’s hands. They drive the only repositories, you see. Because of this – at least if you ask a trader, or ordinary folk who know them through exchange, and not important men of politics and war – Scythian women have always been the interface of contact. Towns don’t scare them. The women look much more outward than the men. They are more conversable.

To my frank exasperation, Greeks not on the ground describe society in terms of what the men do. That’s a habit that ignores both my needs and the average marketgoer’s. I have listened to scrolls by experts who briefly treat the Scythians’ home wagons as if they follow the basic principles of Greek houses, and pay them no further attention, which means they can give no adequate account of the Scythian economy. I am a humble trader, no great shakes in my city, and often feel myself inside a cloak of invisibility. But my advice to you, friend, is don’t look past the women as if they were not there. We Greeks have a blind spot. Unless we fantasise of Amazons…

The home wagons, in most months of the year, you’ll find a women’s town. Imagine you leave your wife to run the household and go off for a three-months’ jaunt – to catch wild horses in the mountains, or join the king’s great hunt, or on campaign. Except the household is on wheels, and she can trundle for a thousand miles uninterrupted, unimpeded. That way stretch the steppes of Asia, and none of us know where they end. Nomads do: they have laughed heartily when I tell our geographers’ tales about the monster races whom we say live just beyond the Scythians – those with anatomy of humankind and beasts, or body parts dislocated and distorted. In exchange for my tales I try to elicit from them report of what lies beyond. A great-grandmother answered me succinctly. She said, ‘more of us, and more of you.’ No monsters, then. But other Greeks.

When I am in a town of women, with no Scythian man to talk to, I simply forget they are of the wrong sex, and behave with the courtesy I would towards a foreign citizen. In Scythian terms, women have participatory citizen status; just accept it. I cannot transact with the men, and I became accustomed to them years ago. It isn’t hard to forget what sex they are. Women’s work? To make and maintain those wagons, for a start. As well as business.

Look, here are the husbands, here are the Scythian men, come afterwards on horse. Cautious and suspicious. They hang back in a circle of uncertain hooves, while already the women swing towards our gates. Unarmed. Let not your fellow citizens be afraid of Amazons. These are prosperous ladies come for commerce and amusement. Offer your hospitality, in turn, as I have found the women’s wagons jolly and hospitable places for a guest. And entirely decent, to save you the inevitable inquiry. We are neighbours about this Black Sea, and Zeus loves the hospitable, as does the Scythians’ great Sky Father. – I must not mention him without our Mother Earth: it is unholy to acknowledge one, omit the other.

Chorus of citizens:

What monstrous regiment of women enter at our gates? These cart-makers have physiques fit to hire as labour, but ladies? A lady has some delicacy, some elegance I recognise, although she be not Greek. Hands the size of shovels; her feet sprawl like a camel’s. I have never seen a woman walk like that. I think her hips are the axle of her cart. This is not athleticism, but rather ignorance of human motion – the opposite, in fact, of our sports. They walk rawly, as if never taught. I cannot even describe the way they walk.

Scorched by the sun, scoured by the wind, whatever beauty they once claimed stripped away by weather. These women who have never been indoors – never seen the inside of a house, only their primitive huts on wheels. Not our idea of housewives, or respectability. She drives her own house where she wishes, in company of wives. As our playwright said, ‘Let husbands not allow their wives the company of women: every trouble starts when women natter.’

Coarse faces, devoid of femininity. Aphrodite does not know these women. The interplay that happens when a woman meets a man – you notice it in its absence. The address of a woman to a man is remembered when a so-called woman talks to you without it. These are not women, certainly, by the standards of civilized men.

The historian wrote:

A barbarian is womanish in that, in common with women, he is a creature of lusts and urges he must gratify, of greed and inability to subdue his desires or to temper his emotions. Both possess the spontaneity of beasts. Rational self-control, the virtue of a man – an individual man’s self-government which enables men in co-operation to construct a civilized society, is unknown to barbarians, impossible to women.

A nomad is the ultimate barbarian. With no fixed address, with no habit of hard work, he finds easy to extort from others what he fails to produce himself. Restlessly he prowls his wastelands, stares across our frontier, forever envious of luxuries we have and he has not. He lives in hives like bees, unseen until he swarms, and then he cuts a swathe through us like locusts. His horde as quickly come and gone as a flock of birds, he is impossible to catch but swoops out of the blue and vanishes. His steppe is as vast as sea or sky, one is lost in it. His instinct is the wolves’, and while he has a human face, his heart is animal. He has been a pest in every age of history, and every society likens him unto destructive insects.

Chorus of citizens:

See the Scythian women at the market. We have fishwives of our own, but these are worse. They laugh to each other harshly with the voice of crows and gulls. Their fingers ruin everything they touch. Watch them eat: she tears the flesh like a bacchant. No-one taught her table manners. I would rather sit down with my slaves than dine with them.

These milk-drinkers desire our food, since culinary skill is quite beyond them. They have no patience to grow things slowly and with toil, but scavenge from the civilized with threats and violence. Nomads do nothing to earn their keep. They have no valid place in the world but are sent to plague us.

Where does the fur end and the fat begin? They swathe themselves in hides and hair, in felt and skins, until I can’t distinguish what is animal about them and what human. Greeks dress with a pride in human limbs, but these hide their bodies as if to disguise their sex or species.

I cannot eat beside them. The pungency of body odour puts me off my food. Now garlic and fish sauce, the usual offence, seem mild next to these women’s reek. If my wife stank like that I’d ask my goat into the room to perfume her.

I hear they let the clothes disintegrate upon them, as if they were holy garments that mustn’t be removed.

I hear they cannot wash, because of superstitions. I’d say we have olfactory evidence.

The sight of them disgusts, the smell revolts our better class of patron. Our good Greeks leave them to it, and desert the market.

The poet wrote:

Harpies – the name means Spoilers, Snatchers – are half-woman and half-bird. They have a human countenance, but clawed hands and vulture’s wings, and wasted, famished faces, ever hungry. They shriek and emit a fetid odour, such that no man can stand to let them close but must retreat. Storm Wind and Swift Flier, sisters foul, swoop in upon a feast laid out, despoil the tables. Now the whole horrid flock join in and rip apart the joints of meat. They attack the food like vultures, and what they do not seize they leave defiled with an obscene discharge from their under-vents. Everything they touch is left in filth. They persecute pious men with these visitations. Sometimes they steal people and fly off with them, into what evil fate none knows.

The trader said:

Yes, they accost citizens in the street. Scythian women do not wait to be spoken to. They laugh, yes, if laughter is a crime. I find the women merry to a fault. Whose fault, might be a matter of whose humour first runs short. In this case, it is the gentleman. Well, they mean no harm.

And now – they are tired of gentlemen only in the streets. I hear them wonder where the women are. Apart from public women, for if one thing strikes them silent, I have noticed, it is the painted faces of town pornai. I cannot tell whether they are scandalised or puzzled. It’s not a question I can ask. – Oh, my friend, that is an insult to them, although a common story. Trust me, I have myself smeared my face with fats, in the weather that they have; and found it most emollient, and saved my skin. I do not mean ‘saved my skin’ as a woman says it, I mean I saved my skin from falling off my face. I did not ape our pornai when I resorted to it, nor mistook sheep’s grease for a cosmetic. Apology accepted.

But what? They have broken into a residence, while we converse. Up goes the cry. They assume a hospitality, if they receive it not.

The proprietor complained:

They tried to steal my women. They tried to tempt my wife outdoors. My daughters, in a flutter, have forgotten how to hear their father’s voice. It is intoxication to them, this visit from the Scythians: I say we shut the gates next time.

Citizens: Sooth yourself, patriarch, for the women have withdrawn, almost with an apologetic air. They have ceased to disturb your peace.

The proprietor: That’s very well, but I warn you, they’d have kidnapped my females had I not chased them from the premises.

The trader said:

To be fair, there is frequently a tiny leak of population after the Scythians have been. Not necessarily debtors, either. I have seen where they end up. There are more ex-Greeks in Scythian clothes than Greeks care to believe. One does not defect from civilization, obviously. A Greek does not change his skin for a barbarian’s – that would be monstrous. Well, well, we never mention it.

Ah, see, they have called a cross-sexed shaman to make peace. The shaman comes among them and the women settle down like startled birds or like wild animals at music. A shaman means harmony to them. They act as the diplomats of daily life. Not an arbiter in office, much more familiar, everybody’s friend, and they heal the ordinary hurts. I suppose it is a simple logical extension to think one who is both sexes can see both sides to a dispute. I’m not assured this person is best chosen to calm the master of the house.

No, its organs are concealed. You can identify a cross-sexed shaman by the way they ornament themselves. Distinctively, yet each one different, as if they start from scratch. There are not enough of them to set a fashion. They are rare birds, feted like the arrival of a phoenix. There are never enough of them. And then the kings want their services, which the community resents.

You are uneasy? You might see them in a better light if you were close. Few who spend the time with them, I think, reject that these beings have a grace. My, the citizens sound upset – this is an unexpected guest. Citizens screech.

They cross sexes, that is the point. Shamans – to explain to you as has been explained to me – leap the gaps in the world: between human and animal, between the living and the dead, between the sexes too. In Scythia, what you take for a freak is likely to be sacred. A sacred communication across species, sexes, states. How far these concepts are from our own cults of physical perfection and the body. The steppe is a spiritual landscape and its people so, and in their ideas fixity is an evil, although the fate of most, while to change one’s shape makes visible the unity of spirit underneath. Physical anomaly becomes a wonder and a sign. They worship monstrosity? It is a charge I have heard before. Perhaps they are the opposite of Spartans, who weed out imperfect infants and destroy them.

Look into your own heart. Do you not, yourself, feel a sense of escape in the presence of this creature? She-he lifts the veil from our falsities.

I laugh – I’m sorry. I just heard a woman call out the shaman’s name. Conjunction of the Stars. It isn’t as pretty in my Greek. Conjunction of the Stars. A name for a living divinity. It can’t be easy to live and function in the exalted space they allot to the self-same creatures we throw sticks and stones at or make limericks about.

Yes, I take the Scythians’ side. Zeus loves the stranger, but his example never seems to be enough to convince us on the earth.

The historian wrote:

This odd tribe of men-women, whom Scythians revere, drink potions of the urine of pregnant mares to feminise themselves. They have a counterpart in women-men who take concoctions from certain liquids stallions secrete.

The trader said:

I never heard talk of potions, or what type. There is much slander in historians.

Here’s a lucky interruption: the Scythian husbands pluck up courage to enter town. Of course, on horses. The shaggy horses stand so low, they are scarcely a nuisance in the streets and can’t possibly intimidate. Yet they have a legendary energy.

Why are the men timorous? I do not think timid is the word, but their behaviour is not ours. Consider the effect of marriage customs. Your Greek ideal is to marry when he is thirty, she thirteen. Whereas a Scythian, if he is upper crust, seeks to marry up: to a wife up a rank, up a notch in nobility, and he expects to marry up in age. They can turn us on our heads: a youth might be wooed by his aunt’s friend and coeval, while a girl can wrest permission to be single until thirty, because her eligibility accumulates. I suspect this is where your myths arise, tribes where a maid must slay an enemy before she weds. Who can say? Scythia is a vast place, as differentiated as the cities of the Greeks.

The historian wrote:

A popular tale, agreed to by Scythians themselves, is that they did disservice to a goddess once, who in her vengeance struck their race with the female affliction. Our medical writers have attributed their constitution to the air and water, cold and heavy, so that in Scythia men have a sluggish sex urge and a flabby body. But I believe the explanation is a simpler one, still physiological rather than religious: that their testes suffer damage from being every day on horseback since childhood. Injury is exacerbated by the constriction of trousers, which keep the male parts musty and enclosed. Whichever is the true cause, sexual organs in a Scythian man seldom achieve healthy growth, and cannot flourish like a Greek’s in his sensible loose skirt. A Greek does not grind his testes against a horse’s back from dawn to dusk. This is why we keep our manhood, and the Scythians lose theirs.

Chorus of citizens:

These unfeminine women, these effeminate men. The Scythians have crushed their testicles, clinging to their animals like shabby Centaurs. They rarely have intercourse. They are not real men.

A Scythian is not frightening close-to. A Scythian in the wild is no different than our Scythian slaves at home, slow-witted and easily bamboozled. We laugh at him in our comedies. If you are not afraid of your slave, gentlemen, I exhort you to scorn these Scythians too.

These unfeminine women, these effeminate men. I miss the theatre in my home town, I miss the climate. Here I live next door to savages and look out on a waste. These unfeminine women, these effeminate men.

The trader said:

Scythian women seem content with the performance of their men. They don’t display a particular interest in stray Greeks.

The blogger typed:

Contemporary man lives an emasculated life. He has forgotten what he used to be. The modern West, sad to say, makes war on masculinity, and we are in the front lines of a fight for male existence. Our enemy pretends biology doesn’t matter, but you can tell they don’t believe this, because their stealth attack is biological. Female hormones infiltrate food on the shelves, leak into the water. Hormones have reduced the modern man to mock-women, tame and brainwashed by feminism’s lies.

Real men are under siege. Look back for strength – back to Ancient Greece when men were men. The three hundred Spartans who beat off an effeminate slave army from Asia. Take heart from the past – red-blooded barbarians who didn’t apologise for the instincts of a man. Cultural Marxism obliterates this from the record, in cooperation with the academic arm of modern feminism. The Greeks invented everything of worth, but ‘Western Civ’ is near-despised in universities today. Don’t be put off: take Classics classes. Occupy the university, and insist they teach the truth. Not every professor is a leftist; we have committed men.

Feminists and their allies try to neuter us. Unless you nurse your testosterone, you’ll become a monster too. Nothing is not monstrous in the future that they want. There is estrogen in the water. Beware.

 

Watch Mongolian — watch Chinese

It isn’t always easy, to catch up with films made in Mongolia or China or Kazakhstan, on the subject of Mongols. A few of them struggle into international distribution. Let’s support them.

They are different. In this quick post I won’t try to list or express how, why and where they are different, but from the bottom up, in a dozen ways, every second on screen, on a fundamental level, they are different.

Got that? You’ll see when you see them.

They struggle for popularity, too, because they don’t have Hollywood conventions of violence and action. They have to be retitled for international, to make them sound like the violent action we require, but that strategy can lead to reviewer disappointment. Still, if you enjoy more thought than gore in your films, you’re better off with Mongolian or Chinese made.

So maybe try what’s available in historicals, and encourage distribution.

An End to Killing 
China, 2012. Directed by Wang Ping.
North American title: Kingdom of Conquerors

An End to Killing - title on posterKoConqs

Genghis: The Legend of the Ten
Mongolia, 2012. Directed by D. Jolbayar and U. Shagdarsuren.

Legend of the Ten - better

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Queen Ahno

Mongolia, 2014. Directed by Shuudertsetseg Baatarsuren
International title: Warrior Princess

Warrior Princess

Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe
Kazakhstan, 2012. Directed by Aqan Sataev. 

Myn Bala

Marco Polo: the women

Chabi with a sword at Mei Lin(thoughts on John Fusco’s Marco Polo, post 1)

This interview with Marco Polo actors Joan Chen and Zhu Zhu asks how they present the women — whom the interviewer finds ‘the most fascinating people we meet’ in the show, with surprising lives for the thirteenth century. As usual, people aren’t so acquainted with the Mongol thirteenth century when they say this; though as he goes on to say, truly, women remain underwritten in the history books.

Song empressI too thought the women were a strength, and interestingly treated. Late Song was notable for strong empresses, and our empress dowager is one of those, as she and Khubilai try to negotiate a peace against the war parties at each court. Khubilai’s empress Chabi (Joan Chen) had a strong political involvement, and that is also done justice to. The personal interactions of Khubilai and Chabi were a highlight, and the makers take the opportunity to explore their marriage situation, this well-loved wife alongside Khubilai’s total self-indulgence in concubines. Then the concubines: two whores, as they are frequently called and self-called, friends, at the Song court. These two, who live on sexuality, are heroic in their victimization; it’s them and the empress we see in Song, active against the chancellor. I thought their exploitation well-explored. Jing_FeiI can’t forget the scene when the Song chancellor paints on her rosebud lips and turns her into a doll-face, with tragic eyes. Having her wide mouth suddenly made toy-size by the brush, was telling. Then, when the chancellor breaks the child’s feet – footbinding – that was equal-horrific with the scene of atrocity in war. The sexualization of women is not just on-screen for your enjoyment, but is explored.

Chabi and the Blue Princess (Zhu Zhu) grew up with a Mongol lifestyle, and now live in a semi-Chinese environment; at unexpected moments such women can whip out a bow and remind you they still are Mongols. Qutulun – you know her; the wrestler – is everything you want (‘I love that girl,’ says Khubilai when she swaggers in in war gear), including a freedom of sexuality that isn’t unhistorical. The second season is nicely set up for more of her, with her father and Khubilai now in conflict. Khutulun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

marcopolo2-banner

William Napier’s Attila trilogy

Attila ceiling _Delacroix_I was interested enough to read these three books in a month, and they deserve a spot here as steppe fiction. On my blog I can be more personal than I am on Goodreads.

To start off: I mostly avoid the more commercial fiction on steppe topics. I come with an inbuilt distrust of bestsellers, and when the subject is dear to me, I expect to be dismayed and upset. Right, that’s honest.

But I read William Napier. I’ll be terribly honest about him: I thought his trilogy an opportunity lost.

He’s an uneasy cross between action/adventure bestseller-style, and a fiction that I see as more ambitious, and that takes artistic licence such as removes him from the mainstream. He does weird things. Beyond what I’d do, although I defend him in my reviews (the ‘right to write’). He’s an old Yeats PhD and he can’t keep Yeats out of his fiction – or other 19thC poets, or Shakespeare. I understand this. It’s the language he talks in. If he excised that – the phrases spontaneous to his lips – then what’s he doing? Writing from a front, a censored front. Not from his self. – I just thought up that argument, on his behalf. I’m wary of fiction that… is self-limited, is from a part of the writer. “I can’t do this because action/adventure doesn’t let me. Maybe I’ll write another book freestyle.” In his trilogy William Napier oscillates between freestyle and conventional. Guess which I liked. I’ll live with him giving Attila quotes from William Blake, if that’s what the author needs to do to say what he has to say, spontaneously. If that’s how the words come to him, and sound to his ear true.

It’s radical, and again I’ll mention, my Tchingis doesn’t express himself in Percy Bysshe Shelley, much as I like the old poets. My narrator has been known to, because I do zoom out to an ‘I’ that’s me, now and then. But I’m not here to talk about my techniques, that’ll only get me into trouble.

I didn’t grow up on historical fiction. I grew up on speculative fiction and great books of the past. If that’s left me with a pref for the unconventional in hf, or an attitude of ‘rules? what rules?’ then, fine. Neither sf nor the greats are known for rules. Mine is, whatever works.

Napier’s other sin is against history and occurs in book Two. Two is the steppiest book, by far, thus guaranteed my fave. I defend his historical stretches, too:

“It draws on history before and after. I think he has drawn on Attila’s later distant cousin, Genghis – both for Attila’s life story, and for this grand conception of conquest east and west. These Huns can sing the Mongols’ origin legends, and the Turkic epic Manas. Of this I’m going to say, Napier widens history. He fits more history in. He has a time period, but he draws into that strands from before and after, because he wants to talk about historical issues – large ones. He wants to talk about the settled and the steppe, and to that end Attila, steppe spokesman, knows things he can’t have known, travels further than in any likelihood he did. As I say, this is fine by me, and makes for a fiction that comments on history.”

In Three he abandons both poets and ahistoricism. I hated Three. It was so average.

Even his style, I felt, lurched from cliché to originality, from ordinary to art. These books had the potential to cut loose from action/adventure, to contemplate history, with a prose he might have learnt from Yeats – and sell atrociously, no doubt. I regret them.

# # #

Painting of Attila by Delacroix

My reviews on Goodreads:

One Attila

Two Attila: The Gathering of the Storm

Three Attila: The Judgement

 

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A batch of fiction

A batch of fiction with a foot, or both feet or heart on the steppe. Links are to my reviews on Goodreads. My reviews can go on a bit, and I don’t like to post content twice.


The Blue Sky

by Galsan Tschinag

Boyhood in the Altai Mountains

“A little tragedy, a child’s tragedy.”
My review

 


The Gray Earth
by Galsan Tschinag

2nd of three on his youth, between nomad life and Communist indoctrination

“The boy, at 8 and 9 years, knows he wants to be a shaman. Shamans are persecuted and liable to be sent to prison…”
My review

 

Last of the Amazons
by Steven Pressfield

Speculative historical fiction: Amazons and Greeks

“I had no idea Steven Pressfield had written such a serious contribution to savage/civil arguments.”
My review

 

The Golden Lynx
by C. P. Lesley

Adventure in Russia, 1534: the infancy of Ivan the Terrible

“…our girl hero whose heart is on the steppe though she’s plunked into Moscow to patch up a feud with a marriage…”
My review



The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years

by Chingiz Aitmatov

A spaceport on the steppes of Kazakhstan

“A fable.”
My review

 

Now we’ll go north of the steppe, but stick with shamans.

The Chukchi Bible
by Yuri Rytkheu

Native cultures of Siberia under siege

“The author’s grandfather, whose story is two-thirds of the book, was ‘the last shaman of Uelen’.”
My review

 

And I’ll throw this in. Far from the steppe, but about the messy intersection of cultures.

Fathers and Crows
by William T. Vollmann

Jesuits in Canada, 1600s. One of his ‘Seven Dreams’ set of novels on the clash of Indians and Europeans in the New World

“In spite of the culture clashes, the Black Crows and the Savages are often strikingly alike.”
My review

Sergei Bodrov’s film Mongol

I walked into a cinema for this. I’m not a cinema-goer; in ‘recent’ years I’ve made the trip for Lord of the Rings, for The Weeping Camel, and for Mongol.

Perhaps that’s why – although I was thrilled to see Temudgin splattered on posters, although I enthused over the results – now I watch again, after a few years’ interval, I see I managed to underrate this film. I don’t have eyes for film.

Jamukha’s tremendous and steals the stage. I remember that’s what reviews said: Jamukha’s a scene-stealer and almost hauls the film out from under Temudgin. Which, of course, is just what he does in the Secret History: almost takes over the story, almost takes over the steppe. I can’t tear my eyes off him when he’s on screen, and that’s only right. Go Jamukha. He wears such a different face to my Jamuqa that at first I was thrown. But that’s the beauty of him: he’s a gift to any fictionalist, a great anti-hero, and what you do with that potential is up to you. I only hate to see that potential wasted and him narrowed into a villain.

Borte. When I’m not transfixed by her face – and I am, so I miss what else is going on – she was a hit with the public too. Poor Temudgin, in between these two. He does great. That the film-maker spins his plot around the three of them is the strength, and exactly why the Secret History enchants a story-teller.

This film is the one fiction on Genghis that I like with a whole heart.

Onto Temudgin. Truth to tell, back then, his portrayal was why I was thrilled with the film. Now… I haven’t written for a year, perhaps I have objective eyes for these my characters with different faces. Now I see more and more Genghis in him. It isn’t just that Bodrov stitches his film together from phrases out of the Secret History and elsewhere (game with the subtitles: how infrequently the talk is mere invention). His Temudgin, to me, is a true portrait, exudes the right scent – I can believe in him. What I saw back then is how his sufferings and his simple fortitude under them – his child’s face in the plank-contraption, his man’s face in the cage – lends him a little of the saint. I think he needs an air of saintliness. Call to mind what a ferocious creature a saint is, before you get me wrong. Bodrov ends his childhood on a miracle: his imprisonment-planks falls off, in the open temple to Tengri, under the eye of the blue-grey wolf. The Secret History tells of miracles at this point, that the man himself believed in.

Captivity in Tangut? It’s one theory, and it’s film shorthand for the manner of wrongs the Mongols feel have been done them. It says well, in that expressive shorthand, what you might write a lot of pages on. I’d bet Bodrov has read his fellow Russian Lev Gumilev, who has a passionate page on these affronts, on the causes of war. He quotes a Chinese witness, Meng Hong, who wrote in 1221:

The head of the Jin exclaimed with alarm, ‘The Tatars will unfailingly be a cause of disturbance to our kingdom!’ Therefore, he gave orders for an immediate attack to be mounted against their remote and desert country. Every three years troops were sent to the north to exterminate and plunder; this was called ‘the reduction of slaves and extermination of people’. Even now they remember in China that for twenty years before this, in Shandong and Hebei, what home had not bought Tatar boys and girls into slavery? These had all been captured by the troops. Those who at the present time are grandees among the Tatars were then for the most part led off into captivity… the Tatars fled into the desert and vengeance entered their blood and brain.

Gumilev comments on this account: “It were better unsaid! What the Chinese scholar described recalls the hunt for Indian scalps organised by the Puritans of New England and the Baptists of Massachusetts, the slave trade of the French and English merchant venturers, the slaughter of the Patagonians undertaken by the Argentine government, i.e. pages of history branded as those most shameful for mankind.”

My guess is, Bodrov draws his history from this page. I thought Temudgin’s dialogue with Tangut, with that governor, with the monk, efficiently sums up much that you can say about his interactions with the settled states.

Bodrov’s only large invention is Borte’s rescue of him from Tangut, and I have excuses to make. It isn’t such a large invention: there were rescues from Tangut – Jaqa Gambu and/or Jaqa Gambu’s daughter. She can be a hero: women were very active participants in Tangut history for a century or two, with the nomad background and the example set by Liao. That she has a daughter unfathered by him, along with Jochi? Why not? He adopted several children from the enemy, a Tangut boy among them. Novelists, none of whom I’ll name, tend to decide it’s a better story if Genghis rejects Jochi. Maybe Bodrov felt the urge to state twice, ‘except he didn’t’.

By now, I know our luck to have this film. Think Genghis cinema, think what you’d expect. Instead we have this.

Mongol, a film by Sergei Bodrov, 2007

Lev Gumilev, Searches for an Imaginary Kingdom: The Legend of the Kingdom of Prester John, English translation by R.E.F. Smith, Cambridge University Press, 1987

The Demon’s Door Bolt by A.J. Campbell

mehmed+siyah+kalemLeft: more Mehmet Black Pencil (the guy who did my banner) – he liked to draw monster-demons, often in daily human affairs, sitting about chatting, whacking a donkey. What’s Mehmet telling us? I’ve heard they called him Black Pencil for his mordant sense of humour.

But onto the book: The Demon’s Door Bolt by A.J. Campbell. Here’s my comments at Goodreads. Science fiction on the fifth-century steppe, with humour.

800px-Siyah_Qalem._Conversation._XV_cent_TopkapiIt’s my idea of an indie book: straight out of the writer’s brain to you; cherished in his hands for years; written with commitment, since he tries to squeeze into a book his heart, his soul and what he’s learnt in life.

Right, that’s my definition of an indie. Toss those that don’t fit aside. While you’re at it, toss aside the output of career novelists. Find a writer.

I’m strident today. I get like that. Sorry. Back to subject.

It’s those unique books I am on the lookout for, above the herd of others. This one may not be your cup of black milk, folks; besides, it’s his comedy and I believe he has another up his sleeve. But I’m excited by it, as you’ll see if you follow that link.