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Monday, October 23, 2023

Viking Magic. A re-Issued blog for Halloween

The Vikings believed in magic. I used one of their beliefs in my "Viking and the Pictish Princess," the idea of a cursing pole.

Called a Nithing pole (in old Norse this means Scorn Pole), this was a long staff or pole, set into the earth and topped with a horse's head. It was meant to bring bad luck, and along with runes, was intended to create malice and trouble.

Such rituals and poles are recorded in the Viking Sagas, as in Egil's Saga. You can see what he did in this excerpt on Wikipedia

My Viking warrior Olaf also uses a Nithing pole. Instead of a horse's head he uses a deer's head, to placate the spirits and gods of the Pictish kingdom that he and his new wife are striving to protect from invaders and rival ruler Constantine. 


Up on the moor, beside the old ring of stones and facing

east, he had set up a cursing pole to anger and offend the spirits

of Constantine’s land, to give himself and his folk good

luck and to force bad luck onto Mongfind and her ilk. He had

slammed the newly felled and trimmed ash sapling into the

earth and snow, driving it down in his fury and frustration,

and topped the pole with the head of the roe deer, as sacrifice

to Loki, to Odin and to any Pictish god who would heed a Viking.

Man’s magic, for sure, but is it good to hold such secrets from my


It had to be, he decided. Eithne, these days, often looked

drawn and troubled. She had enough pain with her sister’s



As a strange writer's coincidence I wanted a Norse name for a small black horse, one that would roughly translate as "Sooty". I searched on the Internet and found a name: Saehrimnir, meaning sooty sea-beast. This fit nicely with Scottish and Pictish beliefs concerning water-horses and Kelpies.


Lindsay Townsend

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Dance Scenes in Historically-Set Movies – October - Gone with the Wind #prairierosepubs #moviedancescenes

Join me here for a year of movie trivia fun as I post dance scenes from movies set in historical time periods. I will give a brief summary of the movie’s plot and an equally brief set-up to the scene.

Each month on the second Wednesday, I will post a movie clip and link back to previous movie scene articles here on the blog.

This is the criteria by which I’m choosing movie scenes:

           In a non-musical movie, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.

           In a musical drama, the characters in the dance scene don’t sing to each other.

           In a musical drama, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.

           The historical cut-off is 1960, because that date works for me. ;-)

Side note:  The article “Classic Literature is Not Necessarily Historical Fiction” on the BookRiot website offers an interesting explanation on what constitutes historical fiction and where various historical date lines are drawn.

Movies to this point:

January – Cat Ballou

February – The King and I

March – Easy Virtue

April – Shakespeare in Love

May – Chocolat

June – Beauty and the Beast

July – Dirty Dancing

August – Cinderella

September – The Mask of Zorro

Name of MovieGone with the Wind
Historical Time Period: American Civil War
Location: Atlanta, Georgia c. 1862
Occasion/Purpose: Confederate bazaar hospital benefit dance
Types of Dances: Polka, Virginia Reel, Waltz

Set-up to the scene: 

Long before this hospital benefit bazaar, Scarlett O’Hara has married and been widowed. She is currently in mourning, as you can see from her black dress. She is beside herself with boredom at having to play the role of the widow for a man she didn’t love, and for whom she’s not a bit unhappy that he died. What she’s distressed about most is not being able to dance and be happy and flirtatious and be the 16-year-old girl who had no worries or responsibilities. She is no longer the bell of the ball, and she’s about to burst at the seams.

Rhett Butler knows this about her. In fact, he knows her better than she knows herself. They are more alike than different, and he’s told her that. She pshaws him.

Rhett and Scarlett’s banter leading up to the dance is sharp, witty, and hints of things to come.

This scene is Rhett’s way of liberating Scarlett (aka Mrs. Hamilton) from her widows weeds and to get her out from under the thumbs of the gatekeeping biddies who judge her and who also hold the key to her societal freedom from widowhood. Melanie Hamilton Wilkes is held in such high social esteem that because she approved the dance auction, the biddies have no choice but to approve.

We see the love mutually denied love growing between Rhett and Scarlett in this scene. We can tell this from Rhett’s bid for Scarlett to dance with him. He also holds sway in this society, because of his blockade running escapades. He is a scoundrel, but in her own way, so is Scarlett. The difference is, he’s a man in a male-dominated society, and she is a female who is also a young widow. She has virtually no societal sway. Rhett understands that all too well. His bid to dance with her is his way of bestowing social power on her, and Scarlett is no dummy. She takes it.

As he watches her come to him, his satisfied smile is also a smile of admiration with a tinge of love. He asks for one thing in return: for her to say the words he heard her say to Ashley Wilkes—I love you.

While Scarlett appreciates what he’s done to get her out of her widow’s trap, she covers her feelings with sarcasm and snark, and says, “That’s something you will never hear from me, Captain Butler, as long as you live.”

Rhett smiles, completely undaunted, because he knows she will eventually say she loves him.

At 4:14 in the clip, Rhett says one of the best lines ever written or spoken. “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.” This is a moment of foreshadowing, because both of them will throw their reputations to the wind and find courage deep down inside that they didn’t know existed.

Movie Trivia: According to Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie Wilkes, Vivien Leigh couldn’t dance, so the distance shots were a body double.

Image Note: The movie poster is a 1939 MGM promotional poster that is in Public Domain in the United States, because it was published in the United States between 1928 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright notice.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
Lasterday Stories
writing through history one romance upon a time

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Ahead of the Curve

Ahead of the Curve
By C. A. Asbrey

Many academics claim there are only seven basic kinds of stories when distilled down to their basic elements: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Rebirth, Comedy, and Tragedy. This is idea of reducing plots down to the essential essence was not new, though. In 1959, Foster-Harris claimed there were only three plots. Happy ending, unhappy ending, and tragedy.

Huge amounts of research have gone into frameworks, settings, characters, plots, outcomes, pacing and story arcs. With such a limited framework to work with it's amazing that human beings have managed to fill the world with tales of love, horror, tragedy, adventure, wonder, fantasy, and dystopia. But we have, and we still haven't told all our stories yet, because nobody can tell the same tale in exactly the same way. We are unique.

But what about those who got there first? Who invented our favourite genres before anyone else did, and what inspired them to go where writers had never gone before?

It's widely accepted that the first romance novel, in the sense we understand it today, was Pamela or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740. Written as a series of moral lessons, referred to as a Conduct Book, it was designed to inform and entertain. In a time when people, and especially women, were beginning to read for entertainment, Richardson attempted to ensure that a moral code was transmitted in a way in which people might not even notice they were receiving moral instruction.

These Conduct Books were not new, having precedents dating to ancient times. The change in the 18th century to melding them with works of fiction in the hope that readers will identify with the protagonist, and attempt to emulate their adherence to gender roles and moral conduct, was new. Pamela or Virtue Rewarded was an early attempt at this, but the problem lay with the fact that in order to give the righteous obstacles to overcome, the terrible behaviour had to be laid out—and people loved it—the bad behaviour was the biggest draw. Licentiousness and disregard for class barriers caught the public imagination, and a pamphlet denouncing it as pornographic only appeared to significantly boost sales. Even back then, there was no such thing as bad publicity.

Pamela, a mere maid, has to overcome the unwanted attentions of her employer, Mr. B. It is very much of its time, with Pamela facing stalking, scorn from society for daring to think herself above her station, attempted rape, abduction, and even her family being bribed. But Pamela was made of stern stuff, and none of that could overcome a righteous woman. By rejecting every attempt to defile her, Pamela wins everyone round, is seen as an equal by the upper classes, and is rewarded by an advantageous marriage (if you think that marriage to such a man is a reward). Written by a man, it was the first time the female servant was seen as something more than a mere object of male lust, chattel, and worthy of social elevation. It says a lot about society that much of the outrage it provoked centred around a poor woman daring to see herself as worth as much as her betters, and not the onslaught of unwanted sexual harassment and assault laid out in the books. It reads very differently to modern sensibilities, but caught the public imagination. Jane Austen admitted to being influenced by Richardson's second book, Clarissa. Austen was the first woman to write romantic books with female protagonists, and clearly did a better job of capturing a reality in the characterisations and social mores than Richardson, who admitted that he did not fully understand females until writing Clarissa. Many would argue that he did not understand them at all, but all agree that he changed novel writing forever. Austen's work still resonates today.

Horace Walpole

The first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was published in 1764 by Horace Walpole, whilst he was a member of parliament in the UK. The elements of the gothic genre are generally agreed to contain some kind of castle or old mansion, suspense or mystery, some kind of ghost or monster, a hapless victim (often a damsel), drama, a tortured protagonist, nightmares, and death. Terrible weather often features, whether it be the lightening in Frankenstein, the storm when the ghostly hand appears in Wuthering Heights, or the mists of the Grimpen Mire in The Hound of the Baskervilles. They often feature creatures that are part-human, or who can pass as human, like werewolves, vampires, or ghosts.

The plot of The Castle of Otranto was said to be loosely based on the life of Manfred of Sicily, and Walpole was known to be a keen medievalist. The plot revolves around a prophesy that Manfred would die without an heir, and when his only son is killed, Manfred becomes increasingly desperate to prove the prophesy wrong, and then spirals into a cycle of desperation that ensures it comes to pass.

This was a threshold that opened up a whole new kind of literary fiction; mixing the fantastical with the suspenseful. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is widely considered to be the first science fiction book, as well as being a horror story. Vampires feature in ancient folk lore in many cultures and in epic poems of the 18h century such as the German poem The Vampire (1748), and Lenore (1773). The first prose version is a story by John William Polidori based on the life and legend of Lord Byron. Bram Stoker's 1897 book arguably became the most famous, but it followed on the heels of Varney the Vampire (1847) and Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (1872).

Werewolves are another horror trope with roots stretching back to ancient times. Thought to have been inspired by people with hypertrichosis, the figure even features in The Epic of Gilgamesh dating from ancient Mesopotamia. The Scottish werewolf is actually a friendly hermit who left fish for people too ill to catch their own, but most are ravenous beasts with a taste for human flesh. Sutherland Menzies wrote Hugues, the Wer-Wolf in 1838. The Phantom Ship (1839) is said to be the first story that has a femme fatale who transforms into a wolf, and one of the earliest books was written by William Sabine Barine-Gould in 1868. You might be familiar with Sabine Barine-Gould's most famous work, Onward Christian Soldiers. I now challenge you to hear that without thinking about werewolves.

George MacDonald is widely regarded as the writer of the first modern fantasy novel. Like Sabine Barine-Gould, MacDonald was also a minister. He was also the mentor of Lewis Carroll, but his influences extend to Mark Twain, J.M. Barrie, G.K. Chesterton, even to Neil Gaiman, and many, many more. Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women was published in 1858. A young man is pulled into a dreamworld where he searches for his ideal of female beauty whilst undergoing numerous adventures. It's worth noting that Gulliver's Travels (1726) whilst being a fantasy, was written as a work of satire. Swift himself said that he wrote the book more "to vex the world than divert it". For that reason, I can't put it in the category of pure fantasy, but will rate it as the first political satire.

Jonathan Swift was a member of the Scriblerus Club, an eighteenth-century association of authors. And they they disliked the trend for adventure stories based on exotic travels and derring-do at the time. However, in a world where few had travelled very far, they were hugely popular, but seen as poorly-written and fanciful by many men of letters at the time. Books like Robinson Crusoe (1719) was one of such book, although that, in itself, was credited as being new way of combining realistic narrative with fiction.

We often forget how subversive Gulliver's Travels was at the time. Swift wrote many drafts, and had those re-written, then printed, then re-printed to ensure that his handwriting could not be identified. It was not just a work of Menippean satire (one that challenges mindsets and attitudes instead of individuals and entities), but Swift had been an active pamphleteer in Irish causes, and his Drapier's Letters, were seen as seditious. It was an open secret that Swift wrote them, despite their anonymity. The books could be read as tales of fantasy and adventure, but on another level they could be read as satire of the rivalries between European states, on religious differences hurting the ordinary people, and the cost to society of the dogma of certain types of government. Swift created another first in the world of fiction.

We have to go much later to get the first dystopian novel, although there's an argument for including Swift in that. My choice is a work that describes an apocalyptic pandemic wiping out huge swathes of humanity, and the impact that has on the systems of government and the structures of society. It also features religious fundamentalists who try to exert control over the country, and grab power through manipulating fear and using disinformation. Sound remarkably modern? Mary Shelley had The Last Man was published in 1826. She truly was ahead of her time.

Mary Shelley

The Murders in the Rue Morgue was a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, and was the first detective tale, but to get the first book, it depends on your definition. Wilkie Collins published The Moonstone in 1868—and that was a complete book. However, as so many books at that time were actually published in parts in periodicals (Dickens was famous for this), another good candidate is The Notting Hill Mystery which was published between 1862 and 1863 by Dickens' main competitor. It features a private investigator hired to investigate the death of a woman who has died after having huge life insurance policies taken out. It's practically unknown nowadays, but it was written by Charles Felix, the pen name of Charles Warren Adams. Finding Adams was a detective story in itself. Prof. Paul Collins from Portland university searched the archives, and although he could find the publisher, he could find no letters between the publisher and the author - until he hit upon a literary gossip column for The Manchester Times in 1864. There was no correspondence between the writer and the publisher because Charles Warren Adams was Saunders, Otley and Company. The author was the publisher.

The first Western novel again is a matter of interpretation. Many say it's The Virginian, by Owen Wister, published in 1902. It features a ranch hand in Wyoming, and was later to inspire a much sunnier version of the characters in a famous TV series. I say that The Administratrix by Emma Ghent Curtis takes that crown, as it appeared in 1889 and was the first to feature the current tropes outside of dime novels. It features a schoolteacher who dresses as a man to get revenge and justice after her lover is murdered. Another contender is Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper in 1826. Although not featuring cowboys, it is set in a much earlier American frontier, even if it's not in the west. As I say, it's all down to how much of a purist you are.

Illustration from the novel's 1896 edition depicting Hawk-eye 

I hope you've got some ideas and plot bunnies from this piece. New life can spring from the oldest material, which takes us right back to the beginning of this post. There are only so many stories, but the ways we can tell them are infinite.

Do you have suggestions of books that are firsts of their kind? Have I missed any? Feel free to comment and give me your opinion.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Have You Seen This One? Frontier Doctor

Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

The nights are getting longer and the days shorter. Of course, this means that the year is coming to an end. Counting this post there are three more months left year of 2023 and three more old Western TV shows to explore.

This month I will be taking a look at "Frontier Doctor".

This syndicated show ran from September 1958 to June 1959. It stared Rex Allen as Dr. Bill Baxter, a turn-of-the-century physician in a small town in Arizona. He traveled in a horse and buggy treating patients and sometimes dealing justice. The show had 39 episodes and was a half-hour show.

Allen, who was known as 'The Arizona Cowboy' had been the star, as himself, in a number of Western films in the 1950s. He was also a rodeo cowboy, and singer/songwriter, in addition to acting. His later career saw him as the voice of a number of Disney nature films along with numerous other voice-over works.

Allen and his horse Koko
Photo from Wikipedia.

If you get the chance try to catch some of his films. Since singing cowboys were popular, Allen's voice fit the genre perfectly.

Born on a ranch in Arizona on December 31, 1920, he passed away on December 17, 1999, in Tucson, Arizona.

Here is a sample of a song from one of his movies: The Colorado Trail

Check out this episode from the series: Crooked Circle

For a look at the other posts in this series:

The Tall Man

The Adventures of Jim Bowie

"Overland Trail" - YouTube

Trackdown - Self-Defense

Cimarron City

Whispering Smith

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy.