Archive for witchery

so long and thanks for the rabbit, Terry Jones!

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on February 16, 2020 by xi'an

the witcher

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2020 by xi'an

As I read (some of) Andrzej Sapkowski‘s books, and then watched my son play the derived video game, I took the opportunity of the break to watch the eponymous Netflix series. Which I found quite decent and entertaining, given that the books were not unforgettable masterpieces but enjoyable and well-constructed. The New York Times was quite dismissive in its review of the show, seeing as a cheap copycat of Game of Thrones when the books were written earlier than Martin’s unfinished no-end-logy. The Blaviken battle scene in the first episode is certainly on a par with GoT most fighting moments, while lasting a few seconds. And the actor playing Geralt manages to convey much more in a few grunts than, say, Kit Harington’s permanent cocker spaniel sad face!!! The budget here is clearly not the same as HBO’s investment, with some exterior scenes looking a wee bit bare (just as in the BBC’s rendering of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel). But, again, nothing there to dim the appeal of the series (although they could have cut on the definitely gratuitous softporn moments!) and a plot gradually rising from the fragmented time line and the apparently unrelated subplots, which is also a feature of the books, made of short-stories vaguely glued together. I am hence looking for the second season, hoping the GoT curse does not extend to this series. ( also published a highly critical review of the show. And of the books, which are incidentally not published by Tor!)

rationality and superstition

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2019 by xi'an

As I am about to read The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume in his Book of Dust trilogy, I found that Philip Pullman wrote a fairly interesting piece inspired from a visit to an 2018 exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, dedicated to magic and witchcraft. Which I enjoyed reading even though I do not agree with most points. Even though the human tendency to see causes in everything, hidden or even supernatural if need be, explains for superstition and beliefs in magics, the Enlightenment and rise of rationality saw the end of the witch-hunt craze of the 16th and early 17th Centuries (with close to 50,000 executions throughout Europe.

“…rationalism doesn’t make the magical universe go away (…) When it comes to belief in lucky charms, or rings engraved with the names of angels, or talismans with magic squares, it’s impossible to defend it and absurd to attack it on rational grounds because it’s not the kind of material on which reason operates. Reason is the wrong tool. Trying to understand superstition rationally is like trying to pick up something made of wood by using a magnet.”

“Whether witches were “filthy quislings” or harmless village healers, they and those who believed in witchcraft and magic existed in a shared mental framework of hidden influences and meanings, of significances and correspondences, whether angelic, diabolic, or natural (…)  a penumbra of associations, memories, echoes and correspondences that extend far into the unknown. In this way of seeing things, the world is full of tenuous filaments of meaning, and the very worst way of trying to see these shadowy existences is to shine a light on them.”

“I simply can’t agree with (Richard Dawkins’): “We don’t have to invent wildly implausible stories: we have the joy and excitement of real, scientific investigation and discovery to keep our imaginations in line.” (The Magic of Reality, 2011). If we have to keep our imaginations in line, it’s because we don’t trust them not to misbehave. What’s more, only scientific investigation can disclose what’s real. On the contrary, I’d rather say that there are times when we have to keep our reason in line. I daresay that the state of Negative Capability, where imagination rules, is in fact where a good deal of scientific discovery begins. “

hue & cry [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2018 by xi'an

While visiting the Blackwell’s bookstore by the University of Edinburgh last June, I spotted this historical whodunit in the local interest section. Hue & Cry by Shirley McKay. It stayed on a to-read pile by my bed until a few weeks ago when I started reading it and got more and more engrossed in the story. While the style is not always at its best and the crime aspects are somewhat thin, I find the description of the Scottish society of the time (1570’s) fascinating (and hopefully accurate), especially the absolute dominion of the local Church (Kirk) on every aspect of life and the helplessness of women always under the threat of witchcraft accusations. Which could end up with the death penalty, as in thousands of cases. The book reminds me to some extent of the early Susanna Gregory’s books in that it also involves scholars, teaching well-off students with limited intellectual abilities, while bright but poorer students have to work for the college to make up for their lack of funds. As indicated above, the criminal part is less interesting as the main investigator unfolds the complicated plot without much of a hint. And convinces the juries rather too easily in my opinion. An overall fine novel, nonetheless!

snapshot from Salem

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on October 31, 2014 by xi'an


The Devil’s Disciples

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on May 8, 2010 by xi'an

`Magic?’ echoed Bartholomew warily. `Do you really believe in this sort of things?’

I have finished my fourteenth chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew, The Devil’s Disciples, and this one seems to be the most disappointing of all! Maybe it is getting harder and harder for the author, Susanna Gregory, to find good plots and to sustain a realistic and exciting pace for her novels within the same environment of 14th Century Cambridge and with the same characters from the fictional college Michaelhouse. This novel mostly suffers from a poor plot, as most of the action is unbelievable and anachronistic, while the final resolution is anticlimactic and disappointing. I have found that the recent chronicles have become less credible from a historical viewpoint and some of the exchanges in The Devil’s Disciples are anachronistic. From a global perspective, the book deals (once again) with witchcraft and the fight between Church and the followers of Satanic rites. While I accept the core idea that the Black Death of 1347 has had a strong psychological impact on the beliefs of the survivors and that this could have driven people away from the Church into anti-Christian sects, the openness of their move is not plausible. At that time, witchery was both an heresy and a major crime (because people also believed in charms and curses), the Church inquisition had already been instituted by the Pope, and thus the idea of someone declaring his or her support of a sorcerer/witch or openly attending a sorcery meeting does not make sense to me. The relativity of beliefs expressed in the quote below does not belong to the 14th Century! (The same comment applies to the handling of a book of curses by half the characters in the novel.)

`It is a battle between two belief systems, each with its own merits and failings. The Sorcerer will not see himself as wicked but as one who offers a viable alternative to the Church.’

At the individual level, I find the main characters fairly shallow, Bartholomew spending most of the book running from one point of Cambridge to another one and not doing much else for being so exhausted by the Marathonian training! The changes in a well-established character like Father William are difficult to believe and the final uncovering of the two main culprits is both predictable and implausible to the extreme! Both Brother Michael and Matthew Bartholomew are missing the obvious clues and it takes the providential return of Clippesby to uncover the Sorcerer’s plot (whose point remains obscure to me).So both parts that constitute the appeal of a historical whodunnit are mostly lost in The Devil’s Disciples. I hope the next chronicle, A Vein of Deceit, succeeds better! (Even though early reviews are not promising…)