“Book” Review: The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex

OK, so this is a bit of an odd product. It’s a PDF, not a book per se, and although I bought it from a site that sells products for role-playing games, it is not particularly an RPG product. It is The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex, and you can find it here. It’s published by Magnum Opus Press, who also do various other products, none of them (sadly) obviously related to this one. It costs $1.95 in American money, or £1.17. 

This is a PDF facsimile of an 1885 “fac-simile” of a 1669 pamphlet about dragons and other lizards in Essex, including the infamous Henham Serpent. The site I’ve just linked to suggests that the author might be William Winstanley, but I think the pamphlet suggests otherwise. It tells the tale of a large serpent with small wings seen in or near Henham, and of the various attempts to pursue it with clubs and muskets, all ending in failure. 

I love this kind of thing, as I think I’ve mentioned before — facsimiles of old documents are one of the things I can’t get enough of, and the fact this is a facsimile of a facsimile is better yet. And the fact that it’s about a baby dragon just makes it even more great, especially because the story boils down to “saw a snake; ran away. Saw it again; it ran away.” Like many documents of its age, it crams in references to everything from Ragnar Lothbrok to medieval legends to the ancient Greeks, including bizarre and unsettling visions of other serpents. Apparently, Saffron Walden once had its own cockatrice, which I believe the author contends was some kind of an analogy. 

I think the weirdest one was this, though: 


So yeah, well worth checking out if you’re interested in the ephemeral literature of other ages. And if you’re reading my blog and you’re not interested in that, I’d like to thank you for charity-reading my blog. 


“Book” Review: The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex

Movie Monday: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (2010)



I got rained on pretty hard today and I did not feel like sitting through another ultraserious historical epic. Instead I fired up kung fu biopic The Legend is Born – Ip Man. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, but you can probably figure it out for yourself: Ip Man is virtuous, adopted brother Ip Tin Chi is conflicted but ultimately the genetic evil of being Japanese takes over; kung fu masters are variously old and stuffy or old and cranky, and there are just a heck of a lot of fights. You could probably change the main character’s name to Wong Fei Hong and you wouldn’t lose a lot. 

I think what’s really interesting is the apparent compulsion among martial arts filmmakers to tell the stories of characters in the history of martial arts as though they were kung fu movies. So as far as I can tell most historical martial arts instructors just hung around teaching martial arts and stuff. In fact, Ip Man had more of a movie-premise life than most, in that he was a police officer during the period the film covers. 

In fact, probably more than any other genre, the kung fu movie has some of that Robert-Ford-playing-himself sensationalist drama going for it still left. Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, plays an old wing chun master in the movie, for instance. I assume he’s got to be aware that he didn’t have an uncle who was part of an elaborate scheme to smuggle Japanese children into the country? But nobody gives a hang. 

Myn Bala was another example of the history movie in its purest form: patriotic glurge, big epic fights, total disregard for veracity. A certain amount of this kind of thing is desirable, I think. Just not much of it. 

did like the fusion of Chinese and Western style in the costumes, which is always a fascinating thing about movies set in that era for me. 

Also, damn Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung got old. 

Movie Monday: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (2010)