Contest!

I am pleased to announce that there are three winners for the banner design contest! Coincidentally, there were also three entrants! Seriously, I kid. I mean, not about there being only three entrants, that part is true, but they were all great entries. You’ll see them rotating in the banner space above this blog before long. GHP prize packets are currently on their way to winners Fran Dale and Cherrelle Clayton. Email me your address, other winner Edwin King, and I’ll send your packet off to you first thing next week.

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Fran’s entry, shrunk down to fit the column.

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Cherrelle’s. I love the moustache!

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And Edwin’s, acknowledging the ancestral spirits of my tribe.

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Contest!

Ambrose Bierce and the oddness of “disappearing”

So Luke asked about Ambrose Bierce. 

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Ambrose Bierce is one of those figures in American letters. He’s beloved of everyone who enjoys the fine art of being outrageously rude about people, and to top it off he wrote some weird and jagged fiction. 

But what Bierce might be most famous for is dying — or, more accurately, not dying where anyone could see him. Bierce — 71 at the time — was in Mexico accompanying Pancho Villa’s army when he vanished. His last letter was written the day after Christmas, 1913. 

What has always interested me about the Bierce disappearance is that it’s the most famous example of its kind in American literature — and in American history, it’s probably only surpassed by Amelia Earhart. But in neither Bierce nor Earhart’s case is there any real mystery at all about what happened. A 71-year-old Gringo in the middle of a particularly unpleasant shooting war? It would be a surprise if there weren’t some kind of an incident. And Bierce agreed: 

Good-by — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart his life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!

So Bierce was not completely uninterested in the idea of doing himself in. But because we don’t know the exact place, date and time of his death, we regard him as some kind of mystery man. We get very fixated about these things. 

Perhaps it’s because my background is as a medievalist, but I have never quite understood this thing. We’re very interested in how people die, as if we don’t know a person until we understand the time and the manner of their death. For a medievalist, it’s not so weird to have someone who isn’t a king or something just disappear from the written record. 

Doubly so for an archaeologist, who has a tendency to see a lot of people who don’t appear in the written record. In all my research, I only really encountered one person whose death I could date — that is, one person I could identify, Ranulf Flambard. 

And the thing is, I think Ranulf Flambard is amazing. He is easily my favourite 11th-12th century cleric, and I’m including both Adhemar of Le Puy and Odo of Bayeux in that. And Anselm of Canterbury. So think about that

And is it partly because I somehow feel like the grave makes him special? Yeah, kind of. 

Also, it is the last day to enter the banner competition! Although, honestly, if you send me something over the weekend, that’s also cool. 

Ambrose Bierce and the oddness of “disappearing”

Awesome names: second in a series

Today has been another long day, so with the promise of a proper update tomorrow I will spend today talking about names again. These ones, as I promised, are from vikings, specifically people who appear in Icelandic sagas. I’ve tried to leave out very famous people like Olaf the Peacock or Aud the Deep-Minded (although notice that I just included them!) and focus on slightly less well-known characters. Notice also that a lot of these people have the same first name, which gives you some idea of the usefulness of by-names. To begin, then: 

Thorbjorg Ship-Breast, Thorbjorg the Little Prophetess, Thorbjorg the Pride of the Farm, Thorkel the Thin, Thorkel Scratcher, Thorkel Pup, Thorolf Red-nose, Thorolf Stuck-up, Thorgrim Skin-hood, Thorstein Cod-biter, Thorarin the Evil, Thora of the Embroidered Hand, Thorgeir Lamb, Thorgeir Earth-long, Thorhalla Chatterbox, Thorodd Helmet, Thorolf Blister-pate, Sigrid the Ambitious, Thorfin the Skull-splitter, Thordis Stick, Thord Hobbler, Thord Horse-head, Thord the Cat, Thord the Coward, Sigtrygg Travel-quick, Sigtrygg Silk-beard, Skeggi the Dueller, Solvi Chopper, Goat-Bjorn, Ref the Sly, Ozur Snout, Orm Broken-shell, Ljot the Pale, Ketil the Lucky Fisher, Ketil the Slayer, Ketil Thistle, Ketil Steam, Olaf the Quiet, Beard-Avaldi, Strut-Harald, Helgi the Spy, Helgi the Lean, Helga the Fair, An Bow-bender, An Red-cloak, Hallvard Travel-hard, Hallfred the Troublesome Poet, Halfdan the Mild and Meal-stingy, Halfdan White-leg, Hallbjorn Half-troll, Hallbjorn Slickstone-eye, Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue, Sheath-Grani, Grim Hairy-cheeks, Geirmund Thunder, Eyvind the Plagiarist, Eysteinn Fart, Einar Fly, Audun the Uninspired, Breeches-Aud, Atli the Squinter, Abjorn the Fleshy, Asgeir Scatter-brain, An Twig-belly. 

So, yeah. Audun the Uninspired! That’s cold. 

Hey, you want to hear an Icelandic saga joke? 

Q: How many Icelanders does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 

A: There was a man named Ketil. Ketil’s father was called Bjorn, and his father … 

Also, last day for the banner contest is tomorrow! I said prizes! Priiiiiizes!

Awesome names: second in a series

The Everyone’s a Fucking Loony Principle

You know who I like? I like S.F. Cody. Cowboy, rodeo performer, expert marksman, playwright, actor, Buffalo Bill impersonator, bigamist, giant kite inventor, pathological liar, aviation engineer, zeppelin pilot.

If you are not thinking about your CV right now and feeling a little down, you are very unlike me.

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Look at those whiskers!

Samuel F. Cody (not his real name) is a fantastic instance of the Everyone’s a Fucking Loony Principle, which basically states that whenever you start to investigate people’s backstories — especially in any kind of “fringe” area — you will find out that they are totally bizarre. In turn-of-the-century Britain, that applied to heavier-than-air flight, which was a new field and still open to characters like “Colonel” Cody, who embody that combination of rock star and crackpot that we love so much here at the GHP.

I first came across old S.F. in 2003 or so when I found a copy of Garry Jenkins’s book on him in Galloway and Porter. O Galloway and Porter, how we mourn you. Anyway, there is a more recent book out on him now, The Flying Cowboy. I have not yet read it, but I intend to.

My favourite thing about Cody — and it is hard to choose — is that he went to the trouble of getting his “son,” Leon Cody, British citizenship. I say “son” because a) Leon was Mrs Cody’s son by a previous marriage, and b) S.F. and Mrs Cody weren’t really married at all — she was his common-law wife, but he had an existing wife elsewhere. So Cody went through the process of getting Leon British citizenship despite the fact that Leon was British in order to keep up the front. That’s commitment, and I appreciate commitment.

Don’t forget that the banner design competition is still going! Entries are due next Friday and I will be packing up the prize bags some time this weekend.

The Everyone’s a Fucking Loony Principle