Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Muse - George Blagden as Athelstan on Vikings



Its been a long time since I did a Monday Muse post, but with the new year upon us, and me well immersed in my latest TV addiction, I thought it was about time we had one.
So, today I'm looking at the character of Athelstan on Vikings, played by George Bladgen, mostly because this character has been through one very intersting journey on this surprisingly addictive show. If you're not up to date with Vikings, then look away now, as there may be some slight spoilers.
Now, the actor may look familiar, he's been in a few big productions like the 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables, and Wrath of the Titans. But I'm not here to talk about him, so much as the character of Athelstan.
I'm still debating whether or not Athelstan was technically what I like to call a gray character (one of those people you never really know are good or bad, or may be a bad character on the surface, but a good character at heart. Or a good person who does bad things for what they think are the right reasons) but he definitely went through one of the most riveting and fascinating character journeys I've ever seen on any TV show, or possibly read in any book. And I do not say this lightly. If you're a long time reader of this blog, you know I like my TV shows, I like to dissect them more than some other viewers. So I'm making a pretty big call here!
Athelstan started out as a young monk at a monastery. This monastery is the first thing the vikings, led by Ragnar Lothbrok, come across on their maiden voyage to England. They of course sack the monastery and take Athelstan, along with several other monks as slaves.
Ragnar becomes fascinated by Athelstan when he learns that Athelstan can speak their language. When the earl whom Ragnar defied to take his voyage confiscates all the bounty and tells Ragnar he can keep one single thing, Ragnar chooses the now-slave, Athelstan, much to the amusement of some other vikings.
Though Athelstan is obviously terrified of this new and brutal world, he is also curious about the way the "northmen" live. And I think one of the reasons why Ragnar and Athelstan quickly develop a strange kind of bond is because they have the same inquisitive minds that don't necessarily accept things as they seem on the surface, always looking for the deeper meaning.
Now this is how Athelstan is launched on his compelling journey. It doesn't take long before Ragnar is happy enough to entrust Athelstan with the care of his children while both him and his wife, Lagertha, go on another raid to England.
By now, Athelstan feels comfortable enough to question Ragnar about all kinds of things, including his freedom. In return, Ragnar questions whether Athelstan would use his freedom to return to England and his God. But its clear that Athelstan isn't interested in going anywhere.
Over the course of the next season (which occurs 4 years after the first season), Athelstan becomes a warrior, fully embracing the Norse gods. His transformation from timid monk to warrior willing to kill without remorse is startling, but he proves himself by joining Ragnar on raids and engaging in bloody battles. There are moments, of course, when you could see him questioning how far he'd come and why.
But things weren't all smooth sailing. At one point, Ragnar planned to sacrifice Athelstan at a holy place their people visited every nine years. I think in actual fact, this was seen as a great honor. At first Athelstan had no clue why Ragnar had taken him along, but when he found out, he was quite obviously shocked and horrified, as from a christian point of view, human sacrifice is abhorrent. I was sure at one point that Athelstan was about to be killed off, but lucky for him, he was deemed unworthy as a sacrifice and someone else had to volunteer.
Athelstan never held this against Ragnar, instead they continued to grow closer, taking us well on the way to a great TV bromance. But this may have been the start of the tipping point for Athelstan to question whether he would ever really belong with the northmen, no matter how close he and Ragnar had become (que the Athelnar shippers. Though some argue it should be Ragnalstan. I kid you not. God, I love these shipper names.)
Not long after this, it was starting to become very apparent that Ragnar relied heavily on Athelstan's council. The more trust he lost in his friends and family around him, the more he turned to Athelstan, which some of Ragnar friends--one name Floki, in particular--didn't like. Floki was very dedicated to the ways of the gods and became increasingly worried that the "priest" as they still often called Athelstan, would lead Ragnar to ruin.
In the middle episodes of season 3, Ragnar told Athelstan straight out that he couldn't trust anyone else. Athelstan had been questioning himself and his faith more and more after being captured and almost crucified in the previous season, then spending time as a confidant of the Wessex king.
Just as Ragnar came to a point where he felt he had no one else except Athelstan, the former monk rediscovered his christian faith. When he told Ragnar, the now-king of the Vikings was happy for his friend, but when Athelstan mentioned leaving, Ragnar was clearly thrown and almost desperate, telling Athelstan he could not leave him, that he loved him (not in THAT way... well, maybe a little. But my understanding of this portrayal of the vikings is that they didn't see "love" in the same way we do now) and that he would protect him from anyone who would say anything against him.
Ragnar later proves this by removing Athelstan from a tense stand-off, where Ragnar's brother, Rollo, is questioning why the priest is no longer wearing the arm band that Ragnar had given him years earlier as a sign of acceptance and respect.
But for Floki, this is the last straw.
I have to admit, even after Floki burst in and killed the ready-to-be-martyred Athelstan, I didn't believe he was really dead. Even when Ragnar carried Athelstan's body to his final resting place and said an emotional farewell, including the fact he could not be consoled, that he was a changed man, and had no idea what to do without Athelstan, I still thought that someway, somehow, Athelstan would rise and not really be dead, maybe just deeply unconscious, similar to the way he'd been crucified earlier, mirroring the journey of Jesus.
Even when the episode had finished, I still refused to believe, and it wasn't until I went on google and saw the truth, that Athelstan really was dead, that I finally accepted it with a good dose of loathing.
Its been a long time since a TV show has blindsided me and killed off my favorite character of the entire show, but Vikings manged to do it. And admittedly, I haven't watched an episode since. Oh, I intend to continue with the show, because I want to know what's going to happen with Ragnar, especially now that he has lost what was possibly the one true, inscrutable and certain thing in his life. But when I've been so heavily invested, its going to take me a little while to get over Athelstan's death.
I think this is definitely a show I'm going to have to re-watch. I'm sure there were many nuances I missed the first time around because I was in such a hurry to see what happened next. But I have to applaud the writers and creators for the ingenuity of Athelstan's character, even though they killed him off. From a creative and writing perspective, I could see how after rediscovering his faith, Athelstan's journey had to come to an end. And there was probably no other way to do it. He would never have left Ragnar, but as a devout christian, he couldn't feasibly continue living with the vikings.
From a fan point of view, I'm devastated that there won't be more Ragnar/Athelstan scenes. And I think it will be a long time before we see a bromance that complex and intriguing on TV again.
 


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Internet Introvert

Is there a term for someone who becomes an introvert on the internet? If not, I'm totally calling it. Maybe I'll call it something like being an internert.
Ever since I comprehended that self-promotion online is now an accepted, if not required part of being an author I've hated and avoided it. Seriously. I loathe self promotion. I'm not an internet social butterfly. I'm not a member of fifty million interest groups on Facebook, haven't joined a thousand genre-based groups on goodreads, I only follow people on Twitter I either know or am actually interested in, and don't do linkedin or google plus or booklikes. My tumblr and instagram accounts have pretty much never been touched, and don't even get me started on joining snapchat.
I've actually never thought of myself in terms of introvert or extrovert, because I kind of think I land somewhere in the middle. At a party or conference where I don't know anyone, I'd prefer to keep my own company. I find it hard to walk up to strangers and start a conversation, but not impossible, and if I see someone I think looks friendly or has no one to talk to like myself, then I'll make the effort to strike up a conversation.
Yet I've also never been shy about getting up and talking in front of crowds. I actually kind of enjoy it, especially when I know people are interested in what I have to say.
But on the internet, I don't know how to be sociable. I don't like the idea of joining groups where the members are nothing more than a name on the screen. I find it hard to talk with people when I have no idea who is on the other end of the conversation. Its not that I think all faceless people on the internet must be either sinister trolls waiting to trip me up and abuse me for the fun of it, or pets who hijacked their master's iPad. I'm just not sure what to say, because the typed word can be taken a different way to how you intend it, and I have been badly burned by that candle before, and kind of recently.
Its actually taken me a while to work out why I avoid self-promotion like the plague, coming slowly to the realization that I am not anywhere near as active on social media as many of my contemporaries, which some would argue is in detriment to my career. I just want to write my books, and I've had enough of stressing over the fact I don't do enough promo, and probably don't do it right even when I try.
So this is my moratorium on self-promotion. Not that I was doing much in the first place.
I am declaring myself an internert, I don't know how to act naturally on the internet. If the internet was a party, I would be the person sitting in a corner wearing my pjs with a bowl of m&ms saying totally weird things like "did you know there were over one million feral camels in outback Australia, until the government launched the $19m Feral Camel Management Program, which aims to keep the pest problem under control?"
Yeah, that's a social goldmine right there. 
Since I made it to my 30s, (because, you know, I'm so wise and old and stuff now) I came to the rather mundane conclusion that I am who I am, and there's no changing that. And actually, I don't want to change that. Sure, I'm not perfect, but who is?
I'm better off spending my time being myself and doing what I like to do, and if that doesn't include going on Twitter or Facebook or I-don't-even-know-where-else site to post blatant or thinly-veiled messages that say "hey YOU buy my BOOK GODDAMNIT" then that's my prerogative.
I'm not a best-selling author (yet) and I've got a long way to go before I get there, but however the journey plays out, I can tell you it won't be because I spent countless wearying hours on the internet pushing my wares.
Oh, and just a disclaimer. This isn't meant to be a post bashing those authors who enjoy and are good at promo. We all have our talents and things we relish doing, and for those of you who count successful promo among them, I am in awe of your skill.
For myself, I'm going to stay in my corner, eat my m&ms and hope they get those feral camels under control.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 - Year of Super Zoom

I'm not the sort of person to make serious new year's resolutions, but every January I like to reassess where I am, where I plan to go, and make some notes on my project planner board about what I want to work on this year.
This year I decided that as well as the usual project planner, I wanted to make a vision board for my aims and intentions. It won't be the first time, I did a vision board about 6 years ago, and had it up in the dining room of my old house, because back then, one half of the kitchen table was my desk and office. However, while that vision board had some good stuff on it, I think now that maybe it wasn't focused enough.
Hence why I am making 2016 the year of super zoom. I'm going to divide my vision board into separate sections for career, family, finances, recognition of what I already have, plus "wants" or desires. Instead of vague notions about these areas of my life, I'm going to have very specific ideas for where I'm at now, and where I would like to be in a year from now. Hopefully, with a more focused aim, this year I will see some of these goals realized.
At least these days I have an actual study/office to display my vision board. Now if I can just get the kids to leave it alone...