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Historic Castles

Chepstow Castle (Wales) - started in 1067, it features cylindrical towers and thick stone walls.
Castles are the ancestral homes of powerful Kings and Lords - together with their immediate entourage (e.g. servants and knights). Later castles had walls equipped with cannons, which could be used against enemy knights and warships.

Early castles were made of wood - and were situated on-top of earthen mounds. This 'Iron Age' approach was then further enhanced by the Normans - who adopted the idea and used wooden castles as a base from which to launch further conquests.

Unfortunately, wooden castles had two main disadvantages: they can catch fire and are quickly weather beaten. To help overcome these disadvantages, castles evolved to be constructed in stone; and it is this type of construction that we are most familiar with - simply because so many were built.

The inspiration for various stone castle designs is believed to lie 'mostly' at the feet of the Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages: where deep within the Muslim realms, Christian castles needed to be portrayed as symbols of Christian might. In time, these 'designs' were transferred to mainland England, where such castles were used to dominate the local populace (e.g. help suppress revolts).

Features

Basic Castle Features - showing towers, walls, moat and drawbridge.

Castles are usually self-contained strongholds - since they are often located in remote/desolate land, far from support. As such, castles will seek to take advantage of the natural landscape - and may be built on-top of hills or mountains, against the side of a mighty cliff, or even in rivers themselves. To aid their defensive capabilities, many included:

  • Walls. Built between towers (or a single tower and a gatehouse). They could also include 'arrow slits' and 'gun-ports' (in later years).
  • Moat. These could be quite deep/wide - and provided a means of deterrent against any attacker attempting to tunnel under the walls.
  • Drawbridges. Built from wood, allowed the castle's occupants easy access across moats (e.g.) - but could be 'raised' to prevent access to attackers.
  • Hoarding. Found at the top of towers or walls, a series of holes in the floor allowed defenders to pour liquids and drop missiles on attackers.

In some cases, concentric architecture was adopted - whereby an inner stronghold was itself encased in outer fortifications (with those of higher stature living inside the stronghold). In any case, a castle must be capable of keeping invaders out (usually for many months - which meant they had to include substantial stores).

Examples from History

Conwy Castle (Wales) - started in 1283, its walls are up to 4.5 metres thick!

Some of the most interesting/impressive castles within the United Kingdom include:

  • Arundel. This is a palatial neo-Gothic/Victorian castle (today) that still displays some of its medieval roots.
  • Caernarfon. This was built by the English to help put an end to Welsh resistance. It is also here that the ceremony to appoint Charles as the Prince of Wales took place (in 1969).
  • Caerphilly. A concentric castle - it was built from scratch (by the English), and featured both land and water defences to blight the Welsh.
  • Conwy. Built by the English, it formed part of an enclosed towns defences - and inspired terror and dominion over the Welsh.
  • Ludlow. Contains features associated with the Knights Templar - it was also used for governmental purposes (in later years).
  • Sterling. The Scottish fought bitterly to hold this castle against the English - since it is built upon a major route into the Scottish Highlands.

Ruined Castles

Historic castles have the power to dominate both our landscapes and our minds - with even ruined castles having the ability to inspire. Within England, many castles were ruined 'when Royalty lost to Parliament' - and Parliament decreed that 'any castle belonging to Royalty, should be considered for destruction'. As such, did the Parliamentarians 'vote for which castles should be destroyed' - and then dispatched their armies to destroy such castles. Unfortunately (for the Parliamentarians) castles were found to be 'extremely hard to destroy' - and this is why, we have remnants of castles 'to this day'. Even now, many castles are at home in our modern world - despite their architecture being centuries old.

Fantasy Castles

Within 'realms of fantasy' castles go hand-in-hand with many powerful Kings and Queens, and can appear in a simpler 'tower form' when inhabited by Wizards, Witches and Sorcerers. Fantasy Castles can have architecture that's similar to those 'found in reality', but can also be 'totally different' - with castle walls being made of 'elemental Fire', or a castle's tallest-spire being made of 'captured lightning', or a castle's realm just being different 'deep beneath the sea'. It is also possible for fantasy castles, to feature 'castle intrigue' - such as the various Lords and Ladies that 'jostle for position' within the eyes of their King or Queen. The castles themselves 'are at the heart' of their fantasy heroes and peoples.

Camelot

King Arthur - pulls Excalibur from the stone.

Is (probably) the most famous castle/realm heard of throughout the world - but owing to the amount of myths/stories surrounding it, it is hard to know whether it really existed. Despite this, many individuals have grown up believing in tales such as: Arthur pulls Excalibur from a stone, Merlin banishes evil with a mere wave of his hand - and Arthur's knights 'sit as equals' around his round table.

One area of England, Cornwall, is often regarded as the site of Camelot - because in one version of the tale, Arthur was conceived/born at Tintagel castle. Many authors also equate the location of Tintagel on its inspiring sea cliffs/headland with the 'kind of place' that such a mighty King would have looked out from (although this is likely a complete fabrication). Despite this, an entire tourist economy has sprung up; featuring places of interest such as: Dozmary Pool, The Hall of Chivalry, Jesus Well, Merlin's Cave and Slaughter Bridge.

The tale also crosses over into further realms of fantasy - for it is here that Arthur is believed to have been conceived of the Gods, and as such, has been accredited a great many supernatural powers. In turn, both Camelot and Arthur have become symbols of purity and strength; and it comes as 'little surprise' to discover that they have been linked with the Holy Grail. As such, many of these 'Ideas of Camelot' are regarded as being unobtainable (by current levels of mental/spiritual understanding), but they 'do at least' inspire many of us 'to believe more in the light than the dark'.

Features

Fantasy World - the home of many a fantasy castle.

In 'pure' worlds of fantasy, 'good castles' take on many more attributes:

  • Armouries that extend for mile upon mile - filled with blades of legend and haunted suits of armour.
  • Elemental gates - able to resist the most determined of attacks.
  • External walls with ancient magic's embedded in them - to guard against both physical and magical attacks.
  • Internal tombs - where Kings and Princes may consort 'with their fathers of old'.
  • Internal forests - providing ample food for any siege.
  • Rows of gargoyles - 'able to topple' any would be invaders.
  • Tapestry guardians - ghostly spectres that come forth when the walls have been breached.

Whilst 'bad castles' often have an attribute 'just for them':

  • Towers upon towers - able to 'rain down fire' against any enemy encamped outside.

Within fantasy tales themselves, it is quite common for a 'good castle' to be under siege from a 'bad castle' - with the 'good castles' attributes being routinely tested, by the armies of the dark (including 'siege towers' and mythical beasts).

Blue Moon Rising - Simon R. Green

This is by far the best Sword and Sorcery fantasy novel that I have ever read:

Blue Moon Rising - Simon R. Green -  Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Novel
Blue Moon Rising - Simon R. Green - Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Novel

I was hooked from the first page! Prince Rupert has been sent upon a Quest: to slay a Dragon and rescue a Princess. But being Prince Rupert, the Quest does not go according to plan - and it is instead, just the start of his Adventures! I especially like the fact that the novel is packed full of Quests - both main Quests (such as the Quest to find the High Warlock) and sub Quests (such as the Quest to find out what has happened in Coppertown). Prince Rupert is not your typical Prince - he is a Second Son (in line to the Throne), and was regarded as a good-for-nothing (by most of Castle Society). I like the fact that Prince Rupert has numerous challenges to overcome, and in doing so, proves them all wrong! Even so, it's his Quest for the Dragon that changes his Character the most, as he has to pass through the Darkwood - which hones his fighting skills (by improving them the hard way), and earns him new friends (with which he returns to Forest Castle). My favourite main Quest has to be the Quest to find the High Warlock - as I like the fact that Prince Rupert takes command of an entire Troop of Guards, together with the Kings Champion, and leads them into the Darkwood. It is hear that the Champion starts to gain some respect for the Prince Rupert (instead of just seeing him as a threat to the Throne). I laughed when they first met the High Warlock - as he is somewhat anti-social, has some-what lost touch with the world (not having been outside his Dark Tower for years), and puts a Dead Rat in every barrel of Wine that he brews! He is also the most powerful Sorcerer that the Forest Land has ever known - and is perhaps, the only hope of throwing back the advance of the Darkwood (a Magical place that's full of Demons and the Night). Both the High Warlock, and the Dragon, provide much of the comedy (for me) - especially when it comes to what the Dragon wants to eat (mountains of food first, then will talk). My favourite minor Quest has to be when the Princess Julia (a friend of Prince Rupert's) goes on an expedition (within Forest Castle) to find the Old Armoury (which happens to be in the missing South Wing). How can a Castle Wing go missing you ask? Well, Forest Castle is somewhat unique: with Ancient Spells and Wards cast within it's walls - it's larger on the inside (than it is on the outside), and as such, most of the Castle rooms/halls change places everyday! I was excited when the Princess Julia (eventually) stands before the Doors to the Old Armoury - especially when you learn/remember that it's also where the most Powerful Swords ever made by Man are kept (the three Infernal Devices) - the three Broadswords, Rockbreaker, Flarebright and Wolfsbane. The storyline manages to merge Battlefield Drama with Castle Politics and Intrigue. There's a Plot to Overthrow the King, and appoint a new one (although not who you would expect). There's also several Traitors (one who I had expected all along), and another (who I didn't see until the very end). My favourite Warrior has to be the Kings Champion. The Tale goes to great lengths to build him into a Hero out of Legend (which indeed he is): towering above the heads of mortal men, covered from head-to-toe in the Armour of a Knight, swinging his Axe effortlessly (against a never ending Tide of Foes), placing the Might of Steel above all others - defiantly against the use of Magic (although there's a twist towards the end!). I also approve of the use of Magic within this Tale - with it's first use being when the Dragon casts a Spell, so that Prince Rupert may make the Rainbow Run: a light appears before him (like a Will-o'-the-wisp) that leads him to his Destiny (or at least - part of it). I also liked the idea of the High Warlocks Teleportation Spell - although as we learn, he is not the only Sorcerer that's capable of such magic. I also enjoyed reading the parts where the High Warlock flies high above the heads of his Foes - casting Bale-fire, denying entrance to the Foes of Forest Castle. Another favourite Fantasy Character (of mine) is Breeze - Prince Rupert's Unicorn. He is also Prince Rupert's friend - who grumbles when he is fed grass (wanting barley only), who fights by his side (saying that the Prince won't last long without him) and who jokes from time to time (especially the part where Prince Rupert says: Were just going back into the Darkwood a little way - and Breeze replies: So I'll suppose we'll only be killed a little bit. Forget it!). Overall: this is an amazing Tale - which has kept me turning the pages, until many the early hours. I'm still amazed at how much the author (Simon R. Green) has managed to pack into just over four hundred and forty pages - whilst not seeming to rush the Tale (at all). If you like Adventure and Fantasy, mixed with Swords and Bale-fire, mixed with a Dragon and a Unicorn, mixed with Demons and a Demon Prince - then this is a Fantasy Book/Novel that you should definitely consider reading! It's also a book that I've reread several times over the past few years - five or six times now, as I enjoyed reading it so very much!

| Victorian Hawk | Web: Simon R. Green (fantasy books)

Shrek Forever After

Dreams for a day, with laughing in mud, magic for quill, with haircuts to go:

Shrek Forever After - A fitting conclusion to the characters of Shrek!
Shrek Forever After - A fitting conclusion to the characters of Shrek!

I like the fact that this film is about being happy with what you've got (and remembering to live in the present) - rather than attempting to recapture your past. Shrek has become bored with his daily/repetitive routine (getting up, changing nappies, with no peace or quite to himself) and longs to return to the good old days (when he was able to scare the townspeople/villagers). Fortunately, there's an individual within Far Far Away that can help him with this: Rumpelstiltskin - the Shepard of your dreams! Unfortunately, Rumpelstiltskin has his own agenda: he wishes that Shrek had never been born - and when a deal is struck (for Shrek to be a real ogre again), it is Shrek that loses out. My favourite scene is when Shrek rides a broomstick through the castle of Far Far Away - as he is chased by witches, having to dodge both stairways and pumpkins, whilst finding myself foot-tapping to that catchy tune! My favourite (short) comedy scene is when Shrek grabs a witches broomstick - as the witch continues to fly, eventually ending up embedded in a tree trunk (with her legs hanging out - kicking). My favourite (short) cute/cuddly scene is when Shrek and family are flying along on the back of Dragon - as Dragon now has some seats installed on her back (to help keep Farkle, Fergus and Felicia safe), yet at the same time, there is also irony as they land: don't eat the valet! I love the atmosphere within this film - as its somewhat darker: first in terms of its characters (such as Rumpelstiltskin), then in terms of its locations (such as the Crone's Nest carriage park) and finally in terms of its lighting (with many subtle effects having been produced through the use of lanterns and torches). I was most amused by the changes in the character of Puss in Boots - especially the fact that he has put on weight! He would rather sit around drinking milk, than be out and about chasing mice (as he has now retired). I was also amused by the character of Rumpelstiltskin: he has numerous wigs to wear (business, angry or speech), he has a counter-approach to punishment (ignoring silly suggestions, whilst lashing out at sensible ones) and he sees himself as a goblet, is half-full, kind-of-guy (even when his socks have fallen down!). I approved of the cunning use of two trojan horses: the first is when the Pied Piper climbs out of a duck (to enchant the other ogres), and the second is when the ogres make use of a new glitter ball (to re-enter the castle). Overall: I feel that this films magic lies in the fact that it twists the standard (Shrek) storyline into something darker, whilst at the same time, reminding us all to be grateful for what we've got, and that even if we get what we wished for, that such wishes may be delivered in an unexpected fashion! I also liked the idea that we can be responsible for saving ourselves (from our own problems) and that you can be happy (both by yourself and with others). A fitting conclusion to the characters of Shrek!

| Victorian Hawk | Web: Shrek Forever After (Trailer)