Book-TV Tie-In Review: The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

Oof. My eyes glazed over at about 75% in and I had to speed read through the rest. There’s only so much ancient battle campaigns and strategies, shield walls, brutality, piety, Destiny is all and great Alfred and Britain one can take before I get dizzy from my eyes endlessly rolling, my lids get heavy with sleep, or inevitably, my mind starts taking certain characters or situations and sends them down other directions—I plead the fifth on whence and what—rendering the reading moot. Yes, this is purely a personal inclination and not one of form or talent or brand as Mr. Cornwell is a fabulously brilliant historical writer; however, when I don’t have any sentiment or melodrama—or Alexander Dreymon to look at—my mind starts wandering. Simply put: It’s me, not you, Mr. Cornwell. And this could be because I’ve spent the better part of the last two to three months (pandemic time has lost all meaning) plunged into the medieval worlds of Western history and literature and such and simply must decolonize before my mind begins to degrade into a white atrophy I cannot escape [shudder]. I guess it isn’t a surprise that the show is whiter than white.

The positives are many: the detailed historical writing, some of it poetically lovely; the dark wit; the soliloquies from Uhtred merging his past and present; the poking at Britain and all those pious priests and that ridiculously callous and excessive—in all forms—interpretation of Christianity that makes me shudder again and still; those godless uncivilized amusing pagans and Danes that I relate more to; and, the underappreciated and ever so gorgeous Brida.

I’m a huge fan of poking at something that needs be humbled, and the remarkable amount of western literature that chooses to elevate the West and Christianity to a nauseatingly unimpeachable degree needs be poked and prodded and humbled—sharply. To this effect, Mr. Cornwell illuminates that twinkle of truth within and around the Brits and their great king Alfred—that interpretation, however, is mine, or yours, alone and one I find striking, to a degree.

As I was reading the book, I watched the Netflix show. (I haven’t watched the fifth season yet or whatever the latest season; again, pandemic time). This is the point where I meld book and show in my meview (me + review = meview—leave off with the neologisms, you say? No, I like it!) because while they were the same, they were much different. This first book details more of Uhtred’s younger years with the elder Ragnar. There is also another younger brother beside Ragnar Junior that I don’t recall being in the show, and from his short stint in the book, we know why; I would say that was a spoiler, but the language and narrative gives this away early so this short stint becomes predictable given mortality rates and average lifespans for that era. They spend an inordinate amount of time on ships and discussion of building and such, which would’ve been fine if they included bawdy Danish sea shanties—alas, no such luck.

If you watch the show, you need not read the books—unless you wanna; I’m sure if you’re a right or left-wing fucknut male you will find that comment blasphemous as they presently seem to wanna glory in and sanctify their maladjusted misinterpretations of Danes and Vikings1 and Anglo-Saxons and all that whiteness history to a hilariously neurotic degree to assert some kind of immaculate machismo or hypermasculinity—whatever 🙄. I will not be continuing with the series for a number of reasons, the main one being that there are thirteen books in said series and costs in the amount over $100 (Kindle) to purchase. So, unless gifted to me—nope.

The show, I love, if mainly for the characters alone and the actors that play them so gorgeously. Alexander Dreymon is fantastic and hot and plays Uhtred with his own brand of panache that’s not only entertaining but endearing. Emily Cox as Brida is so glorious and so hilariously underutilized I wanna punch someone and give her to someone who appreciates her more, though apparently, she burns bright in the latest season—I’ll have to drag myself out of those medieval doldrums before I tackle that. David Dawson played Alfred so well I wanted to slap him—that piety and all. I will never read another book again with a kind funny priest in it and not picture that priest as Ian Hart’s Beocca; he does an amazing job in bringing this character to life while only mildly perturbing me with that annoying Christian zealotry, and him and Julia Bache-Wiig—as Thyra—are wonderful together. Tobias Santelmann and Christian Hillborg, like Dreymon, appealed hotly to my heteronormative urges. I loved the romantic arc between Erik and Aethelflaed, even if it was a bit lacking—Shonda Rhimes and Chris Van Dusen’s crew, as well as the multitudes of historical romance writers, could teach these historical writers quite a lot about writing romance and sex; it always seems a bit…shallow. The chemistry between all the leads in the show underscores its success, and will obviously abate as those leads tend to [spoiler]. All the women I have not listed that still remain and those who were Uhtred’s partners, now gone, are and were fabulous with far too short of roles. The show is entertaining and well worth it if you’re into that sort of thing.

1—A note from the author at the end of the book about the term Vikings:

Some readers may be disappointed that those Danes are called Northmen or pagans in the novel, but are rarely described as Vikings. In this I follow the early English writers who suffered from the Danes, and who rarely used the word Viking, which, anyway, describes an activity rather than a people or a tribe. To go viking meant to go raiding, and the Danes who fought against England in the ninth century, though undoubtedly raiders, were preeminently invaders and occupiers. Much fanciful imagery has been attached to them, chief of which are the horned helmet, the berserker, and the ghastly execution called the spread-eagle, by which a victim’s ribs were splayed apart to expose the lungs and heart. That seems to have been a later invention, as does the existence of the berserker, the crazed naked warrior who attacked in a mad frenzy. Doubtless there were insanely frenzied warriors, but there is no evidence that lunatic nudists made regular appearances on the battlefield. The same is true of the horned helmet for which there is not a scrap of contemporary evidence. Viking warriors were much too sensible to place a pair of protuberances on their helmets so ideally positioned as to enable an enemy to knock the helmet off. It is a pity to abandon the iconic horned helmets, but alas, they did not exist.

Page 332 The Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales Book 1) by Bernard Cornwell

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