Defenders of the Meek

Above: a depiction of St Michael defeating Satan.

In the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones a poor father and daughter are featured who are too kind. They let Sandor Clegane (the “Hound”) into their house and feed him a meal and grant him a bed for the night, but Clegane repays this kindness the next day by robbing them blind, with the excuse that they're weak and won't survive the Winter anyway. Sure enough, by series seven they are dead.

Game of Thrones is generally the story of the triumph of the wicked and subsequently strong over the honourable and subsequently weak. This is what the cynical Clegane believes to be the law of the universe, and uses it to excuse his vile actions (such as robbing the father and daughter). But does this have to be the case? These thoughts give one a greater appreciation for chivalry. The Knight, whose image can be found in the mythological figures St Michael and St George, is the man who is both strong and good. That is the chivalric ideal: to hold these two qualities simultaneously. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”. The Knight, the chivalric hero archetype, is the Defender of the Meek.


Above, left to right: Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith in character as Mickey, Pauline Campbell-Jones, and Ross respectively in the Job Centre sketch in the new episodes of The League of Gentlemen.

The League of Gentlemen, a comedy series originally broadcast from 1999 to 2002 (followed by a film in 2005) and recently resurrected by three Christmas specials broadcast this month, always struck me as being of poor quality, as if it were something that I myself, an amateur, would have made. No doubt its vulgarity played a part in this impression (although if I had made it this is something I personally wouldn't have included), but what also played its part was the high ambitions of its writers, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith, who were young men in 1999-2002 and would all go on to greater and more serious things (Mark Gatiss would write for and act in Doctor Who and Sherlock, Jeremy Dyson would write for a series of successful television productions as well as the play Ghost Stories, and Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith would create and star in the much higher quality dark comedy Inside No. 9*).

These high ambitions resulted in The League of Gentlemen becoming too clever for its own boots, dragging out sketches which were funny once or twice into overambitious dramatic sagas (e.g. the Hilary Briss sketch would become an apocalyptic story arc in series two. Also, the Job Centre sketch was continued long after its natural story arc came to a close at the end of the first series; in series two we are unnecessarily presented the life of an unemployed Pauline Campbell-Jones which eventually becomes a hostage situation, and by series three the sketch, now some kind of soap opera, is ruined by Ross, who was from the beginning the everyman - the representative of normality the audience could identify with (in opposition to the bizarre comedic characters Pauline and Mickey), becoming a vengeful sadistic sociopath (for reasons never clearly explained) just as bizarre as the aforementioned two).

*As well as the similarly poor quality comedy series Psychoville, which is exactly the sort of thing an amateur like myself, especially my ten year old self, could have come up with. Please note that I don't dislike The League of Gentlemen or Psychoville. I don't find them terribly funny, but then again I rarely find scripted comedy funny unless someone else is laughing at it next to me. It took a few episodes to get into Psychoville but when I did I became attached to the characters and the storyline, and the “low”-quality chaotic childish imaginativeness of it was what I loved about the programme! I can't even begin to describe the plot of that show; you'll have to watch it for yourself. It involves a sadistic mental asylum, mother & son serial killers, a telekinetic pantomime dwarf, a sinister organisation, Ebay-addicted Siamese twins, Tony Hancock, a one-handed clown, an OCD librarian, Sir Christopher Biggins, Nazis, the secret to immortality, and more. How to fit all that into one show! I hope to write something like it someday. As for The League of Gentlemen, I appreciate it for its entertaining characters and brilliant character acting.


Above: a scene from Danny DeVito's entertaining American adaption of Roald Dahl's Matilda.

As much as the films MatildaFantastic Mr. FoxWilly Wonka/Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, and pretty much any other film adaption of a Roald Dahl story are enjoyable, I do find it annoying at how American they tend to be. They are usually either partially (e.g. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) or wholly (e.g. Matilda) Americanised versions of Roald Dahl's British tales, which takes the British charm out of them, I feel.


Above: a Barb Holland figurine.

Speaking of little girls with telekinetic abilities (Matilda), I have recently finished Stranger Things, series two. This show is full of teen romance and cute kids, but also science fiction, so naturally it must appeal to geeky girls more than anyone else (who can identify with its overweight, dorky, bisexual character Barb Holland* - recently described as “iconic” in her own book, The Book of Barb). I very much enjoyed Stranger Things series one, but I did think that it was overrated; it was nothing new** - how could it be? It's a nostalgic homage to 1980s cinema. It's inherently derivative. And that's fine; that's what people love about it. However, the second series of Stranger Things, while it had its moments, generally bored me. Maybe my tastes have changed in the year since I watched the first series; perhaps if I watched series one again, I wouldn't enjoy it either. In any case, I shan't be watching series three.

*Meaning no offence to the actress who plays her, or dorky, overweight, bisexual girls in general.

**I was fine with the charming Steven Spielberg/Stephen King structure of the story (a bunch of kids on bicycles setting out to defeat a supernatural enemy), but the one-dimensional wickedness of the Government employees seemed unrealistic and annoying to me in series two (with the exception of Sam Owens, played by Paul Reiser). The other-dimensional "Upside Down" aspect of Stranger Things always seemed to me to have been “done before”, although I can't place my finger on where, exactly. Nosebleed-inducing telekinetic abilities were featured in the 2012 film Chronicle.