Betsy Whitt

I read. I write. I think. I live.

Category: Research

Why Fantasy Heroes Rock

One of my favorite chunks of The Literature of Hope in the Middle Ages and Today: Connections in Medieval Romance, Modern Fantasy, and Science Fiction, by Flo Keyes:

Action, not introspection, dominates. The reader is not told how to act; he or she is shown. The hero is not proposing a plan for the future; he is carrying it out. If a science fiction writer had a man wake up to discover he had been turned into a giant cockroach, as Kafka has Gregor Samsa do, the story would not focus on the cockroach’s loss of humanity, his sense of alienation from his family, the resurgence of gumption in the previously passive family members, and a wasting away into death to get himself out of the way. Instead, the reader might expect to hear the human/cockroach thinking something like, “Wow! I’m a cockroach. No insecticide known to man can kill me, maybe not even nuclear radiation can kill me. I can get into all kinds of places humans don’t want me to be, and I can walk on ceilings.” Then the cockroach would tumble out of bed, squeeze through one of those impossibly small spaces no one can believe a cockroach can fit through, and set off to save humanity from itself (and maybe make the world a better place for cockroaches of all sizes, too).

I don’t think there’s anything else to say, really. But in the end, I think that’s a pretty succinct summary of why I didn’t like METAMORPHOSIS at all. Wimpy Gregor just laid down and died. What’s that about??

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Formal Dining Etiquette

I’ll admit I haven’t exhausted my resources, but all my initial searching has come up short on this.

I need information on various Western customs of formal dining etiquette, particularly regarding where various people sit at the table. Does the guest of honor always sit at the host’s right? Why? I’m interested in this in an historical sense–I’m not throwing a dinner party myself, but I’m working with a highly structured society in my novel and they definitely have rules about this sort of thing. I’d love it if this was everyday etiquette, too, not necessarily high royalty stuff. I’m dealing with a noble household, but they’re essentially having a family dinner with an important guest at their country estate – at some point I’ll need to know about royal feasts, but right now it’s a bit more mundane.

So, if you know of any resources (either online or not–I’m within easy reach of four different major universities, so I can probably find almost any book with a little work) that might shed some light on this, I’d be extremely grateful.

And I’m also especially interested in anything I can find out about the reasoning behind the customs–why exactly is the lady generally seated to the left of her escort? I’m sure there was a reason at some point, but I don’t know what it is. And what if the husband is the guest of honor (and thus would be seated directly on the host’s right) but his wife is with him (and should be seated directly to the husband’s left)?

Any resources that investigate this aspect of the historical etiquette craze (it doesn’t need to be specifically focused on dining) would be greatly appreciated as well.

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