- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Around the horn

“More box-office success this past weekend for ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ the 3-D, animated tale of a boy Viking who befriends a winged serpent. On Friday, one reader who had seen the film wrote in to the Explainer column and asked, ‘Did Vikings really wear helmets with horns jutting from them? If so, why? Cows aren’t that threatening.’ …

“No, Vikings did not wear horned helmets. According to [The Straight Dope], ‘contemporary Viking era artwork shows roughly half of Vikings in battle bareheaded, while the rest wear unremarkable dome-shaped or conical helmets.’ The idea that Nordic invaders of the ninth and 10th centuries wore headgear festooned with ox horns developed a thousand years after the fact, when a Swedish artist illustrated them as such for a poem based on an old, Icelandic saga.”

Daniel Engber, writing on “Did Vikings Really Wear Horned Helmets?” on April 19 at his Slate blog Brow Beat

Bad home team

“In ‘The Literary Fallacy,’ [critic Bernard] DeVoto did not pass aesthetic judgment on the writers of the 1920s. The decade proved to be, he acknowledged, ‘one of the great periods of American literature, and probably the most colorful, vigorous, and exciting period.’

“DeVoto’s objection was to the ‘ignorance’ of American history and life displayed by his targets. They threw around a term like ‘Puritan’ as an epithet while knowing little of the development of religion in America. They confused Puritans with their rivals, the evangelicals, who were in fact the primary object of their ire in the 1920s, as evidenced by [Sinclair] Lewis’s 1926 novel, ‘Elmer Gantry’ …

“As for the pioneers, their supposed individualism was one of the coterie’s betes noires. But DeVoto explained convincingly that the dry lands of the Mountain West from which he himself had hailed … required not individualism but a cooperative effort to cultivate the land. The literary intellectuals presumed knowledge they simply did not possess about the country they felt free to criticize so confidently.”

Fred Siegel, writing on “The Anti-American Fallacy,” in the April issue of Commentary magazine

Late-game collapse

“‘Damages’ is that odd show that offers intriguing dialogue and smart, weighty scenes, but the final pay-off, even though it’s thrilling and unpredictable, still feels a little empty. Once all the cars go smash on ‘CHiPs,’ you have to stop and ask yourself, was it really worth wrecking all those perfectly good Buick Regals? …

“Even those twists can be forgiven, though, since they’re part of the fun on a splashy, suspend-your-disbelief thrill ride like ‘Damages.’ The major disappointment at the end of season three was the retreat to easy Evil Career Lady/Bad Mommy stereotypes in the 11th hour.

“Last season we found out that Patty had a stillborn baby. Revealing that the death was her choice certainly fit neatly into the premise, and dovetailed with the many strained relationships on the show that reflected the constant need to rebalance personal life against the pressures of career success. Somehow, though, on a show with two unconventional female leads who never fit into the typical sexed-up notion of femme fatale or devouring witch … it was sad to see everything get boiled down to a homemade abortion.”

Heather Havrilesky, writing on “‘Damages’ finale: Career woman bad!” at her Salon blog on TV

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