Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Celtic History of Halloween

I stumbled upon some interesting scholarly articles about Halloween's origins. Our modern holiday draws from ancient Celtic traditions surrounding their Samhain festival mixed with some reactions to early Christian attempts to supplant the holiday with All Hallows. I'm a great fan of ancient Celtic history, so I thought I'd share the articles here:

"Halloween Customs in the Celtic World"
by Bettina Arnold, Co-Director, Center for Celtic Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
(see a photo of a traditional carved turnip jack-o-lantern in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland)

"Samhain: How Ritual Formed and Formation of Irish Celtic Identity"
by Jessica Richard in the Proceedings of The National Conference on Undergraduate Research
(The introduction is on the above link to, but you can download the 5-page pdf of the article. )

"The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows"
by Jack Santino on the Library of Congress American Folklife Center website

Unfortunately, the details of historic Celtic traditions are foggy. Iron Age Druids insisted that history be passed along orally (no writing down anything). That said, this book A Brief History of the Druids Peter Berresford Ellis is a good read for ancient Celtic beliefs.

Monday, October 27, 2014

SpoOoOoky Plastic Reaper Minis Bats and Rats

I visited a hobby store for the first time in a long time and saw that Reaper Minis is now selling plastic figures. They had a big display of these 25mm (more like 28mm I'd say) Dark Heaven Bones minis. I bought a bat swarm and a pair of rat swarms. Each pack was under $3.00.

I mounted each model on a 1-inch (25 mm) metal washer (from the hardware store). This adds some weight to the bats and keeps them from falling over. The packages said that the models are ready to paint, but I primed them with black paint.

A while back I remember looking at some bats for 15mm models, but now I can't remember who made them. I think they came on a transparent post to look more like they were flying in the air. Real life bats come in all sizes, so I figured 15mm bats would work well with my 28mm figures.

P.S. Check out these witch and cat minis I painted for Halloween 2009 and ghosts from the year before.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rip Van Winkle Picks Up the Brush Again

About three years ago I put mini painting and any thoughts of tabletop gaming to the side. I was trying to focus my productive hours on work (I have kept up with reading, though). Lately I've had some more free time, and I've been feeling burnt-out with work, so this month I started looking up my old favorite hobby sites. Browsing for models was always relaxing, and the idea of breaking out the old paint box really appealed to me. But I was a little startled to see how much has changed in just the past couple years:

Warhammer Ancient Battles is gone
When I first got into mini painting like 15 years ago WAB really impressed me (ancient history is my favorite time period to read about). I never knew anyone locally who wanted to play, but I bought the rulebooks and painted some Celtic and Roman armies anyway. Based on what I saw online WAB seemed really popular, so it was a surprise to now see that the rulebooks are out-of-print and The Miniatures Page doesn't even have a message board for it anymore. The WAB Forum still looks active, though. I wonder why WAB lost popularity in favor of the more recent ancient rules like Field of Glory and Hail Caesar.

Lots of mini manufacturers are gone
I was bummed to see that Mega Miniatures went out of business. They made some really nice animal models and villagers at a really low price. It looks like their molds have been scattered among other manufacturers. Amazon Miniatures had some nice animals and monsters, but they're gone too. The lesson here? Hoard as much lead as you can because you never know when someone will close shop.

Game Workshop's Lord of the Rings game has diminished
About a month ago I visited a bookstore that just happened to be next to a hobby shop. My local hobby shop went out of business a few years ago, so I hadn't been in one for a while. I expected they would have GW's The Hobbit models to go with the movies, but the guy at the store told me no one plays that game anymore. You can barely find them on GW's website. Online I did notice that GW sells the Hobbit minis, but they're more expensive than the old LOTR minis used to be. I guess fewer people are into them, so the price has gone up to make the most profit from the few remaining fans.

Some of my favorite hobby bloggers are gone
A lot of the blogs I used to frequent are either gone, or they haven't been updated in 6 months to a year. Of course, I can't blame them—I'm equally guilty of that.

My paint is dead
I dug out my shoebox of Citadel Paints. Most of my colors are dried solid. I had one color in their current paint bottle design, and it's still good. So, it's nice to know that these modern bottles are really air-tight. And when did Citadel Paints change all the paint names? So confusing for a guy trying to replace his paint supply. And one little bottle is four dollars now? Ugh. (check out this video on various model paint brands) I went into my local hobby shop for new paint, and when I walked in the shop every head turned to look at me—just like when a cowboy from out of town enters a saloon for the first time.

It's not all bad
So, anyway, I'm looking forward to getting back into painting and gaming. There are lots of new minis and models out. And I thought this was interesting: Wargames Strategy: Soldiers and Strategy magazine held a recent poll of 7000+ wargamers. The results are an interesting way to see what's going on in the hobby today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe review

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek is a good read for anyone into exploration and ancient history. Sometime around 330 BC a man from the Greek colony of Massalia (now Marseille in France) began a years-long journey through Gaul, Britannia, probably Iceland, and possibly Demark. He explored lands which were completely a mystery to those living in the Mediterranean.

Upon his return Pytheas wrote a book detailing his voyage. Unfortunately, On the Ocean has not survived, so author Barry Cunliffe has pieced together the tale using references in ancient texts, archaeology, anthropology, and geography. The evidence he provides to explain his theories is always fascinating.

Cunliffe is an archaeologist who has written many articles and books on Iron Age Britain. He is an expert in this period, but his writing can be a bit dry: more informational and not so dramatic. Sailing the rough Atlantic and meeting unknown Celtic tribes must have been exciting and dangerous, but any thrilling tales Pytheas might have shared are lost.

I bought the hardcover edition (Walker & Company, now owned by Bloomsbury) because I love the dustjacket design. Penguin released a less expensive paperback version.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir review

I haven't studied Medieval politics and conflicts much (most of my Medieval reading has been about daily life). To be honest, I wanted to learn about the Wars of the Roses because I heard that G. R. R. Martin drew inspiration from them. Alison Weir's book (published by Random House / Ballantine Books) is intended for a general reader like myself, and it was a useful introduction to the period.

In reading the reviews of other books on the Wars of the Roses it seems some other authors don't offer enough detail on the principal players. Weir was skillful at portraying the histories and personalities of the multitude of characters. This is an unenviable task. The number of competing families was large, there were many important members of each family, positions held by these individuals changed frequently, and a single title applied to different men after death or loss of inheritance. Not surprisingly, there were times when I was confused, especially when the author referred to someone using his title and his surname. Overall Weir did an excellent job of presenting the ever-changing alliances and reversals of fortune which characterized the Wars of the Roses.

For more on the Game of Thrones / Wars of the Roses connection check out these articles on Mental Floss and the Daily Mail.

P.S. I'm looking forward to reading Dan Jones' Wars of the Roses (Penguin) when that book comes out later this month.

P.P.S. Front Rank Miniatures has a very nice Wars of the Roses line in 25mm metal.