Grand reopening

Hello! Welcome to the reopening of this blog! New title, new look, new hopefully more frequent posting schedule. Same nerding about history and books and games and queer stuff. I’m having a mental health upswing recently, so I’m hoping to have the energy to put out a post every week or two for now!

the woodland erratic is here to hang out with you

I’ve thought a little about the tone I want to use for my writing here, and I’m leaning towards something fairly casual. Because I have fun writing this way, I don’t need to impress anybody for a grade, and it means I get to play around with words and express myself. It might partially be a defense mechanism developed during the breakup me and academia had a few years ago, but I personally believe that I can communicate just as precisely and emotionally as I want while still indulging in emoji and humorous hyperbole.

I’m also not sure I want to spend a lot of time explaining things. I’m editing a post about fanfiction right now, and I really don’t feel like attempting to summarise what fic is and why people write and read it before I get to the meat of what I’m actually saying. This writing will be for me, and my friends, and people who share a similar set of reference points, firstly.

Any and all of that might change, but for now that’s what you can expect here. I have a few posts queued up already, so stay tuned for podcast recs, fanfiction opinions, queer history, art dumps, and book reviews in the next few weeks. ✌️💖

Coming up tomorrow: some thoughts about queerness and fanfic, and a few recs!

Time Travel Tragedy | Podcast rec: ars PARADOXICA

ars PARADOXICA cover art
Cover art for ars PARADOXICA.

I don’t know if it’s my taste, or audio dramas in general, or just the hellscape that is 2018, but I keep listening to stories where the antagonist is capitalism. ars PARADOXICA is a slight (very slight) departure, though, because this time the antagonist is the government and intelligence agencies of the USA! And also, I guess, human flaws.

This podcast didn’t quite make it onto my rec list for last weekends Nine Worlds podcast panel, but I finished listening to it at work this week, and now I’m very sad I won’t get to spend any more time with these characters, so I thought I’d write up a quick rec post. „Time Travel Tragedy | Podcast rec: ars PARADOXICA“ weiterlesen

Audio Drama Podcast Recs

At this year’s Nine Worlds I hosted a panel about podcast recommendations for people who wanted to get into listening to audio drama podcasts, called Beyond Night Vale: The World of Audio Drama Podcasts. This is the list of all the podcasts we rec’d on that panel, with a download of the slides at the end. „Audio Drama Podcast Recs“ weiterlesen

Two dystopias, but also some cats.

Heyyy. I have a week off, for some relaxing and some activism, and I’m gonna try to get through some of the backlog of blogpost drafts and ideas I’ve accumulated during an overwhelmingly busy August, while I’m hanging out at my parents‘ house with  my parents‘ cats. „Two dystopias, but also some cats.“ weiterlesen

Things I’ve read recently: oh boy I need to learn how to write more about things I actually like, not just complain about bad books.

I’m trying to get back into the habit of noting down my thoughts in Goodreads!

I seem to be in the absolute minority in Goodreads re: Agatha Christie’s Autiobiography, but it’s just not that good, y’all.

 An AutobiographyAn Autobiography by Agatha Christie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wasn’t too impressed with this overall, I gotta say. The beginning was enjoyable, but mainly because Christie’s reminiscences about her childhood and parents made me think of my own family history. As the book goes on it seems to get less insightful, more repetitious, and less interested in making anything accessible to the readers; I tortuously dragged myself through the last third of it. She says that she’s talking to herself, in this book, and it does feel like sitting in a Cafe listening to Agatha Christie talk to herself. She doesn’t really introduce or describe any of the people or events in her life, she just expects the listener to be already familiar. At one point she mentions avoiding the press, and I did a double take, having been given no indication so far that her work had already gotten popular, or how she felt about it.

You don’t really get an idea of how she feels about most things. Sure, as she says in the introduction, she wants to reminisce only about pleasant things, but a little introspection would have made me much more invested in the story of her life. She also seems to have very little sense of perspective, of her life compared to others. About her Victorian childhood she says that her family weren’t really rich, they only had two servants. Later as she travels the world, she conspicuously gives the courtesy of using their names only to the white people she meets. Any „locals“, even ones she spends time with, only get a description.

She also repeats herself a lot towards the last half of the book. Maybe she got away with not editing out her repetitions because the was the great Agatha Christie, but it would have been a benefit to the book.

I did find the descriptions of her early life pretty charming, but I couldn’t recommend this book unless you’re a huge Christie fan and completionist.

The next two are great, tho.

The Second Mango (Mangoverse Book 1)The Second Mango by Shira Glassman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this one slowly, between other books. I picked it up whenever I was feeling sad or anxious or overwhelmed, and needed something easy. Its fairy tale quality was like a balm for my troubled brain. Simply written, with immediately loveable characters, and I was expecting a bitter-sweet ending and got an entirely sweet one instead.

The dialogue doesn’t always read realistically, and it has the feeling of a YA or children’s book, except for the open and matter of fact inclusion of adult romance and sexuality. It makes for a really calming and simple read, without any boredom.

This is a book about queer and (somewhat) gender non-conforming Jewish women (of colour) in a fantasy world, and I am not all of those things, but I felt very at home in this world. I’m so happy there’s a few more in the same universe to keep me company.

A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lovely reading experience. As opposed to the Agatha Christie Autobiography, which contained a lot of events but little feeling, not very much happens in this book, in the sense of action, but it’s full of complicated, relatable emotion and compassionate understanding of humans. I tore through it, completely invested in these people’s lives, and while sometimes a story where nothing much happens has unsatisfying endings, the last few sections of this book recontextualised what happened in the fist half of the book in a very satisfying way.

I recommend this if you love people and want to be absorbed in a beautifully ordinary slice of life.

Ein Lebens & Lesestoff Update

Ich habe mir vor ein paar Wochen spontan meine Haare wieder kurzgeschnitten, und ich finde mich gut damit! Aber ich träume trotzdem schon wieder von langem Haar. (Letzte Nacht hatte ich wirklich einen Traum, in dem meine Haare schon halblang gewachsen waren.)

Was gibt’s sonst so neues. Wie immer dreht sich mindestens die Hälfte meines Lebens um was ich gerade lese:

Ich habe in letzter Zeit, sehr zu meiner eigenen Freude, mehr Energie und Konzentrationsvermögen zum lesen. (ein Buchklub ist sehr motivierend!). Im Moment lese ich vier zur gleichen Zeit:

„Ein Lebens & Lesestoff Update“ weiterlesen

6 kleine Viecher

Buy it on Gumroad.

Es ist fertig! Ich hatte die Idee für dieses kleine Heft vor ungefähr 5 Jahren, und letztes Jahr hab‘ ich – mit etwas Ermunterung von sehr geduldigen Freund_innen – einfach ein Stück A3 Papier gefaltet und endlich angefangen, es zu zeichnen.

Ich habe auch schon Ideen für das Nächste… vielleicht dauert es diesmal nicht ganz so lange, aber ich kann nichts versprechen. Bis dahin könnt ihr mit dem Link da oben erstmal den ersten Teil kaufen!

Das Original fällt schon langsam auseinander.


It’s been a busy, um… year and a bit, and my blogging habit has fallen over a little bit, but hey guess what: I still have opinions about museums! A little while ago, I visited a really cool museum in Lübeck, the Hansemuseum.

(Source) I neglected to take my own photos of the outside, but it’s a pretty striking building, boxy in a pretty way. A lot of stairs, though. Maybe there was another entrance I didn’t see, but it didn’t look like a very accessible place for anyone with movement difficulties.

I was predisposed to like this museum, since I’m from Hamburg, a proud Hanseatic city, and since historical economics and trade is my favourite academic interest. But even with my biases, I think this was a very well designed museum.

A video of me using my ticket to activate a display screen with the German version of its content.

First of all, it had a lot of cool digital toys. The tickets come with a RFID chip, which allows you to select a language at the beginning of the exhibition, and then change many of the screen displays to that language with a touch. Other displays simply repeated the same information in several languages, but I thought the customisable screens were a very clever idea to save space, and also engage visitors.

There were also a lot of infographics. The infographic was a major method of information delivery in most of the rooms. As a very visual person, who gets tired and distracted standing around reading large blocks of dry text on walls, I found this a very effective and pleasing way to absorb the information. Colours, images, and symbols make learning a more pleasant experience.

You might notice that all but one of the images so far have shown light text on a dark background. This is part of the last aspect of the museum that really pleased me. The exhibition was divided into two kinds of rooms. The light on a dark background rooms presented interpretation: concepts, narrative, and reproductions.

The boat of a group of traders travelling to Novgorod. Complete with soundscape.

These rooms were interspersed with lighter rooms, characterised by dark text on light background, and displays of actual artefacts.

A more traditional museum room.

To me, these functioned like an evidence section to the claims made in the darker rooms. Of course, by their very nature they still present interpretation, but I like the break between the two different kinds of information and presentation. Unfortunately they suffer from the problem traditional museum rooms often have, that it’s difficult to tell which order to look at things in to cross the room without missing anything. But overall it’s effective!

If you’re ever in Lübeck, I definitely recommend looking into the museum. Although if you have mobility access needs, maybe check in with them first.

Fantasy Archaeology Part 4: The Mines of Moria

A thousand apologies for the delay, here finally is the last part of my Nine Worlds Fantasy Archaeology talk.

Humans are boring, time to talk about dwarves and orcs.

Illustration of the Mirrormere and the West Gate of Moria by J.R.R. Tolkien
Illustration of the Mirrormere and the West Gate of Moria by J.R.R. Tolkien

The basic history of Khazad-dûm, the Mines of Moria, is probably familiar to you from The Lord of the Rings: An underground city, carved out of the Misty Mountains by dwarves, lost when they awakened a Blarog, site of a war between dwarves and orcs, and later traversed by the Fellowship of the Ring, leading to the destruction of the Balrog by Gandalf. It seems like the city’s earliest form was a collection of natural caves above the lake Kheled-zâram, the Mirrormere. According to the legend recounted in the appendices, he founder of the city of Khazad-dûm is Durin I, known also as Durin the Deathless, the first dwarf to be awoken on Middle Earth, and, although we don’t have anything written directly by dwarves to confirm this, they apparently believed he was reincarnated several times to rule the city again. We don’t know a lot about the city, but it was apparently well-populated and well-defended, until the unfortunate arrival of the Balrog in the 1990s of the Third Age.

After the dwarves abandon Khazad-dûm, it becomes known as Moria. Moria didn’t stay empty and abandoned for long though. While the dwarves were building settlements in Erbeor, orcs moved in to their old dwellings. Unfortunately, we know even less about them. From records of their war with the dwarves in 2970 of the Third Age, we know that they had a leader named Azog, who killed the dwarf Thrór, starting the war. The dwarves eventually won the battle, greatly diminishing the orc population, but were unable to resettle Moria as they couldn’t get rid of the Balrog. There was a short-lived settlement of dwarves led by Balin, which lasted from 2989 to 2994 of the Third Age before being defeated by orcs. It’s not entirely clear what happened after the War of the Ring, but there are some suggestions the dwarves finally resettled there.

Since we have so little information about dwarves, there are endless questions to ask of Khazad-dûm, although it’s also difficult to narrow them down into anything practical. Of course some of the missing knowledge could be found easily by seeking out some dwarves, or at least some dwarven records. I have a lot of logistical questions: how did dwarves grow food and rear animals? Dwarf Fortress style mushroom farms? The engineering of their ventilation and water systems is probably fascinating, as well.

The earliest occupation of the caves interests me. The First Hall near the entrance and the area around the Mirrormere would likely be the places to excavate for this, to start establishing a chronology. Perhaps it’d be possible to find traces of prehistoric dwarves and their technology. Did hunter-gatherer dwarves use the caves, perhaps on a seasonal basis? When did they begin to settle there, and how did they first modify the caves? How quickly did the settlement there expand, and in what ways? Is it an unbroken history of expansion, or were there changes in demographics and styles of living, when the population shrank or the caves stood empty? How did successive generations of dwarves use the architecture and spaces inherited from their ancestors? We could construct a history of dwarven architecture all the way back to the very first inhabitants, given enough time. Dwarven technology, too. When did they first invent the metal working techniques they are known for? How did their engineering and food production techniques change? How did they interact with other mountain inhabitants, orcs, maybe elves or humans, at such an early time?

Archaeology is stereotypically all about digging through the garbage of people long dead. After all, in most circumstances you’re not going to find something as it was when it was used, you’re going to find it after it’s been lost or put away on purpose. Now, I wonder, where did the dwarves of Khazad-dûm put their rubbish? Imagine some shaft filled with layers and layers of the detritus of dwarvish life. Imagine the things it could tell us about their diets, technology, and way of life.

Another interesting aspect to investigate is the dramatic abandonment of Moria after the Balrog and the period of orc settlement. In the chronology, we have a reference to Sauron “[populating] Moria with his creatures” around 2480, but that is about 500 years after dwarves flee from the Balrog. Did Moria stand empty for that time, or did some of the native orc population of the Misty Mountains settle there?

Orcs are always depicted to be dependent entirely on and moved around by the will of Sauron or another ruler but how accurate is this? Was the movement of orcs into Moria voluntary, or forced? How did they get along with any orcs that were already there, and how did their social structure work? How did they use or repurpose the things left behind by the fleeing dwarves? What was the relationship between orcs and dwarves like before this period?

These are all broad and vague questions, of course, but it’s difficult to ask more defined ones with the little information we have about the circumstances around Moria and the orcs in the Misty Mountains. If there were orcs living in the Misty Mountains prior to the Balrog’s emergence, which the sources do suggest, then perhaps they had interacted in a more peaceful way with at least some dwarves before the war. Or perhaps because the doors to Khazad-dûm were so often closed during the wars of the Second Age the orcs only became properly aware of the cave city as the dwarves left. If orcs are the evil Other that a lot of the people of Middle Earth define themselves against, then how did the orcs see the dwarves when they came to settle in their abandoned city?

And what about that Balrog, and their coexistence with it? Do we accept the Balrog as an evil creature that slept in the mountain and was awakened by the dwarves, or was it something else – some geological event that made the caves uninhabitable. Mining operations do seem to be vulnerable to that kind of thing.

To build up a picture of orc occupation in Moria I would begin not with an excavation but with a walking survey of the halls. We would choose a representative random sample of halls and other spaces. In each, we will catalogue the objects found. This way, we could get an image of where the incoming orcs settled, and how they used the spaces and objects of the dwarves.

There is an interesting hint to the orcs using dwarven technology in the account of Thrór, whose corpse is mutilated by the orcs, who brand Azog’s name into his face in dwarven runes. Of course we should be careful about how much credibility to give this; since this was literally an incident that started a war, it was no doubt subject to exaggeration and mythologizing. Nevertheless it would be interesting to see whether the orcs made use of dwarven technology and cultural items, and to what extent. Perhaps we could even get an indication of how they viewed the conflict between them and the dwarves.

It’s hard to make predictions about what we’ll find here, as we know so little to start out with. I would expect to find some tensions perhaps between the Misty Mountain and Mordor orcs, although they seem to have been unified against the dwarves. I have an image of orcs living near the entrances and leaving the deep halls and mines to the Balrog (whatever it is) and the relics of dwarf life. But perhaps I’m wrong and we’ll find them happily in the deepest, warmest spaces. The Mines of Moria have a long and a dense history, and anything we find is likely to be surprising, and more complicated and complex than it seems.