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May 10, 2013

Your handy guide to true religions on TV

Posted on May 10, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Herne the Hunter with Robin Hood

We're going to have a little departure from our normal Nostalgia Corner this week as part of my somewhat unplanned 'Pagan Week' on the blog. Today, we're going to look at all the scripted shows (or as many as I can remember) on Western, English-language TV that have not just featured religions but have actually shown them to be true in some way or other.

Now, it might be tempting to instantly think that Christianity would dominate here - and certainly it shows up a lot, particularly on US TV. When it does it appear, it's also taken more seriously and is dealt with largely more accurately than other religions.

But TV is largely secular, either because the writers are atheists or agnostics or because they're afraid of offending or marginalising other religious groups, particularly when it comes to overseas sales. As a result, religion often lies unexamined in drama or when it does, it deals with 'safe' religions, doesn't make claims for the 'truth' of a particular religion or is 'fantasy' so doesn't pretend to say what it depicts is true.

Nevertheless, a few shows have done just that and I'm going to be running through them today. A few I've already covered in much greater detail elsewhere, so I'll link to those posts if necessary, but I'll still be looking at them from the point of view of religion, rather than as dramas, so there probably won't be much overlap with what I've already written.

To be included on the list (and these aren't 100% firm rules), the show has to fit into one of the following categories:

  1. It has to say a tenet of or an entire religion is true in some way, be it through the appearance of a figure from that religion or by the manifestation of their powers
  2. It features a follower of a religion actually performing important acts of that religion or explaining aspects of it, which are not later disproven or shown to be naive and which might even be proven right.

I won't be including shows that

  1. Include figures from a given religion but reveal they're aliens, spacemen, con men, etc (cf Star Trek)
  2. Made-up religions, except synthetic/reconstructionist religions that employ figures from other religions (so yes to Wicca but not to any alien's religion, for example)
  3. Feature ghosts, the supernatural, magic, etc, unless those things are caused by/stem from a particular religion.
  4. Merely include worshippers or the iconography of a particular religion, but don't claim that it's true or demonstrate any aspects of it (so no Father Brown or Lost).
  5. Are cartoons (e.g. Family Guy, South Park, Lost Cities of Gold)

Before we leap straight into the list, though, I'd like to give a big thanks to Jim Smith, Stuart Douglas, Dave Hoskin, Simon Bucher-Jones, Naomi Jacobs, Philip Purser-Hallard, Ian Mond, SK and Jon Arnold for their invaluable help in its compilation. Cheers, everyone!

The list
I'm going to break this down by religion. There are a number of 'mixed faith' shows out there, that have shown more than one religion to be true, but these generally show one religion to predominate and so will be listed according to that primary religion.

If I've left out any shows or religions, leave a comment below or on the relevant entry and I'll update the list accordingly.

May 9, 2013

Review: Wonder Woman #19/Justice League #19/Superman #19/Injustice: Gods Among Us #12-17/Justice League of America #1-3

Posted on May 9, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Wonder Woman #19

In keeping with this 'ere blog's slightly unplanned 'pagan week', it's time for the (increasingly belated) monthly round-up of the comic-book appearances of everyone's favourite pagan superheroine, Wonder Woman.

After March's month of face-palming, April proved to be a somewhat better month for our Wondy, with the Amazon princess finally giving Orion the punching he deserved in Wonder Woman #19, going to Lois Lane's house-warming and giving her new secret identity, Diana Prince, its first real outing in Superman #19, and trying to set the world to rights by kicking terrorists' asses with her new boyfriend in Justice League #19. Unfortunately, though, it looks like nothing can save Injustice: Gods Among Us from being facepalm-central.

I'm also adding to the roster of comics: after trying to save my pennies, I've had to play catch up with Justice League of America #1-3, seeing as Diana features quite heavily. Kind of. And all I'll say about that that not-so-illustrious title until after the jump is "What the hell is Catwoman not wearing?"

Continue reading "Review: Wonder Woman #19/Justice League #19/Superman #19/Injustice: Gods Among Us #12-17/Justice League of America #1-3"

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May 8, 2013

The Wednesday Play: Penda's Fen (1974)

Posted on May 8, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

King Penda

Paganism, while not exactly featuring heavily in the more secular and Christian-influenced television drama schedules of Western societies, hasn't been completely invisible over the past few decades. As we're shortly to discover (ie either on Thursday or Friday when I write about it in much greater detail), British writers, particularly those who were working in the 70s, have occasionally taken time out to examine other religions in drama.

Despite coming from a family of strict evangelical Christians, one of the main writers to do so is David Rudkin. As well as translating Greek pagan works, such as those of Aeschylus and Euripides, Rudkin examined British paganism in plays and long-form series such as The Stone Dance, The Sons of Light and ultimately Artemis 81.

One of his major works was a Play For Today: Penda's Fen. Directed by Alan Clarke, who normally was a strictly realist director and who admits he didn't really understand it, the play is an evocation of the conflicting forces within England, both past and present. These include authority, tradition, hypocrisy, landscape, art, sexuality, and most of all, its mystical, ancient pagan past. In the play, all of this comes together in the growing pains of the adolescent Stephen, a vicar's son, who encounters angels, Edward Elgar and King Penda, the last pagan king of England, during the play.

Since its broadcast, Penda's Fen has gone on to be regarded as a minor classic. Leonard Buckley (no relation) of The Times wrote: "Make no mistake. We had a major work of television last night. Rudkin gave us something that had beauty, imagination and depth." In 2006, Vertigo magazine described it as “One of the great visionary works of English film” while in 2011, it was chosen by Time Out London magazine as one of the 100 best British films, describing it as:

"A multi-layered reading of contemporary society and its personal, social, sexual, psychic and metaphysical fault lines. Fusing Elgar’s ‘Dream of Gerontius’ with a heightened socialism of vibrantly localist empathy, and pagan belief systems with pre-Norman histories and a seriously committed - and prescient - ecological awareness, ‘Penda’s Fen’ is a unique and important statement."

And it's your Wednesday Play - enjoy!

Further reading: Sparks in Electric Jelly

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