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February 04, 2008

The Charm of Making


I have watched Excalibur every two or three years since I was young enough to regard Helen Mirren with something like superstitious awe. Actually, that feeling has not gone away... John Boorman's over-the-top Arthurian spectacle is not everyone's cup of tea but it is one of my favourite films. People have their complaints, primarily due to historically inaccuracy - whatever that might mean in this context - and liberties with the text, as if there was some canonical Arthur Boorman should have emulated. Such are but minor quibbles when set against the aforementioned Helen Mirren. No, my irritation with the film had to do with a little mystery concerning one of its best hooks, a spell "Merlyn" uses to conjure the Dragon.

It took 25 years but, thanks again to the intertubes, I finally know the meaning of the words of the Charm of Making; it is a riff on Old Irish, apparently. This just leaves my quest for a Merlyn hat of awesomeness in my lifetime To Do list.

The Charm of Making spoken by Merlin & Morgana is an attempt at Old Irish that translates to: "Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making." The phonetic rendering, as spoken in the movie, is: /ana:l nathrakh, u:rth va:s bethud, dokhje:l djenve:/. In Irish, the phrase is: 'An?il nathrach, ortha bh?is bheatha, do thuar dhéanamh', which is pronounced similarly but not exactly as in the movie.

The above lore is thanks to the fantastically named No Smoking in the Skull Cave, also the source of an unspeakable horror: There may be some parallel universe where John Boorman secured the financing for his adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

Boorman's original intention was to make a adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In the script, written by Boorman and his colleague Rospo Pallenberg, many new elements were inserted or were modified. The first half is largely based on The Fellowship of the Ring. Following the intermission, the writers “dropped things out” and “invented as they went along”. Among other things, Frodo and the Lady Galadriel have sexual intercourse (her husband Celeborn is omitted), the Lord of the Nazgûl rides a bleeding, skinless horse in lieu of a flying pterodactylic creature, Gimli is put in a hole and beaten so he can retrieve the password to Moria from his ancestral memory, and Arwen is made into a spiritual guide for the Fellowship and her role as Aragorn's love interest is wholly transferred to Éowyn, who becomes the latter's queen.

I gather this monstrosity is locked in a vault somewhere; hopefully in a stack somewhere further back than the Ark of the Covenant.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at February 4, 2008 07:23 AM


Helen Mirren is my go-to example when I try to explain to someone what "attractive but not beautiful" is.

Posted by: Clayton Barnett [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 4, 2008 09:55 AM

I think I see the distinction. To me, beautiful women tend to be less hot ("attractive") than women with an interesting imperfection.

This works in the other direction too. Here I am thinking of Agent Bedhead's otherwise inexplicable Pete Doherty fascination. It worked in Kate Moss too, apparently.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 4, 2008 10:08 AM

It is with great relief I recall that the Universe is rules by a just and loving God thereby eliminiting the possibility that such a nightmarish raping of Lord of the Rings could be put to cellulose.

We must all give our thanks.

Posted by: Christopher Ross [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 4, 2008 03:01 PM

Arghh. How could I forget this film? How could I forget that it has Helen Mirren in it.

That's me off for a cold shower...

...on second thoughts.

Where's that box of tissues?

Posted by: cha0tic [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 5, 2008 05:56 AM

Helen is better than beautiful. She is magnificient.

Posted by: Bill [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 14, 2008 11:35 PM