Spoiler Alerts: TV Show, Overarching narrative, Book of Life (I’m giving up on not including spoilers in these posts, so read at your own risk…)
Unsurprisingly (perhaps…) I had more thoughts on materiality after Episode 2. Namely, with Matthew’s stag hunt. This picks up on some of my ideas about the first episode (you can find these here), as well as some of what I love about Hamish in the books.
One of my favourite moments in Episode 2 was Matthew hunting the stag in “Scotland” on Hamish’s estates. I particularly loved the attention to the heartbeats as the music for the chase and the stag bowing to Matthew, who returns the gesture out of respect for his prey. It immediately struck me as a loaded moment with the heartbeat since the last place we heard it so prominently in the score was with Diana and Ashmole 782. There, the idea of the manuscript as a living, animate object was executed beautifully. It showed us that this manuscript is not just powerful because of what it contains, but hints that it is powerful because of what it is made of. These ideas are echoed in the stag chase; the hunt is, notably, cut by scenes of Diana in the library, being hunted by Peter Knox and Satu. Matthew, who we know is a dangerous predator, shows respect and admiration for his prey. Interestingly, we know that deer hide has been (and is still) used for vellum. In the All Souls world, so is vampire skin. (And human and witch and daemon.) This connecting between deer – vampire – witch struck me as particularly interesting for this fact. Vampires might hunt deer, but something also hunts vampire. Or, at least, hunted vampires for Ashmole 782. Granted, we don’t know this in the TV show yet, but it’s another moment where the subtly of the show in setting up the overarching narratives of the series makes for interesting viewing.
Matthew’s life blood comes from killing other creatures, something that Diana and the viewers have to come to terms with. By stressing the heartbeat of his prey in the chase, we’re confronted with the fact that Matthew kills – and does so seemingly easily but also with a conscious that requires he respects his kills. (I have a suspicion that a death we are yet to see – but that is hinted at in the trailer – is going to contrast with this moment.) By recalling the heartbeat we hear from Ashmole 782, we are subtly informed that death, blood, and hunting are also part of its creation – just as they are for the sustainment of vampire life and creation.
The other thing we see at Hamish’s estate is his art collection. (For more on the house – well, dog kennels – that inspired Cadzow in the books, check out this blog.) Seemingly heavy on portraits, at least in this iteration of its decorative scheme based on Matthew declaring Hamish has redecorated since his last visit. Rather than commenting on a particular acquisition, Matthew comments on the entire scheme (‘It looks like a wedding cake!’). As in the books, this feels like both an introduction to their relationship, to Hamish as a collector, and a way for Matthew to stall on explaining just what is up.
In their discussions – which, as a colleague and friend, Jonah, commented to me, echoes issues considered by intersectional feminism but a creature specific version of it – Hamish bemoans the state of daemons specifically. Sure, witches and vampires are struggling, but so are daemons. Hamish, noting that he is lucky because he’s an exception, still tries to make Matthew see the range of problems that daemons, who know nothing of their origins, face: they’re outcasts the other creatures treat as less; the suicide rates are up. This does, in fact, echo a lot of what minorities face today, and, along with Gillian’s thoughts on ECR precarity and the academic job market in the fist episode (don’t get me started on the feels here), is making this show more than a sci-fi/fantasy work. It’s applying its story to the real life of real people. The book – and seemingly the show – remind constantly about the commonality of humanity, the importance of equality, how downright awful humankind can be but also its beauty and kindness. Hamish’s statements to Matthew are important to developing the All Souls world, but they’re also important to apply to our own world.
That’s not what I meant to write at the start of that paragraph, oops.
Hamish and Art! When Hamish and Matthew sit down to play chess the set is clearly the Lewis Chessmen. Found on the Isle of Lewis, the hoard contained over eighty pieces, which are on display at the National Museum of Scotland and the British Museum. It’s also one of the most innocuous bits of medieval art in cinema, with a long history that includes Harry Potter. (DigIt! has a fantastic thread on them in TV and film: have a look here.) The berserkers, kings, queens, and pawns are carved from walrus tusks, and date from the 12th and 13th century. Mostly likely made in Norway, they were perhaps buried by a merchant. (The NMS has produced an overview publication and a more-in depth publication, both available from their online shop.) Chess throughout the Middle Ages was associated with the elite and warfare, as well as with courtship (how else better to bond with your beloved?). And, as we are told, a vampire and a witch coming together is going to lead to warfare amongst creatures…