Making the Bible Sexy: Top 10 Biblical Bad Girls





Making the Bible sexy? Don’t get me wrong – I like the Bible. I just don’t believe it (um, because I’ve read it). However, most people probably don’t think of the Bible as sexy, whereas I do. Firstly, part of that’s just me – I’ve always disbelieved the urban legend that the average male thinks of sex once every seven seconds because I’ve always wondered what those other guys are thinking about in the other six seconds. Secondly, Rule 34!


Yes - that Rule 34! Mmm, gummy bears...

Yes – that Rule 34! Mmm, gummy bears…


Thirdly, there actually is a lot of sex in the Bible. After all, you don’t get all those begats without a bit of begetting, if you know what I mean. And we’re not just talking softcore New Testament, we’re talking hardcore Old Testament here – including at scenes that would make Game of Thrones look like a church picnic. Indeed, with a few quick fixes, the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) could readily outdo Game of Thrones for backstabbing intrigue, psychotic characters, gore-splattered violence and genital-flashing sex (but that’s the subject for another list).


Finally, there’s the Biblical ‘bad girls’. For a generally patriarchal and often outright misogynistic book, it is striking how many vivid female characters are in it. Of course, typically in keeping with the rest of the Bible, the more vivid female characters are portrayed as wanton or wicked temptresses – hence ‘bad girls’. However, I find them far more compelling or interesting (or deserving of their own Biblical spin-offs, yet again a potential subject for another list) than the general boring god-bothering patriarchs and prophets (except for Jesus of course – he was way cool), or for that matter, the more conventional Biblical ‘good girls’ – but then, I’ve always had a soft spot for so-called bad girls. So here’s my top ten Biblical ‘bad girls’ – or Biblical girls gone wild…






My tenth place entry here doesn’t even have her own name. Actually, that’s not unusual at all – there are many Biblical characters without names (the subject for yet another list), typically women, particularly in the Old Testament. (Indeed, there are two or technically three others of my top ten Biblical bad girls without proper names). However, Potiphar’s wife is perhaps more of a bit player than the others – but what a bit she plays! In Genesis (my second favorite book of the Bible), Potiphar was the captain of the palace guard in ancient Egypt, who bought Joseph as a household slave after Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of inflated sibling rivalry – that’s the first famous Joseph, the one with the technicolored dreamcoat, not the second famous Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father.


Now you know things are going to get sexy, because quite frankly, Egypt was the sexiest ancient civilization – admittedly perhaps not for its population’s vast majority of peasants who farmed the Nile or worked on those useless tombstones known as pyramids, but certainly for its elite, who pretty much invented style. (You know it’s true – just compare the dowdy Venus de Milo, who admittedly is not helped by her missing arms, to the figures of Egyptian art, who would not look out of place on the modern catwalk).


Well, perhaps not all of them...

Well, perhaps not all of them…


Sure enough, Potiphar’s wife meant trouble – she eyed off Joseph and decided that she wouldn’t mind a piece of that. He virtuously (and probably wisely, given that she was obviously a hot slice of crazy) resisted her attempts at seduction – and without batting her undoubtedly long lush eyelids, she immediately switched it up to accuse him of attempting to rape her. Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison (itself something of a refreshing change from the more usual attitudes to rape as well as capital punishment in the Bible).


Fortunately, Joseph of course had God on his side, and through his prophetic interpretation of dreams, rose to become the Pharoah’s vizier or overlord of Egypt. Interestingly, Potiphar and his wife are not mentioned again, which suggests that she got away scot free – which, even more interestingly, is something of a recurring theme for our Biblical bad girls. Even if Joseph did look them up offstage from the Bible, the man forgave his own brothers, which bodes well for Potiphar and his wife. I particularly remember Potiphar’s wife because in the illustrated Bible stories of my childhood, she looked pretty damn hot – with her classic Egyptian style in her slinky tight dress. (And a muscular Joseph looked pretty buff in his loincloth as she lunged at him). I mean this was a collection of Bible stories – for children! What were they thinking? Anyway, Potiphar’s wife would not be out of place in her own Biblical spinoff, the Real Housewives of Ancient Egypt – I would totally watch that!






Although she is as fleeting a figure as Potiphar’s wife, she is even more fascinating (and equally as nameless) – a deliciously pagan and apparently genuine sorceress in the kingdom of Israel. It is a recurring theme how stubbornly pagan the Old Testament Israelites could be, embracing or clinging to other gods (and being punished for it) – and amply demonstrating the characterization of the Old Testament God as omnipotent but very insecure. One can’t help but feel that despite all the miracles God put out, the other gods – or goddesses – were just more fun. (I’ve always imagined Exodus as a scene with God as a voice screaming for genocide from the Ark, while one Israelite turns to another in the crowd and mutters “I preferred the calf”).





The witch of Endor makes her mysterious appearance in the first book of Samuel, which is after the Israelites have bloodily conquered their promised land and have a kingdom under their first king Saul, anointed by the prophet Samuel. Sadly, Saul’s kingship had fallen on hard times. I’ve always felt some sympathy for Saul (indeed, most Biblical ‘bad guys’) – poor manic-depressive Saul, brave but not as bloodthirsty as Samuel (because he literally didn’t kill everything after battle) and so fell from favor for God’s golden boy, David (who had allied himself with Israel’s enemies, the Philistines). So Saul desperately seeks out one last resort before leading his army into battle against the Philistines – having driven all magicians and necromancers out of the kingdom (because they infringed on God’s monopoly laws), Saul now seeks out the remaining witch of Endor (the Canaanite town, not the moon with Ewoks).





He attends her in disguise to ask her to call up the ghost of the dead Samuel. The Bible seems to suggest that she was deceived by his disguise, although I prefer to read between the lines that she saw through it, pointedly stating that King Saul had made witchcraft a capital offence and seeking to avoid entrapment. Saul gives her immunity and her magic totally works! However, death hadn’t changed Samuel or his bloodthirsty ways, as after complaining about being disturbed, he direly predicts defeat and death for Saul. (“So, no change then?” Saul should have asked). The witch even showed more basic compassion than most (and excellent service), letting Saul rest on her bed and giving him a hearty meal. Saul headed off to bravely lead his army to their and his doom, while for all we know, the witch continued to ply her trade in Endor, yet another Biblical bad girl to get away with it.


Necromancy - it's in the Bible!

Necromancy – it’s in the Bible!


What I like best about the witch of Endor are the tricky questions she raises (heh) for the Bible. Above all, is she actually doing magic? Fully functional magic not licensed or powered by God? What is its source and how does it work? (I prefer to see her as serving some pagan goddess). Why is it powerful enough to pluck God’s own prophet back from beyond death? How does that work? Is it actually Samuel (and if not, what is it)? It certainly does a damn good impression of Samuel. Of course, there is more than a suggestion of smoke and mirrors or stage magic about it – and it surely wouldn’t be too hard to predict Saul’s impending defeat. Even so, it’s still pretty impressive that she can pull it off in Endor, ripping off the rubes. How has she endured in Endor, despite widespread word of mouth for her presence extending to Saul’s very servants? (Maybe she’s just that good). Whatever the case, she totally deserves her own Biblical spinoff…






Like all classic works of art, what’s the Bible without a shower scene? That is how our next Biblical bad girl, Bathsheba, is introduced – as King David spied her bathing from the roof of his palace. (It’s good to be the king). It was also how I was introduced to her in my childhood collection of illustrated Bible stories – again, what were they thinking? (Whatever it was, I thank them). As we saw before, David was God’s golden boy who succeeded Saul as king of Israel and basically became the model of the Messiah, despite his flaws – women wanted him and men wanted to be him (or wanted him – it’s not quite clear with Saul’s son, Jonathan).


This guy

This guy


Since David was incredibly bad at keeping it in his pants, naturally he hooked up with her and since he was also incredibly manly, impregnated her. The problem was that she was the wife of one of his elite soldiers, Uriah the Hittite – which was of course a much bigger affair back then, given that it broke the Seventh of the Ten Commandments and had the penalty of stoning. So David settled on arranging divorce with extreme prejudice, ordering his general to send Uriah into the thick of battle and then – ahem – abandon Uriah there. David even had Uriah deliver his own death warrant order.


Dick move, David – and for once so dickish that even God called him on it, through the prophet Nathan. Typically, God didn’t punish David, at least not immediately or directly (because God can hold his grudges – eternity is a long time to burn), or even Bathsheba, but their innocent newborn child, who died from illness shortly after birth. Even so, David took Bathsheba as his wife (or more precisely one of his many wives and concubines). And once again, Bathsheba proved to be another Biblical bad girl (by Biblical definition of adultery) who prospered (apart from the death of her first child), proving remarkably adept as a social climber to maneuver David into nominating their son Solomon his heir as king…






The Biblical kingdom of Israel rose to its golden age under King Solomon, with his legendary wealth and wisdom, but leaving little, if anything, by way of actual historical record. As for his wisdom, Kurt Vonnegut observed that the most famous example of it in the Bible is somewhat unimpressive – cutting a baby in half. His most famous visitor is far more intriguing (and with more than a hint of pagan goddess about her) – the queen of Sheba, nameless but for her royal title, yet standing out from his Biblical 700 wives and 300 concubines, arriving with her cargo of spices, gold and precious stones from her fabulously wealthy homeland. The book of Kings portrays the queen of Sheba as something of a wisdom groupie, although it still somehow sounds salacious – “she came to test him with hard questions” while “he gave her all she desired and asked for”.


The queen of Sheba earns her place as bad girl not so much from her actual Biblical references, but tradition which has identified her as the greatest Biblical prn star – the dark-skinned Shulamite or female protagonist of the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). This book is without any reference to the law or wisdom or even God and is just pure prn gold in the middle of the Old Testament – a male and female lover waxing lyrical to get it on in increasingly lurid imagery, as she invites him into her garden to taste her choice fruits…






And so we come to Jezebel, the archetypal evil queen of the Bible. After Solomon , the kingdom of Israel split into two, with the southern kingdom of Judah breaking away from the northern kingdom of Israel. Jezebel was a Phoenican princess, who married King Ahab of Israel. She brought her native religion with her, the worship of the god Baal and goddess Asherah, and as the Bible tells it, incited Ahab and the kingdom to join in the pagan fun (which again in that recurring Biblical theme, proved ridiculously easy). As usual this incurred the wrath of God’s squad, in this case the prophet Elijah and his disciple Elisha. However, their wrath was pretty useless, until Ahab died in battle and was succeeded by his sons, with Jezebel as queen mother (and probably high priestess of Astarte).




Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire (like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark except less face-melting and more chariot), but his successor Elisha effectively led a military coup by anointing the general Jehu as king. Jezebel is one of the few Biblical bad girls that the Bible actually smacks down, but when the Bible does smack someone down, it does it hard. As Jehu entered the palace, Jezebel “painted her face” (a pointed detail the Bible sneeringly includes, to mark her as a harlot or W-H-O-R-E!) and confronted him. He had her servants (eunuchs!) defenestrate her (a word you don’t often get to use, as it means throwing someone out a window) – she fell to her death and her body was literally eaten by dogs. Thereafter, her name was associated with false prophets (although she was true to her own gods) and even more so with fallen or promiscuous women (in characteristic Biblical slut-shaming) – she “did evil in the sight of the Lord”. But then – who doesn’t? That guy’s on edge…


The Assorted Fruits of Wrath - from the webcomic Oglaf

The Assorted Fruits of Wrath – from the webcomic Oglaf


Except…some readers beg to differ from the traditional interpretation. The actual historical and archaeological record suggests that the legendary wealth of Solomon should be more correctly attributed to the northern kingdom of Israel under Ahab and his father Omri – and Ahab’s marriage to the daughter of the Phoenician empire (effectively an association of wealthy trading cities) shows the power and prestige of his kingdom (as well as brilliant international diplomacy). The Biblical books of Kings were written much later, by a writer or writers with an axe to grind against the northern kingdom of Israel – and anything other than a monopolistic cult of God. Jezebel was more a cosmopolitan and sophisticated woman of the ancient world, promoting her own religion (as everyone else did, including the Biblical authors) and coming up against the rednecks of Israel (and a rebel military commander). As for Elisha, he was not exactly balanced – this was a man who, when taunted by boys or youths about his baldness, cursed them in God’s name to be eaten by bears. Bears!





And as for Jezebel “painting her face”, one might compare it to putting on her ‘war paint’ – deploying the only weapon at her disposal against a military coup by invoking her full appearance as queen mother and head of the royal household. Jezebel went down swinging, with a deliberate symbolic act assuming her dignity and determination to die like a queen.








For our next Biblical bad girl, we go back to the book of Judges, one of the more brutal and Tarantinoesque books of the Bible. This was after the Israelites had, ah, exodused out of Egypt and bloodily conquered their promised land, but before the kingdom of Israel under Saul, David and Solomon. “In those days, there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes”. So in other words, it was like the Wild West of the Old Testament, with the ‘judges’ as lawmen – except that Israel in the Book of Judges made the Wild West look like Sunday school. One of the greatest judges was Samson, known for his legendary supernatural strength given to him by God. Amongst other feats, he tore a lion apart with his bare hands and killed an army of 1,000 Philistines, those perennial enemies of Israel, with only the jawbone of an ass. In short, he was the Israelite Superman, but like Superman he had his kryptonite, which was…a haircut?!


Although a haircut was his incredibly lame weakness (not to mention God’s ridiculous limitation on supernatural strength), his real weakness was that he was a sucker for pillow talk. Enter Delilah – the Biblical femme fatale he picked up at the Brook of Sorek. The Philistines showed how Batman beats Superman by bling over brawn – paying Delilah silver to betray Samson’s secret of strength to them. She wasn’t terribly sophisticated about it either, just a combination of pillow talk and nagging. He initially fobbed her off with false weaknesses – being bound by different things, like some sort of party game. She then nagged him to the effect that if he truly loved her, he would tell her his true weakness – so he did, even though she had consistently tried to use the other weaknesses against him.


Although the fro was a bit of a give away...

Although the fro was a bit of a give away…


So he had barely fallen asleep with his head in her lap when she had him shorn. The Philistines subdued and blinded him, before enslaving him grinding grain on a millstone. However, the Philistines lapsed into their own idiocy, when they forgot to give him another haircut and brought him to their temple. His hair grown luxuriously long again, he prayed to God for one last burst of strength and pushed on the central pillars, bringing the temple down on himself as well as the Philistines and dying as much an idiot as he had lived. Intriguingly, Delilah is not mentioned again after she got paid, so one can only presume she was yet another Biblical bad girl to get away with it – enjoying a luxurious retirement with her silver, sipping cocktails by the Mediterranean…


pole dancer




So far we haven’t seen any Biblical bad girls from the New Testament, because the Old Testament is more hardcore. For one thing, the New Testament is shorter, but it also doesn’t help that almost half of it is correspondence from or attributed to everyone’s favorite hitman turned evangelist, Paul, who really didn’t like sex and begrudged marriage. (“It is better to marry than to burn with passion” – burn, baby, burn!). So Salome is even more striking for her appearance in the New Testament, dancing her way to the heart of a king and the head of a prophet. Technically, she is yet another nameless Biblical figure, identified in the Gospels only as the daughter of Herodias, although fortunately she was named by Jewish historian Josephus (one of my favorite rogues of history, who survived the suicidal Jewish war with Rome by changing sides to the Romans). She was the stepdaughter of King Herod Antipas of Galilee, who had imprisoned the prophet John the Baptist, the New Testament’s “voice crying in the wilderness”, for crying a little too loud about Herod’s marriage to his brother’s widow, Herodias.


Herod also tipped big

Herod also tipped big


Salome danced for Herod on his birthday – subsequently eroticized by Oscar Wilde as the Dance of the Seven Veils – and Herod was so, ah, enthused that he offered her any gift she asked for, “even unto the half of my kingdom”. Salome asked her mother and Herodias was not one to miss an opportunity for payback – she prompted Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist (as in on a platter, not his shoulders). Herod had tipper’s remorse, but could not go back on his word. Sex versus religion, bad girl versus mad prophet, dance of the seven veils versus a voice crying in the wilderness? No contest – John the Baptist lost his head. And once again, the Biblical bad girl won out in the end. Josephus recorded that Salome married well to rise to queen (fortunately away from Galilee) and have three children…






Few books in the Bible or elsewhere loom so large in their visual imagery as the Book of Apocalypse or Revelations (my favorite book of the Bible, an acid-tripping wild ride in which the New Testament gets fully hardcore). Mystery Babylon (the Scarlet Woman or her full nastier title, the Whore of Babylon) is the ultimate Biblical bad girl, or at least the one with the most lurid portrayal:


“I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations…And upon her forehead was written MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH”.




Babylon is obviously a symbol for Rome, although of course others have since seen her as a symbol for other things, such as the Roman Catholic Church (as in some Protestant belief), or even the modern world (as in Rastafarian belief). Indeed the Book of Revelations is a favorite source of symbols for role-playing games by fundamentalists, essentially playing Dungeons & Dragons with the Bible. As one Biblical scholar has quipped, “Revelations either finds a man mad, or leaves him so”. And unlike other Biblical bad girls, Babylon is just too lurid not to come to a sticky end – angels trumpet her fall, while all the corrupt kings and merchants of the earth lament her…




Of course, other readers of Apocalypse might suspect a heavy dose of sexual repression in its author, who protests a little too much. D. H. Lawrence (who was fascinated by the Book of Apocalyse) pointed out that Babylon is a titillating figure, perhaps intentionally so:

“How they envy Babylon her splendor, envy, envy! The harlot sits magnificently with her golden cup of the wine of sensual pleasure in her hand. How the apocalyptists would have loved to drink out of her cup! And since they couldn’t, how they loved smashing it!”


scarlet woman


Hmm, golden women and cups of pleasure…is anyone else as turned on right now by the apocalypse as I am? Other than Christians waiting for their rapture of course.






Mary Magdalene is the most definitive female figure in the New Testament (with the exception of that other Mary, mother of Jesus) and Biblical bad girl turned good. She is the foremost female disciple of Jesus – and the focus of those seeking to sex up the New Testament, going well beyond her actual role in the gospels. In the gospels, she is introduced as a female follower of Jesus, from whom he had cast out seven demons, and any sexuality is limited to the suggestive nature of that. However, she has also been identified with the repentant sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair as well as “the woman taken in adultery” that he saves from stoning by a lynch mob.




This has allowed some to wax lyrical about her as repentant sinner or even prostitute (so becoming the patron saint of wayward woman). Pope Gregory the Great equated the seven demons cast out of her with the seven deadly sins (which to me conjures all sorts of heated images of her writhing in their grasp) – and identifying her as the woman anointing Jesus’ feet, declared “it is clear that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts”.




Beyond the gospels, she has even been seen as the lover or literal bride of Christ, as well as mother of his secret children or bloodline.





Of course, in the gospels, she is beautifully loyal to Jesus, even when he is betrayed, denied and doubted by his male disciples. She is one of the last there at his crucifixion and the first at his resurrection – such that she has been hailed as apostle to the apostles. To be honest, I’ve always had a mythic crush on her – and she particularly appeals to those who prefer to see Jesus as a son of the goddess or the tradition of the three Marys (including the Magdalene) as another manifestation of the triple goddess. And it is hard not to fall in love with her modern incarnations, whether singing “Everything’s Alright” in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” or played by Italian siren Monica Bellucci in “The Passion of the Christ”.





(1) EVE


Could there be any other as first woman in our top ten? No other female figure in the Bible is as iconic, as evocative as Eve – the original Biblical bad girl and primal woman.  And few have as many faces. She has posed as the definitive femme fatale and temptress of Western art and literature, the Bible’s original sinner and siren of paradise lost.  As such, she has been the focus and symbol of much misogyny (conveniently forgetting that without her role in it, there’d be no Bible), but as the iconoclastic Camille Paglia has noted, the Biblical story of Eden at least gave her a male accomplice in the serpent. However, even this has been reversed in Western art (notably during the Renaissance), which has even given the serpent Eve’s face – and breasts! That’s some deep Freudian kind of mixed-up right there. Although there’s something else equally as mixed up (albeit not quite so much in the Freudian sense) that’s easily overlooked which is implicit in the very bible narrative itself – the serpent had legs!  (God curses it to crawl on its belly as punishment for its crime). If I came across a walking talking snake, I’d listen to whatever it said too – and quite frankly, the whole Garden of Eden set up smacks of a classic two-man con played by God and the serpent.





She has also posed as sexual temptress, the naked woman for all seasons. Religious tradition saw Eve and Adam as models of physical perfection, befitting those shaped by God’s hand as opposed to those born into this world (or the reality of our ancestral African hominids). And although the Garden of Eden is a tangled jungle of symbolism (that deserves its own list), let’s not forget the steamy sexual symbolism of original sin. There is the temptation itself – Eve is tempted by the phallic serpent and Adam is tempted by the lush fruit offered to him by Eve (in the words of John Milton, “emparadis’d in each other’s arms”). And then there are the consequences – consciousness of their naked state of nature, Eve is punished by the pains of labour, and Adam is punished by the pains of a different labour, working the earth to feed his family. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, it all smells of apple juice…




Finally, she has posed for those who would reclaim her as a figure of female power or even divinity – Promethean heroine plucking the knowledge of humanity from divinely imposed ignorance or goddess of paradise and mother of life. Some have seen the myth of a fall from paradise as an echo of each of our own experience of prenatal bliss (or at least childhood) – we all fall from the womb into the world. All hail Eve, God the Mother! She is the goddess and this is her body.













8 Schools of Magic for Bling & Booty





No – we’re not talking about Hogwarts. We’re talking about the ‘schools’ of arcane power, classifying functional magic in fantasy by its type or effect. Now there’s probably as many such schools of magic as there are works of fantasy – black magic, blood magic, white magic, wild magic and so on – but perhaps the most comprehensive are the eight schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons, which is not surprising for something that attempts to systematically codify the genre of fantasy for obsessive-compulsive rules-lawyering geeks to play as a game.


I mean, dear God, do the rules of chance need so many sides?!

I mean, dear God, do the rules of chance need so many sides?!


In the game, wizards can specialize in one of the schools of magic (at the expense of others), so it is a matter of some importance to pick the more powerful or versatile schools. However, this begs the most important question – for users of magic in the game or the genre of fantasy in general – which schools of magic are best for bling and booty (in every sense of the word)? After all, if you’re going to play with forces that put you at risk of some eldritch thing or otherworldly being sniffing out your magic scent, sucking out your soul with a straw and wearing your skin like a suit, then it better come with fabulous rewards – preferably the fantasy equivalent of the Fortune 500, the city of Abu Dhabi and the Playboy Mansion. (And just remember with the last, magic is equal opportunity – the sorceress Circe in Homer’s Odyssey essentially used her magic to have her own private island equivalent of the Playboy Mansion filled with her favorite manimals). And so we take a stroll through the eight schools of magic, looking at which are the more powerful or versatile, and more importantly, which ones are the best for bling and booty…






This school of magic seems pretty straightforward – it…ah, abjures? Essentially, it is protective magic, and as such perhaps one of the oldest schools of magical thinking in actual history, with our ancestors looking to magic to protect themselves from various dire threats – and the most substantial one surviving into the present day, in all our various charms or rituals for luck. (And remember religion is just organized magic – and prayer plea-bargaining with the universe to break the rules in your favor. Yeah, I went there.) Firstly, it protects from mundane threats – protection spells against arrows, fire and so on. In the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 in China, the Boxers (or the much cooler sounding Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) believed their magic or supernatural power would make them invulnerable to bullets. (Spoiler alert – it didn’t).


Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it protects from magic threats – although our ancestors often didn’t distinguish between mundane and magical threats, seeing one originate in the other – such as the various anti-magic spells in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Although frankly I think the spells in the game don’t go far enough, as they really should make magical creatures such as dragons or giants collapse of their own biological impossibility – a true anti-sorcerer should roam a fantasy world sucking in all and sundry like a magical black hole. Now in the rules of the game, you can of course skip this school in preference for others, but in a world of monsters and magic you’d be better off walking around naked. (Frankly, if I lived in such a world, I’d have abjuration spells tattooed into my skin – or even if they worked in this world). A supreme abjurer could stroll through a pitched battle without a scratch – or sit sipping cocktails in Hell while all the demons drooled uselessly around him or her.





As essential as it is, the school of abjuration is not so much fantasy Fortune 500 material (unless you’re very good or lucky) as it is more the solid high-earning fantasy professional option – the sort where fantasy parents want their children to grow up to be abjurers like we do doctors, lawyers and engineers (although there’d probably also be abundance of crappy cut-rate abjurers just getting by flogging bug-ridden or pirated lucky charms). The primary market would be as security or defence contractors (although throw in some divination and you could double up as a security and insurance provider). As for booty, you’ll just have to rely on the nice suits you wear and good money you’ll make as a professional abjurer. Personally, I’d take the easy anti-sorcerer option of roaming the fantasy world, ransoming dragons of their hoards by threatening them with their own biological impossibility. (The Hobbit would have been over much quicker – just strolling up to the Lonely Mountain and going all Scrooge McDuck swimming in Smaug’s vault).


Of course, in a sense all magic is abjuration – abjuring or suspending the laws of time and space, which actually sounds like an interesting premise for magic in a fantasy story, casting spells by picking which laws to suspend, like gravity or thermodynamics…


Pulling a rabbit out of a hat.




Now we’re playing with power – conjuration is such a ridiculously overpowered school of magic in the game of Dungeons and Dragons that you’d be better off cutting off your own hands than skipping it (as you could always conjure new or better hands anyway). It’s not hard to see why – conjuration is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat for real (or putting it back for that matter), if by rabbit you mean potentially any material thing or any being to do your bidding, and if by hat you mean potentially anywhere in space and time. And in fantasy, space and time can mean any fantasy ‘plane’ of existence – all the heavens or hells, spirit worlds, classical elemental planes (earth, air, fire, water) and so on. Conjuration is one of the archetypal schools of magic in literature. Faust conjured Mephistopheles from hell and Aladdin conjured the genie from the lamp – those beings in turn pretty much conjured up their masters’ every desire or wish. Conjuration would be ridiculously powerful enough even just in our own space and time – imagine wizards plucking dinosaurs out of the past and throwing them at each other (which actually sounds like another interesting premise for magic in fantasy). Throw in other fantasy planes of existence and the multiverse is your oyster – a supreme conjurer could simply conjure up all the demons of hell to serve him or her cocktails…


Because quite frankly, Pitbull must have summoned some demon from hell to get all this...

Because quite frankly, Pitbull must have summoned some demon from hell to get all this…




Not surprisingly, this school of magic is a licence to literally print money – in that you can actually conjure money, or something to get it for you. Take gold for example – you could conjure it up from the earth’s crust or anywhere in the universe, the vaults of heaven or hell, the elemental plane of earth or for those familiar with the actual periodic table of elements, the elemental plane of gold. Or you could conjure up beings – earth elementals for example – to find and mine it for you. Naturally the rules of Dungeons and Dragons try to place limits on their school of conjuration to avoid these shenanigans so, you know, players actually have to go into the eponymous dungeons to loot the eponymous dragons for gold (you know, like burglars and robbers) instead of conjuring it themselves (or something to go into the dungeons for them – or just conjure water to flood the dungeons and then stroll through them at leisure). However, this is magic after all and the only real limit is your imagination – that and the massive inflation that would result from everyone conjuring their own money. Probably the major problem is that conjuring is kind of a cosmic borrowing, so that when the demons or otherworldly beings come knocking at your door to collect the debt, they’ll make your average knee-capping loan-shark goon look like a birthday strippergram. (Note to self – organize strippergram for birthday). As for your own Playboy Mansion, you could literally conjure up your own mansion (or something to build it for you) – and then conjure up whatever angels or heavenly nymphs, succubi or incubi and otherworldly babes and hunks your heart desired. Of course, after a certain point, you could just rely on whatever fabulous wealth you’ve already conjured, as actual money has a power of conjuration all of its own…


Of course, ultimately all magic is a form of conjuration, in that you’re pulling something out of your own, or the universe’s, ass.






And so we go from the flashy heights of conjuration to the subtle nuances of divination – this school of magic is essentially all about knowledge. As such, it rivals abjuration as one of the oldest schools of magic in actual history, as our ancestors sought magical means of knowing the unknown, from shamanic vision quests through augurs and soothsayers to hopelessly cryptic oracles. And like abjuration, it is the most substantial surviving into the present day, in the form of astrology, psychics and other frauds. (It’s my secret dream to walk in on a psychic, smack them in the head and say “Didn’t see that one coming!” – but I digress…)


What? My dead uncle whose name starts with a consonant didn't see that one coming?

What? My dead uncle whose name starts with a consonant didn’t see that one coming?


There have been (and remains) an almost infinite variety of bewildering and surreal techniques of divination, including animal entrails, bird flights, tea leaves and basically any word ending in -mancy (which alone are so numerous they deserve a list of their own) – from dreamy oneiromancy (reading dreams or Freudian psychology) to the stuff of nightmares like arachnomancy (reading spiders – or dear God get that thing off me!). Knowledge is power and divination is the ultimate source of magical knowledge – so much so that it is the one school of magic you can’t skip in Dungeons and Dragons, although you’d be better off blind than go without it anyway. (Indeed – there’s a long tradition of prophets and seers being blind or blindfolded for their ‘second sight’. And Odin, chief of the Nordic gods, plucked out one of his own eyes to drink from the fountain of wisdom, because the Nordic gods were hardcore – my money would be on them in an all-out smack-down brawl between pantheons). Just knowing the past would be useful, knowing the present (particularly reading people’s minds) even more so and knowing the future would be approaching godlike power, as omniscience is next to omnipotence. A supreme diviner could walk through a pitched battle dodging everything without a scratch because he or she’s seen it all coming – or sit sipping cocktails served by demons in hell because he or she knows all their secret names and sex tapes.


Clearly James Bond relies on divination for his uncanny luck in games of chance and villainous death traps

Clearly James Bond relies on divination for his uncanny luck in games of chance and villainous death traps




Divination rivals conjuration as the jackpot of magic schools (unless your school of conjuration includes time travel). Again, even just knowing the past would be lucrative (not least in all the missing or lost secrets and treasures of the world), knowing the present even more so (not least as the ultimate insider trading) but knowing the future would be your licence to make money. Even discounting such easy options as casinos, gambling and lotteries (which presumably would be abjured to the hilt in a fantasy world), there’d be the fabulous wealth to be made through markets and other business or political fields. Through divination, you would always be in the right place at the right time and cashing in your compound interest in the present. Basically, divination lets you steal from the future, not only having your cake and eating it but doing both before it’s even baked – like plucking Facebook from the future mind of Mark Zuckerberg, just in time to sue him for copyright as the icing on the cake. As for booty, apart from your fabulous wealth, you would also always be in the right place at the right time – with the perfect pickup line. Otherwise, you can always hang out with the freaky drugged and fantastically gymnastic oracle groupies from 300








There’s no nice way of saying this – enchantment is the school of magic for mindscrewing. It ranges from more benign charms for friendship or infatuation, through various forms of mind control or domination, to metaphorically riding your subjects like rodeo bulls or attaching the furry dice of their testicles to the dashboard of your mind…


Like so

Like so


If your school of enchantment extends to memory, then you can up the ante from brainwashing to complete mindwiping, as you replace the previous inconvenient persona or psyche of your subject wholesale with one entirely of your own choosing – family, friend or lover who’ll do anything for you. In theory, this makes enchantment potentially the most powerful school of magic of all, as you could tell the very gods they should let you run the show.  A supreme enchanter could sit sipping cocktails in Hell served up by all the brainwashed demons. In practice, apart from all the protective abjurations against it (screw you, mind blank!), there is the narrative need for enchantment to be severely nerfed for the sake of game or story, otherwise you’d simply mindscrew your way from one end of fantasy to the other or pilot your dragon like a drone through any dungeon. So this tends to be one of the weaker schools of magic to skip in Dungeons and Dragons or any other fantasy, because anything powerful enough to be game or story breaking is immune or resistant to it. (Otherwise, Gandalf would have just told Sauron to go jump like Gollum).


Dance my mind-puppets, dance!

Dance my mind-puppets, dance!




Obviously, if enchantment is opened up to its full potential in fantasy – or let loose in our world with no resistance against it – then this would be the ultimate jackpot. Even if others conjured more money and divined more profit or power, you’d simply enchant them into giving it to you – just like you’d simply enchant Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg into doing the same in this world. H. L. Mencken quipped that no one went broke or lost an election by underestimating the taste or intelligence of the average person – with enchantment, you’d just go that step further of making their taste and intelligence for them. And once you have enough of it, fame and fortune have powers of enchantment all of their own. In a sense, the only real ‘magic’ is enchantment, as humanity finds a bewildering number of ways to enchant itself through religion, politics, money, fame, celebrity, love, sex…just take any cult. As for your own Playboy Mansion, you would equally be able to enchant it full of the babes or hunks of your choice. Of course, while you’re doing all this, you may want to enchant away your own conscience…






And so we come to the Michael Bay school of magic – all explosive action, but lacking in depth or versatility. Evocation is the conjuration of energy – fireballs, lightning bolts, cold blasts and various other manifestations of energy or force – so something like the misnamed enchanter Tim in Monty Python’s Holy Grail



While it would be tempting in a fantasy world of hostile monsters and magic to be able to blast fireballs from your fingertips like six-shooters, evocation is actually one of the weaker schools of magic and the first one to skip in the game of Dungeons and Dragons. Even at its full strength, it obviously lacks versatility for anything else that doesn’t involve blasting or blowing things up (although in fairness that would seem to solve most plot problems in The Lord of the Rings) – and in the game of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s severely nerfed by all types of magic resistance so that your most hardcore spells fizzle into a tickle or most a moderate spanking. In theory, however, a supreme evoker should be a walking ground zero of mass destruction and could sit sipping cocktails in Hell served up by shell-shocked demons after nuking or freezing it.


"I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" - a tenth level spell

“I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” – a tenth level spell




Like abjuration (and unlike conjuration, divination or enchantment), you can’t simply evoke money and are sadly reduced to working with your magic, which kind of defeats the point of magic as wishful thinking or getting something from nothing. Fortunately, again like abjuration, evocation is the solid high-earning fantasy professional option, like the fantasy equivalent of engineers. Although that may be because I only have the vaguest idea of what engineers actually do…


Um, they do science to stuff?

Um, they do science to stuff?


Actually, evokers are even better placed than abjurers to strike it rich as the entrepreneurs of energy in the fantasy world, particularly if they can replicate their magic in mass produced devices or items – it would be evokers who kick-start the fantasy equivalent of the Industrial Revolution, like magitek or dungeon punk. You know, like mass producing rings of power in The Lord of the Rings (“Precious?! Get over it, Gollum – they’re $39.99 a set at the Shire 7-11…”), instead of the elves hoarding all the magic.


One ring to rule the mall!

One ring to rule the mall!


(Don’t get me started on the elves – they showed Sauron how to make the ring in the first place, then spend their time prancing about in forests or pissing off ‘west’ leaving men to clean up the mess. “I have no faith in men.” Shut up, Elrond – who’s manning your frontline for you, you smug elven prick?). As for booty, you will just have to rely on your skyrockets in flight for your afternoon delights…


Of course, evocation is just the poor man’s conjuration anyway – it’s just conjuration of energy, people! Ignoring that matter is energy (E = mc2? I conjure thee from the elemental plane of uranium…), is there any real distinction between evoking fire for example and conjuring lava or molten metal or plasma or hellfire or elemental fire or so on from the myriad planes of fantasy? The only real distinction is that the game of Dungeons and Dragons split off the conjuration of energy as evocation so that the school of conjuration didn’t become even more ridiculously overpowered…






Use your illusion – the school of magic for special effects or fantasy generated imagery. Quite simply, illusion is all about the magical control or manipulation of perception or sensation, so as to hopelessly blur the line between image and reality. Between the image and the reality falls the shadow of illusion… (O yes – that’s paraphrasing some T.S. Eliot, bitches!). And invisibility or images are only for starters – with illusion, you can effectively trap your subjects in their own head, like a drug trip or the Matrix or scientists juicing up rats through the pleasure centers of their brains. (Unfortunately my dungeon-master banned my spell for casting mass orgasm. Hang on – was that even a game of Dungeons & Dragons…?)


In other words, illusion can be virtually as effective for mind control as enchantment, given the fine line between our perceptions or sensations and our emotions, thoughts or memories. You can use it to assume the appearance of a close friend, family member or lover. The supreme illusionist could sit sipping cocktails in Hell, served up by deluded demons thinking they’re serving their infernal master – or just look like they’re doing it. I don’t know – my head hurts and I can’t tell what’s real anymore…


Although I'm pretty sure my life is real because no one would make an illusion this pointless and boring

Although I’m pretty sure my life is real because no one would make an illusion this pointless and boring


Sadly, this is why illusion tends to be nerfed like enchantment in fantasy games or stories, although it is somewhat less game or story-breaking and has more potential for plot devices (as well as clichéd it-was-all-a-dream sequences). So once again, there is an abundance of protective abjuration against it (screw you, true seeing!) and anything powerful tends to be immune or resistant to it. And given that illusion is all style over substance, you’re more screwed than the Wizard of Oz if they start looking behind the curtain


From the webcomic Oglaf - check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar - it's hilarious but mostly NSFW

From the webcomic Oglaf – check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar – it’s hilarious but mostly NSFW




However, if illusion is opened up to its full potential or let loose in our world with nothing to resist it, then you could effectively use it to enchant your way to fame and fortune – especially in a world where life is essentially a beauty contest anyway. At very least, you could have a wild ride as a con artist – using ticket stubs or toilet paper as money or winning lottery tickets. Alternatively, you could use your illusion as a solid high-earning fantasy profession or business, particularly if you could mass-produce it – the fantasy equivalent of advertising (“Your ad on every dragon’s ass”), cosmetics and cosmetic surgery, entertainment or anything involving appearance or imagery. Personally, I’d use my illusion for the fantasy equivalent of internet porn. (“She was an innocent young paladin, pursuing her quest in the Hot Tub of Doom…”). As for your Playboy Mansion, you are the ultimate photoshopper, so you can give you or your housemates any appearance you or they choose…


Of course, all magic in our world is ultimately only illusion – sleight of hand or smoke and mirrors. Or if we’re going to get philosophical, all our perception of reality is illusion, as in the Hindu concept of maya. (Sometimes, I believe my whole life has all been fantasy and lies). On the other hand, the fantasy school of illusion is really just enchantment – or vice versa. Is there any real distinction between controlling perceptions or sensations and controlling emotions or thoughts, given how they each influence the other? For example, is there any real difference between turning invisible by illusion – or enchanting people that they don’t see you?






Come to the dark side of the Force or the Slytherin school of magic. Technically, necromancy is divination by talking to the dead or their spirits (hence the name). However, necromancy has accrued wider meanings of dealing with the dead or death – typically animating the dead and creating or controlling undead. Funnily enough, in the game of Dungeons & Dragons, it is generally observed that because of the mechanics of play, clerics or priests make better necromancers than wizards, which would certainly make for far more interesting church services. Necromancy also tends to involve magic to do with souls or spirits (as in taking or trapping them) and ‘negative’ energy – blight, curse, fear, hex, paralysis, poison and just outright draining life energy like siphoning gas. So it may not be particularly versatile but it does tend to be powerful, and of course, evil – as in EEEVIL (although arguably it could be neutral, like death itself, or even a weird form of good – but where’s the fun in that?). Sauron wasn’t just the Necromancer in The Hobbit for kicks. A supreme necromancer is a walking ground zero of zombie apocalypse or god of death – and could sit sipping cocktails in hell because the demons think he or she is cool. And old necromancers don’t retire, they become undead themselves – vampires are the popular choice, although the true necromancy geek goes lich.



Once thou goeth lich, one never goeth...back?

Once thou goeth lich, one never goeth…back?




Let’s face it – if you go with necromancy, you’re looking at a career in supervillainy or at least doctorate of evil, and chances are you’re in it for love of evil lulz rather than money. So while there may be other more imaginative ways of making money from necromancy, the most easy or obvious is as the fantasy equivalent of Blofeld in SPECTRE (bonus points if that involves actual spectres), stroking your mummified cat. And again, there may be more subtle nuances of necromantic villainy, you just can’t beat the fantasy classic of threatening to unleash your zombie apocalypse unless the kingdom pays you one M-I-I-I-LLION gold pieces – or you know, actually unleashing your zombie apocalypse as you carve out your unholy roaming empire. Sadly however, necromancy is not the school for building your own Playboy Mansion, with the exception of the sexier ghosts or vampires – although at least your undead minions will always be, ah… thin?


More Oglaf - check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar

More Oglaf – check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar






Finally, there is transmutation – a ridiculously overpowered school of magic to rival or even exceed conjuration. Instead of conjuring material things or beings (potentially including yourself) through space, time or fantasy planes, this school of magic transforms (or transmogrifies – whoa!) material things or beings (potentially including yourself) into other material things and beings of your choice. Like conjuration, it is one of the archetypal schools of magic in literature. Zeus showcased it by turning himself into animals to pick up chicks. It totally worked too, although you have to admit it would be pretty impressive if you could pull it off. Zeus’ one night stands read like a menagerie of seduction (as well as the entire genealogy of Greece) – bull, eagle, goat, snake, swan and on one particularly kinky occasion a shower of gold. Speaking of which, transmutation has had a long-standing reputation in actual human history, as the humanity saw the best minds of many generations destroyed by the madness of alchemy, or trying to transmute lead into gold.


Because Leadfinger just doesn't have the same ring

Because Leadfinger just doesn’t have the same ring


So transmutation is almost limitlessly powerful and versatile – a supreme transmuter could sit sipping cocktails in Hell, because otherwise he or she will transform all the demons into frogs or little lambs or Playboy bunnies (or himself or herself into the biggest, baddest demon of all). Or just sit around anywhere – turning everyone else into demon cocktail waiters and waitresses.


I gave it the Midas touch but it's a bit to type on...

I gave it the Midas touch but it’s a bit to type on…




By now, it should be obvious that transmutation is as much a jackpot as conjuration – or more so, as it’s without the cosmic borrowing (or loan-sharking). Like King Midas, you can turn whatever you touch (or look at) into gold – or whatever you choose. Or for that matter, it knocks illusion out of the ballpark, because you can change things in reality not just appearance. What more do I need to say? Again, naturally the rules of Dungeons and Dragons try to place limits on their school of transmutation for the sake of the game, but it is magic after all. As for your own Playboy Mansion, you could literally just transform any slum into your mansion – and anyone or anything into your Playmates. Indeed, people would probably line up to pay you for it and you could make your fortune from cosmetic transformation alone…


They were all actual bunnies just a moment ago...

They were all actual bunnies just a moment ago…


All this goes to show that the wizards we actually see in fantasy are lazy bums at best or complete fraudsters at worst, since they are so much more pathetic or useless than even just any one of these schools would suggest. Of course, any true wizard would wrap up your average fantasy story in the first chapter. If Gandalf was a typical Dungeons and Dragons wizard, he would have divined the one true ring and teleported to the Crack of Doom, before spending the rest of the trilogy smoking pipeweed and creepily hanging about the Shire. Also, real wizards would have pimped out pads, instead of wandering about like stoned vagabonds like they all seem to do in Middle-Earth – except for Sauron of course…he had some pimped-out evil style.


That's one blinged out eyeball Sauron - but you need more elven Playmates

That’s one blinged out eyeball Sauron – but you need more elven Playmates


As much as I love Gandalf, it is hard to resist the conclusion that he had little actual magic, except for a few cheap light tricks or smoke and mirrors. (I suppose he did defeat the Balrog by making it forget it had wings). His real ‘magic’ power seemed to be some sort of magical human resources management, riding or rushing off to find someone who was actually useful, usually some sort of eagle. Ah – eagles! Is there anything they can’t do? Except, you know, actually fly to Mount Doom before the ring was destroyed or the Lonely Mountain before the dragon was killed. Man, those lazy birds were almost as useless as wizards


I couldn't resist one last Oglaf strip - the real reason you don't use eagles...

I couldn’t resist one last Oglaf strip – the real reason you don’t use eagles…





The Art of War: 5 Ways of Winning Without Fighting (As Proved by The USA)





Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the cult classic of military strategy. And yet Sun Tzu often comes across as a pinko pacifist pussy, quoting poetry to hide that when he’s not being obvious, he’s being obtuse. I mean, come on – “The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course” and “The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon”. What?! Of course, part of this is because The Art of War is thoroughly imbued with Taoist philosophy, including my personal favorite principle of ‘wu wei’ or the art of doing nothing effectively. Nowhere is this more evident than in its defining principle that the true art of war lies in winning without fighting. Well obviously, but how? It brings to mind Bart Simpson’s response when his karate teacher gives him a copy for his first lesson – “Um, I already know how not to hit a guy”.


In fairness, Sun Tzu does explain how to win without fighting, when you cut away all the poetry. However, as usual, history shows it much more bluntly, as proved by the United States of America. Of course, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this superpower excelled at the art of war (at least until recently)  – as opposed to, say, Germany, which despite (or perhaps because of) its reputed military professionalism, proved that it was very good at fighting but not very good at war. (All it achieved in two world wars was encirclement and attrition by enemies with superior resources). So how does history show the art of war in winning without fighting? Let me count the ways…






Now this one should be a no-brainer, as it is Sun Tzu’s apparent eagerness to avoid war that makes him seem such a pacifistic pussy. Wars are costly and destructive, especially big or long wars of attrition, and even when you win, you often lose. So, the best strategy lies in avoiding wars in the first place, if possible – and the worst place to be in war is at the front line. The best place to be in war is sitting it out at the sidelines, ideally playing the balance of power and making money through financing or supplying your favored side – and only entering, if at all, to tilt the balance of power in your direction. This pretty much defines the historical foreign policy of Britain towards continental Europe – they coined the phrase ‘splendid isolationism’ and it served them pretty well, until you know, they fought two world wars too many.


To - ah - just forget about it

To – ah – just forget about it




The Brits might have coined the phrase, but the United States historically defined itself by isolationism. George Washington declared it in his Farewell Address in 1796 and Thomas Jefferson similarly announced in his Inaugural Address in 1801 the policy of “entangling alliances with none”. Isolationism suited the United States pretty well, generally avoiding war with European powers until, you know, it was big enough to win – and the above strategy of sitting it out on the sidelines also essentially defines American foreign policy in the world wars. After the Second World War, it was a different story, as isolationism got a bit of bad press, although critics of American foreign policy on both left and right would argue that the United States has not been isolationist enough. It is even arguable that the United States fought the First World War to “make the world safe for democracy”, only to make it safe for fascism – then fought the Second World War against fascism only to make it safe for communism.


Of course, like most things in life and history, there’s a catch to isolationism – the luck of geography. No doubt Belgium would have loved splendid isolationism, but the geography of being wedged between France and Germany was against it. The isolationist ideal is to effectively have a continent to yourself, like the United States – or better yet, to actually have a continent to yourself:


Guarded by its navy of sharks and crocodiles

Guarded by its navy of sharks and crocodiles


Islands are the next best thing, particularly as historically you could get by with a strong navy instead of a standing army. We’ve already mentioned Britain, but another example was Japan (to the point that it closed itself off from the world from 1641 to 1853), which did pretty well until, you know, it fell victim to the most famous of classic blunders by getting involved in land wars in Asia. Of course, you can’t just sit around in your isolationism like some shut-in crazy cat lady, you have to do things so as to win without fighting. What to do? Well…







The hippies were right! Well, half right – as it should be make babies, not war. War isn’t purely a population numbers game, but it’s hard to beat a big population (and ideally the land area to go with it) – just look at China or Russia. At the very least, you have reserves. Also, there’s nothing quite like a population change in your favor (both between nations and between groups within nations) to tilt the balance of power your way without firing a shot. Historians will probably always debate the causes for the fall of the Roman Empire (or even when and if it fell), but at least one factor was its declining population, particularly as opposed to the increasing population of German tribes. And so the Roman Empire slowly became…German (or more precisely the western Roman Empire slowly became a number of German kingdoms). History never repeats but sometimes it rhymes, and in the modern era, France was eclipsed as the predominant power in Europe when the more populous Germany was united under Prussia (and even more so with France’s declining birthrate and demographic demoralisation between the world wars).


Population growth can basically be your baby BOOM!




Again, war is not purely a population numbers game, so it’s hard to be definitive about it, but it is no coincidence that the rise of the United States to superpower was linked to its rise to the most populous Western nation, fuelled by massive immigration. Even in its origin, one hypothetical example might be whether the United States could have effectively won the American Revolution without firing a shot by just waiting until its population outgrew that of Britain – or indeed, if it had secured parliamentary representation instead of revolution whether it would have ended up running Britain and the British Empire.


Giving rise to the Britannian Empire in Code Geass - where everyone is FABULOUS!

Giving rise to the Britannian Empire in Code Geass – where everyone is FABULOUS!


However, there is one cold, hard example that has recurred throughout history whenever hunter-gatherers have come up against agricultural societies, which can feed more mouths (and have more diseases) – the Indian Wars. The United States basically steamrollered its manifest destiny from coast to coast over the native American tribes as a function of population growth – while most of its population barely noticed. (The United States population that is – the native American population noticed a lot).


So population helps, but there is another set of numbers that usually counts for even more…






There is a military adage “Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics” – and ultimately logistics are a matter of money, so nations with money are hard to beat. Sun Tzu bemoaned the daily cost of keeping an army in the field (“a thousand ounces of silver a day”) – and that was when armies could forage and loot much of their supplies. Wars are costly and expensive, especially with modern industrial technology. As we’ve seen, the best place to be in war is sitting on the sidelines – making money from trade and financing or supplying your side of choice (and entering, if at all, to win it so they can pay you back), or effectively fighting with money by subsidizing other nations. Even better, money is a means to become powerful without fighting at all – through trade, finance, investment and influence. Germany dominates Europe today and Japan rose to power through money more effectively than they ever did by war, while China has risen to superpower through making money more than it ever did through its military and nuclear bluster under Mao.





Need we say more? Money has been the fundamental American art of war. Who says money can’t buy superpower? Just ask Batman…and the United States has been the goddamn Batman of the world – crimefighting with cash, gadgets and firepower. For starters, the United States simply bought large parts of its territory, most notably the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1804 and Alaska from Russia in 1867.


I'll take the green part to go - and could you throw Alaska in a doggy bag?

I’ll take the green part to go – and could you throw Alaska in a doggy bag?


When it has come to wars, the United States has relied on its economic, financial and industrial strength – from the victory of the North over the South in the Civil War to victory in the world wars. As Stalin is reputed to have said of the victory in the Second World War (and if he didn’t, he should have) – England provided the time, Russia provided the blood and America provided the money. That’s how you win without fighting and that’s what Germany got for trying to be a Nietzschean Superman, trying to fight its way to victory (“he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterward looks for victory”), rather than being Batman like the United States. (It also goes to show who would really win between Batman and Superman. Even in the comics Batman could just pay Wonder Woman to beat up Superman or cut a deal with Lex Luthor, all while getting rich from shares in kryptonite). And for the ultimate money shot of winning without fighting, there’s the Cold War, where the United States won when the Soviets essentially ran out of money.


Of course, historically speaking, sooner or later in your rise to power through becoming populous and rich (indeed often as obstacles during it), you will face wars with adversaries or rivals. So, how do you win them without fighting?







It’s simple – you should pick battles that are so ridiculously one-sided in your favor that they have their own trope, like stomping someone into the curb. Monty Python demonstrates the basic principle:



Empires are generally built by big or powerful nations stomping on small or weak ones. Picking curb stomp battles or “winning with ease” is the essence of Sun Tzu’s strategist – “hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage”. Typically, this is a matter of numerical superiority, as Sun Tzu himself emphasized – “though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force”. However, it is very often a matter of qualitative superiority (from what in military lingo is termed force multipliers) – such as superior training or technique but most demonstrably superior technology, the historical equivalent of beating opponents who bring knives to gunfights. This is how the Europeans curb stomped their colonial empires – as Hillaire Belloc wrote, “whatever happens, we have got. The Maxim gun and they have not”. The Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted the whole of 38 minutes on 27 August 1896, as British ships used the Zanzibari sultan’s palace for target practice from 9.02 am to 9.40 am. (Part of the terms of peace was that the Zanzabaris had to repay the cost of the shells).





O land of the free and home of the brave – but one has to admit, this is kind of how the United States won its smaller wars. H. L. Mencken typically mocked this in his essay “The Anglo-Saxon”, but as we’ve seen, it is the essence of clever strategy and all nations like to do it if they can, even Mencken’s beloved Prussian Germany, which lost when it took on opponents bigger than itself – the world in general and the Soviet Union in particular. Sure, the United States started off big, as the potential stompee against the British Empire in the American Revolution (and its sequel, the war of 1812), but after that it curb stomped its manifest destiny across the continent. We’ve already talked about the Indian Wars, but there was also the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, which Ulysses S. Grant – no pinko pacifist pussy – called “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger on a weaker nation” (and added about half of Mexico to the United States).


What?! They weren't using it anyway!

What?! They weren’t using it anyway!


The debut of the United States into the international scene with a war against a European power was equally as sordid, as it pounced upon an enfeebled Spain in 1898 and snatched the last decent remnants of the declining Spanish empire (like the Philippines and Cuba), leaving Spain with such gems as the Spanish Sahara and Fernando Poo. (No, really – Fernando Poo). The Mexican-American War and Spanish-American War typified many American wars south of the border and across the waters, from the so-called Banana Wars through Panama and Grenada to the first Iraqi War.


And for that matter, even the bigger wars of the United States have something of this character. Such was the economic strength and resources of the United States in the world wars, that they were really a foregone conclusion after its entry, especially when you throw in the other allies – and as the United States swarmed Japan with its ships and planes in the Second World War, it did indeed have some actual curb stomp battles, such as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’ in June 1944, labelled by American naval aviators for the ease with which they shot down the remnants of Japanese carrier aviation (prompting Japan to resort to kamikazes). Also, although the American Civil War – a war that the Pacific War oddly resembled in many ways – was hardly a curb stomp battle, the North had such advantages in population and resources over the South that its victory was virtually a foregone conclusion as well.


Of course, sooner or later, you will face adversaries or rivals with which you are more evenly matched and which would involve wars of attrition, which Sun Tzu labelled the worst possible wars. How do you win without fighting?







Again, it’s simple – sit back while others do the fighting for you. This essentially comes in two versions. There’s the adversarial version, in which you sit back while your adversaries or rivals destroy or exhaust themselves fighting each other, although that’s often as much a matter of good luck as good strategy. One reason for the Islamic conquest of the remaining eastern Roman or Byzantine empire and the Persian empire is that they were exhausted from decades (or centuries) slugging it out against each other like glazed-eyed punch-drunk boxers. Alternatively, there’s the allied version, which is much the same except you sit back while your allies bear the brunt of the fighting, although typically you’ll have to finance or supply them or at least do some cheerleading.






Again, one has to admit that, through good luck or good strategy, this is kind of how the United States has won its bigger wars. Perhaps its biggest war, at least in terms of the disparity with its adversary, was the American Revolution, so it was just as well France fought it for them – not just France but Spain and the Netherlands as well, in what was essentially a world war against Britain. The sequel War of 1812 was somewhat similar, as the United States was mostly a distraction from Britain’s main concern with, in the words of H. L. Mencken, “an enterprising Corsican gentleman, Bonaparte by name”. The world wars were even more of the same. The United States entered the First World War at the tail end of it, when every other combatant was exhausted by years of fighting, with far fewer casualties as a result. In the Second World War, it came in about halfway, but it was the Soviet Union that did most of the fighting against Nazi Germany, as well as most of the dying – at least 20-30 MILLION dead (albeit mostly as civilians or captured prisoners) as opposed to about 420,000 dead for the United States.


So yeah, it was more like saving Private Ivan

So yeah, it was more like saving Private Ivan


The biggest exception to the rule was the war it fought against itself, the American Civil War, which is why it involved the most casualties of any American war.


Again, like most things, there’s a catch. The adversarial version needs good judgment – in correctly judging that your adversaries will destroy each other, rather than one defeating the other and becoming stronger or more dangerous to you as a result. The allied version on the other hand has a problem all of its own – namely that your uppity allies, having done the fighting, might think that they should do the winning as well. Once again, the United States has excelled at putting an end to this crap. France went broke from its spending in the American Revolution and had a revolution of its own, while Spain had similar problems and lost its American colonies. Virtually everyone was exhausted, broke and owed money to the United States or swallowed up by revolution or civil war at the end of the First World War. The biggest exception was the Second World War, with the Soviet Union claiming its spoils of victory. It just took a bit longer – and the United States winning the Cold War by making money – for them to be exhausted and broke as well. Although there was also something Sun Tzu didn’t see coming, which luckily turned into one last way of winning without fighting (and hopefully has helped the world turn away from fighting), because fighting would mean everyone losing…




Stark Ravings – Days of Future Past




For the days of future past, I continue to dream of fantasy and science fiction in all its forms – from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons, and from H. G. Wells to Star Wars (as well as how fictional characters dropped the ball and how I take fictional events way too seriously).





As for upcoming features:

  • Roll up the best fantasy classes of character for bling and booty
  • Look at fantasy punk, the mancies of magic, the evolution of dystopia, the twisted timelines of Terminator (and the machinations of the Matrix) and the apocalypses of Mad Max
  • Ride tripods and time machines between evolution and deep blue entropy in H. G. Wells and see how the world of science fictions is still full of Morlocks and Martians (or Alien and Terminator)


Stark Ravings – The Art of War





For my stark ravings on the art of war, I continue to recline in my comfortable armchair of hindsight and ruminate about how all history is the art of war or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.


We’ve looked at how the United States has proved the art of war as winning without fighting (as opposed to Germany, which showed itself to be very good at fighting but not very good at war – that’s what you get for trying to be a Nietzschean Superman, rather than being Batman), as well as how reputed military leaders like Hannibal or Napoleon were actually losers.


As for upcoming features, we’ll look at the art of war in the Second World War, rating Allies and Axis by their eight biggest mistakes in the art of war, as well as a closer look at the American art of war, rating the wars of the United States. We’ll also have a closer look at the lack of German art of war – and just how idiotic Hitler was in the Second World War. You know, apart from all the death and destruction. (When you get right down to it, Hitler and his Nazi regime were two-time losers, hopelessly trying to re-fight the war Germany had lost twenty years previously, except worse – which of course makes neo-Nazis three-time losers, hopelessly trying to re-fight the Second World War on the internet).


And there’s all my favorite oddities of empires (from the safe distance of not actually being in them) – franchise zombie empires, the crappiest European empires for bling and booty (because they were full of crap otherwise), and all the times Europe narrowly escaped being part of someone else’s empire. And overlapping with my top tens of everything, there’s my top ten wars, empires and evil empires in history.



Stark Ravings – The Meaning of Life





As for my stark ravings in my revamped blogs, they remain much the same – the meaning of life, the art of war and the days of future past.


For the meaning of life, I rant and rave about random mythology, science and philosophy:

  • Roll up for my magical mystery tour of mythology, from my godless enjoyment of sex and violence in the Bible to my godful enjoyment of classical paganism, and from the zen applause of one hand clapping to playing poker with tarot cards.
  • Open wide the maw of science, as I look at our Darwinian life on earth as human animals (and how nature is full of crap – nature is the predator picking out your brains and the parasite chewing out your guts). What are we but fish that couldn’t swim and had to crawl and apes that couldn’t climb and had to think?
  • Gaze into the navel of philosophy, as I live in a Nietzschean world with a Freudian mind.

As for upcoming features, my focus will continue to be on mythology, the precursor of fantasy, as I set out explore the most interesting underworlds and apocalypses.

I continue to celebrate my godless enjoyment of the Bible, because it’s the book that keeps on giving, even when you stop believing. Following on from my Biblical bad girls, I keep bringing the Biblical sexy back with my observations of the sexiest, goriest and most ridiculous parts of the Bible, as well as all the Biblical heroes who were actually losers.  It’s not all Bible-bashing – I also look at my biblical fixes that would actually make it readable, and bigger than Game of Thrones. (It may be the word of God, but He badly needed an editor). And how can I resist the Apocalyptic Seven and my favourite Biblical beasts?

I will also celebrate my godful enjoyment of classical paganism and other mythology, following up my classical bad girls with the misadventures of Hercules and Thor (those Nordic gods tended to drop the ball a lot), as well as dropping out all the death cards in the Tarot.

However, I will also have the occasional quips about science and philosophy – such as ranting about Plato’s mystical fascism and how we’re still fighting the Peloponnesian war, how someone should have smacked Descartes in the head and while Wile E. Coyote is the modern existential hero…


Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Fantasy & SF: (10) The Girl with the Hungry Eyes





What would my Fantasy Girls feature be without looking at, you know, the girls of actual fantasy?

Accordingly, these are my top 10 girls of fantasy and SF – I’m talking literary fantasy and SF (although potentially including screen adaptations of literary fantasy and SF – and open to special mention for original fantasy and SF film or television).


Kate beckinsale




My wildcard tenth place entry is not so much iconic in herself, but is representative of a recurring female fantasy figure and one that is perfectly encapsulated by the titular character of this Fritz Leiber short story – the vampire girl. Indeed, I have such a soft spot for vampire bad girls that I strive to find a place for at least one in each of my top ten fantasy girl lists – and might well compile a list purely for my top ten vampire girls.




A particular favorite is the eponymous vampire girl in Fritz Leiber’s modern vampire story, The Girl With The Hungry Eyes. She and her story may be somewhat elusive in circulation these days, but the very title of her story captures the essence of vampire girls, girls with hungry eyes. Of course, Leiber’s short story has a modern spin (not uncommon in modern vampire girls) – the hunger in her eyes is not for the classic vampire archetype of blood, but an equally vampiric hunger for an equivalent life force.  The protagonist photographer narrates his encounter with The Girl as he calls her, a glamor model who mesmerizes millions of Americans from magazines and billboards, particularly with her eyes that speak of desire, longing and “a hunger that’s all sex and something more than sex”. She is his model, insisting upon working one-on-one in person – somewhat thin and waiflike, but for her magical eyes, her preternatural senses and the occasional dizzy flashes the protagonist feels in her presence. He begins to be fascinated by her, to follow her after shoots, until one day, he takes her by the arm and walks with her, as she takes him into a deserted park to sate her hunger, not for blood, but for his life force itself, in its entire sweep of emotions and experience – “She’s the smile that tricks you into throwing away your money and your life. She’s the eyes that lead you on and on, and then show you death. She’s the creature you give everything you’ve got and gives nothing in return. When you yearn towards her face on the billboards, remember that. She’s the lure. She’s the bait. She’s the Girl”.


The protagonist flees from her temptation, forewarned by having linked her previous victims to news of mysterious deaths, and perhaps fired by the youth of his author at the time. Yet, I can’t help but feel The Girl continued to haunt Leiber, into his older years of alcoholism, financial strain and world-weary widowhood – so that when he effectively reincarnated her in his story Horrible Imaginings, his protagonist, so similar to Leiber himself, instead embraced her as a beautiful death. And goddess help me, I’d be sorely tempted to go with her as well.





Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Comics (Special Mention): (4) Spiderwoman





Spiderwoman is yet another special mention as a derivative character from a male superhero. Marvel Comics’ major domo Stan Lee even admitted her creation was to secure the copyright for a Spiderwoman character. Like Supergirl and Batgirl, Spiderwoman has had various incarnations – indeed, there has been a bewildering proliferation of Spiderwomen and Spidergirls, including alternate versions of both Spiderman’s most famous love interests, Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (Spider-Gwen!).




For that matter, I don’t want to alarm you kids, but there may be a Spiderman or Spidermen in the house – there has been a bewildering proliferation of Spiderpeople in general, a virtual Spiderverse that makes even the ridiculously expanded Kryptonian world of Superman and Gotham family of Batman look positively restrained. At least Superman and Batman tend to consistently be Kal-El (or Clark Kent) and Bruce Wayne respectively except in weird Elseworld stories), but Spiderman isn’t always Peter Parker, even in the ‘mainstream’ Marvel universe – not to mention the abundance of Spiderclones. And that’s not getting into the arachnophobic nightmare of spider-themed characters or superheroes throughout comics.


Although I was very disappointed by the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Where the hell was Spiderwoman?

Although I was very disappointed by the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Where the hell was Spiderwoman?


Anyway, the original Spiderwoman remains the classic character of that name – the costumed alter-ego of Jessica Drew with her comics debut in 1977. In her first appearance, she was to be an actual spider evolved into human form. Eww! Fortunately, Marvel decided that would simply be too implausible for comics readers – as opposed to, say, Spiderman’s origin from being bitten by a radioactive or genetically engineered spider. (Let’s face it – we’re talking technofantasy magic spiders here). Spiderwoman’s origin story has varied between a spider-blood serum experimental cure and her mother’s womb being hit by a laser beam containing the DNA traits of several different species of spiders. Wait – what? That makes Spiderman’s origin seem rigorously scientific by comparison. Just…forget it. Jessica’s Spiderwoman powers are similar to Spiderman’s powers (and equally as variable), except that she also exudes pheromones that attract males (well – more than her skintight costume and figure) because of course she does. She can also fly or glide, which may or may not be related to her weird web-like wings.




Jessica Drew’s Spiderwoman has had a fluctuating history of publication, with the character being resurrected like every true comics superhero for a revived solo title – unfortunately not without controversy, as Marvel engaged artist Milo Manara (better known for his erotic art) for the cover, resulting in a strikingly sexual superheroine pose that broke the internet. She has also been an Avenger – so it will be interesting to see if the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes her in their roster. Black Widow could do with the skintight-suited spider-themed superheroine company!



Fantasy Girls: Top 10 Girls of Comics (Special Mention): (3) Batgirl





Like Supergirl, Batgirl earns special mention as she was originally a derivative character of Batman – and of similar vintage in 1961 as a female counterpart of the latter.


Again like Supergirl, Batgirl has had various incarnations, albeit more in different hair colors than different costumes. The most iconic Batgirl and certainly my Batgirl of choice is redhead Barbara Gordon, daughter of Batman’s ally Commissioner James Gordon.




As Supergirl represented the start of Superman’s Silver Age silliness and proliferation of Kryptonian survivors, Batgirl similarly represented the start of Batman’s Silver Age silliness and proliferation of the so-called Batman Family. Batman readers have always had to deal with a proliferation of Robins (since the original Robin dated back almost as old as Batman himself, mainly to give Batman someone to talk to instead of interior monologues). Batgirl started to expand the Batman Family in a way that directly echoed the expansion of the Superman Family for obvious commercial reasons – Ace the Bat-Hound instead of Krypto the Super-Dog, and even Bat-Mite instead of Superman’s Mr Mxyzptlk. Just like Superman gets to the point where I wonder if everyone from Krypton moved to Earth, Batman gets to the point where I wonder if anyone in Gotham is not aware that Bruce Wayne is Batman. (I remember a comedy sketch where Batman is talking to an informer in a pub and when the informer asks where the Batcave is, the whole pub yells out “Bruce Wayne Mansion”).


However, I see Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl as a more engaging character than Supergirl. I mean – the Joker shoots her in the spine and renders her a paraplegic in Alan Moore’s canonical The Killing Joke, and she’s still badass, becoming the Oracle, computer genius and leader of the Birds of Prey team of female operatives. Although she – ah – got better (due to advanced surgery and therapy) and she returned as Batgirl with her own title. That was not without controversy – but I tend to agree with Batgirl writer Gail Simone, who sees Barbara Gordon as “one of the smartest and toughest women in comics”, even more so for overcoming the trauma of her experiences.








New Page – Top 10 Comics

This always reminds me of work. Or life for that matter.

This always reminds me of work. Or life for that matter.




I’ve added a page for my top 10 comics.

There’s a method to the madness. With my top 10 fantasy books, top 10 SF books and top 10 comics all set in pages, I’m now placed to add to them with my long and ongoing roll call of special and honorable mentions for classic and new works in my predominant areas of reading.