Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, the bitter feud between the Catholics and the Protestants grew even more intense when the Catholics realized that the new king, James I, was not going to be more tolerant of their religion. Some of them decided to do something about it...

Guy Fawkes and his friends decided that the most effective way to influence politics was to start blowing things up (remarkable how little things have changed since then, really), and they figured that they might as well get right to the point and blow up the Houses of Parliament. Alas, one of their numbers became concerned that innocent people might be killed, and sent an anonymous letter warning a friend to stay away from the HoP on 5 Nov 1605. The warning letter was taken to the king, whose soldiers stormed into a cellar of the parliament to find Guy Fawkes sitting on 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Needless to say, they quickly tied him to a stake and lit him on fire, which was common enough back then. And for the 398 years since that day, each November 5th Britain has celebrated the defeat of the Gunpowder Plot by lighting huge bonfires, many of which are topped with effigies of Guy Fawkes.

I've asked my British friends what they think of this, and some of them are of the mind that the point of the ritual is to remind people that, once upon a time, people would get off their asses and try (however misguidedly, and for however absurd a cause) to change things. Of course, the rest of the rest of the populace is celebrating the fact that those who tried to upset the Way Of Things got their due.

Alan Moore, whose writings often explore the history and mindset of his native Britain (as in the movies 'From Hell' and 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'), has written a great story called 'V for Vendetta' that revolves around a character styled on Guy Fawkes. (Not to be confused with the lesbian math-rock divas of the same name.) The Wachowski brothers (think 'Matrix') are working on a screenplay to turn 'V for Vendetta' into a movie.