Saturday, December 12, 2020

Author Katherine Neville on "The Queen's Gambit"

 Hola everyone!  I meant to post this much earlier, but this time of year finds me very busy.  Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year and I go all out decorating my tree, my mantel, and my dining room, shopping for new ornaments (I swear every year I'm not going to do it and every year I do it anyway), etc. 

I especially want to share author Katherine Neville's November 30, 2020 Newsletter with you, about "The Queen's Gambit." I can't help but note that Neville was prescient in her September 21, 2020 newsletter about the United States being in a state of "flux" (you can read about it here, as well as my political rant in which I didn't pull my punches against Donald J. Trump and his enablers).  Perhaps Netflix's production of "The Queen's Gambit" during this particular time in our history will rejuvenate chess in the United States, particularly when it comes to female players, like Bobby Fischer's success did for chess more than 40 years ago.

Katherine Neville's Queen's Gambit Newsletter
November 30, 2020

The Black Queen

Here I am [photo not included from Newsletter], with Chess Grandmaster and World Champion, Susan Polgar, at our book launch party for The Fire (sequel to The Eight) held in Washington DC!  Grandmaster Polgar was one of our co-hosts for that event; she also found for us the great Black Queen that appears with us here.  And Susan's husband Paul Truong took many of the wonderful photos of that evening, which appear on my web site, in my Author section.

Hundreds of you–my friends and fellow readers, from every age and every walk of life–have been writing to me, asking if I’ve seen the new television miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis (author of The HustlerThe Color of Money.) I read the book long ago, as well as every piece of fiction ever written about chess, since I was about to write my book–The Eight–where the entire plot, a swashbuckling adventure story, is based on a major chess game taking place over a period of two hundred years, all around the world.

By contrast, Walter Tevis’ book is the story of a troubled young woman, obsessed with chess, who overcomes all obstacles and goes on to become World Champion. Not only have I watched the series, but seeing it converted to screen was a real inspiration to me. In short, the screenwriters, actors, and director really did a great job, and they have even improved upon Walter Tevis’s original book! The screenplay sparkles with adventure, suspense, and action that’s hard to convey in such a cerebral story.

It is also of genuine interest to me, that not only the original author, Walter Tevis, but nearly all of the film’s developers–producers, director, and screenwriters–are men. This goes to show that really intelligent men can see inside a woman’s mind–at least in fiction! 

This story also shows that a strong, intelligent woman can benefit by the gallantry and support of the men around her–even when competing against them! Chess, like the Kama Sutra, originated in India as a cosmic dance. From medieval times–in literature like Roman de La Rose, to Shakespeare’s The Tempest–women played chess with men as a romantic courting ritual. 

It’s an Alchemy that we need to bring back, today!

(Go to the link to read the rest of the Newsletter and see the photographs included in the article).


I am inclined not to agree with Ms. Neville's statement that chess originated in India.  This is, in my opinion, a myth that has been accepted by chess historians as truth rather than the unproven supposition it is, based on no actual physical (archaeological) evidence of which I am aware directly linking an ancient form of chess to India, and even more questionable reasoning and rationalizing by H.J.R. Murray, author of the famous (infamous) "History of Chess" written at the end of the 19th century.  There is more physical evidence for chess or a forerunner of the game actually being played in ancient Persia (today's Iran) or at the very least, along the ancient trade route from China to the Middle East and beyond (the Silk Road) in the form of actually excavated identifiable chess pieces from Afrasiyab, a ruined city said to have been founded by one of Persia's ancient kings in then Persian territory (northeast Persia).  The ruins, surrounded in part by the modern city of Samarkand (Samarqand), are in the country now called Uzbekistan along the now long gone ancient Silk Road route.  

But I agree with Neville that the true beauty of chess is to be found in the dance of the pieces on the board, and the intellectual and emotional acrobatics and interaction that takes place when two players sit across from each other to match wits, skill, and spirit.  The dance can become particularly interesting when it is a female and male sitting across the board from each other, for many different reasons.  

The ancient Egyptians called their gaming pieces jbAw, pronounced something like ebau (abau) or ebou (abou) - "dancer."  The ancient Egyptians, who loved their word play, carved their oldest gaming pieces out of elephant ivory (bw), pronounced something like ab "elephant," and abu, "elephant's tooth."  Our English word "ivory" comes from the Latin  ebor or ebur, which came directly from the Egyptian word(s) for "elephant."  

History bit:  The Mitre, the headdress worn by Bishops in the Catholic Church, is an ancient symbol of power and authority which was adopted from the even older use of a horn or horns in a headdress that was worn only by those who held great positions of power, such as Kings and their closest advisors.  Interestingly, ancient depictions of shamans and what some archaeologists have suggested may be "gods" depicted in ancient cave art and on ancient rock carvings appear to be wearing horns, so the link between "power" and the horn or horns from a mighty animal is extremely ancient, pre-dating writing by thousands of years.  The Egyptian word "Pharaoh" which is generally translated as "great house" began life as some form of tent/hut which was ornamented above the door with a set of elephant tusks or bovine horns.  I assume that as the climate along the Nile changed over the millennia and elephants moved further south in Africa, bovine horns (Hathor, anyone?) replaced the elephant tusks.  

Of course, chess pieces dance!  Even I, not even a competent enough player to call myself a patzer, know that.  Here's an interesting article from 2018 from the Southwest Journal (a Minneapolis, Minnesota based publication) entitled "A Dance of Chess Pieces."  Fantastic article by Nate Gotlieb.  

And I always go back to one of my favorite videos from the 1980s musical "Chess," One Night in Bangkok sung by Murray Head.

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