Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Where Reading Can Lead

Some of you will remember that my daughter, the Marquis, wrote a guest blog a couple of months ago. Well, any mom knows that equal time is a must. So may I present a guest blog from the High Cactus, my 12 year old son. He's an avid reader, fabulous storyteller, and techno-geek genius; most of our INK bloggers know him simply as our technical support staff.

Today he offers an interesting discourse on where his reading has led him. I can tell you from personal experience this is not a fictionalized account.

The High Cactus:

I’ve always liked big things. I’ve always liked old things. I’ve always had a taste for destruction. So, it is no surprise that I have been lured by the best thing that fits that description: siege weaponry. It all started when I was very young, and I read books about knights and tales of castles and dungeons. But what always caught my eye were the huge boulders launched from wooden contraptions that knocked down walls and destroyed cities.

As I grew older, and started reading more in-depth books, I soon discovered the answer, so it seemed, to my questions: the mythical wooden device was a catapult. Thinking that the mystery was solved, I was content. That is, until my mother brought home a book about medieval weapons, compete with detailed blueprints. This is when I learned that I had been deceived: the catapult was only the most basic thing one could learn! It turns out that there was a whole story behind the many kinds of huge, wooden, projectile-hurling cannons. I read about the Roman and Greek ballista, a sort of giant crossbow on wheels that fired huge bolts at opposing armies. I learned how a mangonel, although almost identical, differs from the onager. I found out how the gravity-powered trebuchet could fling stones much farther, harder, and more accurately then other catapults.

This, of course, prompted more book borrowing and net surfing. I learned the inner-workings of a spring-based catapult, and compared it to my findings of counted-weighted trebuchets, and discovered how one was superior to the other. Now that I had an extensive knowledge of many outlandish contraptions and their workings, I had only one more question: why. I was yearning to know what in the world these terror machines were used for. I then discovered siege warfare. The idea was amazingly intriguing for me. I read all about it, and learned about different battles and styles of different nations of the ancient world. I was also, at the time, reading The Lord of the Rings. I had arrived at the part of the book where Gondor goes under siege—and found to my delight that my favorite pre-gunpowder WMD were used. I was a great experience to have my newfound knowledge of the real world be brought into my favorite fantasy world as well. I could picture myself, surrounded by thick walls, with huge boulders and rotting corpses raining down upon me. I amazed me how deadly war could be, centuries before tanks and bombs.

Siege weapons, although always an interest, were put on the back burner for a while. But it was my mom that ignited the fire once again. She purchased a book for me giving instructions on building potato cannons, fire kites, and yes—a small, working model onager. The instructions were a little shaky, but sure enough, in about 3 hours I had my own half foot working catapult. As I fired walnuts and cashews across the room, I had only one thought: BIGGER!

I got to work drawing up plans for my new project: a catapult. Eight feet long, high powered, and sure to be just about the most awesome thing ever, this was going to be a big project. I changed much of the design from the original model, and added a safe firing system. I used Google SketchUp to draw a 3D model of my creation. Construction and completion of the ultimate water balloon war weapon will begin very soon. I highly encourage all of you to learn about amazing robots from long ago: educate your selves in siege weaponry today.


Gretchen Woelfle said...

Wow! What a story. Thanks, High Cactus. Could you send us some pictures of your machine in action?

Loreen Leedy said...

Very cool post! We just watched The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. While it was a tad gory and strangely Monty Pythonish at times, I’m pretty sure there was a trebuchet. Anyway, take photos!

The Book Chook said...

It sounds so cool!

I became intrigued by trebuchets when I read High Citadel, fiction by Desmond Bagley. Plane crash survivors are being pursued by baddies, and instead of giving in, decide to fight back (luckily one is a medieval history prof). They make a trebuchet from junk left in an abandoned mine.

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Fun post! About 3 years before you were even born, I wrote and illustrated a very unusual book called Ezra's Quest. The story took place during the Middle Ages, and on one spread I showed just about every type of fighting that took place during the Hundred Year's War between France and England. There's a trebuchet in the picture that plays an important role in the story. I always used to mention trebuchets in my school talks at the time and everyone liked the idea, but you're the first person your age (or much older) to have any clue about what they were.

More recently I wrote a book called John Smith Escapes Again, and when he was fighting against the Turks (yes, the real John Smith was a soldier with the Austrian Army), he improvised some sort of catapaults that he called "Fiery Dragons." He used them in the middle of the night to fling pots filled with explosives down a mountain into the camp of the much larger Turkish Army as they slept. His tricks with such weapons and with fireworks were such a success that they were part of the reason this low-born farmer's son became a captain during a time that almost every single officer was a highborn aristocrat.

If you didn't already do this, you will really enjoy checking out Leonardo da Vinci's war weapons, especially his cannons that could fire lots of cannonballs all at once over and over in machine-gun fashion.

Anonymous said...

High Cactus,

Although you mentioned the books, there were no titles given?

Theresa Orand

Anna M. Lewis said...

High Cactus,
Great story... fantastic guest post!

Just wondering what kind of job he may have someday... hmmmm... I used to make toys for my brother, and look what happened.

Linda Salzman said...


I'm afraid the High Cactus can't remember all of the titles. One was
"Weapons" by Edwin Tunis. The book I bought for him was "Backyard Ballistics" by William Gurstelle.