On a Train You’ll Read Anything!

“Do you think we’ll have any free time to run around town?” Bopo’s voice was insistent, as if he expected his seatmate to answer. Max, sitting by the window, didn’t really want to answer. He wasn’t overly fond of long rail journeys, and the trip from Solitude to Markarth was a long one. Max would have been perfectly happy to sleep through the whole thing.

“If I know our coach, he’ll probably have us running up and down the stairs in the city center,” suggested Max, a little impatiently. Max couldn’t imagine his entire football team, plus the others in the upcoming Markarth tournament, being allowed to roam around the ancient city unsupervised. He didn’t bother elaborating to his teammate, though.

“What are you so snippy for? Something bad happen to you?”

Max sighed. Max’s mood wasn’t Bopo’s fault. “Sorry, I was over at my uncle and aunt’s place last night and that Cari was getting on my nerves again. Called me a ‘stupid footballer.’”

“Well, she’s at least half right, anyway you look at it,” grinned Bopo.

Max fished ten schillings from his trouser pocket. “Here. Take this and go find some snacks. And bring me something, too.” Bopo brightened and, thanking Max, took the money and moved carefully forward to the club car. That should keep him for a little while, thought Max. While Bopo could be a little exasperating, Max didn’t dislike him at all. Further, respected how well Bopo played, despite his small size. But now he had some peace and quiet, for a little while at least.

After a while, Max wished he’d brought something to read. Looking around, he spotted a magazine in the seat pocket in front of him. TamRail Mail, the railway’s monthly magazine. Not exactly his first choice, but better than nothing. The featured article advertised on the cover had to do with the film A Hand to Hold. Max knew the film. Pretty much everyone in the country did. That’s the one Cari and Aunt Teri watch when it’s broadcast every year, he thought. And every single time they cry at the ending. Opening the magazine, Max found the article and began reading.

Jot and Miki at 75: A Hand to Hold and Popular Culture

Viktor Tomlinson, Entertainment Staff Reporter

Jot and Miki tales have been a staple of Skyrim folklore for a thousand years, and part of the Imperial and Republic literary tradition for almost as long. As such, it is no surprise that the legendary pair have been featured in popular media ever since popular media existed. On the eve of the 75th anniversary of A Hand to Hold’s cinematic release, it seems appropriate to look back on how Jot and Miki stories, A Hand to Hold in particular, have impacted our cultural landscape.

In the earliest instances, Jot and Miki stories were used by teachers in Temples of Mara to illustrate different aspects of Maric philosophy. In these tales, and those that followed over the centuries, young Miki is called upon to perform some profound sacrifice, with or without Jot’s help. In nearly every case, Jot is left either inspired or dumbfounded, as he’s left to contemplate the nature of Miki’s sacrifice and to ask Lady Mara for guidance. Seldom do these tales have happy endings – Maric philosophy stressed the importance of committing to a noble or loving path without thought of reward. Ancient manuscripts containing these stories still exist, with the largest collection in the Winterhold University archives.

Illustration from Sound Tales for Every Child (ca 5E870)

Moveable type and increased literacy led to an explosion in publications of all kinds, and Jot and Miki stories appeared in countless books in the centuries that followed. Written mostly for children, these books gradually presented more pleasant, sanitized versions of the earlier tales. Seldom was Miki required to give her life; seldom was Jot left to grieve. While they were still called upon to perform difficult, if noble, deeds, the youngsters were more often rewarded openly. Indeed, in the collection Sound Tales for Every Child, Jot and Miki find themselves rewarded at the end of each story with such treasures as dinner with the Emperor, a fine house, or a chest of gold. While Maric clergy disapproved of stories they considered crude and materialistic, there are no known instances of the Temple trying to block their publication. Even a debased version of Maric philosophy, apparently, was better than nothing.

Interestingly, the advent of moving pictures allowed the Temple of Mara to “reclaim” Jot and Miki for their educational purposes. Between 5E920 and 5E925, the Temple sponsored a collection of short silent films recreating the classic stories (with their philosophical underpinnings) to teach adherents and even win new converts. These films were presented at regular Temple gatherings and at occasional revival meetings, and were accompanied by story books for children or more mature literature for adults. While some of the books can still be found (again, Winterhold University has a few), no copies of the films are known to exist today.

Outside of a couple animated shorts, no attempt was made at a Jot and Miki feature film until 5E953. For director Rudolf Anselm, A Hand to Hold was almost a labor of love. Deeply affected by his Maric upbringing, Anselm had always wanted to make a Jot and Miki film, and, in his words, “to tell their story as it should be told, unvarnished, unadorned, with the oldest source material available.” With several successful features already under his belt, Anselm had little trouble convincing Metro-Tamriel Films to finance the picture, as long as he was willing to team up with veteran producer Hugo Beck. Anselm was, and for the most part, Beck stayed out of Anselm’s way, intervening only when Anselm’s plans became unrealistically extravagant.

Anselm’s first move was to line up Esther Norgaard to write a script. In an interview years later, Norgaard said, “Rudi [Anselm] had the basic story arc already in mind, but he told me he wanted to use the oldest source material available, and to tell the story in a matter-of-fact way. I was to avoid sermonizing or talking down to the audience. With those instructions, I spent two months at Winterhold University studying manuscripts, and another month producing a workable outline. It sounds brutal, but Rudi was actually pretty easy to work with.”

In addition, Abel Holm was recruited to provide the musical score. Holm said, “My only instructions were: Not too lavish, and make sure your music put the audience in the picture. I think I did that.” Indeed, Holm’s score was far less elaborate than other films of its day, and the stark, dissonant incidental music must have shocked contemporary audiences, who had never heard anything like it.

While Esther Norgaard was writing and Abel Holm was composing, Beck and Anselm started thinking big. First, they decided the picture would be filmed in full color at a time when nearly all films were photographed in black and white. To accomplish this goal, they enlisted pioneering cinematographer Karl Moller, who later said, “I always thought color film had great potential, so when I heard from Beck and Anselm, I was ready to jump for joy. Finally, I had the opportunity to do what I wanted.” The new color technology was expensive, requiring significant investments in new equipment and film processing. While Metro-Tamriel management was willing to foot the bill for color filming, they blanched at the shooting plan, which called for location filming all across Skyrim, plus additional locations in the Heartlands. Hugo Beck went to extraordinary lengths to convince management that the investment would pay off; mostly he won that battle. However, he had to persuade Rudolf Anselm to abandon some of his more elaborate plans, such as constructing a replica of Falkreath town north of the National Capital.

With the foundations basically laid, Beck and Anselm could now turn to casting. Having seen her in a community theater play, Anselm was enchanted by a young actress named Lita Hanyu. “The moment I saw her, I knew nobody else could play Miki,” Anselm wrote later. But an untested newcomer needed a veteran supporting cast. Beck suggested Anders Bolt, a youngster with appearances in several children’s features to his credit, to play Jot, while Beck and Anselm lined up Kira Svan to play Dinya Balu and Maddi De Jong to play Lucia.

Original Advertising Poster, 5E953

Shooting began in late 5E953 and continued into the following year. By the end of 5E954, the film was ready for release, heralded by an intense advertising campaign. While Beck and Anselm were certain they’d created a masterpiece, they were a little apprehensive about the film’s success. The final product wasn’t a cheery film by any stretch, and neither Beck nor Anselm were sure audiences would embrace it. As it was, early returns suggested the film would fail at the box office. It was only after the first month that receipts started to pick up.

By the end of the third month, Beck and Anselm had turned a profit.

By the end of the sixth month, an entire nation had fallen in love with Lita Hanyu, and a phenomenon was born.

A Hand to Hold ran for a full twelve months, and underwent revivals five and ten years after its original release. The film really found traction in the new medium of television, nearly twenty years after it hit the cinemas, and has remained a staple of holiday viewing ever since. Remarkably, no other live-action Jot and Miki feature was ever attempted, and an animated version of A Hand to Hold released five years ago flopped at the box office. While the public may love Jot and Miki, they’re apparently very discerning about how Jot and Miki are presented. Metro-Tamriel is banking on the public falling in love all over again as A Hand to Hold has been visually restored to its original glory, and its audio tracks (music in particular) brought up to modern cinematic standards. Release is anticipated this autumn.

Advertisement for remastered A Hand to Hold

I had no idea the film was that old, thought Max. How about that? His train of thought was interrupted by Bopo’s return. “Here. I got you some nuts,” said Bopo. “And here’s your change.” He dropped a bag of mixed nuts and a few coins into Max’s palm.

“Thanks,” said Max. “Say, did you know that Hand to Hold film is going to be released to cinemas again?”

“Oh, I think I heard something about that,” said Bopo. “Like they’ve enhanced it or something.”

“I’ll bet that somebody will be begging her Aunt to take her to see it,” grinned Max.

“Not if Max Sundberg asks Cari first,” said Bopo.

Max was startled. What was Bopo saying? “Um, is it that obvious?” asked Max quietly.

“Um, yes. Now, what are you waiting for?”

Good question.

Some notes about the illustrations:

The pictures in this story were created using  screenshots taken while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, edited using Paint.net. I also used some stock photos.  The following user mods were used to create the characters:

  • The picture of Miki in the storybook illustration was created using Playable Children PLUS by Kristoffer, heavily processed through Paint.net
  • The Jot and Miki images used in the movie posters were created using the Young Nord race, which is part of Enhanced Character Edit, (ECE) by the ECE team.
  • The movie posters were created using Paint.net, with the text developed using different applications in the LibreOffice Suite.

The stock photos come from a terrific site called Pexels, where you can find stock photos of just about everything.  Be sure to give them a look!  The following shots came from Pexels:

  • The photo at the top of the page was taken by Sachith Hettigodage.
  • The photo on the blog post introducing this page was taken by SenuScape,

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