Hell in Oz

The Evil Emerald Village of Oz, by Ron Baxley Jr. – This follow-up to The Talking City of Oz has some clear similarities to its predecessor, but the story isn’t anywhere near as developed. It concerns the ghost of Mombi creating a town that is more or less Hell within the Winkie Country, and summoning the magically animated beings who are unsatisfied with life in Oz to join her. The Gump’s head, a wheelbarrow, and Div Ining Rod from Baxley’s earlier book all make the journey, only to find that Mombi has no intention of keeping her promises. Another group of Ozites has to rescue them, with help from some fairies and the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger. A new character in the book is Hi Drant, a dog constructed from a fire hydrant who extinguishes fires by…well, you can probably guess, but it’s not something you’d be likely to find in an L. Frank Baum book. The plot is nothing much and the religious overtones a little too heavy-handed at times, but there’s some good wordplay in Baxley’s typical vein. There’s also some back story for Mombi herself, who is said to be afraid of rats and mice because her parents died of the bubonic plague, taught witchcraft by a trio of hags who sound similar to the Wyrd Sisters from Macbeth, and had a lover who was tricked into replacing Charon as a ferryman in the Underworld. It’s quite popular for fans to want to bring Mombi back, be it her painted image in John R. Nell’s Lucky Bucky, David Tai’s tale about how her death was faked in the first place, or Tekrouri Troll’s accidental resurrection of her in Bucketheads.

Posted in Book Reviews, Characters, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Ron Baxley Jr. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern-Day Marcionism

I’ve read a few times about the Marcionites, an early Christian sect that had significant influence but was declared heretical. It has some ideas in common with Christian Gnosticism, but lacks the emphasis on secret teachings. Instead, Marcion held that ONLY the letters of Paul and parts of the Gospel of Luke were valid.

He was also distinguished by his view on the Old Testament, believing that it was true as far as it went, but that the Jewish God couldn’t possibly be the one who sent Jesus. It’s certainly not an uncommon belief even today that the Old Testament God is a wrathful jerk and the New Testament God a nice guy. Of course, this is simplifying things considerably, as God showed compassion in the Old Testament and preached hellfire in the New. Marcion’s view was that there were two different gods, the law-obsessed cosmic judge of Judaism and the kindly and more powerful deity of whom Jesus was a manifestation. Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah, who was yet to come. There wasn’t much point in following the Jewish law, because it was impossible to meet all of its demands. Of course, the Old Testament pretty much acknowledges this, as it has a lot of rules about atoning for sin. The early Christian view on the Jewish law was a matter of much debate. It generally seems that Jesus and his earliest followers were devoted to the law, even if they interpreted some aspects of it quite differently from the Pharisees. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” It was Paul, Marcon’s main man, who more or less made the law optional in an attempt to appeal to potential pagan converts.

It isn’t surprising that mainstream Christianity would reject Marcionism, as having only one god was what separated it from the myriad of other religions in the Roman Empire. Still, it seems that its influence lives on in some strange ways, only here they’re from people who DO believe the Old and New Testament Gods are the same. It’s what Jack Chick is constantly insisting, that nobody can possibly follow the Old Testament law, so you need to accept Jesus.

It’s not entirely clear what accepting him necessarily entails, but it seems to involve a lot of groveling. Exactly why God changed His mind on the sin stuff when He incarnated as Jesus, I don’t know. Chick’s reasoning (if you can call it that) is that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for everyone’s sins, but how does that work if he’s the same guy who made the law in the first place?

It would actually make a little more sense for Chick to be a Marcionite.

Similarly, washed-up actor and holier-than-thou prick Kirk Cameron and his kiwi pal Ray Comfort did the same thing over and over again where they’d ask people if they followed the Ten Commandments, then insisted that telling the slightest untruth, being attracted to someone you weren’t married to, and using the name of God while cursing counted as breaking them. I don’t think that’s exactly how false witness and taking the name of God in vain work, but these aren’t exactly theological scholars we’re dealing with here. My wife, who has an odd desire to be exposed to things she hates, is actually following Cameron on Facebook. Recently he talked about how he spent his birthday with some of the Duck Dynasty guys, and he compared one of them to John the Baptist.

Yeah, except if you live on locusts and wild honey, you probably aren’t going to be shooting a lot of ducks. And even if you think homosexuality is a sin, isn’t Jesus supposed to forgive ALL your sins? So he’s forgiving murderers and rapists right and left, but not people in committed gay relationships? He’s also apparently not forgiving people who kiss anyone other than their spouses while acting.

But anyway, the general theme of the teachings of Chick and Comfort is that God is so just that even the slightest bit of sin means he’ll condemn you to Hell, but there’s a way to get out of it totally if you think and say the right things. He’s not able to make minor exceptions, but he’s able to make this one really big and really specific exception. Hey, he didn’t make the rules! No, wait, he did. So he’s rejecting one set of seemingly arbitrary rules for another set of seemingly arbitrary rules. Dudes, if this is your idea of spreading the good news, I think Jesus would be better off without you.

Posted in Christianity, Fundamentalism, Gnosticism, History, Jack Chick, Judaism, Religion, Roman Empire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kampe Trip

I’ve always enjoyed looking at mythological monsters, and Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods reminded me of one from Greek mythology I hadn’t covered yet. That would be Kampe, jailer of the Cyclopes and Hekatonkheires in Tartarus. Kronos imprisoned these giants and set Kampe to watch over them. The most complete description of her that we now have is that by Nonnus in the fifth century, which really throws in everything but the kitchen sink. She has snakes for hair (meaning Athena’s curse on Medusa wasn’t all that original after all), the head and torso of a woman with the hindquarters of a dragon, more snakes wrapped around her legs, fifty heads of ferocious beasts around her waist, claws like sickles, a scorpion tail, and dusky wings that could produce gales. Also, her eyes are telescopes! No, periscopes! No, microscopes! Actually, they apparently shot sparks.

Picture by GNZG
For such a fearsome creature, there isn’t really that much description I can find of how she was defeated. Zeus wanted to free his giant uncles so that they could help in his battle against Kronos and the Titans, so he killed Kampe with a lightning bolt. I suppose that would do it, but I’m not sure how he got close enough. Even if her back was turned, wouldn’t some of the heads around her waist see him approaching? Also, didn’t the cyclopes make Zeus’s thunderbolts after being freed? Well, maybe he found a few lying around before receiving a consistent source for them.

Posted in Authors, Greek Mythology, Monsters, Mythology, Percy Jackson, Rick Riordan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gladly the Chrono Cross I’d Bear

Chrono Trigger is a somewhat unusual game in that it kills off its main character. The hero, known as “Crono” because the game only allows for five-character names, is taken out by the alien parasite Lavos in the Kingdom of Zeal. It’s possible to win the game without him, but since it involves time travel there’s a little more to it than that. Unfortunately, the way time travel works in the game is that your characters can use gates or a vehicle to access various eras, they can only go back to AFTER they last left that era. There is, however, a way to circumvent this with the Time Egg, also known as the Chrono Trigger, which is in the keeping of Gaspar, Guru of Time.

You also need one of the weird moving clone-dolls that Norstein Bekkler provides, and Belthasar’s help in climbing Death Peak. The wishes of the party, combined with the Time Egg and Marle’s pendant, allow you to go back to Crono’s death and replace him with the doll. Apparently Lavos doesn’t notice the difference.

When I learned about Islamic views on the crucifixion of Jesus, I immediately drew the connection to Crono. Not that Crono is Jesus, exactly, but there’s often somewhat of that vibe to video game heroes. Jesus probably spent less time zapping monsters with lightning, but we don’t know that for sure. Anyway, there’s a verse in the Quran that indicates the crucifixion was merely a matter of appearance, and that Jesus didn’t die but was elevated to Heaven right then and there. Exactly how the illusion was pulled off isn’t clear, but some Muslims have speculated that someone else was crucified in Jesus’ place. This isn’t entirely original with Islam, either.

The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter has the titular apostle seeing a vision of Jesus on the cross with another Jesus above him laughing. The laughing Jesus is the true, living person, while the one on the cross is merely a fleshly shell, reflecting the general Gnostic view about how the material world is basically a prison. According to the translation I found through Google, Jesus identifies the one on the cross as “the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness.” He doesn’t make it clear whether this body can still feel pain, but if it can it strikes me as rather inappropriate to laugh about it. I don’t think any of these sources claim that Jesus was replaced by a doll made by a mad scientist with no visible body and brought back in time, but it’s not like we have any eyewitness accounts anyway.

It is perhaps telling that the town of the Mystics in the year 1000 is called Medina, the same as the second holiest city in Islam. Was it called that in the original Japanese, though? As mentioned here, the names of the Gurus are only the same as those of the Three Wise Men in the English translation.

Speaking of Crono’s death, I recently came across this post on Press the Buttons that indicated the original idea was that the party would have to go back to the beginning of the game and recruit an earlier version of Crono, and later return him to that time, making his death permanent.

I wonder whether you would have had to build up this earlier Crono’s statistics. You’ll notice that this solution, while ultimately more depressing, also involves travel back to a moment in time when some of the party members had already been present, so going back to Zeal and saving a stronger version is obviously more practical. Of course, Magus goes back to his own past, so it’s apparently possible in certain circumstances even without the Time Egg. There’s also the odd sequence when Lucca can go back and prevent her mother from losing her legs, an event she witnessed as a child, which comes after some speculation about the entity that allows for time travel in the first place. I suppose this entity is not all-powerful, but has the ability to set things into motion.

Posted in Christianity, Chrono Trigger, Gnosticism, Islam, Religion, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowardly Beginnings

The Way of a Lion: A Tale of Oz, by Jared Davis – This story originally appeared in the 2013 Oziana, but it’s now available in miniature book form from the author. It includes some additional illustrations by Sam Milazzo, including one of Lurline. It’s a little difficult not to think of The Lion King when looking at the pictures, especially the one of the Lion looking at his reflection, but that’s probably unavoidable with stories involving lions. The rather tragic tale explores why the Lion thinks he’s a coward despite behaving like an ordinary male lion. There are some mentions of how carnivores find food in a land where all (or at least most) animals are capable of human-like speech and intelligence, although there are some hints in the original Oz books that the Lion has killed animals for food in the past. I get the impression that this is an aspect of Oz that L. Frank Baum never fully worked out. The end of the story ties in with the Lion’s introduction in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Posted in Book Reviews, Characters, Jared Davis, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pray Away the Gay-Bashers

I just came across a link to this article on Facebook today. Seems that, despite Pope Francis’ insistence that he’s in no position to judge homosexuals, some of the cardinals are quite willing to do just that. Cardinal Raymond Burke claims that “homosexual relationships are intrinsically disordered” (and heterosexual relationships aren’t?), and that you shouldn’t expose your children to them. What I wonder is what he’s worried about. Even if you think homosexuality is sinful (because I’m sure fundamentalist Christians pay attention to all the other Iron Age rules in Leviticus), how is a kid seeing a gay couple going to cause the child to sin? Does Burke think just seeing gay people will make you gay, or that this couple is going to be having sex in front of the family? If you don’t worry about heterosexual couples deciding to suddenly start going at it during a family gathering, why would homosexual ones be any different? There’s a constant attempt by homophobes to prove that gay people are more promiscuous, more likely to molest children, and so on. Even though they’re wrong, people will still hold to these stereotypes. I have to suspect that, for some people, there are only two kinds of sexuality, the first being monogamous heterosexuality, and the second everything else. That could be why they think a man who has sex with another man is automatically going get into pedophilia, necrophilia, and bestiality as well, even though I don’t think a dog looks any more like an attractive human man than an attractive human woman. That does remind me, however, of something Beth said was on one of those Jerry Springer “Too Hot for TV” videos, where a man had sex with his horse, but made a big deal of saying he wasn’t gay because it was a mare. As for the promiscuity, I don’t think humanity is really monogamous by nature regardless of sexual orientation, but I also have to wonder how you can put down gays for not being monogamous and then forbid them to marry. Burke also mentioned the “homosexual agenda,” a phrase I’ve never understood. Being gay automatically makes you part of a worldwide conspiracy? Who initiates you into it? What if you’re gay and no one has approached you about the agenda? And can bisexuals get in on it as well? Oh, and what about this recent Chick Tract (no, I have no idea how Jack can possibly still be making these at ninety; I suspect it might all be a syndicate at this point, like how Jim Davis likely hasn’t drawn Garfield in the past twenty years), which suggests that guys become gay because they’re raped by older men. So they make a point of trying to relive the most traumatizing experience of their life? How does that make any sense whatsoever?

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Comics, Conspiracy Theories, Current Events, Families, Fundamentalism, Jack Chick, Prejudice, Relationships, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

We Do Ritual Right

We’ve all heard the rumors about President Obama not properly saluting the flag, and while the whole thing was clearly taken out of context by people who were grasping at straws to discredit the guy, I have to wonder why it would be such a big deal if he really didn’t. Are we really going to judge the President of the United States on his willingness to, as it were, do the Hokey Pokey? It got me thinking about the nature of ritual in general, and why humans not only crave it but disparage those who don’t take it seriously. Another charge frequently leveled against the President is that he’s secretly a Muslim, which kind of seems opposed to that other one, as Muslims are very much into ritual. At one point, religion was pretty much all about ritual, and in some ways it still is. With the Romans and other societies, certain religious rituals were mostly just ways of demonstrating loyalty to the Emperor.

In nations where there’s a separation of church and state, there can often be a religious sort of reverence for symbols and rituals even though they’re not directly related to any particular religion.

If the Constitution gives us freedom of religion, shouldn’t that also include whether or not we want to worship the flag?

You hear every once in a while about the nation trying to pass an amendment against flag-burning, and while I certainly don’t have the desire to burn any flags, attaching such importance to a symbol that it’s an exception to the First Amendment strikes me as setting a dangerous precedent. Sure, for some people the flag is more than the sum of its parts, just as books and objects are in various religions. Still, ultimately, it’s a symbol. Someone burning it isn’t burning the country itself. I’m not in favor of burning the Quran either, but some countries make that punishable by imprisonment or death. Book-burning is a terrible thing, but a capital crime it very much isn’t. Still, even if you aren’t motivated by respect not to burn symbols other people hold dear, you should avoid it just because you don’t want any violent retribution.

The thing is, I’m hardly against ritual. As someone who’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, I can say that I’ve made up plenty of rituals for my own life that would be totally meaningless to anyone else. I know they’re ultimately pointless, but they bring me a sort of comfort. And I think a lot of religious and patriotic ritual also bring comfort, as well as a sense of belonging. I would think an almighty deity would have more important things to worry about than how many times a day you pray, but I think people who follow such rituals feel more connected to the divine. And sometimes it’s a secret handshake of sorts, letting you feel that you belong to a community and other people recognize one of their own. This certainly relates to the Obama thing, as the thread running through attempts to discredit the President is that he’s Not One of Us. I think it’s interesting that the Protestant Reformation, while certainly not totally removing symbolism or ritual from Christianity, definitely tried to downplay its importance. Protestants moved to have the Eucharist considered symbolic instead of actual cannibalism, and there certainly isn’t as much choreographed movement in a Protestant service than in a Catholic mass. It seems like some Protestants, however, have tried to make belief into a ritual of sorts. I’ve made the point over and over again that you can’t just make yourself believe in something you don’t, and surely God would know if you’re faking it. But I’ve occasionally seen mentions of prayers that non-believers should pray in order to convert, basically magic mantras in a form of Christianity that’s supposed to only be about faith.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments