Old Plumbers Never Die

So, how old is Mario supposed to be? His first starring role was in Donkey Kong in 1981, but he still looks pretty much the same now, other than being in higher definition. Mind you, his hair and mustache are different colors, so there’s obviously some dyeing going on there.

Is he immortal? He’s died plenty of times, especially if you’re not very good at the game, but he always comes back.

Not only are there extra lives, but you can always restart; and he’ll be there for the next game regardless. But is this true for the character or just his avatar in the games? Death is pretty much never permanent in video games, unless it’s plot-related. Then a stab wound in the back is enough to put someone out of commission for good. If death is only temporary, I guess that explains why it seems like the good guys usually just regard Bowser as a nuisance, rather than a formidable terrorist. It would be different if he’d killed someone for good.

Perhaps Mario and his supporting cast exist on a sliding time scale, like a lot of cartoon and comic characters. If that’s the case, though, how do we explain Cranky Kong? He’s apparently the original Donkey Kong from 1981, with the new DK being his grandson. And he’s definitely grown older, even though his original opponent doesn’t seem to have done so.

I guess apes do have shorter lifespans than humans. The real reason beyond Cranky being old in Donkey Kong Country was presumably that he represented an earlier generation in gaming, eight-bit rather than sixteen-bit. Even though only thirteen years had passed between the games, video games themselves had changed considerably. Now, however, it’s been several generations and about thirty years since DKC, but Cranky is still the same. Well, unless Cranky in the Nintendo 64 games is Donkey from the Super Nintendo, and so on, but I think that would be going too far. According to Yoshi’s Island DS, DK is the same age as Mario, Luigi, Peach, Wario, and Bowser.

I assume this DK is Cranky, even though he wears the necktie that his grandson does.

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Lockup: Emerald City

My wife, who has read several books about prison and watched many episodes of Lockup on MSNBC, has mentioned to me that she doesn’t like the way the prison system in Oz is set up. Of course, thanks to an HBO show, the word “Oz” is associated with prison, but the main prison we see in the actual Oz books appears in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. It’s a nice, pretty, comfortable house in a quiet part of the Emerald City, kept by a kindly woman named Tollydiggle. Although it is apparently impossible to escape, the building can be freely explored, and contains all sorts of books and games. Prisoners are also fed quite well. When asked about this, Tollydiggle explains, “We consider a prisoner unfortunate. He is unfortunate in two ways–because he has done something wrong and because he is deprived of his liberty. Therefore we should treat him kindly, because of his misfortune, for otherwise he would become hard and bitter and would not be sorry he had done wrong. Ozma thinks that one who has committed a fault did so because he was not strong and brave; therefore she puts him in prison to make him strong and brave. When that is accomplished he is no longer a prisoner, but a good and loyal citizen and everyone is glad that he is now strong enough to resist doing wrong.” Also, when being taken through the streets of the city, a prisoner is made to wear a sheet that covers their entire body, so no one can know who they are.

This is also briefly mentioned in John R. Neill’s Runaway. I’ve read that the Amazon penal colony in Wonder Woman comics, alternately called Reform or Transformation Island, uses a similar idea of trying to rehabilitate criminals through love.

I have to wonder if William Moulton Marston ever read L. Frank Baum, as his idea of loving authority is similar to what Baum did with Ozma and Glinda. Theoretically, our own prisons are supposed to rehabilitate criminals, or at least scare them enough that they don’t want to commit any more crimes, but it certainly doesn’t always work that way. And putting them in an uncomfortable environment often makes them even more bitter. Ozma and Tollydiggle’s method, however, is disregarding the fact that some criminals are not at all sorry, and being treated nicely wouldn’t make them so. In fact, some might consider it a bonus to be able to commit a crime AND stay in a house that’s nicer than your own. We don’t even know for sure that it works for Oz, because we only ever see one prisoner there, and that’s Ojo. When the Soldier with Green Whiskers brings him to the jail, he and Tollydiggle both comment on how they haven’t taken anyone there before.

And if the people are that well-behaved, perhaps this sort of jail would be effective for the few who do break laws. When Ozma captures more serious offenders, like the villains who try to conquer Oz, she usually has their memories erased with the Water of Oblivion or, in more extreme cases, transforms them. Mind you, it’s also possible that Tollydiggle has a darker side, something that can be arrived at by mixing a few brief references in the books. Jack Snow’s Magical Mimics tells us that Tollydiggle is married to the Soldier with Green Whiskers, and Land has Jinjur say that Omby Amby’s wife had a bad temper and had pulled out most of his whiskers. Jinjur could be spreading an unfounded rumor, or the Soldier could have had a different wife at this point; but I kind of like the idea that Tollydiggle can be bad-tempered when she has the occasion to be.

Tollydiggle and the jail do appear in some non-canonical stories. In George Van Buren’s Zimbo and the Magic Amulet, Zimbo is forced to play Monopoly with the jailer, with her beginning the game with hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. Later, his uncle Zimboobo has to play checkers with Tollydiggle starting with twelve kings. Phyllis Ann Karr’s Computer Wizard stories make Corwin Davidson Poe a perpetual prisoner who eventually develops a romantic relationship with Tollydiggle. She presumably isn’t already married in this continuity, and is also shown as considerably younger-looking than how Neill drew her. At one point, Corwin observes the uncomfortable similarity of the sheet to Ku Klux Klan garb. I also understand that there’s a book where Tollydiggle attempts to reform Adolf Hitler of all people, which would have to be the ultimate test of the system.

Posted in Characters, Comics, Jack Snow, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Phyllis Ann Karr | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Man Walks Into Barsoom

The Mars Trilogy, by Edgar Rice Burroughs – While Burroughs is best known for Tarzan, he also wrote a series of books about the red planet, which combine light science fiction with swashbuckling adventure. I don’t know that they’re that popular anymore, but they were definitely highly influential. I wonder if Burroughs was the first to introduce Martians with green skin. Others, however, were red and yellow, black and white. Even though John Carter was a Confederate officer in the Civil War, he seems to recognize the different sorts of Martians as individuals. Mars, or Barsoom as its inhabitants call it, is presented as a dying but inhabited world, where water has to be brought up from far underground and breathable air is produced by factories. The different tribes are constantly at war with each other, and compassion and humor are very rare, but at the same time there’s a definite nobility to most of the people. This volume contains the first three books in the series. In A Princess of Mars, Carter is transported to Mars through what seems to be astral projection, although he obviously has his normal body when he’s there, as part of what makes him a great warrior is that being used to stronger gravity makes him able to leap great distances. Burroughs claims to have taken the basic view of Mars and Carter’s means of transportation there from the works of astronomer and science fiction writer Camille Flammarion. Carter learns about the Martian life forms and their warlike culture, and wins the hand of Dejah Thoris, beautiful red-skinned daughter of the chief of Helium. It ends with Carter being sent back to Earth, where he pines for Barsoom. He returns in The Gods of Mars, which is centered around exposing the Martian religion as a lie. The people believe that travel down the River Iss takes them to the afterlife, but instead they become slaves in underground caverns. We also find out that Carter has a son, because apparently Earth people can copulate with egg-laying Martians. The Warlord of Mars picks up where the second book leaves off, with Carter going on trial for heresy, and rescuing his wife from the inhabitants of the polar region. I have not yet seen the recent movie, which I know was a critical flop, but maybe I should now that I’ve read some of the books.

I suspect this series of having some influence on Star Wars, considering the use of some similar words. A Barsoomian chief is called a jed, a lieutenant is a padwar, there are animals called banths, and apparently later books have insects called sith. There’s also the common issue of why there would be so much swordplay in a society with incredibly advanced weaponry. The Barsoomians have rifles that can fire up to 300 feet, but it’s not considered proper to fight someone with a weapon more powerful than the one they’ve used to challenge you. Obi-Wan Kenobi considers a lightsaber to be more civilized and “not as clumsy or random” as a blaster, even though it obviously doesn’t have the range. Then again, it’s apparently pretty easy to dodge energy weapons in that galaxy. If I remember the Star Wars NES game correctly, the lightsaber did more damage than a blaster. Of course, the real reason for lightsabers was that they could be conveniently marketed.

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Death by Common Household Item

I’ve looked before at the Wicked Witch of the West’s vulnerability to water, and mentioned how Ruth Plumly Thompson extended this weakness to dragons and ogres. It’s also the weakness of the aliens from Signs, prompting the frequently asked question as to why they would invade a planet that’s largely composed of the stuff. I assume the Wicked Witch didn’t have access to a spaceship. Really, though, between this and the Weaksauce Weakness page on TV Tropes, it’s noticeable that a lot of creatures in folklore and fairy tales have these weaknesses that would be awfully difficult to avoid. I’ve recently mentioned trolls and some dwarves turning to stone in the daylight.

Sunlight can also sometimes kill vampires, but their weaknesses vary considerably from one legend to another. Sometimes they’re vulnerable to garlic, or are so obsessive-compulsive that they have to count anything you throw on the ground, or cannot cross running water. Or sunlight can make them sparkle, which for some reason is something they try to avoid at all costs.

There are other fairy tale beings that don’t like sunlight but aren’t actually destroyed by it, like George MacDonald’s goblins and L. Frank Baum’s Nomes. They have other weaknesses of their own that are quite easy to exploit, however: the goblins hate singing and have soft feet that are easily injured, while Nomes have that whole egg thing going on. Werewolves being vulnerable to silver apparently only dates back to the nineteenth century, while werewolf legends are much older than that.

Fairies traditionally hate iron, although some stories have them successfully driven off by bread or wearing clothing inside out.

What, do they have a particular hatred for seams? A lot of folkloric creatures, sometimes including the Devil himself, are also easily injured or at least driven off by the symbol of the cross, which can be made by simply placing one stick over another.

At least a Star of David or even an Islamic crescent moon would take a little more effort. Theoretically, it’s actually the power of Jesus that’s driving them off rather than the crosses themselves, but in that case you’d think it would only work if there were some genuine faith behind it. Holy water can be pretty potent as well. It even temporarily stopped Freddy Krueger until a dog peed on his burial place.

Anyway, I think the main point of these pathetic weaknesses is that, while folklore is full of monsters who want to do you harm, these monsters can also be successfully driven away by just about anybody. It’s like G.K. Chesterton’s quote about how fairy tales don’t teach children that dragons exist, but that dragons can be killed. It makes the legends scary, but at the same time not TOO scary. Still, I have to wonder how some of these mythical beings could have survived for so long.

Posted in Fairy Tales, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Norse, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Urban Legends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Regular Anthropopha-Guy

Beth and I recently finished watching the first two seasons of NBC’s Hannibal, and I thought I should write something about it. There are a few spoilers here, so don’t read any further if you haven’t seen it yet.

I’ve heard they were able to get away with a lot of blood and gore for a network show, and I’m sure that’s true, but most of the episodes on the DVDs were the producer’s cuts anyway. It’s interesting because, due to the popularity of The Silence of the Lambs, we all know that Hannibal Lecter is a serial killer who eats human flesh and is eventually going to be caught. Well, unless they really want to go in a different direction, but I find that doubtful. As such, it seems like the first season and much of the second had a lot of the characters not suspecting Hannibal at all, and turning against Will Graham when he begins to have suspicions about Dr. Lecter. I have to wonder if, were he not such a part of popular culture, I wouldn’t think the characters were quite as clueless as they come across. It’s always a bit tricky when we know things for sure that they don’t at all. Even if nobody knows Hannibal is evil, he’s still pretentious as all get-out, and you’d think someone would be annoyed by that. Is that just what the entertainment industry thinks all psychiatrists are like? Well, I guess Caroline Dhavernas’ character is different, but I’m still disturbed that she had sex with Hannibal. Whatever happened to that guy she was seeing whose wife cheated on him during the honeymoon? (I really need to watch the rest of Wonderfalls at some point.) Lecter is really skilled at manipulating other people’s dark sides, but I still sometimes wonder why certain people don’t come forward. Like, Gillian Anderson’s character tells Will that she believes him (why couldn’t she ever say that to Mulder?), and apparently the reason she never told anything to the authorities was that she’d also murdered someone at Hannibal’s urging. Never mind that they might go a little easier on her if she helped them catch a serial killer. It looks like she’s fleeing the country with Hannibal at the end of the season, though, so maybe there’s more about her we don’t know. Also interesting about the series is how comedians Scott Thompson and Eddie Izzard play pretty straight roles.

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This Human Form Where I Was Born, I Now Repent

Since it’s been cold outside lately, I might as well look at some Inuit mythology. While of course there are many different Native American religions, it seems that one fairly common aspect is the presence of animal deities who are both individuals are representatives of a particular type of animal, and sometimes take human form as well. Inuit culture had a lot of focus on hunting, but hunters had a certain amount of respect for the animals they were hunting, and there were rules for doing so. Several gods were involved with the hunt, including one each ruling over wolves, caribou, and polar bears.

Amarok, a gigantic wolf who hunts alone and is apparently seen as both male and female at various times, would kill anyone who hunted at night.

Picture by Josh Vito
Tekkeitsertok, the master of caribou, was an important hunting god who was placated with sacrifices. Where was he when one of his subjects was being mocked for his shiny red nose?

Nanook was a polar bear, and in addition to determining whether people had success in hunting his kind, but also punished those who transgressed the laws of hunting.

Source: Happle Tea
Wikipedia mentions that the hide of a slain bear would be hung in an igloo, and the spirits of tools would enter the afterlife with the animal. I believe Nanook was also associated with the constellation Ursa Major, but I don’t know whether that was before or after Europeans introduced the Inuit to the idea that the star formation represented a bear. I’m not sure how Nanook would react to an offering of Coca-Cola.

Picture by Alexi Francis
Another significant goddess who wasn’t depicted as an animal, although apparently she sometimes took the form of a walrus and was definitely associated with animals, was the sea deity Sedna. There are a few different versions of her story, but they have some elements in common. The most interesting has it that her father forced her into an unhappy marriage with a bird-man. Upon finding out how miserable she was, her dad rescued her and took her away in a boat, but the bird-man pursued her and stirred up the waters. The father threw Sedna overboard in an attempt to placate the sea, cutting off her fingers when she tried to cling to the boat. Other versions make the father somewhat less mean by saying that her fingers froze off instead. Regardless, the fingers turned into seals and other sea creatures, which is a pretty neat trick.

Picture by Hrana Janto
It was Sedna who determined if animals would come to the surface, and she was as temperamental as the sea itself. A shamanic ritual involved combing the goddess’ hair, probably while in some sort of trance. She was also associated with the world of the dead, which is presumably why Sedna is the name of a planetoid in the far reaches of the solar system.

Sedna is sometimes said to have a companion in the form of the weather goddess Qailertetang, which could be related to why she wasn’t happy being married to a man.

Picture source

Posted in Animals, Inuit, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marvels of the Modern Mushroom Age

I find the idea of Schizo Tech in fictional worlds to be pretty interesting. Of course, not all societies develop technology at the same rate. There could be a reason why a place has cars and not guns, or vice versa. It also might be telling that some of the media that employ this are Japanese, and Japan adopted Western technology very rapidly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so sword fighters and air travel co-existing might not seem quite as anachronistic there. When dealing with fantasy, I think there’s an expectation that some things are going to be a bit quaint by modern standards. A lot of it is set in times resembling the Middle Ages or earlier, albeit sometimes with certain anachronistic conveniences to work better with modern sensibilities, like children drinking alcohol-free fruit juice and toilets not simply being holes in the ground. Even when a fantasy land is somewhat more up-to-date, however, there are often certain technologies that won’t appear. Sometimes there’s a certain amount of glorifying the past involved, as there’s definitely some appeal to a place that doesn’t have rush hour traffic, twenty-four-hour news programs, and nuclear weapons. Another significant factor, however, is whether certain types of technology would interfere with storytelling, particularly when travel in unexplored areas is a significant element. I’ve discussed before how the Land of Oz is quite modern and even science-fiction-esque in some respects, but fans generally aren’t too keen on John R. Neill introducing automobiles in The Scalawagons of Oz.

For that matter, Tik-Tok has the Shaggy Man and Ozma using wireless telephones invented by the Wizard of Oz. A lot of later plots would have been cut short if Dorothy had simply been able to call Ozma when she was lost in an unexplored part of the country, or just hop on the express train to the Emerald City. In Dick Martin’s Ozmapolitan, the Wizard gives Dorothy and Tim a Speaking Tube that they can use to communicate with him, but they soon lose it. Contrast this with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, which started out as a mostly-medieval fantasy world but now has a steam-powered railroad and semaphore towers that can be used for fast communication across great distances. As such, most of the more recent books in the series aren’t travelogues, but rather about people from a fantasy world existing in a multicultural worldwide society.

Video games also often work like this, because certain kinds of technology might impede gameplay while others don’t. This is especially the case with role-playing games, like how the Dragon Quest series is set in a low-tech world that somehow has robots.

In fact, one part of DQ7 involves a robot maker helping to fight off an invasion of other robots from the dark world.

Mind you, magic probably plays a role in the creation of these mechanical beings. Even outside RPGs, there are incredibly varying levels of technology in series like Mario and Zelda.

The first few Mario games don’t seem to involve much technology outside of the wooden airships and tanks in Super Mario Bros. 3, but Super Mario Sunshine starts with Mario and Peach riding an airplane to an airport and watching a video for tourists.

We know from the Mario Kart games that there are motor vehicles in the Mushroom Kingdom, but the idea of blocking off the roads when you’re racing on them apparently hasn’t been invented yet.

I grew up with the Super Mario Bros. cartoons, and most of the Super Show ones parodied either a specific story or a genre. As such, Mario’s team and Bowser and his minions would journey from medieval lands to the Old West to fairly modern cities with cars and motorcycles, and both sides always seemed to play along with the theme. A Star Wars parody episode involved Bowser trying to destroy an entire planet of settlers from the Mushroom Kingdom with something called a Birdo Ray.

You’d think he’d bring some super-weapons like that when terrorizing rural towns in other episodes, but he never does. Mind you, sometimes it’s probably a matter of practicality, like cars not being all that useful in a desert or jungle setting with no roads. That probably applies to the games as well, as you couldn’t exactly drive up staircases or over pits. You would think you could use an airplane to fly into the world where Bowser is keeping the Princess instead of journeying through all those worlds on foot, but maybe Mario is afraid it would be shot down by the Koopas’ air power.

Posted in Authors, Cartoons, Dick Martin, Discworld, Dragon Quest, History, Japan, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Mario, Oz, Oz Authors, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Technology, Television, Terry Pratchett, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment