What’s the Story, Wishbone?

Beth asked me last night if I knew how the tradition of breaking the wishbone started, and I had to admit I didn’t know. As with most superstitions, it’s difficult to get an exact answer, but there’s a lot of speculation. This Mental Floss article claims that it derived from a practice by the Etruscans, who held birds to have oracular powers. One form of Etruscan divination that I’ve seen mentioned on the Internet is that of laying out chicken feed on a grid containing all the letters of the alphabet, and watching how the fowl proceeds to eat it, sort of like a Ouija board. When a chicken died, the furcula would be preserved, and apparently people made wishes on it. This then passed to the Romans, who started breaking the bones because there weren’t enough to go around. This article reports the commonplace practice in Europe of using wishbones to predict the weather. In England, the furcula was called the merrythought bone; and it was from England that the tradition came to the United States.

Talking about wishbones made me think of one of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s King Kojo stories, specifically the Christmas one where the dog Wiseman digs up the wishbone of a dinosaur.

The furculas of theropod dinosaurs have actually been found, but I doubt anyone has tried breaking them to see if their wishes come true. And in Melody Grandy’s The Disenchanted Princess of Oz, Tip finds a Wishbird, a turkey-like animal that grows a working wishbone on the outside of its chest. When he shares his food with the bird, it gives him the bone, which he uses to disenchant someone who had been turned by a witch into a strawberry tart.

Posted in History, Holidays, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eat Fruit, Live Forever

The idea of fruit bestowing immortality, or at least longevity, is a common one in mythology and folklore. In Norse mythology, the gods are said to eat apples that restore their youth. The fruit can’t entirely prevent them from dying, as shown with Ragnarok and Baldur with the mistletoe, but they presumably don’t die of old age. The keeper of the apples is Idun, a goddess sometimes said to be related to elves or dwarves. One poem refers to her as a daughter of Ivaldi, also the father of the dwarves who made magical items for the Aesir. Her husband is Bragi, god of poetry and son of Odin.

The most prominent appearance of Idun in mythology is the story where she’s kidnapped by the giant Thiazi, father to the wintry goddess Skadi. The Aesir start to grow old without the apples, so Loki has to get her back, which he does by transforming himself into a falcon and her to a nut, which he carries to Asgard in his beak. I don’t know that it’s ever specified where Idun gets the apples, or why no one else is able to access them.

In Greek mythology, there are the golden apples of the Hesperides, a wedding present from Gaea to Zeus and Hera. The Queen of Olympus had them tended by nymphs on an island in the far west of the known world.

They’re guarded by the serpent Ladon, and some sources claim that they can make those who eat them immortal. I don’t know if this was originally part of the myth or due to its confusion with similar stories, though. I’m not sure it ever comes up anyway, since the few apples that Hercules takes to fulfill one of his labors are returned to the garden. The golden apple that Eris uses to indirectly cause the Trojan War is sometimes said to be from there as well.

The island of Avalon that’s supposed to be the resting place of King Arthur is associated with apples, located to the west of Europe, and attended by several sisters with magic powers.

There’s probably a connection there.

In the Bible, there’s the Tree of Life, which could apparently make humans live forever. After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit that grants them knowledge of good and evil, God is afraid that they’ll eat from this tree as well.

It seems a bit inconsistent, as He apparently never forbade the fruit of that one. Maybe he wouldn’t have minded if they’d lived forever as long as they remained stupid. Some interpretations say that they were originally meant to be immortal anyway, which makes me wonder what the point of the Tree of Life was. Regardless, there will apparently be a few such trees in the New Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation. The fruit of either tree is never described, but the similarity to the garden of the Hesperides has led the forbidden fruit to be associated with apples. It also doesn’t hurt that the Latin word malus can mean both “apple” and “evil.” This post, which I found when looking for information on immortality-granting fruit, proposes that apples were associated with eternal life because they keep well and can be eaten in cold weather. I’m sure there’s something in that, but at the same time I don’t know for sure that all of the apples from mythology originally WERE apples. Wikipedia claims that apples weren’t even known in Scandinavia in the era in which the myth of Idun would have originated. I’ve seen some suggestions that golden apples might have actually been oranges. In Chinese mythology, the fruit that grants long life is a peach.

So it might not be apples per se that are associated with immortality, but fruit in general.

Posted in Arthurian Legend, British, Chinese, Christianity, Food, Greek Mythology, Judaism, Language, Magic, Mythology, Norse, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

Frozen – This was the highest-grossing animated film of all time, but Beth and I didn’t get around to watching it until last night.  The idea was originally to make a movie based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” but apparently they couldn’t get it to work, so instead we got a film that only slightly resembles the fairy tale.  Disney usually takes liberties with the source material, but here the only real connections are that there’s a queen with frigid magic who lives in an ice palace, someone has an injury to their heart, and a reindeer helps out the protagonist.  I’ve also read that the names of the characters Hans, Kristoff, Anna, and Sven were intentionally supposed to combine into Andersen’s full name, or at least a semblance of it.  The plot involves the sisters Elsa and Anna, Princesses of Arendelle, a kingdom based on Norway.  When Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her ice magic, the trolls not only cure her, but remove the memory of her sister’s powers entirely.

Their parents then keep the two separated, which causes a lot of trauma.  I don’t know why they couldn’t have just discussed safety issues instead, but nobody in these movies ever seems to believe in that.  Beth noted the similarity to the X-Men, and we decided that if Professor Xavier had been around, she could have helped Elsa get a handle on her abilities.  Hey, he did with Bobby Drake, right?  Anyway, after the king and queen die in a storm at sea, Elsa is eventually crowned queen, but at her coronation she has a fight with Anna and runs away, building a cool ice castle (Beth appropriately compared it to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude) and freezing the entire kingdom in the process.

Anna teams up with the ice merchant Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, as well as the living snowman Olaf, to travel to her castle and try to talk some sense into Elsa.  Sven was apparently modeled on actual reindeer, but there’s a hint of dogginess to him as well, which seems to be the standard for large animals functioning as pets in cartoons.

Maximus in Tangled was much the same way.  While an antagonist of sorts, Elsa is frustrated and unable to control her powers rather than actually evil.  Instead, the more villainous role is given to some coronation guests who initially seem friendly, the old Duke of Weselton and a handsome prince named Hans.  The latter pretends to fall in love with Anna in a plot to take over the kingdom (he’s motivated by having twelve older brothers, hence no change of gaining power in his own homeland), and doesn’t reveal his true ambitions until fairly late in the film.  I’m not entirely sure why he insists on keeping Elsa alive until Anna returns, only to try to kill he immediately after, but I guess it’s so he can claim he’s gotten married to Anna.  Mind you, there’s no marriage certificate, so his claim is rather desperate anyway.  When Elsa inadvertently freezes Anna’s heart, the trolls tell her that only an act of love will thaw it.  This being a Disney film, the characters initially think the cure would have to be True Love’s Kiss (I wonder if they’ve taken out a trademark on that term).  There’s a subversion, however, with the act turning out to be Anna defending Elsa when Hans tries to kill her.  There’s more than one kind of true love, after all.  Elsa then gets a handle of her powers, and things end happily.  Even Olaf’s self-destructive wish to see summer turns out to be feasible, as Elsa gives him his own personal flurry to keep him intact.  I appreciate that, while it had a traditional fairy tale structure in many respects, they purposely went against expectations for some aspects.  Anna herself has kind of a more modern personality, being adorably awkward as is the fashion these days.

I’ve noticed that the Netflix editions of Disney animated films are inconsistent in what extras they have, with some including deleted scenes and theatrical shorts, and others being quite bare bones.  I don’t know whether this is just Netflix, or some of the Disney movies were actually released without the additional material.  This disc did include “Get a Horse!”, the short originally shown with the movie in theaters.  It’s a tribute to old Disney cartoons with a twist, as it has the characters breaking out of the film and into a movie theater, which results in their gaining color.  Mickey Mouse’s voice was actually sampled from older recordings of Walt Disney himself; fortunately the short wasn’t dialogue-heavy.  Also included were four different music videos of “Let It Go,” none of them actually performed by Idina Menzel.  The English version had Demi Lovato singing it, and the others were in Spanish, Italian, and Malaysian.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to see Big Hero 6 while it’s still in theaters, and that will be it as far as the canonical Disney animated features go.  Maybe next we’ll watch the Pixar movies or something. Oh, and contrary to the post title, the cold HAS been bothering me recently.

Posted in Cartoons, Fairy Tales, Revisiting Disney, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Super Loops

SPOILERS for Final Fantasy (the first one) and The 7th Saga.

The idea of a time loop is one that comes up occasionally in fiction, sometimes as simply a repeating part of history, and other times involving time travel that turns out to be necessary to the present. It’s not surprising that this concept would show up in video games, as they’re pretty much based on having to repeat the same events over and over until you get things right. Some games actually have time loops incorporated into their plots, however, one such being the original Final Fantasy. As an early role-playing console game, the plot is mostly straightforward. You travel around the world fighting monsters, kill the four Fiends that are in charge, and then restore peace and order by beating their boss. The weird element is that this final battle actually takes place 2000 years back in time. After defeating the Fiends, you find a way to travel back 2000 years, and you once again encounter the game’s very first boss, the evil knight Garland.

He tells you that, when you defeated him the first time, he was drawn back in time, and he then sent the Fiends into the future.

He then turns into a monster called Chaos, and killing him is the only way to end the time loop.

In-game text indicates that Tiamat, Fiend of the Wind, appeared 400 years previously to destroy the highly advanced Lufenian civilization. The Kraken ravaged Onrac 200 years later, and Lich had just recently started rotting the earth. The Fiend of Fire, called Kary in the original translation and Marilith in later ones, apparently wasn’t supposed to show up until 200 years later. She woke up after the Light Warriors defeated Lich. She was obviously present at the time of the game, however, and didn’t have to be sent forwards in time. Couldn’t they all have just hibernated until they were needed, or for that matter just destroyed the world 2000 years earlier? And if Chaos was formed in the past, wouldn’t he still be around in the present? Or did he need to transfer his consciousness into Garland and perpetuate the time loop in order to keep existing?

Even god-like beings have their limits, I suppose. According to the confusing ending story combined with some dialogue from elsewhere in the game, Garland was a loyal knight of the Kingdom of Cornelia until “a twist of fate” resulted in his becoming corrupt and seething with hatred. I haven’t played the Final Fantasy Dissidia games, but I understand they add more to the Garland/Chaos back story. Chaos was a biological weapon created by Cid of the Lufaine (originally, FF1 was the only game in the series that didn’t have a character named Cid) who went rogue and created the alternate world where these games take place. Cid also charged Garland with overseeing Chaos’ battle with Cosmos, another powerful being he created. It’s very puzzling, but you wouldn’t think someone named Chaos would come up with a straightforward plot, would you?

The comic 8-Bit Theater, which loosely retells the story of FF1, doesn’t use the Garland/Chaos time loop. There is, however, a time loop of sorts with Sarda. He’s an actual character in the game, but a minor one, a sage who gives a magic rod to the party so they can lift a stone plate in the Earth Cave.

In the comic, his role is greatly expanded into that of the near-omnipotent Wizard Who Did It (a reference to a Simpsons joke about how all technical errors in TV shows are caused by wizards), who has a penchant for rearranging reality just to mess with people.

It eventually turns out that his child self exists in the same time period, and is constantly tormented by the Light Warriors, especially Black Mage. He studies to become a wizard, and then sends himself back to the beginning of the universe so that he can remake it. Unfortunately for him, he accidentally sends White Mage back to the dawn of time as well, and she becomes the new creator instead of him. He’s then stranded in space for billions of years, finally sending the Light Warriors out to retrieve the Orbs so he can siphon their power for himself. He’s the one who becomes Chaos in this retelling of the story, and while Chaos exists in the present time instead of the past, time travel was still a necessary part of his origin. Garland is in the comic, quite prominently in fact, but he’s presented as a totally incompetent villain.

Another game that uses the time loop idea, and in a quite similar way, is the notoriously difficult Super Nintendo adventure The 7th Saga. Part of the back story of the game is that, 5000 years previously, the hero Saro (apparently no relation to Psaro from Dragon Quest IV, who’s called Saro in the original translation) defeated the evil Gorsia with the help of seven magic runes.

In the present, King Lemele sends his seven apprentices to search for the runes, only to reveal once they’ve found them that he’s actually Gorsia in disguise, having journeyed into the future for some reason. He sends you back in time 5000 years, and you can defeat him, but he takes you down with him.

Saro then resurrects you in the form of…King Lemele. So is anything actually accomplished here? I’ve seen theories to the effect that the defeat of Gorsia means he won’t be able to travel through time again. There’s also an indication that Saro will warn Lemele about Gorsia’s treachery.

If so, the villain must have made a mistake in sending you to a time in which you could potentially defeat him. Or was that the only time he could access? Regardless, it’s kind of disappointing that the ending is the same for every character even though their motivations for gathering the runes are totally different.

Posted in Comics, Final Fantasy, Monsters, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Shadow Falls

The Magic Chest of Oz, by Donald Abbott – Published in 1993, this is another one of Abbott’s tales of Oz during the Scarecrow’s reign in the Emerald City, and has him again adventuring with the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion. Interestingly, the Lion seems to retain his characterization from the end of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, when he no longer felt afraid. By the time he reappears in Ozma of Oz he’s back to his old fearful self. The plot involves two Munchkin farmers accidentally freeing the shadow of the Wicked Witch of East. Books of Wonder also published The Nome King’s Shadow in Oz around this time, so apparently villainous shadows were in vogue then. The shadow, called Malvonia, teams up with a nasty imp and the Hammer-Heads in conquering the city. As with Abbott’s other Oz books, it’s a fairly thin plot, but brings in several elements from L. Frank Baum’s work. Two minor characters are based on Sir Dashemoff Daily and Cynthia Cynch from Baum’s stage play, but for some reason the former is called Sir Dashabout and the latter is only referred to by her first name. Were there still copyright issues back then? Sir Wiley Gyle and Brigadier-General Riskitt appear under their actual names from the play in other books by Abbott.

Posted in Book Reviews, Characters, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Define and Conquer

I’ve been thinking a bit about people not wanting to call themselves feminists because they don’t really know what the term means nowadays, as Bill Maher more or less put it. The thing is, I have to wonder if that’s letting the opponents of feminism define the term. I think it’s becoming thankfully less common for women to say, “I’m not a feminist, because I shave my armpits and don’t hate men!”, but that stereotype still exists.

“I also don’t need to check the definitions of words or do even the most basic research, because thinking too much gives you wrinkles.”
When was feminism EVER about hating men, though? Sure, you might be able to pull out a few examples of women who identify as feminists and genuinely hate men, but I’m inclined to think they’ve always been the exception rather than the rule. It’s a straw man argument (well, maybe a straw WOMAN argument in this case) that people take seriously for some reason. That seems to happen a lot, though. Along the same lines, I’ve seen some online criticism of “social justice warriors,” as if social justice is somehow a bad thing. Okay, maybe the “warrior” part is, but it seems like part of that mindset to insist that everyone who disagrees with you is fighting a war.

The prime example here is Bill O’Reilly with his Culture War and War on Christmas, in which he might well be the only participant. Actually, I think I’ve heard of some people with the opposite opinion of O’Reilly’s using the term “culture war,” as well as some who use the term “sexual revolution” when they think it was a good thing. I doubt it’s all that common, however. I’m guessing that most of the people O’Reilly thinks are fighting against him in these imaginary wars have never even heard of them.

He calls them secular-progressives, because I guess progress is a bad thing now. Well, I suppose it is if you’re a cranky old man who’s set in your ways. When you get right down to it, though, does anyone really think progress is bad, or do they just think that some cultural changes aren’t actually progress at all? It’s kind of a significant distinction. I also have to think back to when John Kerry was running for president, and people kept calling him “liberal” like it was a bad thing. Instead of arguing that point, however, he more or less said he WASN’T a liberal, thus allowing his opponents to set the playing field. I don’t know. Language does change, but I feel that letting people who are against something define its key terms is problematic. Just ask the heathen.

Posted in Feminism, Language, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mixed Mythology Makes Mischief

It’s no secret that I enjoy fiction based on classical mythology, or that I put a little too much energy into pondering how crossovers work. And when something includes elements from the mythology of various cultures, it can often become confusing in the same way. For instance, if you’re using the Norse gods, are you also assuming the Norse creation myth is true? That is, after all, an important part of that universe. But how could the world be created from the body of the frost giant Ymir AND have emerged from the primordial waters? Is the Sun driven across the sky by Ra, Apollo, or Sol?

Were humans first made from clay, trees, or corn? Is the world of the dead ruled by Hades, Osiris, or Hel? Do Zeus and Thor both control thunder and lightning?

Picture by GodAntichrist
There may be ways to make these different stories work together, but there are definitely going to be some contradictions in the details. Then again, most of the old mythological sources we have contradict each other anyway, so maybe this isn’t such a big deal. And different cultures were constantly stealing myths from each other and inserting their own gods in them. It is interesting to me, though, especially when the old gods exist in the modern world, where we know for a fact that the Earth orbits the Sun, and the chances of a land of dead people physically existing underground are rather slim. Rick Riordan usually hand-waves this away by saying that two things can be true at the same time, as in the Sun being both a star at the center of the solar system AND a flaming chariot driven across the sky. It’s kind of a cop-out, but probably necessary for the stories he writes. Many cultures had rather intricate family trees for their gods, tracing their ancestry back to personifications of chaos and the like. When Greco-Roman culture insisted that Odin was actually Hermes/Mercury and Thor was Zeus/Jupiter, how did they reconcile this with Zeus being Hermes’ father but the relationship being reversed for the Norse deities? I also tend to take note of when modern fiction links gods of different cultures through family relations, like how Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue identifies Coyote and Anubis as brothers.

This becomes even more complicated when you’re mixing gods from largely defunct religions with those from active belief systems. There was apparently some backlash when, back in 1980, the Marvel Comics version of Thor beat the snot out of Shiva.

Marvel had to later retcon this to say that this Shiva was actually Indra in disguise, apparently acceptable because Indra isn’t one of the three most powerful Hindu gods. Of course, there are still people who worship Thor, but their lobby isn’t anywhere near as strong. Hell, I remember hearing there were complaints from Hindus when Heidi Klum dressed up as Kali.

Of course, this was a drop in the bucket compared with what would have happened if she’d dressed as Muhammad. While there are modern works that take a negative or at least somewhat flippant attitude toward Judeo-Christian mythology, they tend to receive more flak than those that use pagan gods. Hey, the very first Percy Jackson book has Chiron make a distinction between God and the Greek gods: “God–capital G, God. That’s a different matter altogether. We shan’t deal with the metaphysical.” The Greek gods might not be omnipotent and omniscient like the Judeo-Christian God is said to be, but I’d say they’re still quite metaphysical. From what I can recall, Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon, which includes the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, simply has someone comment that the Hebrews worship a different god than the surrounding cultures without going into specifics. There definitely seems to be a general trend in modern writing that it’s okay to present gods who aren’t commonly worshipped these days as silly or nasty, but it’s harder to get away with the same thing for figures from religions that are still quite active and influential. So could Thor beat up Jesus? Well, Jesus wasn’t so big on fighting back, but I wouldn’t imagine the thunder god would be able to inflict any lasting damage. And of course the Norse gods aren’t fully immortal, as Thor is supposed to die at Ragnarok.

Posted in Authors, Christianity, Christopher Moore, Comics, Egyptian, Greek Mythology, Hinduism, Judaism, Mythology, Native American, Norse, Percy Jackson, Religion, Rick Riordan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment