Let’s Talk About the Hulk

I read the collected Planet Hulk storyline when I heard it was going to be part of Thor: Ragnarok and Comixology had it on sale. I also read a collection of the first several Hulk stories, as I hadn’t before.

He’s an interesting character, but it seems like even early on they weren’t quite sure what to do with him. He’s not really a hero or a villain, although he plays both roles at various times. Instead, he largely wants to be left alone and get rid of anyone who’s bothering him, destroying anything in the way. Bruce Banner starts out changing to the Hulk at night, then finds a way to transform back and forth at will with a gamma ray machine, which really seems to me to be tempting fate.

Sure, the FIRST gamma blast gave you super powers instead of cancer, but who’s to say it will continue to do that? This version of the Hulk retains Banner’s intelligence, but he’s later back to being an out-of-control brute. He’s a charter member of the Avengers, but is at odds with them at times. Even when in his most famous “Hulk smash” mode, he’s not really stupid, just driven by emotion. He’s aware of his alter-ego, but doesn’t like him. The Hulk developed as a representation of the repressed part of Banner’s psyche, as he’s emotionally reserved and dealing with childhood trauma. Stan Lee has cited Frankenstein’s monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Golem as influences on the character. I think there’s also a bit of the berserker, or of Cuchulainn from Celtic mythology when he goes into rage mode and is a practically unstoppable fighter but unable to distinguish between friend and foe. Banner has a young sidekick named Rick Jones, who I believe later goes on to be Captain America’s and Mar-Vell‘s sidekick.

Oh, I also like how Hulk is able to travel great distances simply by jumping, although I guess that’s also what Superman did before he started flying, which I understand was mostly because it was easier to show in the animated shorts.

The Planet Hulk arc shows the green guy as able to successfully lead a revolution, rule a planet, and raise a family, while only very briefly turning back into Banner. After a warp core explosion in the ship that brought him to Sakaar, much of the planet is destroyed, and Hulk returns with his surviving allies to Earth to get revenge.

He eventually finds out that, even though his fellow superheroes did trick him into leaving the planet, it was loyalists of the former king who actually planted the defective core. Miek was aware of this, but didn’t tell the Hulk.

Miek is in the movie, but the part about his being a traitor wasn’t retained. I don’t know if it will show up later, but I have seen talk of both him and Korg reappearing in later films.

There’s also a six-part Comixology-exclusive Thor vs. Hulk series written by Jeremy Whitley, the writer of Princeless, that sees the two of them performing various challenges for a stylish cosmic being known as the Promoter.

I understand that Marvel hasn’t made any more solo Hulk films because of their deal with Universal, but I do wish they’d provided some closure with Betty Ross instead of just casually getting Bruce into another relationship. Oh, well. I don’t think anybody really watches these superhero movies for the romantic subplots. It does seem pretty consistent that women Hulk has feelings for can calm him down, while for Cuchulainn it was just any naked women.

Posted in Book Reviews, Celtic, Comics, Monsters, Mythology, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All of Our Values Have Been Challenged by the Monsters of Mud

I don’t think I’ve written yet about Ozian people made of mud. According to some religions, humans were originally formed from mud, and we still contain a lot of the same elements, but obviously there’s more to our bodies than that. The people of the China Country would have been made from clay. And there’s a mention in Grampa in Oz that the wizard Gorba tried to turn the Princess of Perhaps City into mud so no one else would marry her, but she becomes a flower fairy instead, credited to how “sweet, lovely and good” she is. This is something that comes up from time to time in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books, as with how Mombi could make Orin into an old woman with magical powers, but not a hag. But the first really direct reference to mud men appears in Royal Book, when the Scarecrow is sliding down the beanpole. He runs into a group of people called the Middlings, whose bodies and clothes are formed from mud, with dried grass as hair, roots for arms and legs, golden teeth, and coal buttons. The mud is constantly shifting, which means their features often change and sometimes have to be patted back into place. Their eyes glow “like small electric lights,” but they still need to use a lantern.

As with a lot of the odd tribes of Oz, we don’t learn that much about these beings, but it appears that they spend most of their time digging with shovels and picks. We don’t find out what they’re digging for, although maybe it’s something to replenish their bodies. The only Middling named is Muddle, who works for the King. The monarch’s preferred means of address seems to be “Your Mudjesty,” although the Scarecrow calls him “Your Royal Middleness.” He demands a toll from the Scarecrow and considers keeping him even after that, but Muddle drops him after deeming him useless. We’re also told the words to the Middling National Air, which includes the line, “Oh, what is so lovely as mud!” I’ve seen several people point out the similarity to Flanders and Swann’s “Hippopotamus Song” (“Mud, mud, glorious mud”), although that came later and probably wasn’t directly influenced by it.

Ploppa, the giant turtle in Yellow Knight, also waxes poetic about the “delicious squg and glug” of mud.

Both of Lin Carter’s Oz books have fairly similar encounters with mud-men. In Tired Tailor, the wizard Wudj sends Dorothy, Pastoria, Snip, Pigasus, and the flying horse Skyhi underground to a place called Undertown, located in a cavern and inhabited by people made of mud with pointed heads, tree roots for hair, and glowing coal for eyes. They ride on giant earthworms, and their town is surrounded by lakes of molten magma and pools of mud.

Fire-flies, glow-worms, and fire flowers provide light, and the inhabitants apparently eat mud pies and dirt stew and drink root beer. Their ruler is Duke Down, assisted by the Grand Mudlump Unda. There are some indications that Undertown is part of a place called Down, which could be linked with the layer of the Underworld mentioned in Yellow Knight and the place visited in Hungry Tiger. That raises the question as to whether King Dad rules only Down Town itself, or all of Down, in which case the Duke might be a vassal of his. The muddy place in Merry Mountaineer is above ground in the Quadling Country. Called Mudville, presumably a reference to Casey at the Bat, it’s made up of mud huts. It’s unclear whether the inhabitants are made of mud or just covered in it, but we do know they try to coat visitors in mud, which is likely why they don’t get many. The ruler is Queen Muddalinda, whose officials include the Lord High Muckedy-Muck Muddle (must be a common name for mud-men) and the muscular Big Dipper.

Posted in Animals, Characters, Music, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Gonna Stand There and Watch Asgard Burn

Thor: Ragnarok – I’ve been looking forward to this one, especially since seeing the trailer where Thor calls the Hulk “a friend from work.” So many trailers are awful, but this one worked. The Thor films feel genuinely epic, combining classical Norse mythology with space opera and the usual superheroics, and also including a lot of humor. And yes, there are spoilers aplenty here. You might remember (but probably don’t) that I was confused by how the mid-credits scene in Doctor Strange fit with the ending of The Dark World, but the movie sorts it out pretty quickly. First we see Thor facing the fire demon Surtur and taking his crown in an attempt to prevent Ragnarok, then exposing Loki, then getting help from Dr. Strange to find the real Odin.

I think (although I’m not entirely sure) that this is the first case of a credits scene from an earlier Marvel movie actually being part of a later one, rather than something that happens in between films. I wonder if the indication that Loki initially left Odin in a retirement home was an intentional Douglas Adams reference. Anyway, Thor and Loki find Odin in Norway, but he dies right in front of them. If you’ve read the traditional account of Ragnarok, it’s strange that Fenris is in this movie and Odin dies, but the two don’t have anything to do with each other.

Awww, who’s a humongous puppy?
For that matter, Hela and Fenris are supposed to be Loki’s children, while here the former is Odin’s daughter and the latter of unknown origin. I wonder if they thought the Loki of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was so much a man-child as to make his having kids weird. This also makes Hela Odin’s heir, so good for Asgard for not being totally patriarchal, but bad for Odin apparently having no clue how to raise decent children. Hela being a psychotic overlord, while I believe it’s accurate to the comics, is part of a general trend of making classical death gods who aren’t really presented as evil into supervillains. See also: Hades/Pluto in just about anything post-Jesus (including Marvel; he was the bad guy in a Thor/Hercules story I read fairly recently), Arawn in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, Anubis in the Atari game Riddle of the Sphinx, Ogoun in Robert Rankin, and many more. On the other hand, Death of the Discworld, Death of the the Endless from Sandman, and even Marvel’s Lady Death aren’t evil, and can even be downright friendly; but that’s personifications of death rather than deities associated with it.

Hela is definitely well played by Cate Blanchett, though, totally nasty and a bit haggard in the face, but also with a definite sense of style. I’m not quite sure about the antlers, though.

She’s actually pretty similar to Disney’s Maleficent in some ways.
In mythology, she’s described as having half of her face dead, something Marvel obviously didn’t go with any more than they did Thor having red hair, although I know that latter was at least addressed a few times in the comics.

While Hela is instituting her reign of terror over Asgard, Thor and Loki both end up on the planet Sakaar, setting of the Planet Hulk storyline that I read in preparation for this. I might have some thoughts on that later, but for now I’ll just say it was a planet styled after the Roman Empire that hosts gladiatorial matches, which describes pretty much every other planet in the universe of comics. The Hulk ends up here after being tricked into a spaceship by the other Avengers, who have deemed him too dangerous. He becomes the champion in the arena, and then launches a revolution and gets married, only to have it all go up in smoke from an exploding warp core. The movie takes elements from this without being a direct adaptation. Instead of the Red King, the planet is ruled by the Grandmaster, who’s a traditional Marvel character, but not one I was familiar with. He’s played by Jeff Goldblum in a performance that’s very blatantly Jeff Goldblum.

Thor isn’t in the comic arc, but there’s a nod to Marvel’s first Thor story with the character of Korg, one of the Stone Men of Saturn who invade Earth and are defeated by the thunder god.

When Marvel started caring a little more about verisimilitude, they were retconned into Kronans, beings from a different solar system entirely who had a base on Saturn’s moon Iapetus. Here, Korg is basically a goofy British guy, in a movie that also portrays Skurge the Executioner as a goofy British guy.

After some assistance from Odin’s spirit in beating the Hulk in the arena, Thor recruits him and the last of the Valkyries in an attempt to save Asgard. This character’s actual name is never revealed, although she’s called Scrapper 142 on Sakaar. She’s based on someone in the comics who’s usually just called Valkyrie, although her real name is Brunnhilde, and she’s had a variety of secret identities. I don’t think I’d even heard of Tessa Thompson, who plays the character here. She’s really cute and bad-ass, but also flawed, in the role.

Thor and his allies try to save Asgard, but he eventually decides it’s best to just evacuate everyone he can and let Surtur burn the place.

Speaking of letting things burn, what is with these movies just casually letting it drop that the main characters’ relationships have ended offscreen? First Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and now Thor and Jane Foster. Well, maybe it was just because Natalie Portman’s contract expired or something, but I feel it really should have been explored more. I think both Valkyrie and Sif were love interests for Thor in the comics after he and Jane split up, but I have no idea if the movies are going to go that way. I also think they had Bruce Banner and Black Widow get together just because they were both there and unattached. You probably shouldn’t expect a lasting, healthy relationship with a superhero, I guess.

From what I’ve heard and observed, the comics are never entirely clear about the exact nature of Asgard and the Norse gods. The films seem to largely go with the idea of their being really powerful but within limits I really wouldn’t expect. I mean, Thor was stunned with a taser in the first movie. Here, Odin presumably dies of old age, although I’m sure Loki’s messing with him didn’t help. Hela murders much of the population of Asgard (including the Warriors Three, but we’re not shown what happens to Sif), and Loki is easily out-magicked by a human sorcerer. Unlike the Greek gods, the Norse gods could be killed, but it took a lot. I think most of them have died and come back to life in the comics, but that’s also true of many mortal characters. And while Bifrost is in use, Asgard also seems to be reachable by standard space travel (or at least it was before the ending of this one). Whether any of the Asgardians are dead Vikings is never stated one way or the other. I wonder if the Cinematic Universe will ever bring in the Greek gods. I suppose they’re a bit overdone these days, but Hercules was an Avenger.

Posted in Comics, Greek Mythology, Humor, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Norse, Relationships, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

We’ll Be Riding Out This Storm

Beth and I went to see Tori Amos live at the Beacon Theatre last Tuesday. We’ve seen her perform a few times, but not in some years. This tour is in support of her new album, Native Invader, which I’ve heard a few times and can’t say it’s really grabbed me. That’s not to say it’s bad; there’s generally something I find sublime about the sound of her songs even when I’m not sure what they’re about. Thematically, it’s largely about the struggle between nature and humanity, with the typical mix of folkloric references with more modern concerns. I think there’s a certain sameness to the songs on this album, though; she usually provides a little more variety, and the occasional catchy ditty to provide a break from the heavy stuff. “Cloud Riders” has a good arrangement, alternating between Tori on two different vocal tracks and incorporating a good organ part. I wonder if the chariot drawn by cats in the lyrics is a reference to Freyja. “Up the Creek,” the only song on this album to have vocals by Tori’s daughter Natashya, has a very urgent sound and is based around one of Tori’s Cherokee grandfather’s favorite sayings. Beth mentioned “Bang” as one that stood out for her; it references the old saw about how people are made of star-stuff, and mentions several elements. Oddly, this is the only one aside from the bonus track that doesn’t have its lyrics in the accompanying booklet. “Climb” refers to St. Veronica, who is said to have given her veil to Jesus so he could wipe his face. “Bats” and “Benjamin” both identify a bat as a keeper of esoteric knowledge, and the latter mentions Juliana v. United States, a federal lawsuit over climate change that’s led to the fossil fuel industry bullying children. “Mary’s Eyes” is a response to Tori’s mother’s stroke, and how she could only communicate with her eyes afterwards.

The opener at the concert was a British band called Scars on 45, and I’m sorry, but I really can’t recommend them. It seems like Tori has a habit of getting openers who are just kind of dull. On the other hand, I’ve also seen Ben Folds and the Ditty Bops open for her. I haven’t heard anything about the Ditty Bops in some time, by the way. I guess they’re not performing as a band anymore? Anyway, Tori’s performance had her singing and playing piano and organ, sometimes at the same time. Strangely, out of seventeen songs, there were only two from the latest album, “Breakaway” and “Reindeer King” in the set. On the other hand, she played three songs each from From the Choirgirl Hotel and Scarlet’s Walk. I’m not sure musicians think so much in terms of what albums songs are on, especially since that doesn’t necessarily reflect when they wrote or first started playing those songs. The segment when she played covers, a pretty standard part of her shows, was called the Fake Muse Network, with a parody of the Fox News logo. One of the covers was Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” which I’ve heard her play before. Honestly, I didn’t even like the original song that much, but whatever. My favorite song in the set might have been “Bliss.” I felt that the audience as a whole came off as a bit immature, as they collectively cheered loudly every time she used a curse word or innuendo, of which there was a lot in “Icicle.” It was still a fun night, if rather tiring considering it ended not long before 11 on a weeknight.

I don’t go to as many concerts now as I used to, but I am seeing Robyn Hitchcock in about a week. I also have a few other albums to review, although it seems to be getting more difficult for me to write about music. Still, I should have a bit to say about the latest albums by Amanda Palmer and St. Vincent, among others, so stayed tuned.

Posted in Albums, Christianity, Concerts, Environmentalism, Music, Mythology, Religion, Tori Amos | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Morbid and Marvelous

The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Foul and Filthy Fiends, by Robert Rankin – This is the fourth, and presumably the last, book in Rankin’s series of novels taking place in a steampunk Victorian England where War of the Worlds was true history. It focuses once again on detective Cameron Bell and educated monkey Darwin, who travel through time to prevent the plot of Bell’s old boot boy Arthur Knapton to rule in all times and places at once. The two of them visit ancient Egypt, World War II London, a future where everyone lives underwater, and even fairyland (which is accessible from Brentford). Winston Churchill, Aleister Crowley, and H.G. Wells all make appearances. There’s also an episode where Darwin and a street urchin who’s a distant ancestor of Rankin’s commit suicide and visit a country in the clouds with sky pirates. Kids having adventures after they die was apparently a popular theme back in the nineteenth century, as seen with another book I review in this post. As is typical for this author, there are a lot of inside jokes and comments by the characters themselves about how the plot doesn’t make sense. I do think there were some missed opportunities here, especially with the titular chickens themselves, who are built up without any real conclusion. Knapton’s final defeat is cleverly done, however.

The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson – A cosmic science-fiction-styled horror tale published in 1908, it tells the tale of an old man who moves into a mysterious house in a remote part of Ireland. The framing story involves later visitors finding the man’s journal, in which he describes his bizarre experiences leading up to his death and the house’s destruction. He encounters images of gods and demons, malicious pig-like creatures who attack the house, and a vision of the end of the world. Did I mention this was a major influence on H.P. Lovecraft? There’s some interesting styling with the journal, in that parts of it are said to be illegible. It’s a pretty good and weird read, and not very long.

The Ingoldsby Legends, or Mirth and Marvels, by Thomas Ingoldsby – My wife came across a reference to this work in something she was reading, and said it sounded up my alley. Ingoldsby is actually a pseudonym, the real author being the English priest Richard Harris Barham. It’s a collection of poetry largely based on medieval legends, many involving ghosts and saints. I quite liked Barham’s style, which brought a lot of wordplay and meta-humor into the poetic scheme, including multilingual rhymes that were admitted to not quite rhyme.

The Water-Babies, a Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, by Charles Kingsley – This children’s story from the 1860s was very popular and influential in its time, but hardly anyone reads it nowadays. While I’m not sure I’d consider it a good story per se, it’s very interesting as a mix of social commentary, Christian morality, fantastic adventure, and even attempts to harmonize religion and then-modern science. The main character, Tom, is a young chimney sweep who drowns and turns into some sort of tiny baby with gills, then receives moral instruction from fairies symbolizing the Bible, and goes on a journey through ridiculous places to rescue his old master from eternal torment. Much of the humor holds up (well, at least for me), but there’s a lot of casual and not-so-casual ethnic caricature, much of it directed to the Irish. Kingsley was a Christian Socialist who believed in the superiority of the English, which seems a bit contradictory by modern standards. The novel was partially a criticism of child labor, but his idea wasn’t so much that it was unfair to children as that it left the children with no sense of Christian morality. That was kind of his attitude toward the Irish as well; they were bad people, but not really through any fault of their own. Kingsley was also a supporter of Darwin’s (the biologist’s, not Rankin’s monkey’s) theory of evolution, presenting it as a way God allows living beings to change themselves. He uses the idea of natural selection in a parable about lazy, self-centered people who gradually devolve into apes. There’s a heavy dose of naturalism in the book, but also some pure fantasy. In the final chapter, when Tom sets out to find Mr. Grimes, Kingsley pulls out all the stops in his satire of educational and scientific practices he didn’t like in a Swift-style tour of strange islands. He even specifically equates a place where children turn into turnips when being crammed full of facts for examinations (yeah, teaching to standardized tests has been a problem for a long time) with Swift’s Laputa, presumably forgetting that Laputa was airborne. Another place Tom visits, known as the Hub of Creation to its Spiritualism-obsessed inhabitants, is specifically given coordinates that make it just southwest of Australia; I’m not sure whether that was random or a joke I don’t get.

2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke – Writing books set in the future can be difficult, as they have to take into account things that happen in the real world between one story and the next. The sequel to 2001, written in 1982, incorporates not only actual advances in space travel (including the moon landing), but allows elements of the film to take precedent over those of the original book. Most prominently, this means David Bowman’s transformation into a star-child took place near Jupiter rather than Saturn. HAL’s creator reprograms the infamous computer, life is discovered on Europa, Dave becomes accustomed to his new life as an energy being, and we learn more about the highly advanced aliens who sent the monoliths to our solar system. Towards the end (and yes, this is a spoiler, although it’s so out in left field that I wouldn’t think it really ruins anything), interference by the aliens turns Jupiter into a small star, something I’m pretty sure didn’t really happen in 2010.

Posted in Astronomy, Authors, Book Reviews, Christianity, Education, Evolution, Fairy Tales, Humor, Jonathan Swift, Monsters, Philosophy, Poetry, Prejudice, Religion, Robert Rankin, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Best of Inventions

If you’ve read the Oz books, you might remember Smith and Tinker as the creators of Tik-Tok, as well as the Giant with the Hammer and, as per Rachel Cosgrove Payes, the Hundred-Year Alarm Clock.

I’ve written about them before myself. They never actually appear in the main series, and I don’t think most of the authors even mention their names. Ruth Plumly Thompson occasionally refers to them as “a firm of magicians,” while I don’t think L. Frank Baum ever indicated that they practiced magic. Then again, Dorothy suspects at the end of Ozma of Oz that Tik-Tok’s machinery probably wouldn’t work outside a fairyland, and some of the inventors’ deeds sound rather magical; but whether they actually work magic or just utilize the magic inherent in fairyland isn’t clear. Many magicians in the Oz series are inventors anyway. James Howe’s Mister Tinker in Oz finally brings in one of these men as a character, and he’s given the name Ezra P. Tinker. Rejano Edison Smith turns out to still be alive as well, as seen in Jim Vander Noot’s short story “Button-Bright and the Knit-Wits of Oz.” They both settle in the Emerald City at the end of their respective stories, Tinker as First and Only Royal and Official Inventor of Oz and Smith as Royal Painter of Oz, but since they’re absent at other times when they might be useful and are never shown meeting again, it’s likely they come and go.

Physically, Ezra Tinker is very tall and moves jerkily, while Rejano is “a bald, red-faced little man.”

Other works reveal more details about the life and work of these two. When the American military stumbles upon the Ozian landmass in Timothy Perper and Martha Cornog’s “A Side View of the Nonestic Islands,” a paranormal researcher named John Smith learns about it and remembers ” a family tale about a nineteenth century Smith, an ancestor of some sort, an artist and inventor who had gone to the South Seas to open a machine shop.” The connection is spelled out later in the story. According to “Glinda and the Red Jinn,” Smith and Tinker were the first ones to teach magic to Jinnicky. Since he claims to have been practicing magic for 200 years in Yankee, this means the inventors might have been active as early as the eighteenth century. This also suggests Smith’s middle name was not a direct reference to Thomas Edison in-universe. Still, since he has the last name of another famous inventor for a middle name, I’ve decided that Tinker’s is Pascal. “Knit-Wits” has Smith mention that he visited the Emerald City during the Wizard’s reign, which would be nice to tie into his giving the Hundred-Year Alarm Clock to Singra in a trade, but Singra was likely enchanted before the Wizard’s arrival. Mysterious Chronicles introduces Dcim Wainwright, a former apprentice of Smith and Tinker who used the prototype version of the ladder Mr. Tinker used to reach the Moon to ride a cloud to Oz.

The ladder also appears in Onyx Madden’s sequel that I’m not sure was ever completed.

Picture by Shawn Maldonado
In Mister Tinker, Ezra uses several inventions. The Speckoscope is a sort of telescope that can shrink people, Julius QuickScissors a pair of fast-acting automatic scissors, Wishful Fixing Lotion a solution that can fix anything if accompanied by a wish, and his compass-watch a device that gives directions and other advice and can apparently even turn back time. Button-Bright finds Mr. Smith operating a color-mixing machine, and later planning to build an automated version. In Phil Lewin’s Witch Queen, Dorothy and her companions run into a Stumbling Block in a Quadling field, with a plate on it indicating that it was built by Smith and Tinker to deter evil witches. The Nome Wizard Potaroo also has Stumbling Blocks. And in the longer version of Frank Joslyn Baum’s Rosine and the Laughing Dragon, Jack and Quackie use a freezer identified as Smith and Tinker’s Frost ‘n Freeze to make an ice bridge across the Milkshake River. Wooglet mentions that Rejano Smith’s more practical but less imaginative grandson has restarted the old business in Ev, and one of his inventions is a sort of diving suit that provides fresh air, regulates temperature, and adjusts to increasing water pressure. According to Thorns and Private Files, the company also makes photocopiers. I’m sure there’s a lot more still to discover about the enigmatic inventors and their firm, and whether they might have been involved in the construction of any more of the robots or cyborgs in fairyland.

Posted in Characters, Chris Dulabone, Hugh Pendexter, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Melody Grandy, Onyx Madden/Jim Nitch, Oz, Oz Authors, Phil Lewin, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Please Don’t Feed the Ghosts

Hungry ghosts are a Buddhist concept, but they’ve spread into other East Asian religious traditions as well. The Sanskrit term for this kind of spirit is preta, which basically means “departed.” The Chinese name for them, èguǐ, means “hungry ghost,” the term that’s often used in other translations as well. These are essentially the souls of people who committed some sort of evil deeds while alive, and are punished with an insatiable hunger in the afterlife. Many legends of hungry ghosts involve someone refusing to share food. In Chinese mythology, it could also be a result of lack of ancestor veneration. So what do ghosts eat? Well, according to children’s jokebooks, such things as spookghetti and boo-berry muffins.

Sugary cereal might also be acceptable.
The hungry ghosts, however, have a variety of appetites. While some just seek regular food and/or water, others eat human flesh or blood, or even excrement.

Hungry ghosts are typically depicted with bloated bellies, tiny mouths, and very thin necks; but this appears to be more of a symbolic thing than anything else.

For some, any food they try to eat bursts into flames or rots.

They’ve been used metaphorically to describe addiction. Buddhist cosmology gives the hungry ghosts their own realm, one of the six for various states of being.

While said to inhabit a hell, they’re frequently said to wander through the world of the living as well, seeking their food of choice.

Source: Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen
In the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, there’s a Hungry Ghost Festival that shares some similiarties with Halloween, in that it’s when the dead mingle with the living, and have to be either appeased or scared away. Food is left out for them, and live entertainments leave the front row empty for the ghosts. Fourteen days after the festival, people place lotus-shaped lanterns on paper boats to guide the ghosts back to the underworld.

The Japanese word for a hungry ghost is gaki, while jikininki are specifically ghosts who eat human corpses.

There’s also an association with the Japanese gods of hunger, or hidarugami. These beings are traditionally Japanese rather than an import from Chinese mythology, but they tend to get mixed together due to the hunger theme.

They’re also spirits of the dead, specifically those who starved to death in the mountains and hence were not properly honored by the living. They possess people and cause extreme starvation, although they can be warded off with only a tiny amount of food. As such, travelers in the mountains of Japan are warned to take a few riceballs with them in case of emergency, probably a good idea even if there aren’t any malicious ghosts out there. Some sites also mention the similarity between hungry ghosts and the fate of the Nephilim or Grigori in the Book of Enoch. These were the offspring of human women with angels known as Watchers, as described in Genesis. God turned them into disembodied spirits who were constantly hungry and thirsty, but had no mouths. Although not quite the same, there’s a thematic link to Tantalus‘ fate in Tartarus as well. And to get into more recent lore, Slimer from Ghostbusters and the ghosts from Pac-Man (and, for that matter, Pac-Man himself; maybe he’s also a ghost?) seem to operate on much the same lines.

Posted in Buddhism, Chinese, Greek Mythology, Halloween, Holidays, Japanese, Judaism, Monsters, Mythology, Pac-Man, Religion, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments