High Horsing Around

Sometimes the Oz Convention has some programming related to other books that are celebrating significant anniversaries in addition to the hundred-year one. I don’t know if that’s the case this year, but I did use it as an excuse to revisit a book published ninety years ago, Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Giant Horse of Oz. This is an important book as it provides Thompson’s solution for the Munchkin and Gillikin Countries not really having consistent rulers, while the Tin Woodman rules the Winkies and Glinda the Quadlings. It also largely sticks to the plot a little better than most of Thompson’s work, tying a lot of the story to the attempts to save the Ozure Isles from the monster Quiberon and restore their lost queen. At the same time, it’s difficult to identify a main protagonist (it certainly isn’t the titular horse), and the resolution is brought about by interference from Ozma and the Wizard of Oz rather than the characters solving their problems themselves. It’s an enjoyable read if you like Thompson’s breezy, whimsical style, although parts of it seem rushed. That said, it also starts with a lyrical description of the Ozure Isles instead of immediately getting into dialogue, often frantic or angry dialogue, as is more common for her. I’ll get into some more detail, and be forewarned that there are quite a few SPOILERS.

Prince Philador’s main character trait seems to be charisma, in that everyone immediately likes him. He doesn’t change much over the course of the story, which is kind of par for the course in Oz stories, but perhaps not so much for Thompsonian princes. With her other ones, there tends to be somewhat of a coming-of-age narrative, if generally a light one: Pompadore and Tatters find brides, Reddy and Tandy win back their kingdoms, and Randy proves himself fit to rule a kingdom AND gets married. While she’s usually vague about characters’ ages, we know that Pompa is eighteen, and due to the nature of aging in Oz has lived at least nine years more than that. Randy starts as about ten but gets a little older. Philador, however, neither gets married nor inherits a throne; in fact, the whole goal is restoring his nuclear family. As such, there’s really no need for him to mature any more than there is for Trot, who also participates in this adventure; they’re both perpetually ten and like it that way.

Phil’s father, King Cheeriobed, is also one of the kinder royal fathers we see. While Reddy and Randy’s dads abandon them, Tatters’ seems a bit distant, and Pompa’s is bad-tempered, Cheeriobed very much cares for his son. It’s interesting to me that March Laumer wrote Cheeriobed as an old duffer who has to change his entire personality to save his marriage, which seems to be based more on how John R. Neill draws the character than how Thompson shows him. Sure, he wouldn’t be a grown man in a Thompson book if he weren’t somewhat flustered and absent-minded, but he’s very kindly, willing to do what he can to help his kingdom and his family, and unwilling to see anyone get hurt.

Also worthy of note is Akbad, the King’s court soothsayer, although he never actually does any soothsaying in the story. His name is a play on “Akbar,” and he speaks in flowery Arabian Nights sort of language, but I think the turban and long nose might have been Neill’s ideas. His main fault might be pragmatism in Oz. When Quiberon demands a mortal maiden as a caretaker (why, we don’t really know, other than just the novelty), Akbad uses magic wings to abduct Trot and take her to the serpent.

These wings seem a bit arbitrary in how they operate; Akbad can use them to scare the Scarecrow and Benny, but later they don’t work at all when he wants to use them selfishly, even though his selfish goals would also benefit other people. Along those lines, it’s also never clear why the blue ray that turns people into shadows doesn’t work on Benny. Is it because of his solid construction, or his willpower? Also, if Akbad if supposed to be realistic, shouldn’t he realize that the mortals in the Emerald City might be under Ozma’s protection?

The character who does develop somewhat in this story is Benny, given that name by the Scarecrow because he’s the statue of a public benefactor, with the straw man as a mentor to teach him to recognize his own strengths instead of trying to be like other people.

His coming to life and Oz are pretty rushed, and a literal reading seems to indicate that Oz is underneath Boston, which doesn’t fit with anything else in the series. Why he’s from Boston at all isn’t really clear as far as the plot goes, although his misadventures in the United States seem to borrow a lot from John Dough’s, including his obsession with fashion accessories. Herby the Medicine Man is a likeable character, although his habit of handing out pills for everything (anger, yawning, hunger, lack of sleep) is kind of disturbing in a modern context. And High Boy, alternately referred to as a Giant Horse or a High Horse (not sure why the non-punny one became the title) doesn’t have that much of a stake in the plot, but he takes charge of things and manages to get through the later part of the journey without much trouble, due to his extending legs.

Another relevant character is the Good Witch of the North, here named Tattypoo (Thompson either wasn’t aware of or just ignored the name Locasta from the stage play), who is stated to be the ruler of the Gillikin Country in The Marvelous Land of Oz, but barely appears after that other than a brief role in Road. Thompson brought her back, but then immediately discarded her. There have been complaints about how she made the character younger, something she’d also do with one of her own characters in Yellow Knight, and suggesting some kind of issue with age. I wonder what her thoughts on the matter were once she grew old. I think this is the only time she totally changes an established L. Frank Baum character. There were other characters she wrote with noticeably different personalities (like the Tin Woodman) or expanded on their back stories (the Scarecrow and Ojo), but didn’t change them that much. But since Baum usually ignored the character, it’s not like it was a huge change in the grand scheme of things. I do think it’s kind of a shame not just because the original character had some potential, but also because Thompson gives her some interesting companions and magic. In order for the revelation about her to be a surprise, she disappears after being featured in a single chapter, then tells her back story at the end. Cheeriobed becomes King of the Munchkins, and Ozma appoints someone she presumably hasn’t met King of the Gillikins, and that situation remains in place until Neill starts mixing things up in his books.

Any thoughts on my reviews of the original Oz books? They feel a bit redundant, as I’ve read all of these books many times, and discussed just about every element of them over the years. What I haven’t done so much is look at them as individual books.

Posted in Book Reviews, Characters, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Monsters, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gammon and Spinach

You know, I think I still have a DVD set of old Popeye cartoons I haven’t watched, and I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of the last collection of Elzie Segar’s strips either. But I did think of Popeye recently when coming across a label in a store that referred to kale as a “superfood,” a largely meaningless term used for marketing. At least some of the foods marketed that way really are high in nutrients, but they’re in no way supernatural. But that got me thinking how, in Popeye’s world, spinach is literally a superfood. We all know how the typical Popeye cartoon works: he’s getting the crap beaten out of him by Bluto or another rival, so he downs a can of spinach and gains a quick burst to strength that he uses to turn the tables. It’s no wonder Shigeru Miyamoto originally wanted the game that became Donkey Kong to feature Popeye, as the spinach worked pretty much exactly like Pac-Man’s power pills; and indeed that’s how it did work in the later Popeye arcade game. In DK, the hammer has a similar effect, although Mario can’t climb ladders while using it. In the original Fleischer cartoons, spinach seemed to work the same way for everybody, even Bluto, the reason he didn’t use it more often presumably just being that he didn’t like it.

In one short, Popeye force-feeds Bluto spinach and the big guy has no choice but to beat the tar out of Popeye; he wants to get injured to spend time with Olive Oyl, who’s a nurse in this one. So maybe Bluto avoids it because its effect on him is TOO extreme. I don’t think the fact that he can hold his own against the incredibly strong Popeye otherwise is ever explained. When the character was introduced in the comic, Popeye DID say Bluto was the one guy who could potentially beat him.

Spinach also can give Popeye powers other than just strength, like making him a good musician, dancer, or sculptor. So why spinach? It comes from the Segar comics, but there it isn’t a secret weapon so much as just a favorite food.

He does eat large quantities of it when he needs extra strength, but it isn’t automatic like in the cartoons.

It also didn’t become an element of the strip until Popeye had already been around for a while. In the first story arc, he’s able to avoid being killed by rubbing a Whiffle Hen for luck; but his amazing strength remains in later stories that don’t involve Bernice.

Not only can he beat any opponent in a contest of physical force, but even bullets barely harm him. It basically just seems to be part of his characterization as a tough brawler, and might well have come over time as he might have lost an eye in an earlier fight. At least, that’s what’s originally implied, but when we later find out his father is missing the same eye, it might have been retconned to a genetic abnormality. In the cartoons, even Popeye’s young nephews have the missing eyes. Eventually, Segar did reveal spinach to be the secret to his hero’s strength, or at least ONE of the secrets; he also drank a lot of milk (good thing he wasn’t lactose intolerant). He also mentions that he grew up behind a vegetable market, which is how he got hooked on spinach in the first place. Apparently smoking didn’t have any ill effects on his health either.

Actually, I seem to recall Popeye cartoons from the 1950s and later rarely showing him SMOKING his pipe, but rather using it as a sort of all-purpose tool. I don’t know if this had to do with increased knowledge that smoking was unhealthy or not.

A quick search on the Internet will reveal several articles about how the emphasis on spinach over other green, leafy vegetables was due to a typo. In the 1870s, German chemist Erich von Wolf misplaced a decimal point in transcribing how much iron was in a hundred-gram serving of spinach, from 3.5 to the ridiculously high thirty-five. Incidentally, by this time, “spinach” was already a British term for nonsense. But even if the chemist’s mistake were still a thing fifty years later when Segar made spinach the sailor’s favorite snack, I’m sure he realized that eating a lot of spinach wouldn’t give anyone the ability to beat up a gorilla.

In one comic, Popeye states that the reason he eats a lot of spinach isn’t for the iron, but for the Vitamin A.

It’s healthy for anybody, but for some reason it has a particularly amazing effect on Popeye. But I don’t think anyone held up comics and cartoons as an accurate portrayal of the power of vegetables; they were, after all, primarily supposed to be funny.

The later superhero trend in comics tended to steer their origins for supernatural powers towards things a normal kid couldn’t imitate, like Superman being an alien. Okay, I guess kids COULD have exposed themselves to radiation like the Fantastic Four or the Hulk, but even there it was usually suggested that these were the results of atypical situations. Others went back to mythology to have the powers of ancient gods, certainly not a new idea. Hercules was super-strong because he was the son of Zeus, Achilles was bathed in the River Styx by his immortal mother, and even Samson had not just the long hair but exposure to the spirit of Yahweh. Come to think of it, there was a Famous Studios cartoon set in ancient Greece where Popeye asks a boon of the goddess of spinach.

Interestingly, Bluto was Hercules in that one, while another from the same era made Popeye Hercules. And when Captain Strong, a Popeye knockoff, appeared in Superman comics, it was stated that the vegetable he used to gain strength was of alien origin and highly addictive.

Posted in Advertising, Cartoons, Comics, Conspiracy Theories, Donkey Kong, Families, Food, Greek Mythology, Health, Humor, Mythology, Pac-Man, Popeye, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Delete Your Account

I don’t plan on deleting my Facebook account. Yes, I’m bothered by how much data they have on me, but I’m also lazy.

And I’m not sure how much of it can really be used in a malicious way. Maybe it can, but I’ve always been pretty open about my beliefs and opinions; and try not to be that open about my address or where I work, although someone could probably find it out pretty easily if they really wanted to.

If I were going to stop using it, it would be more likely to be because it seems like it’s confusing on purpose. They keep changing the interface, and even when I’m used to it, it’s too busy and has too much irrelevant content. I have no idea why anyone would want their timeline NOT in chronological order, but Facebook not only does that, but often resets to that even when I change it. That seems to be pretty common with social media these days, but at least other ones have a simpler appearance. I have my issues with Twitter, but I’m more likely to look at it when I have a spare moment, because it’s more likely I’ll come across something actually interesting at a brief glance. But it seems like I get more reactions from other people on Facebook than other networks, probably partially because it’s the default online application for people who don’t generally use them. I’m not sure why, considering how confusing it is, but it has the brand recognition. My preferred online medium is my blog, but I’ll admit that I don’t check on other people’s blogs as often as I feel I should. It’s weird to think of how the Internet has become increasingly homogenized over time. When I first came online, people tended to make their own web pages. Many of them were terrible, but they tended to be at least somewhat personalized. Then blogging became a major trend, and that was somewhat less personalized because it had a standard format, but considerably easier to update and find out that other people updated. Social media platforms really aren’t particularly personal at all; your page is basically the same as everyone else’s, and your updates are mixed in with other people’s. Sometimes that can be advantageous, but even though you still CAN write longer entries on these platforms (well, not Twitter, unless you do that confusing threading thing), or at least link to them, it seems that people generally don’t. There are also a lot of straight reposts, which would often be more interesting if people included their own thoughts along with them, but to be fair I usually don’t either. There’s a lot of stuff worth sharing, but I also want to provide my own thoughts. I guess that’s what is now commonly called content creation, a term I find obnoxiously vague. But then, I also know a lot of people don’t really like to write.

I’ve been looking at some articles on how Russian operatives and their ilk used data and advertising to influence the elections, and part of me doesn’t really understand why it worked. Basically, they targeted people based on their interests and beliefs. And while a lot of it was aimed toward conservatives, there was quite a bit on the other side as well, including fake accounts purporting to be associated with Black Lives Matter and other social activism. They’d start out pretty low-key, then eventually start spreading false rumors, largely about Hillary Clinton. I must say, while the issue as a whole is pretty serious, I can’t help but find it funny that there was a Russian-owned organization called Heart of Texas.

And some of them stuck, even among liberals. The best explanation I’ve seen, which I came across on this Twitter thread, is that it relies on the reptilian brain, which seems like an insult to reptiles. If you see something designed to produce a visceral reaction, it will stick with you even if it’s not true. That’s fair. I mean, I try not to fall for scams, but in truth I’m more likely to immediately believe what I read, unless there’s some signal otherwise, like source I know I can’t trust or the use of suspicious keywords, like “deep state” or a mention of Satan.

If the Lord of Evil can’t even get his preferred candidate elected, why are Christians so terrified of him? He must have forgotten about the electoral college.
Now, I’ll often reevaluate and immediately realize it is false, but I’ve certainly temporarily believed some things that turned out to be utterly ridiculous. And I guess that leads to bad association, like even if you know the PARTICULAR rumor about Hillary is a lie, you still get the impression that she’s shady. What’s strange to me is why any of this would work in Donald Trump’s favor, when there are even more allegations about him. But then, deciding not to vote because both candidates are terrible can be a major boon to the one you support less. Remember Bernie or Bust? Apparently a lot of that was driven by Russian bots, too. Ultimately, it’s not going to work unless you’re already somewhat on the desired side, which makes me wonder just how much it really matters. Stuff about Muslims and Mexicans sneaking into the country isn’t likely to affect anybody who didn’t already fear these sorts of people. Perhaps the significance is overestimated, because if people who believed such things didn’t have Russian bots and Fox News, they’d turn to other like-minded sources. The desired effect doesn’t seem to be so much trying to change minds as it is convincing people to vote or not vote, which is often what ultimately matters in an election, if perhaps not so much for public opinion in general. I mean, Trump did and still does have a low approval rating, but he still won. It’s fiendish in its subtlety.

One article I came across in the same Twitter thread was about how social media make people upset, which I can buy to some extent, although I don’t know that it’s any worse than any other social interaction in that respect. This Forbes article reports that a lot of it is based on comparing yourself to others, which leads to social isolation. I’m not saying stuff I read on social media never makes me jealous, but it seems like much of the time the people I follow have lives just as dull as mine, or else do things I’m not interested in, like going to gyms or bars and having kids. You know when being surrounded by people did make me feel isolated? In college. The thing is, I had friends, which is more than you could say about high school, when I pretty much never talked to anyone outside class and some people seemed to genuinely dislike me. But it seemed like all those friends had other friends they liked better, and it was rare that anyone sought me out. I was left with the impression that everyone else was having more fun than I was, even if on a rational level I knew that couldn’t be true. I still feel that way sometimes, but not as much as I did then. While I haven’t read it and don’t know that much about her, Mindy Kaling’s book title Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a sentiment I very much identify with. But on the Internet, I guess I don’t get as much of the sense of being excluded. And could people please stop saying your friends on social media aren’t real friends? Poking someone on Facebook doesn’t involve your actual finger, either (not that I’ve ever understood the point of it regardless). That said, I will admit that I’ve always felt that some people use the term “friend” way too loosely, and the term’s use on the Internet is kind of an extension of that. What you mostly have online is an audience, and that’s not a bad thing. And I don’t see that I’m any less myself on the Internet than in person anyway, and I’m probably slightly less awkward online. You CAN create a fake identity, but that doesn’t mean that’s what everyone is doing. When I see stuff about how Internet usage makes people less connected with their neighbors, well, I never felt connected with my neighbors. If you never had a social life, electronic media can’t interfere with it.

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Giving This Wrinkle in Time Some Credit

A Wrinkle in Time – I saw this at the movies last night, and for the most part, I quite liked it. When I see a movie based on a book I’ve read, I generally can’t help doing a bit of comparison and contrast, even if I realize they’re never going to be quite the same. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book, although I did recently catch up on some of the later books in the series; but there were definitely things that really stuck in my mind, and not all of them were in the movie. But then, that’s even true of Lord of the Rings, and those movies went on for hours and hours. What I think the film definitely did capture was the heart of the story, and the theme of Meg getting over her awkwardness and using her abilities. The three children were all excellent in their roles. The Mrs. W’s were played by bigger names, and while I don’t totally remember their personalities in the book, I don’t think Mrs. Whatsit was that much of a jerk. I looked it up, though, and it was established in the novel that she was considerably younger than the other two (albeit still eons old), so the filmmakers seem to have played with this, with Reese Witherspoon playing her as inexperienced and appearing younger than the character was originally described. Oprah Winfrey was Mrs. Which, and while I can’t say I’m a fan of hers, I couldn’t find any fault with her performance. She differed from her portrayal in the book, certainly, but a more accurate depiction might have been difficult to translate to film. The costuming was excellent, and the whole movie had a colorful, psychedelic look to it.

The Happy Medium’s cave was a dizzying collection of floating rocks, and the Medium had kind of an androgynous appearance.

There were some other changes that didn’t really affect the quality, like Mrs. Whatsit turning into a giant flying plant-creature (I decided while watching that “planta ray” would be a good name for it) instead of a rainbow-winged centaur.

I haven’t seen the 2003 made-for-television adaptation, but I understand the centaur looked terrible in that, so maybe the filmmakers were purposely trying to avoid a repeat of that.

We got a brief glimpse of Ixchel, but I missed Aunt Beast as an actual character. I can see why that episode wasn’t included, but it was still disappointing.

It does seem that they could have left in more explanation of how a tesseract worked, and its connection to dimensional physics. I believe there was a trailer that included the bit with the ant and the thread, but it wasn’t in the finished film. (Perhaps it could be considered the original string theory.) And regarding things seen in the trailers, the scene on Camazotz with all the kids doing everything in unison was quite well executed, but it strikes me as being weakened somewhat by the fact that it’s immediately followed by a bright, colorful setting. Camazotz is supposed to be eerily dull, isn’t it? Maybe that was considered dated, as I remember it being sort of a fifties-style dullness, but I think it would have still worked. Instead, Camazotz became an ever-changing world of illusions, an interesting take in its way but seemingly missing the satire. I don’t recall if the thing about everyone there offering the kids food had any basis in the book, but what it made me think of was the myth of Persephone and the tales of people getting stuck in fairyland because they ate the food there. As it is, however, the point just seems to be that the food is an illusion as well, not that it’s a trap in and of itself. I only vaguely remember the man with the red eyes (also known as the Prime Coordinator) from the book, but the movie changes him from coldly disturbing to a combination of Willy Wonka and Sergeant Pepper, still creepy but in a very different way.

On the other hand, I liked the encounter with IT and Evil Charles Wallace. One other thing I noticed right away was how, even though the book was first published in 1962, they referenced things that weren’t around then from the very beginning. Madeleine L’Engle’s timeline for these books was also quite loose anyway, though, and there was no particular reason why it should have been a period piece.

Posted in Authors, Fairy Tales, madeleine l'engle, Science, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember the Old Stories

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke – Since I’ve read the whole Space Odyssey series, I decided to give these books a shot as well. They’re fairly similar in tone, with an emphasis on space exploration and visits by mysterious aliens. In the 2130s, a time when several planets and moons have already been colonized, the agency monitoring such things finds a cylindrical spaceship in the asteroid belt, and most of the story consists of humans exploring it. They find animals that are mass-produced and basically function like robots. As with the Odyssey books, the focus is more on discovery than on characterization. We do learn some quirks of the people involved, but not enough to really make them stand out. We’re told that the captain of the Endeavour has two separate families on different planets who don’t seem to know about each other, but it’s not particularly relevant to the plot, apparently just a quirk of an interplanetary society. It’s an interesting take on this kind of story as, unlike the aliens who built the monoliths, the Ramans appear to be totally neutral, neither seeking to help nor harm humanity.

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden – Set in rural fourteenth-century Russia, this story derives a lot of influence from the fairy tale of Morozko, in which a girl is sent out into the woods in winter by her stepmother, but is kind and helpful to the personification of frost, and is amply rewarded for it. It also involves the attempt by Christian clergy to halt belief in pagan nature spirits. I thought it was a little slow, with a lot of build-up before the fantastic elements really come into play, but really interesting once it picked up steam. There’s a lot of establishment of the family of the main character, Vasilisa Petrovna. Her widowed father takes a new bride who had wanted to be a nun, and she joins the new priest in condemning the old beliefs. Vasilisa, however, has personally encountered nature spirits, and recognizes their importance. She’s a quite strong-willed character, resisting societal and familial pressure to get married. Eventually, she has to help Morozko to battle his nasty and deceptive brother. I have to say I did have a little trouble keeping the supporting characters straight, but it was well-written throughout

The Answer Lies in Oz, by Charles Shearer – This is a fairly short adventure, but a fun one, with a light fairy tale feel to it. It begins when Eenk, a cranky and unsociable rodent-like creature, wants to find out why his trees aren’t bearing fruit. He reluctantly seeks the help of his neighbor, the spiky and armless Foof, who advises a journey to Oz. The two of them take another neighbor’s wheeled boat to the famous fairyland, encountering a few more odd beings along the way, including a seal who wants to be able to walk around on land. When they encounter Ozma, she teaches Eenk a lesson about his self-centered ways, but also helps him and his companions. The author is an artist and musician who makes several music jokes that I didn’t really get, particularly with the workings of the boat, but it helps that the other characters don’t always get them either. There are some other cleverly whimsical elements as well, like a musician who reinvents the accordion but calls it a Quaverous Sonophone, and an invitation to take notes and draw a diagram on the last page of the book. I am curious as to the location of Eenk and Foof’s homeland, which is apparently on the Ozian continent, and perhaps in the northern part since they enter Oz through the Gillikin Country.

Posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, Eastern Orthodox, Fairy Tales, Magic, Mythology, Oz, Religion, Russian | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blowhards and Believers

I’ve been thinking recently about why some people have such an affinity for tough talk and threats. I remember hearing that some people became more conservative after the September 11th attacks, and I don’t think it was because they wanted corporate tax cuts. Granted, it might not have been that many people. One of the examples I hear is Dennis Miller, but his arrogance basically outweighs whatever political beliefs he might have. But I think there’s still the general impression that Republicans are tougher on crime and terrorism, even if there isn’t really much evidence that this is true. What Republicans definitely do is TALK like they’re tough, using threats of violence and the like. They want to bomb back to the Stone Age, or see if sand can glow in the dark. I’m not entirely sure whether they ever really mean these things, but when your choice is between killing a lot of people and making empty threats to kill a lot of people, how is either of those a desirable outcome? Maybe there are times when a tough attitude is the best way to make it through a crisis, but all the time? The main purpose seems to be the whip supporters into a violent frenzy so you can get away with things like invading a country that didn’t attack yours. And if someone really does favor violent solutions, how do you know they’re not going to turn them against you eventually? Sure, it’s only terrorists that we’ll execute without trial, but who decides what defines a terrorist? I think it’s often the same ones who make these policies.

Another issue that’s sort of related is how much people actually believe the terrible things they claim to support, and which way is worse. I’m thinking it might be kind of a wash at this point. Obviously I can’t tell what’s in people’s minds, but I get the impression that the people who are trying to do God’s Will generally do actually believe they’re doing the right thing, even if they aren’t by pretty much every moral standard. I think this might be a major difference between George W. Bush and Donald Trump; I’m inclined to think the former did think he was listening to God and doing what was right, and that he probably actually did think we’d be hailed as liberators in Iraq. I’m not sure Trump has any principles whatsoever; he doesn’t seem to care whether something is morally right or wrong as long as it could potentially benefit him. So is it better to have a skewed moral compass or none at all? I’d probably be inclined to say the former, but I also have to suspect they’re more likely to do something that isn’t of any benefit to them but that they feel fits their religious principles, like trying to ban gay marriage or birth control. The thing is, the current state of the nation is one where the unprincipled will go along with things like this because they become profitable. That’s probably part of why Trump, who during the Republican debates didn’t seem to care one way or the other about transsexuals, is now trying to ban them from the military. (Speaking of which, if you’re against a certain group, wouldn’t it make more sense to make it EASIER for them to join the military?) And the Religious Right doesn’t seem particularly concerned with Trump’s immoral actions and positions as long as he still pays lip service to opposing homosexuality and abortion. That, and a lot of both of these sorts of people are hypocrites anyway.

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No Ordinary Rabbits

I don’t know if anyone was at all interested in last week’s post on rabbits in the Super Mario series, and Easter is over now, but I’m going to do a follow-up about rabbits in other games anyway. I’ve already covered a few of them anyway. Here’s something I wrote on the legless Rabites from the Mana games, and this one addresses the Atari game Springer. When I asked about favorite video games rabbits on Facebook, I received a few interesting suggestions. One was the vorpal bunny from Ultima Online, which turns out to have quite a history. As far as video games go, they first appeared in the Wizardry games from the early eighties, some of the earliest dungeon-crawling role-playing video games, and highly influential on the genre in general. For instance, the Slimes from the Dragon Quest series were inspired by Wizardry’s Creeping Cruds, although Akira Toriyama’s designs made them much cuter than their predecessors. The Vorpal Bunnies are initially harmless-looking animals, but they have sharp teeth and are prone to beheading adventures, which will kill a character instantly.

The beheading is tied to the name “vorpal,” the kind of sword used to slay the Jabberwock in Lewis Carroll’s poem. It’s almost certainly also a reference to the Dread Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and indeed I believe the name was used in a tabletop RPG adaptation of the movie before making its way into the video world.

As indicated here, however, the Pythons were hardly the first to show surprisingly dangerous rabbits. The image appears quite a bit in medieval manuscripts, intended as humorous due to its role reversal. You know, like a cowardly lion.

The Rabbit of Caerbannog is said to have been specifically inspired by an image of a knight running from a rabbit at Notre Dame.

In Ultima Online, at least from what I’ve been able to find, vorpal bunnies will frequently run from battle by escaping down rabbit holes, and will sometimes leave behind brightly colored eggs as loot.

The Final Fantasy XII version seems to have been based on this, as it also frequently runs away. Its tail contains an oil that can be used in potions.

There are a few other significant rabbits in the FF series as well.

Namingway, a rabbit-like character who can change a character’s name, shows up really often in FFIV. He’s eventually revealed to be from the Humingway family on the Moon, hence another reference to the lunar rabbit, like the Broodals. Another is the Mysidian Rabbit, which you’ll recognize if you’ve ever tried Setzer’s slot ability in FFVI, although the original English translation simply called it “Lagomorph.”

This is basically a losing spin that results in this bunny showing up and not doing much of anything, although as a consolation prize he’ll heal your party a little bit. He’s dressed in traditional black mage garb, and will show up with the dialogue “Mugu mugu?” That’s Japanese for “munch munch,” so he’s probably eating something, perhaps a carrot in Bugs Bunny style. He’d also appeared in FFV, where he was one possible result of a ranger trying to summon an animal, and there he did nothing at all.

I don’t think he appears again until FFXIV, in which he’s once again the result of a failure.

Mysidia, for those who might not know or have forgotten, is the name of the town of mages in both FFII and FFIV.

I can’t think of any particularly famous rabbits from the Dragon Quest series, but DQIII does introduce the Horned Rabbit, one of the weakest monsters in the game despite that threatening-looking horn. I guess it’s still pretty small. In the more recent translations, which use a lot of puns, they’re instead called Bunicorns.

The stronger version is the Spiked Hare, which was a pun even back in the old translations. I understand that DQX brings in some other varieties, a golden one and a Bunicorn Queen. And no, I’m not counting the bunny girls from casinos.

One image that immediately hops into my mind when I think of video game rabbits is that of Link turned into a bunny in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which happens when he enters the Dark World and doesn’t have the Moon Pearl to retain his shape. Not only is he a bunny, but a pink one. (There’s that rabbit/moon connection again, although not as direct this time.)

There’s also a bunny mask in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, which can increase speed and jumping distance. Apparently rabbits in Hyrule are endangered due to hunting at the time of Ocarina, but if you gather a few together it shouldn’t take them too long to repopulate. The first Legend of Zelda has the Pols Voice, which I don’t think has ever officially been defined as a rabbit, but it certainly resembles one. Well, they have big ears and whiskers and jump around, anyway.

The manual for the first game just says they’re ghosts with big ears, but perhaps they’re the ghosts of all those rabbits killed by hunters. The ears are a tip to how you’re supposed to defeat them, with noise. The only problem is that the only item in that game that makes noise is the recorder, and it has no effect on them. This was actually a mistake in translation, as the Japanese controller had a microphone of sorts that you could make noise into, instantly killing all Pols Voices on the screen. The American controllers don’t have this, but for some reason nobody caught the fact that it still says you can defeat them with loud noises in the instruction booklet. Didn’t anyone fact-check these things? Instead, they’re vulnerable to arrows, which didn’t work on them at all in the Japanese version. Really, the microphone thing is really bizarre anyway, because there’s no indication that this sound exists in-game. Are we supposed to imagine it’s Link making the sound? Or is it some ghostly voice helping him out? In other games in which Pols Voices appear, they can be defeated with musical instruments, which probably should have been the case all along. And in Phantom Hourglass, it’s revealed that they have giant mouths on their undersides.

By the way, is the name “Pols Voice” supposed to be possessive, like they have something to do with the voice of someone named Pol? Do they give sermons like St. Paul the Apostle? If you pronounce the first word with a long O, it rhymes with “Rolls Royce,” although I assume the O is supposed to be short. This page has some speculation about the name, although I’m not totally sure it was supposed to mean anything.

Other lagomorphs that came up in the discussion included the bunnies you rescue from Dr. Robotnik’s machines in the Sonic games, Max from Sam and Max, Coco from Animal Crossing, and Usagi Yojimbo. I’m really not that familiar with Sam and Max, although it sounds like something I might like. Max actually appeared in a painting in Day of the Tentacle.

There are several rabbit neighbors in the AC games, but Coco is the weirdest, as she has hollow eyes like a Gyroid.

Since the Gyroids are based on funerary sculptures, does that suggest Coco is dead?

That’s what the Animal Crossing Wiki suggests, with her current body possibly being a vessel for her disembodied spirit. Her Japanese name is Yayoi, the period in Japanese history when haniwa were made. Her English name might be a references to coconuts, since her head looks like one. It’s dark, sure, but don’t forget that this is the same series with a cat who keeps losing her face and a dog who appears to be permanently injured. As for Usagi, I’m currently reading some of his old comics, but I didn’t realize he was in any video games. When I looked it up, I found out he had two, and they were released twenty-six years apart. The first was a side-scroller for the Commodore in 1987.

Based on its description, the strangest thing about it is that it incorporates a karma score, and if yours gets too low, Usagi will commit seppuku.

Appropriate for a samurai, perhaps, but pretty dark. The 2013 game, Way of the Ronin, is also a side-scroller, but I don’t know whether it incorporates suicide.

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