Goofy and Clownish Holiday Fare

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas – I kept seeing this recommended on Disney Plus, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. From 1999, it’s a collection of three different Christmas-themed cartoons, each featuring one of the three main Disney animated characters. Kelsey Grammer does the wrap-around narration in verse. It’s pretty sentimental, but that’s about what you’d expect, right? “Donald Duck: Stuck on Christmas” has Huey, Dewey, and Louie excitedly celebrating Christmas, ignoring pretty much everyone else to play with their new toys.

They wish on a shooting star that every day would be Christmas, not a wholly original idea. They love it at first, but soon get frustrated. The way it’s handled here is like Groundhog Day, not just because everything but them gets reset every morning, but because it’s only once they start doing things for others that the cycle ends. Daisy and Scrooge appear in this one, as does a one-time character called Aunt Gertie, a large duck who’s eager to give kisses to the nephews.

With so many members of Donald’s family already in existence, I’m not sure why they brought in a new one, but whatever. And Chip and Dale seem to live in a tree in Donald’s yard.

“A Very Goofy Christmas” is about Goofy and Max, his son from Goof Troop, but he’s younger here. After a mad dash across town to get a letter to Santa Claus to the postman, Pete tells Max that Santa doesn’t exist, and Goofy is determined to prove that he does. At one point, Goofy loses hope, and Max starts trying to convince him instead. It’s not entirely clear which direction this is going to take, but eventually Santa finally does show up, and gives Max the snowboard he’d been hoping for. There’s a guest appearance by a Beagle Boy trying to break into Pete’s house through the chimney, whom Goofy initially mistakes for Santa.

Finally, “Mickey and Minnie’s Gift of the Magi” is pretty much exactly what it says on the title, with Mickey trading his harmonica for a watch chain for Minne, and Minnie selling her watch to get him a harmonica case. It takes a little while to get to the inevitable conclusion, though, instead showing how both of them are screwed out of money at their respective holiday jobs. Mickey works at Pete’s Christmas tree lot, and his boss docks his pay and takes away his tips when Mickey foils his attempt to sell a really expensive tree to a family who can’t afford it. Pete gets an instant karmic punishment when his whole lot burns up and he turns into a firework, but that doesn’t help Mickey any. And Minnie’s department store boss, Mortimer Mouse, gives her just a fruitcake as a holiday bonus. Daisy is working in gift wrapping with her, and while this could just be my imagination, she looks different from how she appeared in the first segment. Maybe it’s just the outfit.

Mickey then plays the harmonica for the fire department’s toy drive because the band (called the Firehouse Five after an actual band made up of Disney animators back in the day) is busy putting out the fire at Pete’s lot. Beth pointed out that Mickey’s harmonica playing made a lot of other people happy, so even if he’s okay with losing it, he maybe should have kept it for the greater good. Oh, well. Pluto and Figaro appear in this one. All of the main characters then join together to sing a song at the end.

Babes in Toyland – This is the television version that was performed live in both 1954 and 1955, with Wally Cox as Grumio, the head toymaker. The story is narrated by a Macy’s Santa to a little girl whose mother accidentally left her at the store, so he reads a book to her while waiting for the mom to arrive. He adds a lot of his own commentary to the basic story, like a list of humorous villainy that Silas Barnaby does. Barnaby is here played by insult comic Jack E. Leonard, who wears glasses and a Panama hat. He owns pretty much everything in town, including the toy factory; and he fires Tommy Tucker because he’s engaged to Mary, the girl he wants but who has no interest in him. It’s interesting how every version of this has a romantic relationship between two nursery rhyme characters, but it’s never quite the same ones. It’s a very padded production, with long bits of clowns performing and of Grumio playing with his puppets. My mom had once mentioned some guy called the Banana Man, who would appear on Captain Kangaroo and do an act that involved pulling bananas and other props from his pockets and making high-pitched exclamations, and he has a long segment here as well. There were apparently actually two Banana Men, the original with the unfortunate name of Adolph Proper (well, it wasn’t yet unfortunate when he was born), who went by the stage name of A. Robins. Sam Levine took over the act after Robins died, so it would have been him in this production. This was apparently originally broadcast in color, but existing recordings are in black and white. It’s slow-paced and didn’t age that well, but it’s an interesting artifact.

Cricket on the Hearth – One of the lesser known Rankin/Bass Christmas specials (or at least it was to me), it’s loosely based on a Charles Dickens story. He actually wrote five different Christmas tales, and this used to be the one most often performed on stage, but it’s obviously since been supplanted by A Christmas Carol. This is classic animation instead of stop-motion, meaning it has the same rough quality and occasional psychedelic bits typical of these things. I haven’t read the original story, but just looking at a summary makes it obvious they streamlined things a lot, cutting out some of the main characters and combining others. Dickens had a poor toymaker with a blind daughter and a son who was lost at sea, leaving a fiancee behind, while here it’s the daughter’s sweetheart who disappeared. She then goes blind because of psychological issues, which I guess is about what happened to Tommy, but there’s no indication as to her pinball skills. The toymaker, Caleb, is employed by a miserly old man named Tackleton, who doesn’t pay him any money, only rather squalid room and board. But, since his daughter Bertha is blind, he lies to her about their situation to make her feel better. Tackleton decides he wants to marry Bertha, for no reason we can see, but her sweetheart returns and her blindness is cured. Tackleton is then redeemed by kindness and holiday cheer, much like Dickens’ more famous Christmas-themed villain. I understand there’s a whole subplot about Tackleton tricking someone into thinking his wife is cheating on him, Othello-style, that was obviously excised. What we do get a lot of here are talking animals. I think Dickens gave the titular cricket one line, while here he provides commentary throughout.

There’s some obvious influence from Disney’s more famous cricket character in his appearance and attitude, although I guess not enough to attract their lawyers. He does have an English accent, so that’s…kind of different.

And Tackleton has a pet crow named Uriah (after a character in a different Dickens story), who has connections with a criminal underworld of animals, who hang out in a club with a burlesque dancing cat.

A monkey and a dimwitted dog help Uriah to capture the cricket to sell him to a sea captain bound for China, and the captain then immediately murders them.

I know they were bad guys, but that’s still really dark. One of them was somebody’s pet! The cricket escapes by playing dead, which causes the captain to throw him overboard, supposedly just as he planned. How he could have planned that, I have no idea, but whatever. While Uriah is introduced early on, the rest of this animal subplot comes out of nowhere, and is dropped just as quickly; but is then followed up by toys coming to life. I think whoever wrote this was all too aware that the main story was pretty boring. This isn’t something I would recommend, but I have some completist tendencies.

Posted in Animals, Cartoons, Christmas, Disney Afternoon, Families, Holidays, Humor, Music, Names, Nursery Rhymes, Relationships, Television, Toys | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the Noise, Noise, Noise, Noise

My Oz reading recently has been a bit slow, both because I’ve had other things to read and because I was a little embarrassed to reread my own “Prince Pompadore in Oz.” I did like it, but I didn’t want to read it through all at once. I also noticed some mistakes I thought I’d edited out earlier. Oh, well. I’m now on the 2016 issue, which is all alternate endings for Rinkitink in Oz. Since I didn’t go into detail on it in my earlier post, I might do so once I’m finished the reread. But anyway, I’m now taking another look at two fan-written Oz books that I first read many years ago.

The Flying Bus in Oz, by Ruth Morris – There are several Oz books where the author writes about people they know, or sometimes just characters based on them. It’s quite obvious that this one was written for and about the author’s kids, which I guess strains believability a bit, but it still works. In fact, I think this is one of the better received books that Chris Dulabone published. It includes a lot of what I assume are inside jokes, but there’s enough explanation that readers who don’t personally know the Morrises aren’t lost. For instance, I would guess that the doll Shrinkin’ Violet was one the kids actually had. And since one of her stock phrases was “I’m afraid of noisy boys,” the antagonists in the story are a group of Quadlings called the Noyzy Boyz. It’s an all-male society where the people are all rowdy and make as much noise as possible. The King is disturbed by the fact that his son (who, like all children in this town, was born from a popgun flower) is quiet, and asks his court magician for help. This results in Joy Marie Morris, the youngest in the family, coming from Canada to Oz on an enchanted bus. Her siblings, Peter, Corinne, and Doug, along with Violet, manage to get to the fairyland on a flying blanket and go to rescue her. The tale has a lot of fun inventing new Oz communities, including one of tiny elves and another based on the board game Scrabble, a favorite of the real-life Peter’s.

The absent-minded bus driver helps some frogs and snakes to become friends, and it’s interesting that, while she speaks French, she’s able to communicate with Ozish speakers after being around them for a little while. There’s even an Ozzy origin for the doll. Ruth later wrote a sequel, Dr. Angelina Bean in Oz, which has an adult Joy return to Oz with two other dolls. Corinne Morris drew the illustrations when she was still a kid, but the cover is by Melody Grandy. For some reason, the cover gives the title as The Flying Bus of Oz (rather than “in Oz”), but it doesn’t matter all that much.

Dagmar in Oz, by Chris Dulabone – I can’t remember if this is the first of Chris’s books I read, but it was definitely one of the first. It shows off his style, which is very jokey and reference-heavy. In some cases, like this one, the references kind of overshadow the story, which I’ll admit has probably been true of stuff I’ve written as well. It’s largely an attempt to tie some fringe material into the main Oz series. Susan Saunders’ Dorothy and the Magic Belt had Mombi being turned into a child, when she’s an old lady in Lost King. And two books that Chris’s elementary school class collaborated on included the Deadly Desert being magically replaced with a forest. Here, we have Dr. Nikidik leaving his son and the youthened Mombi in the care of Clancy and Bonnie Clambake, an entomologist and his wife who found their way from the United States to Oz, and who have a horse-sized flea as a pet.

Mombi is disenchanted and returns to her old ways, while Nikidik the Younger stays with the Clambakes, taking the name Putnam. Some years later, the titular Dagmar, Queen of the Scoodlers, tries to invent a magical glue to keep her head from coming off, but instead makes a mind control substance.

She hypnotizes Putnam and the flea, Yechuah, and the three of them construct a strange being to scare Ozma. And an Ozian girl named Rachelle wanders into the Scoodlers’ territory and conquers the new Queen in a cartoonishly gross way, after which Xanthascood, the former Prime Minister, takes her to the Emerald City in time to prevent Dagmar and company from going through with their conquest attempt. There are several jokey names in this book: Mombi is temporarily given the name Srednuas, the author of Dorothy and the Magic Belt‘s last name spelled backwards, while one of Nikidik’s fellow magicians is called Esor, after illustrator David Rose. Even the name Dagmar comes from the dedication page of that book. And the strange creature is named Ittubil after Danica Libutti, one of the students who worked on the Magic Diamond books. In-universe, it’s said that Srednuas was Nikidik’s grandmother’s name, and Ittubil is because he’s named Bill and has two eyes. Some other bits don’t even have these justifications, and hence come across as a bit out of character. I can buy Xanthascood being aware of Jonathan Swift, but not so much Dagmar sarcastically mentioning a ’58 Buick. There’s also a bit where the characters read some of the books Chris wrote and published. Dagmar is the same as the unnamed Scoodler Queen from Road, and she later reappears in Chris’s Lunarr and Maureen. There was some talk of her teaming up with Jeremy Steadman’s villain Kiex, but that story was never finished. The book is illustrated by Charlene Gretski, whose pictures are mostly pretty simple and serviceable.

I think my next reread will probably be Invisible Inzi, which is pretty famous as far as these things go (so not even remotely famous, but still more so than most fan-written Oz stories) even though, from what I recall, there isn’t too much there.

Posted in Animals, Art, Board Games, Book Reviews, Characters, Chris Dulabone, Games, Humor, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Melody Grandy, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Toys | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Six Degrees Below Zero

I guess it’s the holiday season now, so whoop-de-doo and dickory-dotch, and here are some things that I watched.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special – Like the movies, this special doesn’t take itself particularly seriously, but it does work within the established universe. The Guardians are now the owners and managers of Knowhere, the space station in a dead Celestial’s head, and Peter Quill has introduced some Christmas traditions from Earth, with mixed results. The team decides that they want to get Quill a present. To that end, Mantis and Drax go to Earth to bring him Kevin Bacon, whom he presented as a great hero. With help from Mantis’ empathic powers, they manage to bring him back, but are horrified when they find out he’s really an actor.

Come to think of it, that hatred of actors is probably why Quill told them movie plots as if they were true stories in the first place. There are a lot of amusing moments throughout, including Drax developing a fondness for a decorative elf and Bacon watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Flashbacks to Quill’s childhood with Yondu are animated, and there’s a closing scene where Rocket and Cosmo try to make Groot into a Christmas tree.

And I couldn’t help but think of Weird Al’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy” when the musicians in Knowhere (played by the Old 97’s) mistakenly sang about Santa having a flamethrower. Mantis and Drax’s experiences on Hollywood Boulevard make it clear that there are still people posing as Marvel superheroes in a world where those heroes are real people. I guess that would make it more like dressing as a real-life celebrity than as a fictional character, but do people who pose for pictures in public places ever do that?

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas – This is one of the interminable direct-to-video sequels to animated movies that Disney used to put out. I think it’s the first one I’ve seen all the way through, although I remember seeing enough of the LIttle Mermaid sequel with Ariel’s daughter to get the gist back when I worked at a toy store. Aside from the wraparound segments, this movie takes place entirely within the span of the original, during the winter when Belle and the Beast developed feelings for each other. Since that’s still ongoing, it pretty much precludes any real character development. It’s mostly a low-stakes plot centering around Belle trying to celebrate Christmas at the castle against the Beast’s wishes. Yet, somehow, it also has everyone almost die. It does bring back most of the voices from the film, and adds in Tim Curry, Paul Reubens, and Bernadette Peters. Curry voices Forte, a pipe organ who used to be a composer, and doesn’t want the spell on the castle to break because he was unappreciated before, but now the Beast is soothed by his music. I guess it’s a play on the expression about music having charms, but why would he suddenly stop liking it if he became a human prince again? Yeah, I know he didn’t like it before, but that was when he was a bratty kid. And if Forte were human, he could always leave if he really wanted to. So yeah, it’s a pretty stupid motivation. So is that for Reubens’ character, a piccolo named Fife, who apparently serves as Forte’s henchman just because the organ promised to write a solo for him.

Forte looks like a computer graphic, and Fife is animated to look even goofier than the other living objects. Peters plays an angel ornament, and there’s also a Jewish axe who talks in a Borscht Belt dialect. The whole thing culminates in a fight between Forte and the Beast, where the former tries to destroy the whole castle and ends up being smashed up. Does that mean that, after the enchantment is broken, the composer’s corpse will be lying around in the basement? Or did someone dispose of him in the interim? And the castle breaking up and a court member dying aren’t things anyone bothers to mention afterwards? I guess you could say the story is simultaneously too big and too small to work. I feel like I should also mention there are references to How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, although I don’t really have anything to say about them.

Posted in Cartoons, Celebrities, Christmas, Comics, Holidays, Humor, Magic, Music, Revisiting Disney, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies, Weird Al Yankovic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ready to Fly ‘Round the World in the Shuffle Man’s Boot?

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any albums, or at least it feels like it’s been. Here are three recent releases I’ve been listening to.

Pixies, Doggerel – I quite enjoy this album. I know some Pixies and Frank Black solo stuff took a little while to grow on me, but many of these songs grabbed me immediately. It starts with the largely spoken “Nomatterday,” for which the lines about  the feast of burden, beast of famine, and Easter Bunny stood out for me. It also contains the refrain “Don’t piss in the fountain.” Francis’ familiar fondness for religious themes continues here, with the celebratory “The Lord Has Come Back Today” and the insulting “You’re Such a Sadducee.” “Pagan Man” also fits into this category, although Joey Santiago actually wrote the words to that one. There’s a whistling solo in it. Joey is also credited for the music on “Dregs of the Wine,” which mentions the smiling Queen of Thailand. She’s not the same one from the Frank solo song “King and Queen of Siam,” is she? “Haunted House” continues with the spooky concepts from the last album, but the sound is actually pretty poppy and positive. I suppose living in a haunted house does have a certain amount of appeal, although I’d probably find it exhausting. For the very catchy “Thunder and Lightning,” I really like the transition from the verses to the chorus, especially with that “okay.” I’m curious about the opening lines regarding vegetable rain in Chinatown. “There’s a Moon On” has a more traditional Pixies sound than most of the record, including Paz Lenchatin’s vocals in the chorus, and includes a seemingly random line about not liking steak without pepper. “Who’s More Sorry Now?” is pretty straightforward, but it does have some clever lines, like “I swept the closet floor, I found some metaphors.” The title song, the last on the album, is at least partially about George Hanger, an English soldier, sportsman, and author who was regarded as an eccentric. The opening lines of the song were from a poem written by Hanger himself. The lyrics in the book that came with the CD are all right-formatted, leaving a lot of space. They kind of remind me of They Might Be Giants’ BOOK in their presentation.

Maury Rosenberg, Hotel 165 – Maury is the leader of the band Hypnotic Clambake, whom I first saw near my school in 1995, although I’d seen a mention of them before on a TMBG site. They work in a lot of styles and have a good sense of humor. They haven’t released an album in years, but this collects some of Maury’s basement recordings made in the meantime. Most of them are pretty stripped-down numbers about simple things like not wanting to pay taxes, dreading getting an MRI, getting lost driving through Pittsburgh, or luxury products in the United States being advertised as European (“If you want something to be better, make it European”). The tunes are all quite fun. “European Via Brooklyn” has an electronic sound to fit the theme. The opener, “The 10 Plagues,” is an epic jazzy piece retelling the conflict between Moses and the Pharaoh in Exodus, with lines like, “Gonna turn the desert into a trillion lice, maybe then the Pharaoh will be nice.” Also included are the Lost Compositions of Dmitry Zarkov, twelve short classical pieces attributed to a fictional Russian Jewish composer in the early twentieth century.

Robyn Hitchcock, Shufflemania! – Robyn himself describes this record as “surfing fate, trusting your intuition, and bullfighting with destiny. It’s embracing the random and dancing with it, even when it needs to clean its teeth.” While that might not say a lot about the album itself, it does reflect the kind of surreal wordplay it has throughout. It’s a fairly short album, but a lot of fun. The opening song, “Shuffle Man,” has a fun, jangly sound, almost like a children’s song; and the Shuffle Man does kind of sound like the name of some weird figure from English folklore. “The Feathery Serpent God” is a slow, psychedelic sort of number, and the title reminds of how Kukulkan (the Mayan equivalent of Quetzalcoatl) is apparently referenced in the new Black Panther movie. The Little Perry mentioned in the song is a stuffed lobster. “Midnight Tram to Nowhere” is very evocative. “Socrates in Thin Air” references the execution of the famous philosopher. “The Man Who Loves the Rain” is a study of a philosophical character, apparently based on a title Raymond Chandler came up with but never used. It’s a moving song, and I particularly like the line, “You have two graves. Your name’s on both of them.” The backing vocals on “The Sir Tommy Shovell,” a song about a fictional pub, work quite well. It closes with the amusing lines, “I will not be drinking in the Racist Loser. It’s not my kind of boozer.” Johnny Marr plays various instruments of “The Inner Life of Scorpio” (what is it that Robyn has against my zodiac sign?), and Sean Lennon does the same on “One Day (It’s Being Scheduled),” which is a very appropriate closing song. Both of Robyn’s cats show up on the cover, as does a statue of Anubis.

Posted in African, Albums, Animals, Aztec, Egyptian, Frank Black/Black Francis, Humor, Mayan, Music, Mythology, Native American, Pixies, Poetry, Religion, Robyn Hitchcock, They Might Be Giants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Fiennes Dining Establishment

The Menu – I saw this at the theater on Thanksgiving with Beth and her Uncle John, and I guess it was kind of appropriate, being food-related and all. I’ve seen it described as a horror comedy, which works in that a lot of horrific things happen, but they mostly happen to bad people, and there’s some uncomfortable humor involved. The plot has a group of eleven who have been invited to a special meal at a fancy restaurant on an island, run by the famous chef Julian Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes. The guests soon realize there’s something creepy going on. I liked it pretty well, although I felt like it was going for some kind of social commentary that didn’t entirely work. There’s more I have to say, but it has some pretty major SPOILERS. It reminded me a bit of Saw, in that there was a pretentious guy who felt entitled to be the arbiter of morality and torture people accordingly in creative ways. One difference is that he acknowledges at least some of his own failings, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself and his staff along with the guests. He’s fairly arbitrary in what he’s punishing people for. You can see why he wants to get revenge on the critic who’s responsible for restaurants closing and the couple who have eaten there several times and don’t remember any of the food. He’s going too far, obviously, but there’s a weird logic to it. On the other hand, he wants to kill John Leguizamo’s character just because he was in a terrible movie (which, surprisingly, was not the Super Mario Bros. movie). Slowik reveals pretty early on that he’s planning on killing everybody, but hardly anyone takes it seriously at first. It also takes a while for the audience to find out who these people are and why they’re there. Anya-Taylor Joy’s character, an escort one of the guests brings along after his wife leaves him, is basically the straight woman, and is the first one to realize how unsettling the whole thing is. She’s also the only one who survives, even though Slowik had originally intended for her to die as well. I understand Taylor-Joy is also going to be in a Mario movie.

It doesn’t really make sense to say someone that skinny isn’t going to be a food enthusiast, but I did think of it.
He says at one point that the diners could probably have overpowered him and escaped if they’d really tried, but since they at first think it’s all an act and then figure their best chance of surviving is to play along, I can see why they didn’t. It’s poking fun at shallow rich people, but I don’t know that I can blame them too much for their reactions to the situation.

Posted in Food, Humor, Snobbery, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’d Idle On with an Eidolon

I’d been interested in the origin of the term “eidolon” after hearing the Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby episodes on Euripides’ Helen, and remembering that the term had been used in the Final Fantasy series.

It’s basically a phantom, a duplicate of a real person made of clouds, or something of the sort. The most famous occurrence of the term is in relation to Helen of Troy. Basically, the premise of the play is that Helen, despite the appellation she’s generally given, never actually went to Troy. It was presumably at least partially an attempt to rehabilitate the character. Whether or not she chose to go with Paris to Troy, and hence whether she was complicit in the subsequent war, was a point of contention for people writing about the Trojan War.

Euripides’ version essentially makes the argument irrelevant. The real Helen was taken by Hera and Hermes to Egypt for the entire length of the war. Euripides was apparently working from an existing tradition, as Herodotus also mentioned Helen being taken to Egypt, although in his version she ended up there because Paris was blown off course, which means the real Helen did go with Paris but didn’t stay with him. I guess the fake Helen looked identical to the real one, so she’d still technically be the most beautiful woman in the world as per Aphrodite’s promise. The reason Hera had Helen spirited away might have been her way of getting back at Aphrodite, although it would also be a rare case of the Queen of Olympus actually helping her husband’s illegitimate child. That is, unless she wanted to go with Paris, I guess. The fact that goddesses were often mistreated by their male counterparts doesn’t generally seem to have given them any sympathy for the similar plight of human women. The eidolon apparently had a physical component as well, especially if these authors went along with the idea that Helen bore several of Paris’ children. Then again, the centaurs (aside from Chiron) were born when Ixion had sex with a cloud shaped like Hera, so there’s some precedent for that kind of thing.

It’s thought that the idea might have originated with a poet named Stesichorus, but all we really know is that a fragment of something he wrote says that Helen never went to Troy; I don’t know whether Egypt or eidolons were involved at all. There’s a general idea that, since Helen wasn’t in Troy, the war was fought for nothing. While it’s definitely a valid metaphor for war in general, I’ve seen it said that the Greeks didn’t fight so much for Helen herself as for Paris’ breach of hospitality, which happened even if he ended up with a fake. And the whole thing is kind of Aphrodite’s fault anyway.

Still, Helen didn’t exactly have it easy in Egypt either. The story has it that this nation was ruled by a king named Proteus, who protected Helen. This was presumably not the same as the shape-shifting sea god Proteus, but both are said to live in Egypt, so maybe there’s a connection. When he died, however, his successor Theoclymenos tried to force her into marriage. She and Menelaus, who had been shipwrecked in Egypt, had to trick him into letting her escape. The ancient Greeks didn’t seem to have much knowledge of the rulers of Egypt, if Herodotus was any indication. He was apparently vaguely aware of the names Kheops and Ramesses, but not of who they were and when they ruled. I’m reminded of how the movie The Ten Commandments not only identified the unnamed Pharaoh of the Exodus as Ramesses II, but made him a contemporary of Priam of Troy. While the historicity of the Trojan War and Exodus are very much in doubt, Ramesses’ reign was roughly in the same time period as when what’s been identified as Troy VIIa is estimated to have been destroyed, so why not? I don’t really know why Helen’s place of refuge was Egypt, but the Odyssey does have a mention of her and Menelaus visiting there (as well as Crete, Cyprus, and Phoenicia) after the war.

This whole thing barely scratches the surface of the strange traditions that developed around Helen.

She was worshipped in a few places, including the island of Rhodes, specifically as the tree goddess Helen Dendritis. The story as told by Pausanias is that she was banished from Sparta after Menelaus’ death, and invited by Polyxo, Queen of Rhodes, to live there. Polyxo secretly blamed Helen for her husband’s death in the Trojan War, however, so she had the Spartan woman hunted down and hanged from a tree, or she hanged herself to get away from the mob. It kind of sounds like that was an attempt to tie the familiar Helen to another deity of the same name, but I’m hardly an expert on the subject. Another tradition holds that she and Menelaus were buried in Therapnae in Laconia, where there was a site dedicated to her. I suppose her being revered as a goddess isn’t that strange when her brothers, the Dioscuri, also were. And some tellings of her past make her the daughter of a full goddess, Nemesis, rather than the mortal Leda.

Another account has Helen marry Achilles in the afterlife, which has definite “pair up the main male and female characters” energy to me, like when people wanted Harry Potter to hook up with Hermione (which, incidentally, was the name of Helen and Menelaus’ daughter).

Posted in Final Fantasy, Greek Mythology, History, Magic, Mythology, Names, Plays, Relationships, Religion, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love That Leviathan

I’d been meaning to discuss Leviathan a little more, which I think was inspired by the name being used for the base of the rebel organization Astrea in Cosmic Star Heroine. Considering all the other references to classic games, I had thought it might have something to do with how you go inside of Leviathan in Final Fantasy II, but I don’t think it’s that specific. The term is used to mean any kind of sea monster, or sometimes even monsters not associated with the sea.

Leviathan is described in the book of Job as having thick scales that no known weapon can pierce, a spiky underside, and fiery breath.

And in Psalms, he has multiple heads.

In Christian tradition, Leviathan came to be the name of one of the Princes of Hell, representing the sin of envy. I’m not sure what jealousy has to do with a sea serpent, but there you go.

Hellraiser II uses the name for the Lord of the Labyrinth and ruler of the Cenobites, who appears as a floating diamond and is obsessed with order.

In Disney’s Atlantis, it was an enormous robotic crab, so still a sea monster.

I’d written a little about Leviathan in the FF series in my post on summoned monsters, but I didn’t address how he first appears in the series not as a summon, but as a dungeon. He guards the approach to the Mysidian Tower, where the book that contains the spell of Ultima is kept.

Picture by Jeffrey Haiduk
When he swallows your party, you find that not only are there smaller monsters inside him, but also other people, including the Dragoon Ricard Highwind.

You can escape if you defeat a roundworm in his mouth.

I’d probably feel like destroying things if I had a ringworm in my mouth, too.
He first appears as a summon in FF3, while in 4 he rules the summoned monsters. He attacks the ship on which Cecil’s party is sailing from Fabul to Baron, and takes Rydia to his homeland, where time flows differently.

There are a few interesting things to discuss here. One is that, in later translations of the game starting with the DS version, summoned monsters are called Eidolons and their home the Feymarch. Tom Slattery came up with the name on his own, the meaning loosely being “fairy borderland.” The term “Eidolon” was first used in FF9, derived from Greek, basically meaning a ghost or insubstantial object. The thing is, I recently heard on the Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby podcast about a play by Euripides that used the term quite prominently. He essentially tries to rehabilitate the character of Helen of Troy by saying that it wasn’t actually her who went with Paris, but rather a ghostly version of her, while the true Helen stayed in Egypt. I was going to go into more detail about this, but it got too long and too unrelated to Leviathan or games, so I’m saving it for another post. By the way, the FF6 (and 12) name for summoned beasts, Esper, is apparently based on “ESP-er,” i.e., people with psychic abilities. Honestly, I find that a little disappointing; it just sounds so ethereal.

Anyway, the idea of people living inside of Leviathan as per 2 obviously brings Jonah and the whale (not specifically identified as a whale in the original source) to mind, but I’m sure there are other stories of the same sort. There’s a page pointing out parallels between FF4 and Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: there’s a country called Baron (the full title of the Japanese release), the heroes go to the Moon and inside a volcano, and people survive being eaten by a sea monster. This latter is more accurate to FF2, as I don’t know that Leviathan in 4 actually swallows Rydia (although maybe he does), but I suppose it’s close enough.

Oddly, I had just looked up that page after hearing about it a while back, then just today I saw the author retweeted on Twitter (okay, I guess you can’t really be retweeted anywhere else). Since the games tend to mix Eastern and Western mythology, I’ve seen it suggested online that the FF depiction of Leviathan is partially based on Ryujin, the dragon god who rules the seas, and who lives in another realm where time moves more slowly.

Despite the references in Job, the FF Leviathan attacks with tidal waves, not fire. He also has only one head, although depictions with more don’t seem to be that common anyway.

While the Dragon Quest games have plenty of sea monsters, Leviathan wasn’t really a part of the series until DQ9. That is, except for his appearance in the Emblem of Roto manga.

There’s a fan translated version online that ends during the heroes’ conflict with Leviathan, who’s called the Lord of the Sea. The way he’s drawn resembles a wobbegong shark, an animal that uses camouflage to look like part of the sea floor.

His mouth, however, is based on that of a lamprey. In 9, there’s a boss monster in Porth Llaffan called Lleviathan, who also attacks with tidal waves. The extra L is because the residents of the town have Welsh accents, typical of modern DQ translations. He’s actually a fisherman named Dylan Jones who was transformed by a fygg, and would provide fish to the village when requested by his daughter Jona.

This creature looks more like a whale than a dragon, and the name Jona refers to the Biblical Jonah, while Dylan is a character in the Mabinogion who lives in the sea. Jones is a common Welsh surname, and there might also be a reference to Davy Jones of locker fame, although there’s some speculation that this name was also based on Jonah’s. There’s a real Lleviathan in the game as well, the last of his kind. I’ve read that the prehistoric Pokémon Kyogre, who resembles a whale, might be partially based on Leviathan, with his traditional rival Groudon inspired by the Behemoth. The former can expand the seas, and the latter the land.

I’m sure there are plenty of other games with Leviathans, but they’re not ones I’m particularly familiar with, so that’s all for now.

Posted in Animals, Art, Cartoons, Celtic, Christianity, Comics, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Japanese, Judaism, Language, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Names, Pokémon, Religion, Semitic, Video Games, Welsh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Babes in the Woods

I remember, back in high school, reading about Scandinavian tales of women living in the forest who looked beautiful and human from the front, but were hollow in the back.

I think the book just called them elves, and they do seem to fit into that general category, but so do a lot of other kinds of supernatural beings. They’re also sometimes considered trolls. From what I’ve seen online, the more specific name is a huldra or hulder in Norwegian, or a skogsra in Swedish. The Norwegian name is thought to be linked to the German goddess Holle. When looking for information on these creatures a few years back, I came across a mention of the movie Thale, which I finally watched last week. Thale actually doesn’t have the hollow back, but she does have other traits associated with huldra, a tail and the ability to charm humans.

I haven’t done particularly thorough research into the subject, but from a few overviews I’ve seen, the tail usually looks like that of a cow, but sometimes a fox’s or horse’s instead.

They’re also sometimes said to have other bovine features as well, like cloven hooves or long breasts that they can throw over their shoulders. The hollow backs are like that of a tree. I’ve also seen a mention of the skogsra having claws. Like most fairies, huldra can be friendly or malicious to humans, often helping them in exchange for helpful behavior on the human’s part.

Not surprisingly, they’re also often viewed as seductresses, trying to trick men into having sex with or marrying them without noticing their inhuman features. In at least one story, a married huldra loses these parts, but also becomes ugly, and gains incredible strength (or maybe she had that all along, but the man didn’t notice).

I remember a character in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series of this same sort being called a woodwife, which seems to be a more general term, and mostly associated with German folklore. They’re also attractive women who live in the forests and can either help or hinder humans, but descriptions I’ve seen focus on their diminutive size. They’re said to have pale skin and to wear flowing gowns of various colors. They’re known to ask humans for bread, but to hate caraway and cumin seeds. Wood-wives will sometimes pay those who assist them in wood chips, which later turn into gold. Their lives are often tied to those of the trees, and for some reason they’re some of the favorite game of the Wild Hunt, perhaps because they protect wild animals. They’re known to kill people who harm animals or trees, sometimes by drinking their blood. The Moss People are sometimes considered the same, and sometimes not. They’re more often described as looking like the dwarves of mythology and folklore, except also covered with moss. and being bonded to the trees. Some are also said to be attractive, however, and sometimes to have wings like butterflies.

Picture by Kettle Quill
Both groups are known to borrow items from humans but then return them along with generous gifts, and to have healing powers. They’re sometimes said, by Jacob Grimm for one, to be the children of a witchy spirit known as the Buschgrossmutter, or Shrub Grandmother.

Picture by Kaiti Hylands
She’s a tiny, hideous woman, sometimes said to have an iron head and moss on her feet, and long white hair that’s messy and full of lice. She only appears to humans once a century, and will reward those who comb her hair. If you insult her, however, she’ll breathe disease onto you.

I also feel I should mention the Woodwoses, who aren’t magical, just people who live out in the woods and have more animalistic behavior than civilized humans, wearing no clothes and having hair all over their bodies. There’s kind of an ambivalence to their lifestyle, in that it’s free and simple, but at the same time rather terrifying. They’re frequently found in medieval European art, and are linked to Greek satyrs and Roman fauns, although Wikipedia points out that Enkidu from the Epic of Gilgamesh is probably the earliest example of the type in literature.

Picture by Ludmila Zeman
As I’m sure many of you know, Woodwoses show up in The Lord of the Rings, in which they’re properly called Druedain, and they help the Rohirrim evade some pursuing Orcs.

Posted in Art, Authors, British, Fairy Tales, German, Greek Mythology, J.R.R. Tolkien, Language, Mythology, Names, Norse, Piers Anthony, Roman, Xanth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Art of Clowning


Terrifier 2 – This is one I saw at the theater. While the first movie was mostly just Art the Clown messing with and brutally murdering people, this one has a more involved story, although it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. A lot of it revolves around Sienna Shaw and her younger brother Jonathan, whose father had developed a brain tumor and died in a car crash that was apparently a suicide. Jonathan has a fascination with serial killers and wants to dress as Art for Halloween, something his sister and mom find objectionable. It turns out that their dad had drawn a picture of Art, as well as other potentially relevant images, before he died. A year after his first killing spree, Art himself returns to go on a murderous rampage, accompanied by a little girl who dresses like him and whom most other people can’t see.

His murders are incredibly gory but often funny in some twisted way, like when he feeds mashed potatoes to a dead woman and gives candy to kids out of another’s head. His pantomime reactions are even more varied and exaggerated than in the previous movie. It’s pretty amusing to watch him do his laundry and react to the newspaper. Also worth mentioning is the dream Sienna has where Art shows up on the set of a commercial and kills everyone, the humorous part coming in because a cheerful lady keeps dancing and playing the banjo after being set on fire. The song she plays is very catchy, sort of like the Silver Shamrock jingle in Halloween 3, although this time it’s an original tune. The dream also gives Art his own cereal, presumably inspired in-universe by the cereal her brother eats with a clown on the box.

I have to wonder if that’s at least partially referencing how Post Sugar Krinkles used to have a clown mascot who was somewhat disturbing, although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intention.

The ending reminded me of Nightmare on Elm Street 4 in that it added a bit of the destined hero trope to a horror franchise, in this case even including a magic sword.

Thale – I was looking up the Scandinavian Huldra and similar varieties of wild wood women some years ago, and I saw a mention of this movie. Then I proceeded to not watch it for years. I finally did the other day, and it kind of reminded me of The Shape of Water and Session 9, the former for the supernatural elements and the latter for the convenient stash of abandoned audio tapes. There has to be a subgenre about cleaning crews coming across strange things in labs. While there was no lab, Killdozer even has the same basic sort of plot. Two people working on a cleaning job find a huldra, who is initially somewhat hostile to them, but they come to develop a friendship. A bunch of tapes made by a scientist tell some of the details of her captivity. A man who tries to recapture her describes her as a sort of creature driven into the wilds when humanity took control of the world. She has a tail, sings but doesn’t speak, can instill empathy in others, and is suggested to have healing powers as well. I saw a comment from the director that the name was supposed to connect to the English word “tail,” but the effect is somewhat lessened in the dub I watched, in which everyone just pronounced it like it’s spelled, with the English TH sound.

Hey, it’s better tail placement than in the Cats movie, and that had a much higher budget.
At the end, you see a transcript in Norwegian that uses the word “hulder,” but it’s pronounced “huldra” in the dialogue; both are alternate names for the same being. It’s a quiet movie, somewhat creepy but not really gory or violent.

Posted in Advertising, Dreams, Food, Humor, Language, Magic, Music, Mythology, Names, Norse, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Mistress of Misdirection

In my Oziana reread, I thought I might say a bit more about the 2012 issue, made up of a round robin story based on the brief fragment known only as “An Oz Book.” Robert Stanton Baum credited it to his father, L. Frank Baum himself, but the typewritten bit doesn’t really seem like his style. It deals with the lake to the south of the Emerald City, as shown on the map in Tik-Tok of Oz and briefly mentioned in the text of Lost Princess.

It seems a bit contradictory anyway, as it at first refers to the lake as being “in the park surrounding Ozma’s Emerald City,” but then later as being in “Ozma’s Palace grounds.” It also implies that the lake is fairly small, while the map makes it look pretty big. The map isn’t necessarily always to scale, as demonstrated with the size of the Truth Pond. What’s presumably the same lake is called Lake Quad in John R. Neill’s books, and a wooden whale and a small volcanic island end up there.

The round robin story tries to clear up a few of these oddities, but, not surprisingly, introduces more in the process. Marcus Mebes, who edited the issue and came up with the idea, immediately introduces Kabumpo, Jinnicky, and Percy into the story. If it’s supposed to take place during Baum’s lifetime, then the inhabitants of the Emerald City presumably wouldn’t have known the former two yet, and the latter wouldn’t have even existed.

But I believe the first publication of the fragment was in The Baum Bugle in 1965, well after these characters have been introduced by Ruth Plumly Thompson and Rachel Cosgrove. Mike Conway and Nikki Haladay hint at this in their contribution, which has the Green Dolphin tell these characters that they’re from the future. Atticus Gannaway’s conclusion, however, indicates that this was just a result of the Suggestion Box. The inclusion of multiple authors means several possible plot points were either forgotten or dismissed as misdirection, including the main villain, the witch Velbartka, being the original Krumbic Witch, and that Krumbic magic requires the spilling of blood. That last seems a bit gruesome for Oz, but it’s quite possibly based on a mention in Glinda that Coo-ee-oh, who claims to be the only Krumbic Witch in the world, has “a shelf of books written in blood.” The Dolphin himself refers to how March Laumer had earlier used the same fragment in one of his own works, although I understand only a little of that book is actually about Oz. Kim McFarland drew the Dolphin for the back cover.

Betsy Bobbin thinking she’s married to Carter Green is also a Laumer reference, although I put it in because Chris Dulabone had already introduced the idea that various Ozites believed they were in relationships that they really weren’t. Conway and Haladay also introduce the Yith, whom I understand come from an H.P. Lovecraft story about body-stealing beings who can travel through time and space.

They’re also referenced in Conway’s “The Trade,” and Gannaway identifies them as ancestors of the Yips. The Yips certainly seem human when they show up in Lost Princess, but maybe the origins of the Magic Dishpan are somehow linked to these cosmic horrors. By the way, the front cover is by Shawn Maldonado, based on a picture Dick Martin drew for the Autumn 1976 Bugle.

Dennis Anfuso also contributed illustrations, including the one of Ozma skating.

I’ve also recently read a new book, The Boy Baronet in Oz, by Phyllis Ann Karr. This is a crossover between Oz and Gilbert and Sullivan, and I’m not really that familiar with G&S. I know my mom is a fan, and I do like what I’ve heard; it’s the sort of lyrically dense and complex verse that I like in more modern music as well. I did read the libretti for the two main works referenced in Karr’s book, The Sorcerer and Ruddigore. The former was also the basis for several of Tom Holt’s books. Taking place between Tik-Tok and Scarecrow, it starts with Dorothy using the Magic Belt to save John Wellington Wells, whom the Wizard of Oz had encountered previously in London, from Ahrimanes’ dungeons, and he goes on to open a magic shop in the Emerald City. He also brings up the cursed Baronets of Ruddigore, who are forced to commit one crime per day. Dorothy brings in Sir Denys Murgatroyd, a child baronet from the seventeenth century, and his sister, also named Dorothy, but usually called Dolly. I believe Karr had used these characters before in a non-Oz work, so two characters having the same name wasn’t really intentional. And yes, this means the Belt and Magic Picture can access the past, although it causes so much trouble to do so that I can see why these powers aren’t used afterwards. Denys meets the giant Chow Bird, named after the chough, although I believe that’s actually pronounced “chuff.” But then, the bird speaks in a lower-class dialect anyway. Also involved in the story are a country of wooden peg people and another of marzipan, both brought to life by Lurline’s enchantment. Getting back to temporal oddities, two characters have found that they can age backwards, and are considering once again becoming babies and being adopted by somebody. That sounds pretty awkward, which could be why this isn’t common even in Oz. The Good Witch of the North plays a significant role, and while she’s just called Goody North as she is in Karr’s Hollyhock Dolls, I suspect the author was aware that Thompson’s name for the character, Tattypoo, is almost certainly a G&S reference.

Posted in Animals, Art, Atticus Gannaway, Authors, Characters, Chris Dulabone, Dennis Anfuso, Dick Martin, Jared Davis, Jeff Rester, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Maps, March Laumer, Marcus Mebes, Music, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Phyllis Ann Karr, Places, Plays, Poetry, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Tom Holt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments