Last Exit from Reality

The Tyrant’s Tomb, by Rick Riordan – In the fourth book in the Trials of Apollo series, Apollo and Meg McCaffrey reach Camp Jupiter in California, which has recently been the site of a deadly battle, and another one is looming. The combined forces of Commodus and Caligula are coming to attack, and they’ve also made an alliance with Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last King of Rome. Apollo finds out that, to summon divine assistance, it’s necessary to sacrifice Harpocrates, the god of silence and secrets from Ptolemaic Egypt. Along the way, Apollo is forced to face his past as a god, and some of the wrathful decisions he made that come back to to haunt him, including his punishment of ravens in general and of the Cumaean Sibyl. And while not in the myths, he also used to bully Harpocrates. The Cyclops Tyson and Harpy Ella play significant roles, particularly with their recreation of the Sibylline Prophecies. There’s also a further development with Frank Zhang’s firewood that’s tied with his lifespan. A new characters I quite liked was Lavinia Asimov, described on the Internet as a “pink hyperactive Jewish lesbian who loves bubblegum, hiking, and Poison Oak.” She hangs out with fauns and nymphs and is very familiar with the secret passages around the camp.I appreciate how this series includes elements from all of Riordan’s previous Greco-Roman mythology books, and expands the world as well.

An Orc on the Wild Side, by Tom Holt – This one is a wrap-up of the YouSpace narrative, and of the tales of the largely Tolkien-based fantasy world in which the last two largely took place. The main focus is on a guy who learns about YouSpace technology and uses it to sell cheap real estate in the fantasy land. He also hires a lawyer, one of the few human ones on the world, to take over the land of the goblins and dwarves through legal loopholes. The story also involves the Goblin King Mordak’s attempt to make a female goblin (they’re normally an all-male species), the Dwarf King’s cook unloading a lot of useless stuff from our world on the dwarves, and a budding romance between John the Lawyer and a wraith who wants to be a model. And Theo Bernstein, who was instrumental in creating YouSpace, is wandering around the land with severe memory loss. Then the whole thing is wrapped up with a Brexit joke. It’s quite funny, especially with the attempts of English people to adjust to life in a magical world, but the plot does seem a little disjointed.

Posted in African, Authors, Book Reviews, Egyptian, Greek Mythology, Humor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Rick Riordan, Roman, Tom Holt, Trials of Apollo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magic to the People

Lost in Oz – They showed the first episode of this program at the latest OzCon, and I’ve since watched all the available episodes. There are sort of two seasons, in that there are two sets of thirteen each, but for some reason the second is called Season 1 Part 2. The series has a modern-day Dorothy and her dog Toto travel to a technologically advanced Emerald City, where magic, which is usually worked through the manipulation of various elements, is taught in schools, a far cry from Ozma’s ban in the books. Dorothy meets up with West, a magical prodigy with an attitude; Ojo, a giant Munchkin boy who doesn’t want to be a farmer like his people generally are; Reigh, a lion who’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist and expert hacker; and Patchwork, a doll animated with the Powder of Life. They investigate the magic shortage that’s affected Oz and the disappearance of Glinda, who rules the city. Along the way, they run into the original Scarecrow, who has developed a serious memory problem. They also uncover a plot by West’s aunt Langwidere, in league with the Nomes and assisted by Fitz, a crooked magician who works undercover at the Bureau of Magic. They eventually find Glinda, but Langwidere casts a spell that not only makes her ruler of the Emerald City, but also makes everyone think her family has always ruled there. There are shades of The Wishing Horse of Oz in that plot, including that some people aren’t affected by it. The second group of episodes involves a Nome invasion and Dorothy and her friends trying to get back to Oz from Kansas, where General Guph has banished them. The creators mentioned that they see the series as a follow-up to the original books, and there are references to this Dorothy being the great-granddaughter of the original, West as a descendant of the Wicked Witch of the West, and the young Nome King Roquat the son (or is it grandson?) of the Roquat/Ruggedo from the books. This is a little confusing because, according to the books, aging and death are pretty much non-existent, so new generations replacing old ones doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There also seem to be a lot of characters who have the same names and personality traits as their ancestors, but I guess that happens sometimes. There are ways around this, certainly, but I have to wonder if there’s a plan to address that if more episodes are made. As far as names go, Langwidere is confirmed to be a descendant of the Wicked Witch of the West, but is she also related to the original Langwidere? I have to suspect Langwidere being a witch is an indirect reference to Return to Oz, which combined her and Mombi into one character. Her ability to shapeshift might be related to her predecessor changing her heads. Another oddity is that the Shadow Nome, a special agent of the Nome Kingdom with mystical powers, is named Kaliko. It’s also never explained why Glinda is ruling the Emerald City, but she does mention Ozma at one point, so it’s not like the writers aren’t aware of her. There are some other cases where the writers seem to use Baum’s names but not his descriptions, as with the Growleywogs and the confusion of Glinda’s pearl with the Pearls of Pingaree. And so far the Tin Woodman has only been mentioned as a comic book character. But these things don’t really affect the quality of the show, and it is good. In addition to the more major characters, there are such interesting creations as the living brick wall Agent Pugmill, a community of merchants who sell knockoff magic, and a mixed Nome and silverware family. The magical devices are clever, many of them playing on ones from the books. I also think the show has good pacing. There’s an ongoing story with multiple arcs and problems that take several episodes to solve, but they don’t overstay their welcome. For instance, the first few episodes made it seem like Fitz would be a constant antagonist, but he’s exposed fairly early on, and even helps out the good guys after that. I’m hoping there will be more episodes of this eventually. Now I guess I need to watch Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.

Posted in Cartoons, Characters, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Technology, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Joker’s Not the Only Fool

JokerSPOILERS! PRETTY MAJOR ONES AT THAT! My wife wanted to see this one, which is perhaps kind of weird considering that I’m the one who’s more into comic-based movies, and that there were rumors it was misogynistic (which I don’t think it was, but more on that later). It seems like there have been a lot of killer clown movies as of late, not just It Chapter Two, but also 3 from Hell, even though Captain Spaulding didn’t actually get to kill anyone in it. I feel Joker was well-made, but kind of lacked direction. It feels like the writers brainstormed a bunch of reasons why the Joker might have gone nuts, then tried to incorporate all of them. He’s poor, he’s lonely, he’s socially awkward, he has a condition that makes him laugh inappropriately, he was abused as a kid, he’s mocked and bullied for his disabilities, people blame him for things that weren’t his fault, the city cuts off funding for his medication, he’s acting out against an unfair and repressive society. Granted, some of these things go together, and I have a general dislike for origin stories that trace all of a villain’s evil to just one event; but it kind of went in a bunch of different ways without really developing most of them. And his mental illness was basically whatever they needed it to be at any given time, which is kind of lazy, but I guess the fact he never got an accurate diagnosis was part of his problem. I can’t say I get why critics described the story as incel-friendly, though. Yes, he behaves inappropriately with a woman he barely knows, but it’s never his main motivation. Most of this story arc involves his hallucinating a relationship with a woman in his apartment building (played by Zazie Beetz, who was Domino in Deadpool 2, so does that add her to the list of people who’ve played both Marvel and DC characters?), only to show up in her apartment and realize it was all in his head. He doesn’t seem to hold any ill will toward the woman, however. He doesn’t take revenge on her like he does on several other people, and he’s never portrayed as blaming women in general or lack of sex for his killings, or even as being bigoted. What the movie does do is try to show sympathy for a murderer, certainly nothing new in the film world, but maybe something people are sick of by this point. How much did we hear about the Columbine shooters being bullied, only to find out later they were more often perpetrators than victims? Arthur Fleck is shown as a guy who has some potential for goodness. He genuinely wants to entertain, he seems to like children, and he takes care of his ailing mother. So is it society that made him a killer? Well, partially, but maybe not entirely. Overall, I think the fact that there isn’t much direction also makes it difficult to relate the Joker’s story to anything in real life, as it shifts focus so much. I will say it has some quite brutal moments, but what would you expect from this character? As far as its place in the Batman mythos, I’ve heard this is supposed to be a standalone not intended to be connected with any other Batman or Joker films. That means they’re presumably never going to do anything with how the Joker might possibly be Bruce Wayne’s half-brother (it’s left ambiguous, what with unreliable narrators), the characterization of Thomas Wayne as a total dick, or how the movie makes the Waynes’ death an orchestrated part of a general riot rather than something random. From what I’ve read, the film is set in 1981, but could people still smoke in hospitals then? Arthur and his mother also appear to have gotten a VCR before they were commonplace. Beth mentioned that this Joker seems less capable than the character’s portrayal in other movies. There have been a lot of takes on the Joker, but he generally seems to be confident, and Arthur is anything but. I guess he had time to hone his skills in between the ending of this film and when he fights Batman. I wonder if there’s any significance to the name they gave this Joker. The name Jack Napier from the 1989 Batman apparently did later make it into the comics, but I don’t know that it was ever totally official. Besides, a Jack and a Joker are totally different playing cards!

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Something Old, Something Nue

I was looking at the Wikipedia page listing flying mythological creatures. There were many I’d either already written about or didn’t appear to have much information, but I did take some interest in the Nue, a kind of yokai from Japanese mythology. It’s one of those creatures made up of parts of a lot of different animals, described as having the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki, the legs of a tiger, and a snake for a tail. Oddly, its name translates to “night bird,” which you may notice isn’t one of the animals mentioned. There’s an alternate description that gives it the torso of a chicken, but it’s not like they’re nocturnal. The suggestion I’ve seen is that the name originally referred to a kind of thrush, but it later came to be applied to this hybrid being. It’s said to sing like a bird at night, with its call being considered an ill omen. They’re also known to travel in the form of black clouds. A famous legend concerning the Nue has it that one of them hung around above Emperor Konoe’s palace in 1153. The Emperor was sick, and medicine and prayer had no effect, so he called for the samurai Minamoto no Yorimasa, who shot down the Nue with an arrow made from a mountain bird’s tail.

Yorimasa’s companion, I no Hayata, then dealt the final blow to its fallen body and tossed it in the Sea of Japan.

It floated to the village of Ashiya, where the people gave it a proper burial for fear of a curse. The burial mound, Nuezuka, is apparently a real landmark even today. There are conflicting claims as to where it was buried, as well as a legend about the Nue’s spirit turning into a vengeful horse. As the death of the Nue instantly cured the Emperor, he gave the katakana sword Shishio, or “King of Lions,” to Yorimasa. I assume that wasn’t the only Nue in the world, however, and I even saw a mention of Yorimasa killing another one during the reign of a later emperor. I don’t recall coming across the Nue before, but it is a boss in Breath of Fire III. I’m not familiar with that game, but I am with the first two in that series. This Nue is female, stealing food from a nearby village to feed her children, not realizing that they’re already dead.

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Neglected Films

The Florida Project – I remember seeing a preview for this while at the movies with Beth, and she had wanted to see it, but we only just recently got around to it. She likes depressing media, and this definitely qualifies in that category. There isn’t much of a plot, the focus instead being on the crappy lives of a single mother and her daughter living at the Magic Castle motel not far from Walt Disney World. The mother, Halley, does what she can to get money, originally working as a stripper until she gets fired, then resorting to stealing, reselling merchandise at a markup right outside the store, and prostitution. The daughter, Moonee, hangs out with other kids in the same living situation and makes her own fun, which becomes increasingly dangerous. The motel manager, played by Willem Dafoe, is protective of the kids and does what he can to help their parents as well, but Halley is repeatedly rude to him and lies a lot. The thing is, I’ve seen descriptions that focus on Moonee’s imagination getting her through her terrible home life, and while that does happen, I never felt like that was the main idea. It’s more like a loose exploration of how bad life is for poor people.

Bebe’s Kids – Beth, who saw this as a kid, insisted that I watch it as well, even though I never had any desire to do so. It’s an animated feature based on the stand-up comedy of Robin Harris, who died while it was in pre-production. That makes it even more morbid that one of the first scenes takes place at a funeral, where Robin meets an attractive woman named Jamika, and they hit it off enough that he agrees to take her and her polite, well-behaved son Leon to a local amusement park. When he shows up to take them, he finds out he’s also taking the titular Bebe’s Kids, Bebe being Jamika’s friend who’s a poor single mother. The youngest of the three is a baby called Pee-Wee, who’s voiced by Tone Loc and has a perpetually smelly diaper. They proceed to break and steal things, trespass, and injure people. There’s really no rhyme or reason to their mischief or the order in which events occur, and a lot of it makes no sense at all. At one point, they end up in the command center and are put on trial by robots, with an animatronic Lincoln and Nixon as the attorneys. I wonder if this is how any kids learned that the former presidents were both lawyers. Why would a movie about juvenile delinquents at an amusement park involve sentient robots? It’s apparently also a park where a pirate-themed boat ride has a functioning cannon. Meanwhile, Robin runs into his ex-wife, who is determined to sabotage his relationship with Jamika. He actually has some funny lines, but the kids not so much. After leaving the park, Robin finds out the awful conditions in which Bebe’s kids live (seems like he would have figured that out before this), and agrees to take them out again. But considering how utterly unrealistic and sometimes near-homicidal their actions are, I don’t think it earned its social message. Mostly it’s just bizarre.

Considering how vastly different these movies are, it’s weird that they both deal with child neglect and amusement parks. I guess you can find connections between anything if you try. Most of the discs on our Netflix queue now are horror movies, and I might wait until closer to Halloween to discuss them here.

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Seafaring and Serpents

Sam Steele’s Adventures on Land and Sea, by L. Frank Baum – The six issues of Oz-story Magazine, published by Hungry Tiger Press from 1995 through 2000, all ended with a full-length novel by Baum. I’d read two of them, Policeman Bluejay and The Woggle-Bug Book (okay, that one wasn’t really a novel, but it had a lot of illustrations); but for some reason hadn’t gotten around to reading the others. This particular tale was originally published under the pseudonym of Captain Hugh Fitzgerald, and it introduced the character of Sam, who would appear in the Boy Fortune Hunters series, Baum’s series of adventure stories geared toward boys, released under the pseudonym Floyd Akers. It was later republished as The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska, despite the fact that, as David Maxine pointed out, there’s only one boy fortune hunter and he never gets to Alaska. Sam is boarding with an old woman while his father is out at sea, and when a visitor reports that Captain Steele has died, she claims he’d left his son with nothing but debt. Sam runs into his uncle Naboth Perkins, who owns part interest in a ship, and he offers to go into business with his nephew, bringing provisions to sell to prospectors in Alaska. They instead find themselves at an island covered in gold dust, and while the people living there are initially distrustful, they allow the newcomers to work in exchange for a share of the gold, and to sell them food. Sam soon comes upon a plot by some of the people staying on the island to betray the others and steal all the gold, and has to do what he can to thwart it. While I haven’t read Treasure Island, I can tell that there’s a fair amount of it in this story. There’s also a portrayal of South Sea Islanders (specifically from the Sulu Archipelago) that likely wouldn’t fly in a book written today, what with their stereotypical dialect. The N-word is used a few times to refer to them, although, as far as I can remember, not from their fellow crew members. And they’re also heroic characters without whom Sam wouldn’t have been able to expose the traitors, so it’s not like it’s a totally negative portrayal. Anyway, Captain Fitzgerald turns out to be alive after all, and father and son get back their money from the nasty widow and plan to have further adventures. It’s a very different style than Baum’s fantasies, although since I know it’s by him, I can see some similarities. I’ve started on The Flying Girl, but I haven’t gotten that far in it yet.

A Dragon-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic, edited by Margaret Reis – I checked out the eBook of this from the library because I’d thought Gordon R. Dickson’s “St. Dragon and the George” sounded interesting. I didn’t realize at the time that the story was later expanded into a novel, so I might well check that out later; it was a pretty enjoyable tale about an assistant to a history professor being transported into a dragon’s body. I can’t remember all the other stories that well, but there were some that I quite liked. The styles vary a bit, not all being high fantasy, but also some science fiction and comedy. Not all of them really focused on dragons, but they all involved them in some way. Quite a few others were also later expanded into longer yarns. Anne McCaffrey’s “Weyr Search” became part of her first Pern novel, and while I know that’s a famous series, I have to say this excerpt didn’t grab me. “Two Yards of Dragon,” by L. Sprague de Camp, has elements of parody, with a guy who slays a dragon being arrested for breaking the game laws, and his partner being defrauded by a wizardly con-artist. Another comic one, Craig Shaw Gardner’s “A Drama of Dragons,” has a wizard who’s allergic to magic and his apprentice charged by a very minor duke with fighting a dragon, only to have the dragon and the woman he supposedly kidnapped ending up doing a song-and-dance act. Roger Zelazny’s “The George Business” involved a man and a dragon staging fights in order to attract mates. Lois Tilton’s “The Dragonbone Flute” is a sad one, as is George R.R. Martin’s “The Ice Dragon,” which isn’t intended to be connected to A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve written before about how Martin apparently wasn’t aware of earlier stories featuring ice dragons, but there definitely were some. Barbara Delaplace’s “The Hidden Dragon” is rather dark, being the story of a woman in an abusive relationship who finds out she’s able to control a dragon. Gregory Benford and Marc Laidlaw’s “A Hiss of Dragon” involves genetically engineered dragons that eat fruit. Mike Resnick’s “The Trials and Tribulations of Myron Blumberg, Dragon” is about involves a typical guy who suddenly turns into a dragon, much to the annoyance of his shrewish wife. It’s sort of a jokier take on the premise of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I hadn’t read anything by Orson Scott Card before (I mostly just know he’s really homophobic), and his contribution to this, “A Plague of Butterflies,” was just weird, something about a guy having sex while in dragon form with a woman in a hidden city. While not all of them clicked for me, that tends to be the case with anthologies, and your tastes in dragon fare may vary.

Posted in Book Reviews, Fairy Tales, Humor, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Monsters, Oz, Oz Authors, Prejudice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s All About the Shoes

On Facebook, there’s been some argument on the cover of the latest Baum Bugle, which I haven’t received. It’s possible my membership has lapsed, because it seems like I never get warnings about that. It isn’t a great design, as I think there’s too much blank space, but it’s not something that matters a whole lot to me either. There’s also some criticism of the focus on the MGM film, and while that’s not my main interest either, I’m not sure if that’s true. I do think the Bugle has been a little dry as of late, without too many articles that are actually fun, although I did like the issue focusing on The Tin Woodman of Oz. Even the Oz Bookshelf seems to focus more on non-fiction nowadays. But anyway, when I saw the tagline on the latest issue, I had to wonder if a good compromise would have been discussing shoes in the Oz books as well.

I think it’s pretty well-known that the shoes were silver in the book, and changed to ruby to take advantage of the Technicolor in the film. Since the Ruby Slippers are still under copyright to MGM, the Silver Shoes still show up sometimes when someone wants to make an Oz reference without paying Warner Bros. Disney did use them in Return to Oz, and apparently an early idea had the Nome King make them into a belt like the magic one in the books, but in the finished film he’s just wearing them on his feet.

I’ve seen a few other shoe-related elements from the movie mistakenly assumed to be true in the books as well, like how they wouldn’t come off Dorothy’s feet as long as she was alive, which presumably meant she couldn’t take them off herself either, which sounds awkward.

In the book, not only does she take them off when she goes to bed or takes a bath, the Wicked Witch of the West being too afraid of the dark and of water to take them then, but she loses one when she trips over an invisible iron bar. And the reason she wears them in the first place is because she thinks they’d be good for a long journey, not because someone magicked them onto her feet. Although we’re assured that the Shoes are powerful, the only thing we ever see anyone do with them is when Dorothy returns home, losing them on the way.

Glinda assures her that they can take their wearer anywhere in the world in three steps, but the reverence with which they’re treated suggests they might have other powers as well. Hugh Pendexter’s Oz and the Three Witches indicates that they can also be used to fire a lightning bolt in any direction. Once they’re lost in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, however, they’re out of commission for the rest of the official series. Not surprisingly, though, fans have written more about them, because fans will write about pretty much any minor detail, and perhaps also because of how popular the movie made them.

Roger Baum’s Dorothy of Oz has Glinda retrieve them and give them back to Dorothy, but she can only use them twice, once to return to Oz and once to get back home. Although R.K. Lionel’s Braided Man is mostly book-based, it mistakenly portrays the shoes as red when the titular character finds them in the desert. In Phil Lewin’s Witch Queen, Dorothy finds out from the Great Book of Records that the Shoes evaporated in the desert and ended up on Sky Island, where the Frog King takes them. It’s also revealed that they previously belonged to Enilrul, who used them to curse Oz. Laura Jane Musser’s “The Romance of the Silver Shoes” says that they were a gift from the god Mercury to the fairy Princess Zephyra, but were stolen by an eagle under the spell of the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy is tasked with getting them back from the Sand Witch Sandrika, who took them after the Kansas girl lost them in the desert. There’s a book called The Silver Shoes of Oz, by Marin Elizabeth Xiques, but I haven’t managed to find a copy. The summary of it that I’ve read indicates that it was made from magic silver on the bank of a silver river. Ozma finds them in the desert on her way back to Oz from Foxville and Dunkiton. Xiques and Chris Dulabone’s Foolish Fable adds that they were given to the Witch of the East by a messenger from the wizard Wam, although it doesn’t specifically say Wam made them.

It does appear that it’s typically the fashion in Oz, as well as in Pingaree, for shoes to turn up at the toes. The Wizard of Oz is found planting shoe-trees in the palace gardens in Rinkitink, and Witch Queen has a river in the Gillikin Country where people fish for boots and shoes. In John R. Neill’s Wonder City, shoes are used as votes in the ozlection, and Jack Pumpkinhead teaches some of them to sing and play instruments.

Runaway has Jenny Jump pull a bunch of boots out of her malfunctioning magical suitcase, and Scraps and her companions land on them after falling out of the dissolving castle in the air.

Eric Shanower has said that Neill’s original draft just had them land on the ground and end up unharmed, which is a bit far-fetched even in Oz, so he wrote in the boots. In Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Ojo, Ojo, Realbad, and Snufferbux visit Tappy Town, ruled by King Stubby and Queen Skippyfoo, where people communicate by tapping their feet, and don’t talk at all.

Signs are on the pavement and read with feet, officials take footprints for identification, lady slippers grow outside the castle, the chimneys are shaped like boots, and a band plays shoe strings and shoe horns. When Realbad dances a clog, the court takes it as an insult, and kicks the visitors out of town. The language barrier doesn’t seem to be entirely consistent, however, as the travelers can’t read the signs, but the people’s names are written on their hatbands in perfectly legible letters, and the King reads a note in English (or Ozish). In response, he jumps on the note with both feet, leaving “a neat row of queer little pictures and marks.” Later, however, Ojo has no problem reading them. I’m not sure whether they took time to become readable or what. There’s another pair of magical shoes in the Quick Sandals in Hungry Tiger, which Betsy Bobbin finds in a package near a patch of quicksand. They’re large shoes made of white leather with silver buckles, and when Carter Green puts them on, he runs across the sand and the desert surrounding Oz, after which the sandals remove themselves and are seen “skipping merrily toward the sky line.”
And in Karyl Carlson and Eric Gjovaag’s Queen Ann, the witch Amnesia has golden shoes, which she uses to transport herself to Kansas.

Posted in Characters, Chris Dulabone, Eric Shanower, Greek Mythology, Hugh Pendexter, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Marin Elizabeth Xiques, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Phil Lewin, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment