Deadwood Oaks and Duende

I feel like I’ve pretty much exhausted all the Oz books, or at least the ones that are generally consistent with the original series (not that everyone even agrees on what that is). I’ll occasionally come across lists of interesting-sounding titles, but I sometimes can’t even be sure they even exist, or at least STILL exist. There are occasionally new titles, or reprints of obscure older ones, coming out, however. Here are my thoughts on two:

Dorothy and the Wooden Soldiers of Oz, by Ken Romer – This item is a bit of an oddity, a coloring book that tells an abridged version of Alexander Volkov’s Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers that takes place in Oz instead of Magic Land. March Laumer had done an earlier translation of this book with the more typical Oz versions of the characters, and this one follows suit. It has Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, and Glinda, rather than Ellie, the Iron Woodman, and Stella. Urfin has an appropriately Russian appearance, and the Deadwood Oaks have the same basic shape as the Tin Man. I tend to think of Magic Land as an alternate-universe version of Oz. It could even be in the same universe in a different location, since it’s in the middle of the American continent like L. Frank Baum seems to have originally thought, although he later changed his mind. In the appendix for Dagmar in Oz, Chris Dulabone wrote that his explanation for this story is that Urfin crossed over into the regular Oz and had his soldiers invade it, placing its events in 1973. There are a few references to the Magic Land series in Chris’s books, including Ellie appearing in A Million Miles from Here Is Oz and the planet Ramiria showing up in Three-Headed Elvis Clone Found in Flying Saucer Over Oz. There’s also an Oz equivalent of Urfin in Robin Hess’s Spelling Bee, where he identifies himself as the Wicked Witch of the East’s apprentice.

The Duende of Oz, by David F. Salas – A duende called Maximillian of Monterrey accidentally travels from Mexico to Oz on a golden eagle, causes some trouble when he tries to settle in Dorothy’s old house from Kansas (which for some reason was moved to the Emerald City; you’d think that would have a negative effect on tourism in the eastern Munchkin Country) and borrow items like he normally would, and befriends the living phonograph Victor Columbia Edison. Meanwhile, Trot plans a birthday party for Cap’n Bill, and the Tin Woodman has a tin leg made for him as a present. Not all that much happens in the story, but it has some good characterization of Maximillian and examination of his fairy powers, and appearances by several familiar characters, including Polychrome, the Fighting Trees, and the Hammer-Heads. He’s technically not the first duende to show up in Oz, as there’s one in Chris Dulabone’s The Deadly Desert Around Oz who animates Ruggedo’s cactus form, but that book doesn’t say much about what one actually is. Several other authors have tried to do justice to Victor, who receives rather shabby treatment from the heroes in Patchwork Girl. He shows up in a manuscript I wrote, and Marcus Mebes’ “Quiet Victory” from The Lost Tales of Oz ties together a few of his other appearances. Here, he plays a few actual songs, as well as one from Lucky Bucky, and there’s an amusing reference in his volume knob being stuck at eleven.

Posted in Art, Book Reviews, Characters, Chris Dulabone, Humor, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, March Laumer, Marcus Mebes, Music, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Secret Lives of Stars

It’s kind of an odd inspiration, I suppose, but I got an idea to write a post about star mythology from this tweet, for which I’m honestly not sure how serious the original posters were. There is some basis in Biblical mythology for stars being angels, or at least the two being very closely associated.

That passage in Revelation is one that’s often cited, as is another in Job 38 that indicates that, when God laid the foundation of the world, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted with joy.” The phrase “sons of God” is often associated with angels, as with the story of the Nephilim in Genesis. The Book of Enoch makes a mention of angels moving stars around, but also has a story about Enoch seeing both stars and fallen angels being tortured. If stars were linked with angels, then fallen angels could potentially have been inspired by meteors. There’s a reference in Enoch to seven stars being bound in a place of eternal torment burning with fire for 10,000 years as a punishment for breaking God’s commandments. This could also be a reference to the Pleiades, seven stars that appear together in the sky. Job 38:31 has God ask Job whether he can bind the Kimah, meaning “group” or “cluster,” and usually said to mean the Pleiades.

The stars are actually gravitationally bound, which people wouldn’t have known back then, but they would have been aware that they were always together.

The idea of fallen angels seems to have been fairly popular around the time of Greek rule over Judea, but it’s apparently not really a thing in mainstream Judaism. On the other hand, it’s pretty standard Christian lore. In Luke 10:18, Jesus says he “saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven,” and Revelation has a story of a battle in Heaven in which Satan and his angelic supporters are thrown out of Heaven by the Archangel Michael and his forces.

There might be some link between these passages and Isaiah 14:12, which speaks of the morning star falling from Heaven. In context, it appears to be a reference to the King of Babylon, not to an angel. The similar Ezekiel 28:speaks of the King of Tyre, figuratively (I assume) referred to as a holy cherub, being cast out of the mountain of God to the ground for his sins. The phrase “morning star” was translated into Latin as “Lucifer,” which is pretty literal, but it later led to the idea that Satan’s original name was Lucifer. The idea that the Devil was associated with this passage at all seems to be a specifically Christian one. As for why the morning star falling is a thing, I don’t really know. I’ve seen suggestions that it refers to an earlier Semitic myth, the most commonly cited being Attar, who was associated with Venus, taking the throne of the gods and being overthrown by Baal after his return from the underworld, but I don’t know that this myth actually involves Attar being thrown to the Earth; the common interpretation is that Attar abdicated on his own accord. Venus is seen in the evening and morning, but not in between; and its path as seen from Earth has it disappear from the sky for a period of time. The Babylonians associated Venus with Ishtar, who descended into the underworld, so there might be a connection there.

Or it could just be a metaphor that doesn’t need any additional context.

As for Satan one third of the stars from the sky with his tail, as seen in Revelation, this does proceed the battle in Heaven in which some angels back the Devil. It probably refers back to Daniel 8, with a horn likely representing Antiochus Epiphanes throwing stars and the host of Heaven down to the Earth. So again we see stars and angels, but the Daniel reference is said to be a symbol of pride, not to his convincing the angels to join him.

Looking into ancient ideas of what stars were, some interpretations made them the spirits of the dead. I’m not sure whether that means they spend the entire nighttime looking down on Earth, but I’m also not sure how literal the myths about people and animals being made into constellations were supposed to be. Stories interpreted various constellations as interacting with each other in some way, like Scorpio chasing Orion and Bootes driving Ursa Major and Minor, but would this mean they just do those same things over and over for years on end?

But then, you could say the same thing about Demeter mourning whenever Persephone is in the underworld, even though you’d think she’d have gotten a little more accustomed to it over the centuries. Anyway, other people thought the stars were lights embedded in the sky, or holes in whatever the sky itself was made of showing light from outside it. The concept of something else being behind the sky also appears in the Bible, where the firmament is what separates the ordered world from the primordial waters on the other side. I also remember reading in my mom’s old encyclopedia that there was a Greco-Roman tradition of stars relaying prayers to the gods, but I can’t find any support for this. Ancient astronomers figured that the stars couldn’t be that far away because there was no parallax effect, or shift of positions. There actually is some, but it’s very difficult to detect.

Posted in Astronomy, Babylonian, Christianity, Greek Mythology, Judaism, Mythology, Religion, Science, Semitic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things Lived On

I wrote about Slimes in the Dragon Quest series eleven years ago, and mentioned the fact that they were inspired by Creeping Cruds from Wizardry, but Akira Toriyama drew them as cute.

There was also a mention of Slimes in the Final Fantasy series in the comments. What you might call DQ’s sister series takes a different approach to slime monsters, making them generally resistant to physical attacks and some kinds of magic, although there are exceptions. Also, many of them are named after desserts, the Flan being the most common.

That probably doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to try to eat them, although DQ Slimes are allegedly lime-flavored. The FF Slimes originally appeared in the first game of that series, where they have faces, but are mostly amorphous.

As early on as the second game, however, perhaps inspired partially by the DQ monsters, they become more animal-like, with faces at the tops of their bodies and visible arms.

Different kinds throughout the series are called Jelly, Mousse, Gelatin, Custard, and Bavarois, the latter of which is apparently the French name for Bavarian cream. Others have names that aren’t foods at all. FF4 has Flan Princesses, originally known in English as Pink Puffs. living underground on the Moon.

They’re very rare enemies, and it’s even rarer that they’ll drop a Pink Tail. A group of them will perform a dance that will make your party go berserk. The Pink Tail can be traded for adamant to a miner in Mythril Village who collects tails. The tail thing is presumably a reference back to FF1, where a rat tail is the prize for surviving the Castle of Ordeals. I’m not sure why slime creatures would have tails lying around. Maybe they grow and then lose them at some point in their life cycle.

I assume they’re referred to with a female term just because of their appearance and not because they fit any human concept of sex or gender. It does appear, however, that there’s a cute humanoid variety in World of Final Fantasy.

I understand She-Slimes in DQ, and their occasional Queens and Princesses from spinoff titles, aren’t female in the way that we think of it, either.

Like many monsters in FF1, the Flans were lifted pretty directly from Dungeons & Dragons. I haven’t played D&D, but I did have a board game as a kid that was based on it, and there were monsters called Green Slime and Black Pudding, the latter of which was presumably the basis for all the food-related names.

I didn’t know at the time that black pudding is a British food that’s actually a blood sausage (not a dessert, despite the word “pudding”).

I’ll just stick to the brain and kidney pie, thank you.
But anyway, Oozes and the like in D&D are beings that that move on walls and ceilings and slip through tiny spaces, and dissolve what they touch as well as attacking with pseudopods. They reproduce by splitting, so it seems that they were at least partially inspired by amoebas.

D&D also has the Gelatinous Cube, as seen in the movie Onward, which is the same sort of being in the form of…well, an enormous cube.

As far as fictional antecedents to these slime monsters go, what I’ve seen indicates that they’re mostly inspired by science fiction stories and movies, the Blob being the most famous example.

It creeps and leaps and glides and slides.
This page mentions some literary slime creatures, including the shoggoths from H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, giant shapeless collections of bubbles that can form temporary limbs and organs at will.

Like some of the D&D monsters, they’re used to dispose of garbage. Instead of absorbing living things, however, they simply crush them. And this page mentions the Nuppeppo, a kind of <a href=" that aren’t slimy so much as they are just blobs of flesh with present but indistinct features.

While not hostile, they smell horrible, and are skilled at evading anyone who tries to kill or capture them. Their flesh can apparently be made into medicine, and their name is thought to come from a derogatory term for someone wearing too much makeup. It’s possible they had some influence on blob monsters, especially the kinds with animal features.

Posted in Board Games, Cartoons, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Focus on the Foes, Food, Games, Gender, Japanese, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When the World and I Were Young

Continuing on the theme of calendars from another recent post, I’ve done some investigation into different calculations of the age of the world. The Jewish calendar and the traditional Byzantine one both date from the Anno Mundi, or Year of the World, when they estimated the creation of Earth to have taken place. Of course, these figures are way off from the estimates given by modern scientists, but the methods they used don’t date back that far. The Mayan Long Count calendar also appears to date from the estimated beginning of the world, which would have been in 3114 BC, although that would have actually been the fourth creation.

It was really only in the eighteenth century, due to advances in geology, that it became common to think of the planet’s age in terms of millions of years, let alone billions. I believe that’s also around when it was determined that the universe contained way more than our solar system, meaning the universe as a whole could be much older than the Earth. Even today, Young Earth Creationists still stick to the Biblically based estimate of around 6000 years, with the evidence otherwise being planted by Satan or a particularly capricious God to test our faith, or something like that.

I still think the shift from dinosaurs not having existed to their having lived alongside humans is just because kids think they’re cool.

The Bible does give a pretty consistent timeline, despite some significant contradictions. For instance, the length of time the Israelites spent in Egypt is sometimes given as 430 years, when adding up the ages of Moses and his ancestors back to Jacob’s son Levi gives a figure of way less than that. The 480 years from the Exodus to the building of Solomon‘s Temple as given in 1 Kings also doesn’t match with other books.

There are a lot of periods of forty years, which is a symbol for a generation or just a lot of something, so they probably can’t all be literal. There’s the general problem of determining dates based on people’s ages, as if a man, say, has a son at the age of thirty, that could be anytime from his thirtieth birthday until the day before his thirty-first. What might be the most significant, however, is the lack of context. For many of the patriarchs, all we get is a name and a lifespan, and many of those lifespans are absurdly long. I’m not even totally sure whoever came up with these genealogies was even trying to create a chronology. There’s a frequent theme in mythology of earlier ages when the world was more magical and there was less separation between humans and gods, and people living for centuries definitely fits with that. Compared to the Sumerian King List, which might have been an influence on the record of Biblical patriarchs, they’re really much shorter. The eight antediluvian kings are said to have ruled for a total of 241,200 years. There’s a similar document from Egypt, the Turin King List, believed to be from the time of Ramesses II, that tells of a time when the country was ruled by literal gods, some of whom reigned for thousands of years. And China has several legends about kings ruling for 18,000 years. There have been attempts to make these dates more believable, by saying they measure months instead of years or something like that, but I think that might be missing the point. With the Genesis chronology, another issue is the difference between the Greek Septuagint and the Masoretic Text, which give considerably different time periods for the antediluvian patriarchs. The Masoretic text wasn’t completed until around the tenth century, but it was based on earlier Hebrew sources, and became not only the standard in Hebrew but the basis for many Christian translations. When I read the Gospel of Nicodemus, I found the statement that the world was 5500 years old in Jesus’ time to be interesting, and this was derived from the Septuagint.

The Byzantine calendar used by the Eastern Orthodox Church is basically the same as the Julian, except it counts from September 5509 BC. The September date was largely chosen because it’s when the imperial government assessed new taxes every fifteen years, but there were other factors as well. The main competing date for the new year was 25 March, when Jesus was supposedly conceived. The Jewish year of creation, 3761 BC, was calculated by Rabbi Jose ben Halafta in the second century. The creation didn’t actually begin until the end of that year, with Adam being created on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of AM 2. We’re now in the Byzantine year 7530 and the Jewish year 5782. Western Europe tended to go with the world having been created around 5200 BC, but the historian Bede, who used some Jewish sources, thought 3952 BC was more likely. Since some people thought the world would end in the year 800 (which would have been AM 6000), it was a way to buy some time; but some monks accused Bede of heresy for deviating that much from the widely accepted figures. While I don’t know when it originated, there was a Jewish tradition that the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees in 164 BC happened in AM 4000, and several other significant events in Jewish history also occurred in years with significant numbers.

Martin Luther placed the Apostolic Council mentioned in Acts in 4000, while Bishop James Ussher figured Jesus was born in that year. Since it was commonly thought in his time that Jesus was actually born around 4 BC, that meant a creation year of 4004 BC.

Looking at the Wikipedia page on different estimates for the time of creation is pretty fascinating. Zoroastrianism uses a chronology of 12,000 years, with the first 6000 years of that being the creation itself, Zoroaster being born 300 years after that, and the triumph of Ahura Mazda coming in the year 12,000.

The Hindu belief holds that time is cyclical, with the universe existing in periods of 4.32 billion years, each of which is a day to Brahma. That this is even in the same ballpark as modern estimates is quite interesting, not because it’s likely the ancient Hindus had access to more accurate ways of measuring such things (I’m sure most of this estimation involved a lot of guesswork), but because they had some concept of what John McPhee called “deep time” in 1981.

What I can’t find is any clear indication of when this figure was devised. It’s apparently in the Vishnu Parana, but that’s been dated to anywhere from 700 BC to 1000 AD. Even the eleventh century seems pretty impressive considering European estimates from the same time period, however. I believe Aristotle thought the world was eternal, but that wouldn’t have actually required any math. I understand India was always pretty advanced mathematically. The figures were determined by multiplying a whole lot of relevant numbers, so while I have no real knowledge on the subject, it seems fairly likely to me that whoever devised this didn’t START with the idea of billions of years, but eventually arrived at it after all that multiplying. I remember reading somewhere about how it seems strange how Young Earth Creationists talk about how God is infinite and eternal, but also seem to believe in a very simple, compact universe. If this is the case, then the Hindu concept of time shows more acknowledgement of how vast things would have to be when dealing with cosmic matters.

Posted in African, Babylonian, Chinese, Christianity, Eastern Orthodox, Egyptian, Greek Philosophy, Hinduism, History, Judaism, Mathematics, Mayan, Mythology, Native American, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Semitic, Zoroastrianism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Period Pieces

For my first post of 2022, how about some movie reviews?

Licorice Pizza – Beth and I saw this at the theater the other day, and she doesn’t even like licorice or pizza! No, this is a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, and Magnolia is one of her favorite movies, if not her very favorite. Even after seeing it, I still didn’t know what the title had to do with anything. Looking it up later, it’s the name of a record store that was around at the time the film takes place, and Anderson finds it nostalgic. Set in 1973, the plot involves fifteen-year-old actor Gary Valentine, who hits on twenty-five-year old photographer Alana Kane. While she’s annoyed by him at first, they start hanging out together, and there’s some romantic and sexual tension between them. Maybe I misinterpreted, but I get the impression that the movie wants the audience to root for them to get together despite the age difference, which is pretty creepy. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son Cooper plays Gary, and Alana is in the band Haim with her sisters. I know nothing about the band, but her actual family plays her family in the movie. It doesn’t seem like there’s an overarching theme so much as a bunch of stuff that happens, much of it related to events from the time, including the oil embargo, the mayoral campaign of Councilman Joel Wachs, and pinball being made legal again in California. After watching it, I looked into the background a bit. Anderson based a lot of it on stories by former child actor Gary Goetzman, who really did sell waterbeds and run a pinball arcade. (Waterbeds are such a strange concept, something I can very much appreciate from a novelty point of view, but not as something I’d want to sleep on regularly. I remember being fascinated by one at a motel room as a kid.) A lot of the fictional movies mentioned were thinly veiled versions of real ones from the time, too. There’s quite a bit to process in this one.

Conan the Barbarian – I hadn’t seen this before, but I did read a collection of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories a few years ago. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the titular role, and he definitely looks the part. It is a little weird that a guy with an Irish name who swears by a Celtic god would be played by an Austrian, but that doesn’t matter that much, and Howard had weird ideas about ethnicity anyway. What does differ between the literary and film version of the character is that the former is more philosophical, constantly skeptical of the trappings of civilization, while Arnold doesn’t talk a whole lot. The whole thing takes place in a rather bleak world, but almost everyone is surprisingly clean. It starts with Thulsa Doom, the leader of a snake cult devoted to Set, kills the young Conan’s family and sells him into slavery. Doom is played by James Earl Jones, who is pretty convincing as a charismatic leader. I’m not entirely sure why Howard associated Set particularly with snakes. When Conan is eventually freed, he’s directed by a witch to seek vengeance against the villain. He soon teams up with the archer Subotai and the thief Valeria, the three of whom are tasked by King Osric of Zamora to save his daughter Yasimina, who’s joined the snake cult. The supporting characters aren’t directly from the original Conan stories, although they’re the right types. Thulsa Doom is from Howard’s Kull of Atlantis tales (set before Conan’s Hyborian Age), Valeria a composite of sorts, and Subotai an original creation named after Genghis Khan’s general. Conan’s line about crushing your enemies is a paraphrase of a Genghis Khan quote as well. Conan sets out for Doom’s tower on his own, and is crucified, because apparently he’s Jesus now. Obviously Jesus isn’t the only person who was crucified, but it still seems like a connection people are going to make. The barbarian bites a vulture’s neck while hanging on a tree, and earlier punches out a camel for no apparent reason. Whatever Conan may be, he’s not a champion for animal rights. Anyway, Subotai saves our hero, and a wizard brings him back to life, which eventually ends up costing Valeria her own. It ends with Conan killing Doom and burning down his tower, then a sequel hook. I thought it was pretty entertaining, campy but in a way that worked. I mean, it was based on a pulp character.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – While I’m the right age to have seen the Indiana Jones movies as a kid, I didn’t; it wasn’t until my adulthood that I saw the original three. I enjoyed them, but I don’t have the same nostalgia for the series that many people my age do. I’d heard mostly bad things about this much later sequel, but I didn’t really think it was that different from the first three in a lot of respects. Back when it came out, everyone talked about how ridiculous it was that Indy survived a nuclear test by hiding inside a lead-lined refrigerator, but isn’t this the same franchise where three people survive falling out of a plane because they have a rubber raft? Sure, it’s very silly, but I don’t think they were going for realism. There are also such amusing absurdities in this one as Indy helping a student while riding a motorcycle through the library, and a swordfight on top of moving cars. Set in 1957, this one has Indy finding out about a plot by the Russians involving a crystal skull from Peru that has magical properties. Crystal skulls are real, but all the ones that have been tested have been revealed as hoaxes, being made in Europe in the twentieth century rather than being genuine ancient Mesoamerican artifacts. In the film, however, it turns out to belong to a super-intelligent alien whose people brought knowledge to the natives. There’s an unfortunate connection with racism in ancient alien conspiracies, so maybe it wasn’t the best plot device in that respect, but it definitely fits the pulp feel. Since it’s now the fifties instead of the thirties, the bad guys are Russians instead of Nazis, led by a persistent and near-invulnerable Cate Blanchett with a cheesy accent. That said, it does also parody the American side during the Cold War, with people thinking Indy might be a communist because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a few other such references. Indy travels with a young man whom he later finds out is his son with Marion from the first movie, who also returns.

Posted in African, Celtic, Cold War, Conspiracy Theories, Egyptian, History, Humor, Magic, Music, Mythology, Names, Philosophy, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Supernatural How Spaced Out We Can Be

They Might Be Giants, BOOK – This album was originally supposed to be finished in 2020, but since Coronavirus got in the way of just about everything, it was delayed until late this year. I really hadn’t had the time recently to properly devote to listening to it, which is why this review is so long after the release. The album is accompanied by, you guessed it, a physical book. Well, you can get it without, and even in such largely obsolete formats as cassette and eight-track. But Beth has a fan club subscription, so she got the book, and her name is in the special thanks section.

The volume itself is an oversized hardback that very much fits with the band’s avant-garde art background. It’s mostly lyrics, from both this album and the last few, typed out on an IBM Selectric, often in unusual patterns. They overlap each other, get partially cut off, and form shapes. “Dog,” for instance, is in the shape of…well, you can probably guess, but most of them aren’t that literal They’re accompanied by Brian Karlsson’s photographs of odd things he came across. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the individual songs:

Synopsis for Latecomers – We start things out with a march song that’s kind of a play on announcements telling people not to panic in a way that just makes things sound even worse than people thought. It’s definitely inspired by recent events, but not something that I think will be dated; there will always be badly handled responses to emergency situations. The lyrics are pretty funny, and include a reference to the container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal. “Who ate the babies?” seems like something one of the Johns would improvise, sort of like “Let’s get those missiles ready to destroy the universe!”

Moonbeam Rays – Okay, the first song starts with “for everyone who only just arrived,” and this one begins with, “By the time you read this, it will be too late.” I kind of like the idea of songs suggesting something was going on before they started. They also both with non-words. I like this one, but I don’t have much else to say about it. John Flansburgh does a rather high lead vocal.

I Broke My Own Rule – This one is catchy, and makes good use of echoing vocals and repeated lyrics. It’s a fairly typical John Linnell song in many ways, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

Brontosaurus – I see I’m not alone in wondering if the part about being skinny at both ends and thick in the middle is a Monty Python reference. I also have to suspect the name has something to do with how there was some controversy with the name “brontosaurus”; when I was younger, the preferred name was “apatosaurus” due to some kind of confusion over skeleton assembly, but now it’s again accepted as a separate genus. It also seems to be about the fleeting nature of fame in the entertainment industry.

Lord Snowdon – This has been confirmed as being about an actual person, Princess Margaret’s husband, the First Earl of Snowdon. It was inspired by a book about their relationship, and how he saw her world as an outsider. It has a very prominent Hammond organ part that kind of sounds like “West Virginia.”

If Day for Winnipeg – The title sounds like a Dr. Seuss book, but it’s based on a 1942 military exercise that simulated a Nazi invasion. It’s basically about living in fear. The music is all electronic, with a lot of weird bells and such, kind of dark circus music, which Linnell came up with for Flansburgh to use.

I Can’t Remember the Dream – A very catchy song that starts with a riff kind of reminiscent of “Louie Louie,” but with the gated effect of “Ana Ng.” The lyric is one I can identify with in a fairly literal fashion, wanting to recall the details of dreams that I only remember as pleasant.

Drown the Clown – Another organ-based song, this one about a guy who really wants to play the titular drinking game, only to be constantly interrupted by an emergency news broadcast and other things. This was a late addition to the album, so the words aren’t in the accompanying book.

Darling, the Dose – The lyrics refer to people, both real and fictional, who were poisoned: Hamlet’s father (also referenced in “Stomp Box”), Vicktor Yuschenko, Rasputin, Socrates, and Hercules. Aside from that, it appears to be about people staying in a relationship for a bad reason. Musically, it has a lounge feel.

I Lost Thursday – This was a collaboration during the pandemic (which is actually still going on, but people aren’t able to stay home most of the time anymore), with Linnell writing a bassline and sending it to Flansburgh, who wrote a song on top of it. There’s a fuzzy kind of sound to it that Flans has compared to Lincoln. It’s about losing touch with time, which could probably just be related to getting older, but the Johns were writing songs about similar subjects when they were in their twenties. There’s a psychedelic bit, “It’s supernatural how spaced out we can be,” that contrasts a bit with the rest of the song. I can’t help but think of Arthur Dent saying he could never get the hang of Thursdays, but that’s just me. It’s worth noting that the book replaces every instance of the a word “Thursday” (even in the title) with a blank.

Part of You Wants to Believe Me – A song with a lot of double negatives and convoluted sentences that are difficult to decipher. It sounds similar to “I Can’t Remember the Dream,” but with more of a calypso background, with bongo drums.

Super Cool – The title works with the vibe of the song, which is another lounge kind of thing. But then, as it’s an old-fashioned sort of coolness, there’s some irony to it as well. I like the instrumental break. Lyrically, I’m not sure there’s much more to it other than a shy dude being able to relax while dancing.

Wait Actually Yeah No – This is basically a collection of false starts, like the narrator keeps losing his train of thought. There’s sort of a similarity to “Stuff Is Way,” although it’s not grammatically mixed up so much as it just brings up and drops various ideas. It’s also more relaxed musically. The trumpet part is enjoyable.

Quit the Circus – The title makes me think of Cracker’s “I Want Out of the Circus,” although that one sounded more like circus music. There’s a general theme of uselessness, and perhaps there’s a link to how “Brontosaurus” mentions joining the circus. I particularly like the line “Scarecrows only work in the light.” It’s kind of weird that there are three slower, more relaxed songs in a row. I would have thought they’d have wanted to mix it up a little more, but what do I know about organizing albums?

Less Than One – Okay, this one is a little more upbeat. I guess they could have used this title for a song on “Here Come the 123s.” There are a lot of contradictions and mathematical absurdities, like, “I bought half of a timeshare. Half of me will be staying there.” The lyrics in the book cut off the beginnings of the lines.

The Pamphlet EP – Actually released a month before BOOK, it has songs that were recorded during and after the sessions of the album. The first two have their lyrics included in the book. It looks like they went with a cover inspired by the Beatles’ white album.

Helicopters of Elves – This seems like a play on conspiracy theories and UFO sightings, and how such rumors spread around with no real evidence. The background music gives sort of a creepy lullaby sound. The fact that the invaders are elves from the Land of Nod adds to the childish atmosphere, but then, elves in mythology and folklore often are dangerous tricksters. I suspect these aren’t the same helicopters the hippos are hopping from.

Buckle Down, Winsocki – A cover of a song by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane from the 1941 musical Best Foot Forward, which takes place at the fictional Winsocki Military Academy. It’s a football fight song, which seems a little unusual for TMBG, although Linnell has said his “Michigan” has that sort of song. What is typical for them is covering a song from an old musical, especially since it was also used for political campaigns. The stripped-down arrangement harkens back somewhat to the band’s early covers of Rodgers and Hart numbers.

There Will Be Sad – There’s something fairly modern to the title. It’s hard to explain, but social media tend to have a lot of mixing up of parts of speech, hence “sad” used as a noun instead of just going with “sadness.” It’s a short song with some clever metaphors.

Fortnight – This last one is only a little over a minute long. None of the songs on BOOK are under two minutes, which could be why this and the last one are on the EP instead. It’s a bluesy kind of song with a stream-of-consciousness sort of narrative. The singer is incredulous at the person he’s talking to using the word from the title (hey, maybe they were talking about the video game), then criticizing his own expressions.

Posted in Albums, Art, Authors, Book Reviews, Conspiracy Theories, Current Events, Dreams, Games, Health, History, Humor, Language, Mathematics, Monty Python, Music, Mythology, Politics, Relationships, They Might Be Giants, William Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As the Hours and the Days and the Weeks and the Months and the Years Go By

With this year soon coming to an end, I was thinking about whether there’s any connection between the number of days in a year and degrees in a circle, and apparently there is. Of course, a modern year doesn’t have exactly 360 days, but it’s close, and the ancient Babylonians seem to have sometimes used a year of that length.

From what I’ve seen, the astrologer-priests originally set up a lunar calendar, with each month starting when a crescent moon could be spotted low in the sky. Each lunar cycle could be divided into four weeks of seven days, which they named after the visible planets, including the Sun and Moon, those in turn being associated with specific gods.

A year was divided into twelve months, which was about equal to the time it took for the Earth to revolve around the Sun, although of course they didn’t see it that way back then. But the lunar calendar gradually deviated from the relative position of the Sun, so the solution was to add an extra month every few years.

These extra months were likely assigned somewhat arbitrarily at first, but gradually worked out to seven times in every nineteen years, which the Jewish and Chinese calendars still use today. But there was apparently also another calendar in use by the Babylonians at some point in time with twelve thirty-day months, with the resulting 360-day year being essentially an average between the 355-day lunar year and the 365-day solar one. The sky was hence divided into 360 equal parts, and that’s why we still use 360 degrees for a circle, with the fact that it’s divisible by so many single-digit numbers being an added bonus. Or maybe that was the intention all along. The Babylonians had a number system based on sixty, and that’s probably also related to minutes and seconds. I believe the Egyptians came up with the twenty-four-hour day, starting with twelve divisions in the daytime and adding twelve at night. This presumably meant the length of an hour could vary depending on the time of year, apparently still the case in some timekeeping systems, but they were eventually standardized somewhere along the line. The Egyptians also used a 360-day calendar that later added five more days, outside of any of the thirty-day months, to bring it in line with the solar year. There was a myth to explain the change, in which Thoth gambled with the moon god Khonsu in order to extend the year.

I’ve seen it suggested that Enoch‘s earthly lifespan of 365 years in Genesis might have been linked to the solar year, but no one really knows at this point.

The Jewish calendar borrowed heavily from the Babylonian, including marking months with crescent moons, the leap months, and the names of the months. That isn’t the case with the name of the days of the week, which were just numbered in Hebrew. The concept of the Sabbath might also come from the Babylonian calendar, although that’s not as certain. I suppose even a purely lunar calendar must have some solar influence, because otherwise why twelve months instead of any other number? It probably had to do with the seasons, and hence when you could grow and harvest certain crops. The Chinese calendar has a leap month in seven years of every nineteen, which I think is . The Islamic, or Hijri, calendar deviates somewhat from this, as it lacks the leap months (although it does have a leap day every three years), and the beginnings of some months require an actual sighting of the new moon even if you can accurately calculate when it will be there. As such, while Jewish holidays don’t have a fixed place in the Gregorian calendar, they don’t vary quite as much as Islamic holidays. From what I’ve read, this calendar is pretty much entirely for religious observances, with the Gregorian in use for other purposes in predominantly Muslim countries.

The days of the week being named after planets and gods, which was started by the Babylonians, is pretty common; Romance languages tend to use the Roman names, while English uses the Norse ones…except for Saturday. We also have Easter instead of Paschal, and Yule has become basically synonymous with Christmas. I thought it was an interesting connection that Saturday is the last day of the week, Saturnalia was celebrated near the end of the year, and the image of the old year at New Year’s celebrations is based on Saturn. I suspect this is largely coincidental, partially due to how Saturn was identified with Kronos, who does not seem to have been initially associated with time, but came to be due to the similarity between “Kronos” and “Chronos.” It does fit a god whose role in the myths we have is mostly destructive.

The idea of the year being represented by a person is kind of sad to me, because it means the poor guy only lives that long, unless it’s the same dude being reborn over and over.

I’ve seen Baby New Year tied to an ancient Greek festival where a baby was used to symbolize Dionysus, but the modern concept really comes from editorial cartoons starting in the nineteenth century.

I remember learning that Nostradamus, who was from a Jewish family that converted to Christianity, used the term saturnin to refer to the Jewish people, as the Sabbath is on Saturday and this led astrologers to link the religion to the planet. For a deposed god, Saturn really gets around.

Posted in African, Astronomy, Babylonian, Christmas, Easter, Egyptian, Greek Mythology, History, Holidays, Islam, Judaism, Mathematics, Mesopotamia, Mythology, New Year's Day, Norse, Religion, Roman, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Get Off Your Ass

This might well be my last book review post of the year. I got an overview of the books I read in 2021 on Goodreads a few weeks ago, but I have no idea why they didn’t save it until the actual end of the year. Am I not supposed to finish anything this month? I don’t know how many people actually read these posts; I guess it wouldn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve also read at least one of the relevant books. I like having them for my own records anyway, but readers are always nice.

The Golden Ass, by Apuleius, translated by Ellen D. Finkelpearl, edited and abridged by Peter Singer – The only surviving ancient Roman novel, written in the second century by a philosopher of African descent, is about a guy named Lucius who’s fascinated with magic. While on a visit to Thessaly, he has an affair with a servant to his aunt, who’s a witch. The girl tries to turn him into a bird, but changes him to a donkey instead, telling him that roses would cure his condition. He’s captured by robbers and abused by a sadistic boy before coming into a more comfortable role as a performing animal. Finally, he prays to the goddess Isis, who tells him where he can find the roses to break the transformation, and he becomes a devotee of hers. The version I read cuts out a lot of the unrelated stories worked into the text, including that of Cupid and Psyche, which I’ve read elsewhere. This tendency wasn’t just limited to the time, as I recall Don Quixote including a totally unrelated story that I skipped over when I read the book. Cervantes is known to have been influenced by Apuleius, as were the donkey transformations in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. The Shaggy Man receives a donkey’s head in The Road to Oz, probably more of a reference to Shakespeare than directly to Apuleius, but who knows? The editor of this edition made a point of showcasing the poor treatment Lucius suffered while in donkey form, showing sympathy for the plight of animals.

The Winter Long, by Seanan McGuire – Simon Torquill, the man who turned October Daye into a fish, is back in this eighth book in the series. He claims he wants to help her, and she finds out that he was married to her mother. Toby also learns that Evening Winterrose, whose murder she investigated back in Rosemary and Rue, is still alive, and was the mastermind behind several events in her life. There are a lot of complications between characters in these books, with new relationship details being constantly revealed, and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all. I guess that’s the advantage to reading in a time when I can look these things up on the Internet.

The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities – Edited by Rick Riordan, who also wrote the last tale in the collection, with the rest being short stories that tie in to the various mythology-based Rick Riordan Presents series. Since they’re all by different writers, I might as well say a bit about each one. Carlos Hernandez’ “Calamity Juice” sees Sal Vidon and Gabi Real shifting between universes, encountering unicorns and alternate versions of themselves, as well finally making peace with the chicken processing plant Sal keeps stumbling upon. There are a few cameo appearances by characters from other RRP series. In Roshani Chokshi’s “Beware the Grove of True Love,” Aru Shah and her fellow Pandavas are forced by the apsara Urvashi to learn the importance and dangers of love, tying in with the myth of Dushyanti and Shakuntala. The Pandavas are trapped inside a book for part of the tale. J.C. Cervantes’ “The Cave of Doom” has Zane Obispo and Brooks investigating some nightmarish monsters on a nearby island, and finding out that there might be something to their friend Ren’s ideas about ancient aliens. Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Initiation” is about Kim Mun and her ghost brother Jun taking a training course at a school for secret agents, with magic turning some of the students to their animal forms. Kwame Mbalia’s “The Gum Baby Files” takes place in Tristan Strong’s universe, but he never actually appears. Instead, it focuses on Gum Baby, who’s perhaps the most memorable character in that series anyway. She finds herself at an exhibition hall in Mississippi, where she meets Erzulie and helps to prevent a ghostly being from making people forget important historical figures. Rebecca Roanhorse’s “The Demon Drum” is about Nizhoni and the Ancestor Club fighting an evil drum at the All-Nations Assembly. In Tehlor Kay Mejia’s “Bruto and the Freaky Flower,” Paola Santiago and her friend Dante have to find a particular flower to cure her pet chupacabra from a strange ailment. It takes place before the events of Forest of Nightmares. “The Loneliest Demon,” by Sarwat Chadda, involves the minor demon Rabisu, who is in charge of deformities, showing up at Sikander Aziz’ family’s deli and befriending her former enemies and helping to fight the Anunna. There’s also more information on what Gilgamesh had been doing during the twentieth century. Graci Kim’s “My Night at the Gifted Carnival” occurs before The Last Fallen Star, and provides the title for the book (although I guess the powwow in the Roanhorse story is similar to a carnival). It has Riley helping some witches at the carnival to fight the Dalgyal Gwisin, a Korean egg ghost, who’s stolen a magical gavel from a judge of the dead. Finally, Riordan’s “My Life as a Child Outlaw” is his first foray into Irish mythology, but instead of his usual technique of bringing mythical beings into the modern world, it actually takes place in ancient Ireland and tells the tragic backstory of the hero Fionn mac Cumhaill. It’s definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of the RRP books.

Posted in African, Animals, Authors, Babylonian, Book Reviews, Celtic, Characters, Conspiracy Theories, Egyptian, Hinduism, Korean, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Mayan, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Navajo, october daye, Oz, Oz Authors, Philosophy, Relationships, Religion, Rick Riordan, Roman, seanan mcguire, Semitic, Voodoo, William Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have Your Elf a Merry Little Christmas

We watched a few Christmas-related things this month, and I wasn’t necessarily planning to post about them all at once, but that’s kind of how it worked out. There were some things for which I don’t necessarily have a full review, but I still want to mention. Beth likes to watch old variety show episodes, so we saw Donny and Marie, the Captain and Tennille, and Liberace. These are pretty fascinating because you don’t really see that much like them anymore. They would sing songs, do skits, and have guest stars, and while I’m sure there was a reason they chose the particular guests, they don’t actually mention this on the show. It seems like now, when celebrities make the media rounds, it’s because they have something specific to promote. The Captain and Tennille had Don Knotts and Tom Bosley as guests. Anyway, here are thoughts on some other stuff we watched:

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together – This is the special that originated the version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” where Fozzie keeps missing his line, and Miss Piggy sings “BA DUM BUM BUM” after the part about the five gold rings. In fact, that’s the beginning of the special. What I particularly noticed is how subdued this is. Sure, there were still the usual puns and backstage arguments commonly associated with the Muppets, but the songs tended to be slow and mellow, which I suppose is to be expected from Denver. There’s a fair amount of Lew Zealand in this one, and he’s overly weird even for a Muppet.

March of the Wooden Soldiers – Originally released as Babes in Toyland but often called by this alternate title, perhaps to distinguish it from other film adaptations of Babes. Of course, this was the first one, starring Laurel and Hardy. We watched it on YouTube, so it wasn’t the best quality. The comic duo is worked into the story as Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee, boarders at Mother Peep’s shoe who work at the local toy factory. I’ve been thinking a bit recently about movies that focus on the comic relief characters, and this is certainly an example. Laurel and Hardy are the stars, the ones we see events through, and ultimately the heroes who save the day; but they’re not central to the story, which is more about Barnaby’s devious attempts to marry Bo Peep, threatening to foreclose on the marriage on the shoe if she doesn’t. She’s in love with Tom-Tom the Piper’s Son, who’s dashing and sings most of the songs, but he doesn’t actually do a whole lot. Ollie and Stan are fired from their jobs when the Toymaker finds out that Stan misinterpreted an order from Santa Claus for 600 wooden soldiers one foot high, instead producing one hundred soldiers six feet high. In true Chekhov’s Gun fashion, this does pay off later on, as does Stan’s skill at playing Peewee, a game involving hitting blocks with a stick. The Boogeymen, who live in a wild country outside Toyland, are also built up before they actually appear. The marriage is prevented when Stan dresses up as Bo Peep and Ollie tears up the mortgage. So Barnaby frames Tom by kidnapping one of the Three Little Pigs and planting sausages at Tom’s house. When Ollie finds out that the sausages are actually beef, he and Stan rescue the pig and chase Barnaby to Boogeyland, where he leads the Boogeymen in an attack on Toyland. but Stan and Ollie repel them with darts and the giant soldiers. It ends with one last slapstick bit where Stan accidentally flips a toy cannon around, firing a bunch of darts into Ollie’s butt. Worthy of mention is that, while this is not a Disney film, Disney did give permission to use their versions of the Three Little Pigs (although they have different names) and the music to “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”, and there’s a monkey dressed as Mickey Mouse.

The Nutcracker (1993) – This is the one where Macaulay Culkin stars as the Nutcracker and his human counterpart, Drosselmeyer’s nephew. He’s in the background for most of it, but I guess that’s pretty much how it has to work in a ballet, because the focus is on the other dancers. Beth was somewhat incredulous at the flying bed, which is apparently part of the George Ballanchine choreography. Susan Cooper, author of The Dark Is Rising, wrote the narration in between scenes. I saw a Bolshoi performance of the ballet at the the movies about a week ago, and it had a more significant part for the Prince, and a flying boat instead of the bed. I read the original Nutcracker story some years ago, but it wasn’t the translation Jay Davis, who’s written a bunch of reviews of different adaptations, recommends. I’ll have to try to get that one from the library next year.

Jingle Bell Rocks! – This 2013 documentary interviews some collectors of weird, obscure Christmas music. It’s not all intentionally funny stuff, although some is and Dr. Demento appears. One song that receives a lot of attention is “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot,” as performed by Nat King Cole. Also covered are some songs by the Free Design, a sixties number about Santa arriving on a nuclear missile, El Vez’s “Santa Claus Is Sometimes Brown” (a play on Elvis’ “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”), and Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa.” The latter provided the hook for Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” also a significant focus, even though it’s hardly obscure. John Waters talks about his collection of strange Christmas songs, particularly “Fat Daddy Claus” by a local Baltimore DJ, and “Santa Claus Is a Black Man.” And the Flaming Lips talk about creating a Christmas film that Wayne Coyne’s mom thought she saw when he was a kid, but was probably misremembering. Really, the subject is so broad that I don’t know that the film does it full justice, but it’s definitely entertaining.

Santa Claus: The Movie – I remember seeing this as a kid, and I actually remembered a fair amount about it, if not all in the right order. It was a commercial flop, and Beth said that using that title was really making it seem authoritative. It’s probably a reference to Superman: The Movie, on which producer Ilya Salkind also worked. Well, they’re both do-gooders who travel through the air, wear red, and have a place at the North Pole.

Santa Claus is sort of two movies, the first telling the origins of Santa and his experience over the centuries, and the second with the actual conflict. The first one is the more successful, a little slow, but with a good sense of whimsy and a cozy depiction of the workshop.

The toymaker Claus and his wife are caught out in the snow with their reindeer-drawn sled and almost freeze to death, only to be rescued by elves who deem that the answer to their prophecy of a person who would deliver all the toys they make. In the second part, set in the modern day for when the movie was made, an elf named Patch tries to automate the workshop. He’s played by Dudley Moore, and has a recurring gag of using “elf” in place of “self.” When the toys he makes start falling apart, he leaves the Pole in embarrassment, and teams up with a disgraced toy executive played in a hammy manner by John Lithgow.

Patch’s plan is to come up with something that will impress Santa, candy containing some of the stardust that makes the reindeer fly, thereby allowing people to float in the air. Meanwhile, Santa befriends a homeless boy and a rich but lonely girl in New York City, the latter of whom just happens to be the executive’s niece. When it turns out that the flight formula will explode if it overheats, Santa and the kids have a chase scene to stop Patch from blowing himself up. The executive, meanwhile, tries to make an escape from the law by eating the magic candy, which causes him to float off into space, a rather Roald Dahl sort of punishment. This part seems a little rushed, not really bad but kind of going through the motions.

Olive, the Other Reindeer – This 1999 special, produced by Matt Groening, was based on a picture book by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh. Seibold did some artwork for They Might Be Giants, including the “Istanbul” video, and John Linnell sang a song for Olive, credited as Johnny Hart in a likely reference to Johnny Marks, who wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” This song isn’t in the special, even though several other songs are. I did look through the book before, but that was years ago. The special has the same basic story, that of a dog named Olive who mishears “all of the other reindeer” and thinks she might be a reindeer, so she travels to the North Pole and helps Santa out on his annual trip with her canine abilities. The art style is based on Seibold’s, which includes sometimes showing a character in profile with both eyes, like Picasso or Peppa Pig.

Drew Barrymore voices Olive, who here is accompanied by Martini, a penguin who sells counterfeit watches, and is voiced by the guy who would later play Ralph in The Sopranos. Dan Castellaneta provides the voice for the villain, a postman who wants Christmas to be canceled because he hates delivering the extra mail. The theme of misheard words continues with characters named Richard Stands and Round John Virgin, and Michael Stipe appears as Blitzen’s cousin Schnitzel. This feature presents a strange world where people and animals have no problem talking to each other, nobody doubts Santa’s existence, and the North Pole is accessible by bus. I’m reminded of how the only reason Frosty the Snowman can’t just take a train to the North Pole is that he and the kids can’t afford the ticket, not because it isn’t feasible to build tracks over the Arctic Ocean. It somehow works, though. And there are a lot of absurd jokes and references, like Olive escaping from a mail truck with help from a file in a package from Deus Ex Machina, a sign a bus passes showing that it’s going through Frostbite Falls from Rocky and Bullwinkle, a bar sign ordering that icicles have to be left at the door, Santa visiting Godzilla and Ultraman in Tokyo, and the Pope getting a Phillies cap for Christmas.

And Drew named her daughter Olive, possibly after this special.

The Small One – I don’t think I’d seen this animated short before, but I think one of my siblings had a book version of it when we were kids. Originally shown with a reissue of Pinocchio in 1978, it was directed by Don Bluth, and you can definitely see his signature style in it. A boy, voiced by Sean Marshall, the kid who played Pete in Pete’s Dragon, takes care of his father’s donkey, Small One, who has gotten old and weak. The donkey’s brays are provided by Clarence Nash, the original Donald Duck. The boy takes Small One to the marketplace, but no one is interested in buying, and most of the people just laugh at them. Practically everyone in this short is really nasty. The happy ending comes when Joseph buys Small One to take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. It came out the year after Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, which is also about the donkey who took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, so it must have been a popular idea around that time.

Duck the Halls: A MIckey Mouse Christmas Special – This is one of the newer Mickey shorts that I guess aren’t really that new at this point, but I’m not that familiar with them. They have a zany animation style and a lot of obscure references to earlier cartoons.

In this one, Donald has never experienced Christmas because he and the other ducks always migrate south for the winter. Yeah, I know there are a bunch of media with Donald celebrating Christmas, including the introduction of Scrooge McDuck, but I don’t think these shorts are really concerned with continuity. Scrooge appears in this one, as do Ludwig von Drake and Gus Goose, who here sounds like Frank Nelson. There’s also a rather disturbing Santa.

Honestly, I’ve been meaning to check out this series, but I say that about a lot of things.

Ziggy’s Gift – This is a weird special from 1982, and I’ll admit that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. The Ziggy comic strip is one I remember reading as a kid, but when I think back on it now, I mostly remember the made-up punchlines they mentioned on The Simpsons and Seinfeld. I think it was absurd humor, but rather mundanely absurd, so it’s no surprise that creator Tom Wilson (not the one who played Biff in Back to the Future) worked for American Greetings. Regardless, it’s mostly just brief observations, so a half-hour special doesn’t really work. What plot there is involves Ziggy getting a job as a bell-ringing Santa for a charity he doesn’t realize is fake, and being hassled by an Irish cop and a crooked Santa who steals a bunch of stuff but eventually reforms. Ziggy never talks in the cartoon.

Sonic Christmas Blast – I used to watch Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog when I was in high school, and I later saw most of the Saturday morning Sonic cartoon as well, but I hadn’t previously seen this. I actually became aware of it because the lead-up to the latest Kevin Geeks Out show included a clip from it. It mostly fits in with the Adventures continuity, as Dr. Robotnik is voiced by Long John Baldry, his main henchmen are Scratch and Grounder, and the it has the wacky, nonsensical gags typical of that show. On the other hand, Princess Sally from the Saturday show is in it, except she doesn’t have any lines and has the model from that show’s pilot rather than the one they settled on.

There’s also an elf who’s in several scenes, but doesn’t talk and barely even moves. Most of the background characters are weird-looking humans instead of anthropomorphic animals, which wasn’t that common for either cartoon show. Robotnik captures the real Santa and makes a robotic duplicate who claims he’s retiring and Robotnik is taking his place.

Robotnik Claus then insists that everybody give HIM presents, and he forces anyone who doesn’t to work at his factory. Sonic and Tails save Santa, and the cave where he was imprisoned turns out to have a hieroglyph showing a way for the hedgehog to run even faster than usual, so he can get all the presents back and distribute them in hardly any time. For some reason, he has to snowboard and ride a bike on a narrow ledge in order to obtain this power. It ends with Santa naming Sonic as his replacement. While I won’t say this was particularly good, it was kind of nostalgic to see these versions of the characters again.

Posted in Animals, Art, Cartoons, Celebrities, Christianity, Christmas, Comics, elvis presley, Fairy Tales, Holidays, Humor, Magic, Muppets, Music, Nursery Rhymes, Religion, Sonic the Hedgehog, Technology, Television, They Might Be Giants, Toys, Video Games, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’ll Have That Tinsel Tangle Tied Around My Brain

The Puppini Sisters, Dear Santa, I Can Explain –  The close harmony group’s newest project is a four-song Christmas EP, with everything either written or co-written by Marcella Puppini. It’s actually her birthday today, and I thought mine in mid-November was uncomfortably close to Christmas. I contributed to the funding, so I have an autographed copy of the cover with the group in exaggerated pin-up style. As for the individual tracks, “Jingle Jangle” is an upbeat song with a lot of synthesizer and saxophone, and entertaining lyrics like, “I don’t give a stocking if there’s no gift for me” and “I have a bauble bangle beating in my heart.” The titular song is a slow blues-style one, co-written by Rachel Walker Mason and inspired by Aretha Franklin, with lyrics about the potentially naughty things the Sisters did over the course of the year, including murdering a song and stealing the limelight. “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S” is a list song focusing on English traditions, including the Queen’s address, paper crowns, and specific candies and drinks. Instrumentally speaking, there are both trumpets and saxophones on this one. Finally, “‘Twas the Night” is a rough paraphrase of A Visit from St. Nicholas to the tune of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker, with a swing beat to it. This is a pretty short review, but I’m going to post it anyway, since Christmas will be here in a few days and I still have some other media I want to write about before that.

Posted in Christmas, Food, Holidays, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment