Everybody Gets a Crown

Someone recently asked me whether Betsy Bobbin and Trot were ever made princesses within the Oz series. L. Frank Baum never gives them this title, and neither does Ruth Plumly Thompson in her earlier books, but she does in later ones with no in-text explanation. As far as I can recall, the first mention of such is in The Wishing Horse of Oz: “No wonder Dorothy, Trot, and Bettsy [sic] Bobbin, the little mortals who lived in the great palace and were Princesses in their own right, were too busy to think of their titles or bother with their crowns.” In Handy Mandy, Dorothy, Betsy, and Trot are all wearing “golden circlets” while playing croquet. In Giant Horse, when King Cheeriobed makes Trot a Princess of the Munchkins, the Scarecrow says, “That makes Trot twice a princess,” but it’s not totally clear what he means. My interpretation is that he’s referring to how, in the previous paragraph, Cheeriobed and Prince Philador independently arrive at the idea of making Trot a princess. Earlier in the book, Trot explains to Benny how she became Queen of Sky Island, due to a technical interpretation of a law in the Pink Country and her subsequent conquest of the Blue Country. She has no claim on the Fog Bank that separates the two countries, however. Betsy does not have any prior royal titles, as she’s more of a passive character in her adventures, although Evered of Rash does offer to let her and Ozma take turns being Queen of Rash. It’s in the 1927 Ozmapolitan, used to advertise Gnome King, that we’re told “plans are underway for making Betsy and Trot Princesses of Oz, so that they will have equal rank with Dorothy and be able to wear crowns at all the Court parties.” Royals in the Oz series wear crowns pretty much constantly, sometimes at seemingly impossible angles, at least according to the illustrations.

There might well be some kind of magic involved, although it apparently didn’t stop the crown of Oz from giving the Scarecrow a headache in Land. In David Hulan’s “A Princess of Oz,” Ozma says, “Trot, there are those who have called you a princess out of courtesy, because I made Dorothy a princess long ago when she and Billina rescued us from the Nome King the first time, and you and Dorothy are such good friends.” She then makes Trot an official Princess of Oz as a reward for saving the Emerald City from the Delves. I don’t know of any specific indication as to when this story takes place, although it presumably has to be after Handy Mandy due to a mention of Wutz being transformed. In my own “Betsy Bobbin in Yartralia,” I identified Betsy as an honorary princess.

Ozma makes Dorothy a Princess of Oz after the events of Ozma of Oz, but she’s a national heroine, and Ozma takes a personal shine to her. Oddly, one of the chapters of Emerald City is called “How Dorothy Became a Princess” even though she’d already been one for several books.

Since she moves to Oz for good, however, I suppose it becomes more of a functional position. In Gnome King, Peter Brown is made a Prince of Oz after he helps to save the kingdom from Ruggedo. Ozma also suggests that he could rule over one of the smaller kingdoms of Oz, but he declines the offer. At the end of Melody Grandy’s Tippetarius, Ozma makes Tip of Lostland (with whom she’d switched forms due to Mombi’s magic) a Prince of Oz, “third only to Dorothy and myself,” as well as “Ambassador Extraordinaire to all parts of Oz and beyond.” And Jenny Jump is made a Duchess in Wonder City.

Ozma is not the only one who grants royal titles to visitors from the Great Outside World. Queen Dolly makes Dot and Tot a Princess and Prince of Merryland.

John Dough becomes King of Hiland and Loland by fulfilling a prophecy.

Cap’n Bill’s brother Joe is elected king of Zog’s enchanted undersea castle after King Anko kills its old master. In Yellow Knight, the Kings of Corumbia and Corabia offer Speedy half of their kingdoms, and the end of Speedy suggests that he’ll eventually marry the Princess of Umbrella Island and become king of that place. Unless Umbrellian royalty is arranged differently from European, however, wouldn’t he actually be Prince Consort? He also spends a brief time as King of the Quix, although he leaves Quick City as speedily as he can.

Robin Brown’s reign over Roundabout isn’t all that much longer. Bucky Jones claimed kingship over the Nomes after scaring Kaliko into hiding and taking his crown, but I doubt that was ever official.

Posted in Characters, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Fast Those Queens Can Run!

Birth of the Chess Queen: A History, by Marilyn Yalom – The author links the development of the queen in the game of chess to events and personages in history. In the earliest Indian and Arabian sets, the piece next to the king was the vizier, and he could only move one space at a time. When this piece became the queen in Europe, it still had this limited movement. It was only later that she became the most powerful piece on the board, and Yalom suggests this might have had to do with the power of certain queens. While there isn’t much direct evidence for this influence, the author makes a pretty good case. With the additional abilities of the queen (and the bishop as well), games could be played much more quickly, and chess became more of a competitive sport than a leisurely activity. This actually led to it being viewed as more of a man’s game, whereas before games between men and women were common enough to feature in folklore, and playing chess was part of courtship. So, while the women came to dominate the board, there weren’t as many women moving the pieces. Not that there aren’t women who play competitive chess (the book mentions the Polgar Sisters), but we know that game competitions have become somewhat of a boys’ club. Some writers actually commented on how a pawn becoming a queen amounted to a sex change, as pawns were regarded as soldiers. Lewis Carroll avoided this, as Alice was not only a female pawn who became a queen, but she was taking the place of another female pawn, the White Queen’s daughter Lily. Apparently some older games only allowed for the promotion of a pawn if the original queen was out of play, but under modern rules there can technically be up to nine queens in the game, although I doubt that’s ever happened in normal gameplay. There were also pictures of chess pieces throughout the ages, including both representative ones and others that actually looked like people.

Posted in Authors, Board Games, Book Reviews, Chess, Games, History, Lewis Carroll | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Riddle Me This

When I first came across the term “riddles,” it was most likely referring to what you find in kids’ joke books, specifically puns or other simple jokes presented in question-and-answer format. You know, the “When is a door not a door?” variety. Later, with materials like Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx, and of course The Hobbit, I learned more about riddles that weren’t necessarily supposed to be funny (although sometimes they were), but were more about common items described in metaphors, often in rhyme.

The idea of having to solve a riddle in order to achieve a goal is an old one, as are many of the riddles themselves. What I have to wonder is how often anyone actually solved them without some sort of prior knowledge. For instance, if you go by the common supposition that “Humpty Dumpty” was originally a riddle, what indication does it really give you that it’s referring to an egg? Aren’t there many things that can’t be easily reassembled after falling off a wall? Was it common to place eggs on walls when the poem was written? The impression I get is that the main hint was that “Humpty Dumpty” was used to refer to a short and clumsy person, perhaps someone who looked somewhat like an egg. I’m sure many other riddles of this sort relied on cultural allusions that are now obsolete. Come to think of it, I haven’t really heard many people describe a slightly open door as “ajar” in my day-to-day life. J.R.R. Tolkien said he made up most the riddles that Bilbo Baggins and Gollum told each other, and some of them do seem to contain somewhat old-fashioned keywords, like a mountain having “roots” or the use of the word “champ” in the one about teeth. For the most part, though, I think they require that you think in the same manner as the riddle’s creator. I remember when the Riddler would show up on Batman: The Animated Series, and Batman would immediately solve all of his convoluted riddles. I know he’s the world’s greatest detective, but some of them were incredibly complicated in ways that pretty much required the solver to follow Nigma’s thought processes exactly.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Gollum probably would have eaten me. I like to think I’m pretty good with puns, though.

Along somewhat of the same lines are brainteasers of the Minute Mystery variety, which came to mind because Michael Showalter joked about them in his book. I remember hearing some of these in elementary school, but I don’t think I was ever good at guessing them. And really, how could anyone possibly figure out some of them? Like, okay, the one about the hanging man and the puddle of water is pretty easy, but is ANYONE going to come up with the elaborate story about the man committing suicide after eating albatross unless they’ve heard the puzzle before? Then there are the riddles that rely on misdirection, like asking whether a pound of feathers or a pound of steel weighs more, or how many eggs a rooster laid. The traditional answer to the St Ives rhyme, which dates back to around 1730, is also like this. Sesame Street provided the correct answer as to how many were going the other way: 2801.

I’m not sure why the sacks would count, though, unless they’re like the Bag O’ Laughs from Dragon Quest.

Another one I remember from my school days was, “A plane crashes between the United States and Canada. Where do you bury the survivors?” The official answer is that you don’t bury survivors, but maybe they were buried alive so they couldn’t reveal that the pilot crashed on purpose. Also, unless the plane explodes or something else that would necessitate immediate burial, wouldn’t the dead people be sent back to their families? In high school, I saw the puzzle about the three words ending in “-gry,” to which the answer varies depending on the exact wording, but it’s never actually a word ending in “-gry.” Feels like a bit of a cheat to me, but I get the impression that puzzles like these are specifically meant to make people who are good at logic puzzles and obscure trivia feel stupid because they overthink it. And I AM someone who likes logic puzzles and obscure trivia and often misses the obvious.

Posted in Authors, Beatrix Potter, Cartoons, Games, Greek Mythology, Humor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Language, Mythology, Nursery Rhymes, Poetry, Sesame Street, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Everybody Poops Genius Pieces

Little People, by Tom Holt – This fantasy story, rather less epic than many of Holt’s works, is narrated by a boy who sees elves in his garden. After being sent away to boarding school by his stepfather, he falls in love with a rather bitter girl, and is kidnapped and taken to Elfland. He learns that every human has an elf counterpart in this alternate world. While they’re normally human-sized, elves who venture into our world are shrunken down with electricity and forced into making shoes for the protagonist’s stepfather. Also, while they’re cheerful and peaceful while in the elf world, they become surly in ours, even when not performing slave labor. There’s plenty of Holt’s typical comic style, with unusual metaphors and such. It’s kind of a dark story, though, both in that the protagonist is forced to work in a sweat shop by his own stepdad, and in that he loses much of his life due to travel between worlds. Even though he does manage to save the elves, the ending is kind of a downer. One thing that kind of struck me is that the hero’s girlfriend’s elf counterpart is named Melissa, which is a weird name in her world. But Melissa WAS the name of a nymph in Greek mythology, and is a nymph that different from an elf?

The Flight to Oz, Book 1: Arrival, by J.W. Krych – The author of this book has commented on my blog a few times as of late, so I thought I should read this. It involves a military spaceship from the future traveling to Oz, where the crew helps Ozma and Glinda fight off creatures that are basically evil thoughts taken physical form. It develops the relationship of Ozma and Dorothy, and has Betsy Bobbin and Trot hook up with some of the newcomers. While they seem like nice enough guys, it does fall into the general trend of an author’s original characters getting together with established denizens of Oz when there doesn’t appear to be that much chemistry. Krych does do a good job of developing the characters of Ozma, Dorothy, Betsy, Trot, and the Glass Cat based on what we know from the original books, which is sometimes a bit contradictory. Betsy’s shyness, pretty much just an informed attribute in Baum, is here much more relevant to the story.

Mr. Funny Pants, by Michael Showalter – This book, by the comedian from The State and Stella, is all over the place, but it works. I’ve seen Showalter perform live, and his routines are a lot like that, switching topics pretty frequently. Indeed, parts of it are pretty much verbatim from live performances. There’s a mixture of autobiographical material (often with a self-deprecating tone), absurd observations, parody, wordplay, and commentary on writing the book itself. I found myself identifying with parts of the book, like Michael and his girlfriend constantly calling each other to see a funny thing the cat was doing, or his dreams about being lost in IKEA.

The Gods of Olympus: A History, by Barbara Graziosi – There are a lot of books about ancient Greek mythology and religion out there. The hook for this one is that it describes how people’s views on the Olympians developed over time. We don’t know exactly when the worship of these gods began, but there are mentions of some of them from as far back as the second millennium BC. Much of what we know about them comes from Homer and Hesiod, who wrote around the seventh or eighth century BC. These early accounts describe the gods as both forces of nature and characters with recognizable human traits, the main Olympians comprising a somewhat dysfunctional family. These gods spread throughout western Asia with the conquests of Alexander the Great, and then to Rome where they were pretty much borrowed wholesale. With the rise of Christianity, the Greek gods fell into disfavor, but over time time they made a resurgence in art, poetry, and allegory. Graziosi details different thoughts on the gods throughout history, including how philosophers often tended to criticize the anthropomorphism of divine beings, and Euripides’ plays that had characters from mythology question its accuracy. Euhemerus and his claims that the gods were deified humans became popular, as did the Christian notion that these deities were actually demons. There were a few bits that seemed to go against what I can recall learning elsewhere, like how Graziosi regards the Homer of Iliad and Odyssey fame as the author of the Homeric Hymns, and how the Jews are reported as regarding Alexander as being predicted in the Book of Daniel when textual analysis suggests this book was written after his time. It’s not like we know either of these things for sure, though.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Greek Mythology, Greek Philosophy, History, Humor, Mythology, Oz, Philosophy, Tom Holt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Baum vs. the Bible

When we discussed John R. Neill’s Lucky Bucky in Oz on the old Nonestica mailing list, J.L. Bell mentioned how Bucky recalled the story of Jonah and the Whale when riding inside Davy Jones. Biblical allusions are uncommon in the Oz books and related works, but there are a few others. L. Frank Baum’s The Sea Fairies has King Anko claim that Adam measured him when Cain was a baby. He also mentions Nebuchadnezzar, who is attested to in sources other than the Bible, but it’s the Book of Daniel that Trot is referencing when she says he ate grass.

Anko, in his vaudevillian manner, says that the king’s name was actually Nevercouldnever, but “this new way of spelling seems to get everything mixed up.” What’s interesting, and I don’t know whether Baum was aware of this, is that there actually WAS somewhat of a spelling change in the man’s name. According to Wikipedia, his Akkadian name was Nabû-kudurri-uṣur. Earlier Hebrew references called him Nebuchadrezzar, but the less accurate “Nebuchadnezzar” later became standard. Sea Fairies also has the singing barnacles mention Jonah’s whale, Goliath, and Samson in their nonsense lyrics. In Queen Zixi of Ix, the chief counselor Tullydub refers to King Bud as “another Solomon” when he makes a judgment similar to that of the Judean king with the baby, although the King of Noland actually turns out to be wrong. Mother Goose in Prose has “The Wond’rous Wise Man,” featuring a character named Solomon because his father thought he would turn out to be wise. He actually gives absurd answers to questions, but people think he’s wise anyway. The American Fairy Tale “The Laughing Hippopotamus” reports that a family of African hippos “boasted a pedigree dating back beyond the days of Noah.” In Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books, Princess Elma’s toys in Hungry Tiger include Noah’s Arks, and King Ato says in Captain Salt, “If we bring any more animals aboard we might as well set up an ark and be done with it,” so he’s presumably familiar with some version of the flood story. And in Policeman Bluejay, there’s a reference to the Garden of Eden, which is equated to the Paradise located in the middle of a forest.

It is inhabited only by Birds of Paradise, although bees and butterflies live in the suburbs. An owl says of it, “There is a legend that man once lived there, but for some unknown crime was driven away. But the birds have always been allowed to inhabit the place because they did no harm.” While most birds aren’t allowed in, Twinkle and Chubbins visit while in the form of birds with human faces.

Baum never directly tied the Twinkle Tales with Oz, although he did suggest marketing Policeman Bluejay as “An Oz Tale.”

Although raised Methodist, Baum was known to have some issues with Christianity. He was influenced by his mother-in-law, who saw the church as a major contributor to the oppression of women. Baum and his wife joined the Theosophical Society, an organization that had some universalist tendencies in saying there’s some truth to all religions, but you can seek truth without actually following a specific faith. Theosophy also contained some occult elements, and we see hints of those in Baum’s books. I’ve often seen a quote from an 1890 editorial in The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer: “The absurd and legendary devil is the enigma of the Church.” I don’t know the context or exactly what it means, whether he objected to, say, fire-and-brimstone sermons, or to a being who personified evil. When Baum was a member of a California men’s club called The Uplifters, he wrote a play called The Uplift of Lucifer. While the entire text apparently survives, all I could find of it online was this excerpt from the end, in which a fictional member of the club convinces the Devil to give up his job, as there is already enough evil on Earth without Hell being in play. Certainly, the idea that humanity creates evil itself instead of it being the product of supernatural forces is one that has some religious and philosophical support. And in “The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie,” the title character’s teacher outright dismisses the idea that witches sell their souls to Satan. While such references show up from time to time in Baum’s fantasies, they generally don’t make it into Oz itself.

Even immigrants from the Great Outside World don’t talk a whole lot about it, although Uncle Henry mentions his Sunday clothes in Emerald City, and Cap’n Bill flat-out refers to God in Magic. He’s also the one who says that Zog looks “worse ner the devil himself,” which the monster takes as a compliment.

Posted in Christianity, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Religion, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Theosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Good Gods and Bad Gods

I don’t think people typically worship gods they think of as evil. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it doesn’t seem to be the basis of any major religion. What does happen is that societies will demonize the gods of others, or even ones their own culture used to worship. You can find quite a few examples of this throughout history, and others seem likely even if there isn’t any direct proof. For instance, Set appears to have been the main god of Lower Egypt before the unification made him into the personification of evil.

I’ve heard it suggested that the name Beelzebub, meaning “Lord of the Flies,” is a play on the name of a Philistine god, while the demon Astaroth has a name derived from the Phoenician Astarte.

Greek mythology mentions three generations of gods, with each one overthrowing the last. Kronos defeats Ouranos, and in turn is beaten by Zeus. Kronos is said to have ruled the heavens during the legendary Golden Age. This could be seen as symbolic of new cults replacing old ones, starting with personifications of nature, then moving on to the more human-like but rather distant Titans, and finally the Olympians who interact quite a lot with humanity. It works, but I don’t know of any specific evidence for it. Certainly, while Kronos is viewed as a villain, the myths don’t make him all that different from Zeus in terms of temperament and such. The Romans did worship Saturn, their equivalent of Kronos. I’ve seen the same argument extended to the Babylonian Tiamat, an embodiment of both primordial chaos and salt water.

Tiamat is clearly described as female (despite what Gary Gygax might have thought), because women are chaotic, I guess. She was also described as giving birth to the world and the gods, however, and her husband Apsu represented fresh water. This has led some to speculate that Tiamat was once worshipped as a mother goddess, and it was only later that she became the villain of the piece. It goes over pretty well with those who think divinities were originally mostly female, but again, I don’t know of actual evidence to support it. The same is the case with Lilith having been a Sumerian goddess prior to her better-known role as a demon in Jewish mythology.

That’s not to say that it’s necessarily untrue, just that we don’t know one way or the other. Certainly, there do seem to have been some divine beings that were created solely to be the enemies of humanity and/or the other gods. Set is associated with the Greek Typhon, scourge of the Olympians and father of monsters; but I don’t know that anyone ever worshipped Typhon.

Loki was an integral part of Norse mythology and identified as a god, but he doesn’t appear to have been the object of worship. Neither does Ymir, the frost giant from whose body the world was made, except in Conan stories. And Zoroastrians likely wouldn’t have devoted themselves to Ahriman, the exact opposite of the good god Ahura Mazda.

Of course, there are groups and individuals that at least claim to worship supernatural beings originally regarded as wholly bad, often because they feel they were unfairly slandered, or sometimes because they WANT to be thought of as evil. It’s a little tricky to trace the history of such movements, both because they weren’t mainstream and because of claims that people who worshipped any other god (or even the same god in a different way) were devil worshippers. I’m not sure if they thought these people INTENTIONALLY worshipped the Devil or were duped into it. It was probably a little of both. But anyway, there are now religions centered around Satan, often with somewhat of a humorous nature to them. No matter how serious they are about it, however, it always seems to be a response to Christianity, not a revival of an older tradition. It appears that there are also people who worship Tiamat, Lilith, Typhon, Loki, and Ahriman, some of whom do claim to be bringing back an old practice. A lot of these evil gods are associated with the occult, and writers like H.P. Lovecraft popularized the idea of cults devoted to gods who were known to be destructive and have no regard for humans except possibly as food. So yeah, worship of evil gods is a thing, but it generally appears to be derivative rather than original.

Posted in Babylonian, Christianity, Egyptian, Gender, Greek Mythology, Judaism, Monsters, Mythology, Norse, Persian, Religion, Roman, Satanism, Semitic, Zoroastrianism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

She’s a Hair Hopper, That’s What She Is

The 1988 film Hairspray was John Waters’ most mainstream film, and the first to receive a PG rating. It lacks the blatantly shocking humor and much of the cynical viewpoint of his earlier movies, and instead is a quite positive story of an overweight girl who gains fame as a dancer on a local Baltimore television show in the early sixties. There’s also a strong theme of speaking out against racism. That said, there’s still quite a bit of Waters’ weird directorial style. Most lines are delivered in a declaratory fashion with an unusual turn of phrase, and there are quite a few absurd moments. I’ve seen the movie a few times, but it wasn’t until last night that I watched the 2007 musical version, adapted from the stage performance that started in 2002.

Beth had seen it in the theater, but didn’t really care for it. I could definitely see where she was coming from. That’s not to say it wasn’t well-produced. The songs were fun, and most of the acting was good. I’d have to say John Travolta was an exception, though. First of all, Waters has said he liked the idea of a Hairspray musical because it would give fat girls a chance to play the lead role, so isn’t it a bit hypocritical to put another character in a fat suit? Even putting that aside, what kind of accent was he going for? Waters’ movies often have characters talk in exaggerated Baltimore accents, which aren’t otherwise that familiar outside of the area. My grandparents grew up near Baltimore, and they didn’t have them. But with Travolta, it kind of seems like his direction was, “Just pronounce words oddly.” More importantly, however, it pretty much totally dispensed with the absurd humor. Written out were the beatnik characters originally played by Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek, Prudy Pingleton freaking out when walking through a black neighborhood, the bomb in Velma von Tussle’s wig, the quack psychiatrist with a hypnotic circle and an electric prod (played by Waters himself), and the recurring accusations of cockroaches in Tracy’s hair. And only a little bit of Waters’ original dialogue was kept in. It’s kind of strange considering that musical adaptations of movies often go way more over the top, while this one was much more subdued. There were some odd changes to the story, particularly with Velma, who became the station manager, and at one point tried to seduce Wilbur Turnblad in order to sabotage Tracy’s career. Her husband, played by Sonny Bono, didn’t appear; and neither did Divine’s villainous character of Arvin Hodgepile. I guess these changes didn’t affect the overall flow of the story that much, but they’re strange to see when you’ve just watched the original. I suppose I’d say it wasn’t a bad musical, but it also wasn’t a great adaptation.

Posted in Humor, Music, Prejudice, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment