We’re still working through all the Elvis movies. It’s kind of annoying that there isn’t one service that has all of them, but it’s not like they were all released by the same studio or anything.

King Creole – This one is interesting for starring not only Elvis, but Walter Matthau as a nightclub-owning mobster and Carolyn Jones as his moll who befriends Elvis’ character Danny Fisher. I’ve read that the story is based on the novel A Stone for Danny Fisher, which is about a Jewish boxer in Brooklyn during the Depression and his conflicts with his father. This movie is set in New Orleans not during the Depression, doesn’t involve boxing, and there’s no indication that this version of Danny is Jewish. I guess the tension between father and son remains, though; it’s not like I’ve ever read the book. When Danny’s dad loses his job as a pharmacist, Danny drops out of school and briefly turns to a life of crime before receiving an offer to perform at the only club in town not owned by Matthau’s character. Matthau tries to blackmail him into singing at one of his clubs instead, and a deadly struggle ensues. Apparently this was Elvis’ favorite role to play.

G.I. Blues – Finally, another color movie! Made partially during and mostly after Elvis’ stint in the Army, it was made with the cooperation of the military, so don’t expect any criticism or anything. It makes it seem like serving as a tank crewman allows you a lot of free time to sing at nightclubs and pursue women. Like Elvis himself, his character Tulsa McLean is stationed in West Germany, so not an active war zone or anything. In order to raise money to open his own nightclub after leaving the service, he makes a bet that he can spend the night with a dancer, and in the process they actually fall for each other. One of his squadmates starts dating her roommate, an Italian woman. There’s a weirdly meta-referential bit in the film where, while Tulsa is performing, somebody plays Elvis’ version of “Blue Suede Shoes” on the jukebox. Juliet Prowse, who plays the love interest, dated Frank Sinatra and once hosted The Muppet Show. As far as I know, she’s not related to the physical actor for Darth Vader.

Flaming Star – Like Love Me Tender, this is a drama set in the nineteenth century, and Elvis doesn’t play a musician, although he does sing a song at the beginning He does get in a fist fight, however, as he has in every one of these so far. Elvis plays Pacer Burton, the son of a white rancher and a woman from the Kiowa tribe, who lives with his family in Texas. Strife between the white settlers and Native Americans leads to war between the two, and Pacer is caught between the sides. The movie isn’t shy about addressing racism, although the Natives do act rather stereotypically. The title references the flaming star as an omen of death that Pacer’s mother sees before she dies, and he follows suit at the end. I feel obliged to mention that Carolyn Mark covered the theme song.

Posted in Carolyn Mark, elvis presley, Music, Prejudice, Relationships, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Golden Ozianaversary

The 2021 issue of Oziana, the fiftieth anniversary edition of the publication, has been released, and I’m in it quite a bit. I’m flattered, but I kind of wonder if my stuff wouldn’t have been better off spaced out somewhat. Oh, well. It’s not like I’ve been published anywhere else. And while I’m credited as co-author of the second part of “The Wizards of Silver and Gold in Oz,” and it started with a story I wrote years ago, this section contains mostly Joe’s ideas. As such, I’m not sure why Psychopompus is helping the enemies of Oz or who Feah really is, although perhaps I’m the only one particularly concerned with that. The name of Satan’s Hollow seems a little out of place for Oz, but then I’m the one who wrote “The Uplift of Iblis” with a character loosely based on the Devil in Islamic legend. For what it’s worth, there was an arcade shoot-’em-up game called Satan’s Hollow back in 1982. I wrote a rough draft of the account of Sir Hokus and the Grand Gheewizard’s visit to Tititi-Hoochoo’s country, but I’d forgotten that Ozma specifically says here that she can’t send people there by magic, so I guess I’ll have to change the beginning. “The Butter Lamb of Oz” combines a few different ideas I’d wanted to expand upon in my Oz writing, starting with the Eastern European tradition of making lambs out of butter for Easter, then adding in other stuff that I could relate to that. I have a version of this one with some edits done by Joe, but this wasn’t the one Marcus Mebes received. Does this one being published make it the definitive version? David Valentin’s illustration for this story can be found in color on the back cover. Laura DeNooyer’s “A Week with Mr. Baum” is fanfiction about L. Frank Baum himself rather than his creations, telling the story of a girl with overly strict parents learning from the author at Macatawa. I don’t know how accurate the portrayal of Baum is, but the writer of the tale did incorporate a good amount of research. The 2020 issue has a story about Baum meeting a sea captain at the Hotel Del Coronado, and there’s a review in the Winter 2020 Baum Bugle of a book that tells a fictionalized version of Maud Baum’s life, so I guess this is becoming more of a thing. “Heartless,” by Templeton Moss, is a more detailed retelling of the Tin Woodman’s back story and relationship with Nimmie Amee. This story is told differently in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Tin Woodman of Oz, the former saying that Nimmie’s employer was a woman who paid the Wicked Witch of the East for help, and the latter that she actually was the WWE. Moss’s solution is that they were both witches, but the WWE much more powerful. My interpretation is that the WWE was living incognito, so Nick Chopper didn’t realize they were one and the same until later. I’m not sure how the two sheep and the cow would fit into this. Isn’t trading sentient animals essentially slavery anyway? “Christmas, Toys, and Oz” is another holiday story of mine, this time focused on trying to harmonize the different characterizations of Santa Claus in Baum’s and Ruth Plumly Thompson’s writing. I’m not sure how well I succeeded, but I hope people will enjoy my account of the meeting of Captain Santa, Captain Salt, and Captain Cooky. Mitchell Mayle is the illustrator for this one. Mebes’ “Buckethead in Oz” is a tribute to Chris Dulabone, writer and publisher of many new Oz books, who died last year. It makes a lot of inside references, and incorporates the character of Bumble the Clown from Jane Albright’s “Billy Bumble in Oz,” which itself is about a fictionalized version of Oz fan and illustrator Bill Eubank. And I know Chris had mentioned Buckethead as a character in at least one of his own books. This is followed by memories of Chris by Mebes, Sam Milazzo, Nate Barlow, Eric Gjovaag, Marin Xiques, Tyler Jones, and Chris’s brother Dana. Finally, L. Frank’s great-grandson Robert A. Baum contributes “The Trunk in the Attic…”, about a magic chest that can reproduce invaluable documents from the elder Baum’s life. The cover is by Alejandro Garcia, paying tribute to W.W. Denslow, John R. Neill, and Eric Shanower.

Posted in Characters, Chris Dulabone, Christmas, Easter, Eric Shanower, Holidays, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Marcus Mebes, Marin Elizabeth Xiques, Oz, Oz Authors, Relationships, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Superheroes Behaving Badly

Sometimes I watch a movie and can’t think of that much to say about it, but still want to acknowledge seeing it. That’s happened only sporadically over the last few months, and I don’t even remember how long ago I saw the first two, although I wrote the reviews not long after that and saved them to a draft. Three seems like a good number of unrelated films for a post, so here we go.

Super – This is a weird movie that switches tone kind of a lot. It’s largely dark comedy, but the dark parts go so far as to make it occasionally uncomfortable to watch. Rainn Wilson plays the awkward, depressed Frank Darbo, whose wife leaves him for a drug dealer played by Kevin Bacon, and he’s inspired by a cheesy Christian superhero show to fight crime himself. He finds a confidante and eventual sidekick in Libby, a comic store clerk played by Elliot Page. Wilson takes on the persona of the Crimson Bolt, who beats up criminals with a wrench. He does prevent some actual crimes, but also seriously injures people for fairly minor offenses. And the movie isn’t shy about showing what kind of damage hitting someone with a wrench would do. Eventually, the two of them take on Bacon at his compound, bringing a lot more weapons and killing most of the people there, with Libby dying in the process. Frank’s wife leaves him for another man again after this, but he considers it worthwhile anyway because she’s able to kick her drug addiction and have four kids who look up to Frank. I think the fact that he’s played sympathetically makes it more disturbing when he does terrible things, instead of just being able to laugh it off. And the movie does use both the F-word (both of them, but I’m more concerned about the one that’s an anti-gay slur) and N-word, and I’m not sure that would have flown even ten years later. I also thought it was problematic in a likely unintentional way that the only Black characters who weren’t just extras were presented as hardened criminals. It just seems weird that this would be the case in a movie from only eleven years ago. From what I’ve read, it was made to push the envelope and break the usual rules, but it kind of ended up as a mess, if a sometimes entertaining mess.

Bad Lieutenant – Harvey Keitel stars as the titular character, whose name I don’t think is ever stated. He’s a police lieutenant who does drugs he finds during raids, solicits prostitutes, coerces young women to simulate sexual acts, and racks up enormous gambling debts. When he learns two teenagers have violently raped a nun, he questions her and finds that she’s not angry about what happened. So, when he finds the perpetrators, he sends them out of town and gives them a bunch of money, telling them not to come back. It’s a pretty disturbing film to watch, and I’m not entirely sure what the message is beyond pointing out how terrible cops can be, which isn’t something we need reminders of nowadays. There was a sort of sequel that isn’t really a sequel released in 2009, but we haven’t seen that. There is a small connection to the next movie I’m writing about, however, as it stars Nicolas Cage.

Moonstruck – There are many instances of Jewish actors playing Italian characters, but here it’s someone of Armenian descent starring as an Italian-American. I guess Italy and Armenia are fairly close, despite having Greece and Turkey in the middle. Cher plays Loretta Castorini, a widow (her husband was hit by a bus) living in Brooklyn Heights whose boyfriend proposes to her before leaving for Sicily to see his dying mother. He asks Loretta to invite his estranged brother to the wedding, and when she goes to do so, they pretty much immediately fall in love. Played by Nicolas Cage, the brother is a baker who lost a hand in an accident. This sort of love apparently runs in the family, as Loretta’s father is dating another woman, and his wife has a date of sorts with another guy. When Loretta’s boyfriend comes back to Brooklyn, he’s not too upset that she hooked up with his brother, because his mother made a miraculous recovery and he thinks getting married would jinx it. Superstition is a major theme in this movie, and that ties in with the title. It’s a strange plot where everyone seems to be really impulsive, but the performances are quite good. I believe Beth said it kind of felt like a play, although I don’t think it ever was one.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Drugs, Ethnicity, Families, Humor, Prejudice, Relationships, Religion, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sick Kids of an Unholy Union

Picture by Matias Cabezas Montoya
When looking up different types of fairies, I came across the Keshalyi (sometimes spelled without the Y), which I don’t think I’d heard of before. From the mythology of the Romani (i.e., gypsies, although I understand that term is frowned upon), specifically those in Transylvania, they’re a sort of forest fairies or nymphs who are known for their abilities to heal and assist with fertility. The daughters of King Haze, mentioned on one page as a personification of rain, they’re all female and ruled by the beautiful Queen Ana. The King of the Locolics, a group of demons who were formerly human but transformed by the Devil, forced her to marry him by attacking and devouring her subjects. He then drugged her with various strange objects and raped her several times, resulting in a bunch of hideous offspring who symbolized different diseases. Melalo, the Filthy One, is a two-headed bird who rips people’s insides apart with his claws. Lilyi is a hagfish with a human head who causes mucus buildup and diseases that result from that. She was born specifically to be Melalo’s mate. Tculo is a spiny ball who attacks stomachs and intestines. Then there’s Tcaridyi, a worm whose hairs damage the bloodstreams of women who’ve recently given birth, and married her brother Tculo. Schilalyi, the Cold One, causes chills and colds, and has the form of a mouse with a bunch of legs. Bitoso is a worm with four or more heads who causes stomachaches. Lolmischo, a red mouse, causes various skin conditions. Minceskro, the one who comes from the genitals, was born from a dung beetle that entered Ana’s body, and she specializes in sexually transmitted diseases. Finally, Poreskoro has four cat heads, four dog heads, and a snake tail. This demon causes plagues and pandemics, and is able to reproduce without a partner. Poreskoro was disgusting enough to gross out even his father, who agreed to grant Ana a divorce to avoid any more such offspring. The King agreed to leave the Keshalyi alone as long as Ana lived, but any who lived to 999 would be given over to the Locolics as a bride. Ana now lives in a remote castle in the Carpathian Mountains, feeding on drops of blood from her servants in order to remain alive. Hey, when Dracula is your neighbor, you pick up some weird habits. When she appears outside her castle, it’s in the form of a golden toad. Her children reproduced with each other and created many more diseases. For more information and some artistic interpretations, see here and here. Diseases being represented as demons or monsters is a pretty universal thing, but this particular myth reminds me of the Finnish one about Loviatar’s children. Also, in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series (I’m reading one of them now), Kesali are apparently fire fairies.

Posted in Authors, Finnish, Health, Monsters, Mythology, october daye, romani, seanan mcguire, Slavic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Caught in a Trap

Spiral: From the Book of SawSPOILER WARNING! We saw this at the movie theater, something we hadn’t done in a while. Even before the pandemic, I can’t remember what the last thing was either of us saw at the movies. This was at the Alamo Drafthouse, and we ordered some overpriced snacks and all that. The film is the ninth Saw movie, and yes, we’ve seen all the others. It’s a sequel in that it acknowledges the events of the earlier films as having taken place, but doesn’t use any of the old characters. Even Jigsaw is relegated to a photograph and a few mentions. Chris Rock stars as a police detective, son of the retired Chief, who’s quite unpopular on the force due to having exposed a crooked cop who shot a witness. The new Chief assigns him his first partner in years, and puts him in charge of the investigation of a Jigsaw copycat who’s targeting cops. The new killer still has the recorded messages, the creepy dolls, the smug moral superiority, and the ridiculously elaborate traps; but the emphasis isn’t on the latter as much as it generally is in this franchise. In previous films, it’s established that Jigsaw’s traps are all supposed to be escapable (although I have to doubt that’s the case in practice, it’s at least what he seems to believe), while those who copy him will make ones fully intended to kill the victims. Here, it’s not entirely clear whether anyone is supposed to be able to escape, as no one does. I will say, however, that the plot is way less convoluted than other Saw movies, and works as a mystery story. I’ve heard that the film is anti-police, but I feel that it never takes that strong of a stand. It is true that the plot is largely focused on police corruption, and even the better cops do terrible things. Rock’s character, who’s supposed to be the most moral of the bunch, shoots a meth dealer in the leg to get information. But it also does the thing I’ve read about recently that a lot of recent movies do, where the villain has a totally valid point, but goes about things in such an obviously wrong and extreme way that it tarnishes his viewpoint by association. It’s not like I expected a movie about death traps to offer real solutions on police reformation, though. Samuel L. Jackson plays Rock’s character’s dad, and that’s no small potatoes (or hot gazpacho). There looked to be a few nods to his role in Pulp Fiction, as the security door at the police station was made by Jules & Vincent, and the film starts with people having humorous banter about movies before committing a crime.

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Do the Wrong Thing

I’ve been thinking a bit about morality in video games, partially due to seeing another mention of how the Grand Theft Auto games, and I think some others of the sort as well, let you brutally murder prostitutes and perform other unsavory acts. I’m not really familiar with gritty video games (by which I don’t mean games with the Flyers’ mascot, but if those don’t exist yet they probably will soon), but I’ve heard the arguments that they demean women and trivialize violence, which might be true to some extent. I suppose it’s more about reinforcing existing bad ideas than directly leading to people wanting to do such things in real life. Our society is already really crappy to sex workers even without the video games. It’s also possible that letting players do horrible things could be a way of blowing off steam. And sometimes it’s just fun to find the limits of what you’re allowed to do. I know I sometimes found it cathartic to have Sims beat each other up, and sometimes to kill them. But then, this was all pretty cartoonish, and it’s not like Sims could kill each other; the player does so by manipulating the environment.

There’s probably a difference when it’s realistic, and it’s not like all bad things are equally bad. A lot of games let you kill villains, even though you could make a valid argument that a lot of them don’t deserve it. I’ve heard that Undertale tacitly encourages not killing monsters. It’s much less common and more controversial to let you kill total innocents. Even in more family-friendly games, you can do some kind of nasty things. I’ve looked before at unsavory things you can get Mario to do. There’s a stage in Super Mario World where you can only reach a secret exit by sacrificing Yoshi, which is pretty sad even though he’s apparently able to regenerate.

The game doesn’t force you to kill Yoshi, but you need to reach that gate to have full completion, so is that a reward? If you drop the baby penguin off the cliff in Super Mario 64, you don’t get the star from that mission, but nothing bad happens either.

Maybe living in a world where things respawn gives everyone a rather relaxed attitude toward killing. But it’s interesting you can even do these things, unlike, say, shooting the dog in Duck Hunt, which seems to have been pretty universal even though very few people would shoot a real dog even if it DID laugh at them. In Super Mario Bros. 3, you can shoot fireballs in Toad’s face while in his house, but they don’t affect him. The game Maniac Mansion famously allowed you to microwave a hamster, even in early NES copies, although Nintendo’s censors eventually caught on and got rid of it.

There’s no advantage to cooking the rodent, and it can even work against you because Weird Ed will kill a playable character if you let him know about it. If there’s any result at all, however, whether good or bad, it means the developers considered players trying to do such things.

It’s interesting that Richard Garriott, AKA Lord British, designed Ultima IV as a specifically moral game, making the goal to excel in different virtues. The story is that, in earlier entries in the series, not only could you kill townspeople and steal from stores, but it was often easier to build up your characters that way. Even then, there were consequences; I only played a little of the NES version of Exodus, but I remember really tough guards coming after you if you tried to open certain treasure chests. They’d also show up if you fought townspeople.

If you were strong enough to kill the guards, though, you presumably could get away with it. Console RPGs generally simplified things somewhat, and as in other games, you just didn’t get the chance to do really terrible things. If you could fight something, you were supposed to do so, and were rewarded for killing it. All treasure chests you could get to were yours for the taking. And there was no way to steal from a store. Some treasures were inaccessible until you got permission to have them, making being heroic enforced by the programming. I did notice that, in Glory of Heracles, Leucos scolds the hero if he tries to take things from people’s cabinets, but I never found out whether it affects anything beyond that. And I remember in Secret of Evermore how there was a place in Ivor Tower where, if you didn’t take any of the treasures before talking to someone named Lance, he’d give you an alchemy formula. After that, you were free to take the treasures.

I understand that, in Link’s Awakening, you can shoplift, but if you return to the same store the shopkeeper zaps you with electricity that instantly kills you.

At least in Ultima they left it to the authorities, although I know that’s not always better.

Your in-game name is also changed to “THIEF,” which is some Scarlet Letter kind of stuff. In the DX version, however, you have to shoplift once in order to complete the photography challenge.

The Dragon Quest series is famous for giving choices that aren’t really choices, because you get stuck in a loop if you choose the wrong option. The “but thou must” bit with Gwaelin isn’t about morality (well, unless the hero led her on while you weren’t controlling him), but there are other not-really-choices that are. In DQ1, there’s only one totally wrong choice you can make, which is choosing to side with the Dragonlord upon reaching him, making you have to restart from your last save. There are similar choices in other games, the Paper Mario ones coming to mind. In The Thousand-Year Door, you can choose to side with the Shadow Queen, with the same result as in DQ1. And in Super Paper Mario, you can refuse to help at the very beginning of the game, which also results in a Game Over.

I suppose absolutely refusing to save the world is something out-of-character for Mario, unlike throwing a baby penguin off a mountain. With regards to stealing, it did come to mind that there’s a part in Locke’s scenario in Final Fantasy VI where choosing “stealing is wrong” makes it impossible for you to proceed, even though stealing generally IS wrong. Of course, this is a special situation. The lesson is, if you’re trying to free a prisoner from evil occupiers, maybe stealing is okay.

Posted in Animals, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Mario, Monsters, Prejudice, Sims, Ultima, Video Games, Zelda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The More Real Than Real World Beyond the Real

Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire – Another book in the Wayward Children series, this one has a girl named Regan visit the Hooflands, a world of mythical hooved creatures, but before that deals with the treacherous nature of childhood friendships. Regan’s best friend had earlier stopped being friends with another girl for a silly reason, and is mean to the protagonist once she finds out she’s intersex. Regan finds a door to a place inhabited by centaurs, unicorns, fauns, minotaurs, perytons, and kelpies, with her interest in horses coming in handy. It’s well-known in that world that humans only show up when the world needs saving, but she finds out there’s more to it than that when she goes to visit the Queen.

A Cockeyed Menagerie: The Drawings of T.S. Sullivant – I don’t think I’d ever heard of Sullivant, a cartoonist from 1888 until his death in 1926. I saw this collection advertised on Amazon or somewhere like that, though, and I thought the art looked interesting, so I checked it out from the library. Not much is known about Sullivant’s life, but he was an influential comic artist in his day, known to have inspired Walt Kelly and the animation for Fantasia. While he illustrated a variety of subjects (including, unfortunately, some ethnic stereotypes), he’s largely known for some of his more fanciful work involving animals acting like people, prehistoric scenes with cavemen and dinosaurs, and humorous incidents based on Bible stories.

There’s a lot of energy and personality to these drawings, as well as attention to detail.

Sword in the Stars, by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy – The sequel to Once and Future has Ari, the future incarnation of King Arthur, go back in time with her wife Gwen and her other friends to find the Holy Grail in the time of the original Arthur. It turns out there’s a time loop of sorts involved, as Gwen becomes the original Guinevere and Ari Lancelot. The ever-youthening Merlin is desperate to break the cycle established by Nimue for her own purposes, and to rescue his boyfriend Val from the sorceress. He also has to contend with his older self, who’s rather mean and single-minded. There’s an explanation for Merlin’s origins that doesn’t involve his being the son of a demon and a nun. It’s a clever take on the mythos that’s also quite diverse in its cast.

Surrealism, by Julien Levy – I believe I received this one as a gift, as I have a casual but long-standing interest in surrealist art. Written in 1937 by the owner of an art gallery, it introduced the artistic movement to many Americans. He defines surrealism as opposed to naturalism and abstract art, instead focusing on the subconscious and creating vivid experiences. He quotes the surrealist goal  to explore the “more real than real world beyond the real,” although I don’t know who originally came up with that wording. Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Rene Magritte, and Salvador Dali are all represented here, mostly with pictures but with some text as well. Since it’s all in black and white, you don’t get as much sense as to how vivid the colors are for some of this work, but it’s an interesting overview.

Posted in Animals, Art, Arthurian Legend, Authors, Book Reviews, British, Celtic, Comics, Dreams, Greek Mythology, Humor, Magic, Mythology, Relationships, seanan mcguire, Sexuality, Wayward Children | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ecosystem of Yggdrasil

A comment on my post about video game squirrels mentioned Ratatosk (or Ratatoskr, probably a more accurate transliteration, but not how I originally knew it), the squirrel from Norse mythology. He’s a red squirrel who runs up and down the World Tree Yggdrasil, spreading scurrilous gossip. Apparently the call of a red squirrel, particularly when in distress, is very piercing, the kind of thing humans might interpret as insults. The name might possibly mean “drill-tooth,” “rat-tooth,” or “climber tusk.” I’d somehow gotten the idea that he brought food to Odin while he was hanging on the tree, which would make sense, but what I’ve read recently indicates that he didn’t eat anything during his sacrifice, and indeed might not eat at all. A few sites compare Ratatosk to another squirrel, Miko from the legends of the Wabanaki Confederacy, a group of Eastern Algonquin tribes in Maine and eastern Canada. Miko was originally the size of a bear, and was so destructive that the hero Glooscap decided to shrink him down, as part of a process of modifying different animals. Even in his current small size, however, he remains a bad-tempered troublemaker. Ratatosk does appear in some video games, the ones I’m familiar with being the 2018 God of War that crosses over with Norse mythology, and the adventure game Heroine’s Quest.

I haven’t played any of the GoW games, but I looked a bit into the lore before. I tried to play Heroine’s Quest, but froze to death. Well, technically, the character I was playing froze to death.

In Final Fantasy XIV, the name is used for a dragon.

Ratatosk also shows up in the Squirrel Girl comic, which makes sense as the Marvel universe already incorporates Norse cosmology.

There are other animals associated with Yggdrasil as well, although there isn’t a lot of detail available on most of them. I guess it makes sense that, if the universe is represented with a tree, there would be animals there, because they’re in and around real trees. Indeed, cosmologies that include animals tend to have several, like the world turtle with elephants on its back, or the fish with the world-supporting bull on top.

In the branches of Yggdrasil lives a wise eagle with a hawk named Vedrfolnir perched between its eyes. The eagle itself has no name that we know of, which is strange for a mythology where everything has a name. Even the drill Odin used to steal the mead of poetry is named Rati, which has sometimes been associated with Ratatosk. The hawk is only mentioned in Snorri Sturluson‘s Prose Edda, so maybe there was only one bird before that. The relative size of the birds suggests the eagle is of enormous size, which would work for an animal living in a tree that encompasses the entire world. I don’t know that the size of the other animals is specified, though. It would make a certain amount of sense for a squirrel who constantly runs up and down a planet-sized tree to be proportionally big. It’s said to take Odin nine days to ride down to Niflheim, and that’s on an eight-legged horse. Still, it also sounds like Ratatosk has a lot of free time on his paws. I guess this is a universe where the Jotun are sometimes described as big enough for people to mistake their gloves as buildings, and sometimes not much bigger than humans. And there is a Jotun named Hraesvelgr who takes the form of an eagle and produces wind by flapping his wings, so these could be the same eagle. On the other end of Ratatosk’s path is Nidhogg, a dragon who lives in the underworld of Niflheim, specifically on Nastrond (meaning “Corpse Shore”) and spends most of his time gnawing on a root of the World Tree.

One interpretation is that the root is blocking Nidhogg’s access to the world above. The serpent is also said to eat the corpses of the worst of the dead, murderers, adulterers, and oath breakers. I suppose the root by itself doesn’t give him all the nutrients he needs. Anyway, by creating strife between the eagle and the dragon, who never meet face-to-face, the squirrel is sowing chaos for some reason. It’s also sometimes said that Ratatosk himself gnaws on the tree. If Yggdrasil is where he lives, why would he want it to be gradually destroyed? Did he not think this through? But that sense of futility is common in Norse mythology.

Four stags, named Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Durathror, are said to eat from the branches of Yggdrasil, further causing slight damage to the tree over time. Dain and Dvalin, by the way, are also names of Dwarves. Also living on the foliage is a goat named Heidrun. Actually, it’s not clear that the tree where the goat lives is the same as Yggdrasil, but I’m including her anyway.

She produces mead instead of milk, which provides a constant supply to the inhabitants of Valhalla. While the tree is said to be resistant to fire and iron, it’s described as having a rotting trunk as well as all the other slow means of destruction, and pretty much everything decays in Norse mythology. Still, while it’s said that Yggdrasil shaking will signify the end of the world, it’s also said that the two humans who will repopulate the world will survive Ragnarok by hiding inside it. But then, a dead tree could still provide shelter.

Posted in algonquin, Animals, Comics, Final Fantasy, Monsters, Mythology, Names, Native American, Norse, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Let Sleeping Lines Ley

Something I’ve seen mention of occasionally but didn’t really know a lot about was the concept of ley lines, which are basically invisible lines that connect significant places. Alfred Watkins, a businessman who dabbled in antiquity, came up with the idea in 1921, when he figured that holy sites lay within certain alignments, publishing a book about it in 1925. While looking down from a hill, he noticed that there were straight paths between significant sites, and proposed that these were the routes people took back in the day.

He called them ley lines after the Old English for a cleared space, noting that a lot of the places the lines ran through had names ending with “ley.”

I’m sure the people in Neolithic times realized a line was the shortest distance between two points and at least TRIED to make roads straight, but as Watkins’ contemporaries pointed out, that’s a little difficult when there’s a mountain or a deep river in the way. Also, the sites that were connected had often been built in very different time periods, making it unlikely that they were all arranged along the same plan. There was nothing magical about Watkins’ proposed lines, but the New Age movement would later give the term mystical significance, and expand the idea well beyond England. The place I generally associate with ley lines is Sedona, Arizona; and it’s not like I’ve ever been there or anything. Believers drew lines on maps between places like Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid, although since the world isn’t flat, I guess they’d more accurately be ley arcs.

I’ve seen other concepts related to these. One is that of fairy paths, with which Watkins might have been familiar. In Celtic folklore, routes between fairy mounds were supposed to be kept clean of obstructions for fear of angering the fairies.

This could result in bad luck or sickness, especially if you interrupted a procession.

You’d think the fairies would mark their parade routes more clearly, but I get the impression they WANT mortals to screw up. Houses were even built to avoid these paths. John Michell wrote about the Chinese lung mei, or “dragon current,” a system of making sure building was done in harmony with the environment, along the same lines as Feng Shui. The lines have also been linked with UFOs, because apparently aliens used really bizarre navigational methods. They’re able to cross galaxies, but need invisible energy lines to get around on this one planet. (Okay, maybe there are ley lines in space, too.) I’m sure plenty of cultures built things in particular alignments, but I think it’s unlikely that there was a system of doing so that was known in widely disparate parts of the world and over a vast period of time, apparently just being able to intuit the existence of such lines. Then again, people say dogs are able to sense magnetic fields when they relieve themselves, so some level of intuition might be possible. And new holy sites were often built on top of old ones, since locals were already used to worshipping there. Ley lines show up from time to time in fantasy, with magic-workers obtaining power by tapping into the lines or the nodes where they intersect. Magic using the natural energy of the environment seems pretty common, with what comes to mind for me being the Geomancers in the Final Fantasy series.

The subject also makes me think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Straight Road, the only way to reach Valinor after Arda was changed from flat from spherical during the Second Age. It’s not really the same as a ley line, but that could be where the name comes from.

Posted in Authors, Celtic, Conspiracy Theories, Final Fantasy, History, J.R.R. Tolkien, Language, Magic, Maps, Mythology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Spy a May Queen

I knew as a kid that the first of May was May Day, but it’s not something I ever celebrated. I don’t think it’s that big in the States, or at least not the part where I lived. The Wikipedia page mentions that there’s some kind of tradition of celebrating it at Bryn Mawr College, which is pretty close to where I grew up, but it’s not like I hung out around there. It’s more of a thing in Europe. The month of May was named after Maia, the Greek goddess who was Hermes‘ mother and one of the Pleiades.

I’ve seen that the Romans sacrificed a pregnant sow to Maia on 1 May, but the more prominent holiday celebrated around then was Floralia, in honor of the goddess Flora.

Her Greek equivalent is Chloris, a nymph who lived in the Elysian Fields, or at least that’s what Ovid claimed.

It looks like Flora was originally a Sabine goddess whose worship was brought to Rome around 238 BC, and the association with Chloris was probably a later development. Ovid’s story is that Chloris was raped by Zephyrus and then married him, which is a weirdly common theme in mythology. The marriage brought with it a promotion to a full-fledged goddess of flowers.

Her festival is said to have involved deer and hares being released, throwing chickpeas at people, and women dancing naked. Another festival, Maiouma, was only celebrated every three years, and it was marked by dramatic presentations honoring Dionysus and Aphrodite. Pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland celebrated Beltane, which might possibly mean “bright fire,” as it was associated with the lighting of bonfires to bless the cattle being put out the pasture.

I’ve also seen mentions of people jumping over the fires, like Jack Be Nimble. Yellow flowers were used as decorations, and food and drink were offered to the fairies. The Germans had Walpurgis Day on 1 May.

The maypole is generally associated with May Day, especially in Germanic cultures. It looks to have been pretty well accepted at one point that the tradition is a remnant of pagan fertility rites, which makes sense given the time of year, but scholarly opinion has shifted away from that. The pole is often thought of as a phallic symbol or a representation of the world axis, but that’s the case with just about anything upright that’s placed in the ground. It might not really have any symbolic significance, but that didn’t stop the Puritans from banning it. Exactly how the poles are decorated and what kind of dance people do around them differs from one place to another. The one that involves tying ribbons appears to have originated in nineteenth century Britain. when the poles were being touted as part of the cultural heritage. Are there ever competitive maypole dances, like tetherball with ribbons? My wife asked on Saturday whether there were maypoles in the Oz series, and I somehow remembered that there’s one briefly mentioned in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz. At the beginning of Chapter 14, when Jack, Peter, and Belfaygor are riding the Iffin in pursuit of Mogodore, we’re told, “Like tiny toys under a Christmas tree, the villages and towns spread out below, and some country people dancing about a May pole looked no larger than dolls.” This could be a hint as to the time of year the story takes place. When Thompson mentioned such a thing at all in her Oz books, it’s usually May, the exception I can immediately think of being Ozoplaning, which occurs in the fall. As a few people told me when I mentioned that maypole reference, there’s also a scene in the 1902 Wizard of Oz stage play where the Munchkins dance around one.

I was also curious about May Queens, which are a sort of pageant thing that began in nineteenth-century Britain, wherein a girl would be selected to play this ceremonial role. She’d be dressed in white and crowned with flowers.

It probably partially grew out of the crowning of the Virgin Mary that some Catholics celebrate at the beginning of May, but of course the beginning of summer being represented by a female figure is a much older one than that.

Sometimes there’s also a male consort for the Queen.

Another male figure associated with the holiday is the Jack in the Green, a guy wearing a framework covered in so much foliage that he looks like a walking tree.

The part was associated with chimney sweeps back when they were a thing, although they got the basic idea from milkmaids. Jack in the Green is sometimes associated with the Green Man figures from old carvings. He doesn’t appear to have started out that way, but there are enough similarities that they’ve been connected. Also traditionally part of English May Day celebrations are Robin Hood and Maid Marian, and indeed they’re regarded as having started the idea of the legendary outlaw being romantically involved with someone named Marian. When I do a Google Image Search for “May Queen,” it mostly gives me pictures from the movie Midsommar, which does use the term despite being centered around a different time of year. On that note, I understand Sweden actually does incorporate some aspects of May Day into Midsummer (i.e., the solstice), because flowers don’t bloom as early in the year there. For some reason, Margaret Berg’s Ozallooning in Oz combines May Day and Midsummer traditions. Maybe in Oz, the first day of May is Magic Beltane.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Greek Mythology, may day, Nursery Rhymes, Oz, Oz Authors, Religion, Roman, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment