I Couldn’t See the Rabbits Hiding Out of View

The Shawshank Redemption – We watched this one the night before going to see It, so I guess it was a Stephen King kind of weekend. The movie is pretty long for having been based on a novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the first part of the title referring to the poster Andy Dufresne hangs in his cell. And the story is said to be loosely based on one by Tolstoy, although in that one he forgives the guy who framed him. The plot concerns banker Dufresne being sentenced to life in Shawshank Prison for murdering his wife and her lover. While there, he tries to improve conditions for the inmates, while also getting in good with the corrupt warden by giving him financial advice including how to avoid taxes. In the end, he double-crosses the warden and escapes. I have to wonder if the novella makes it clear from the beginning that Dufresne is innocent, because I think the movie makes it look as if he’s guilty up until we learn the truth from another prisoner. It’s narrated by Morgan Freeman in the character of Ellis Redding, another inmate who smuggles things into the prison, and who befriends Dufresne. I also appreciated that it addressed how people released from prison can become seriously depressed to the point of suicide, because it’s not always what people who haven’t had the experience think.

The Big Sick – Comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon wrote this semi-autobiographical film about their courtship. Beth was interested in it largely because Michael Showalter directed it, although we did see Nanjiani’s stand-up at a show with Eugene Mirman and some other people I forget. I remember he did a joke about someone telling him the Quran said women couldn’t drive, and how everyone would be a Muslim if Muhammad had predicted automobiles 1400 years ago. The film relates how Nanjiani and Emily (given the last name Gardner in the movie) meet after a comedy show, become involved with each other, and break up because he wasn’t honest about how his parents insisted he marry a Pakistani woman. Then she is taken to the hospital after fainting from a lung infection and put into a medically induced coma, and Kumail visits her there and slowly befriends her parents. They don’t actually get back together by the end, but Emily does eventually indicate that she’s interested in doing so. One complaint I’ve seen about this movie is that Kumail’s family are basically played as stereotypes, which is kind of true, but then I don’t know what his actual family is like. One thing I noticed is that, since Emily spends most of the film in a coma, we don’t get much of a sense of her character or why Kumail fell for her in the first place, other than her just being generically cute. I guess writing yourself or your spouse isn’t necessarily as easy as it might seem. While I don’t recall a specific period of time being mentioned, it looked like their relationship moved quickly, which means the fact that he didn’t know any of the women his parents were trying to hook him up with is more or less irrelevant. Then again, it’s not like I’d want to get together with someone my parents picked; their tastes are just too different from mine.

Watership Down – I read the book at some point in my adult life, although I can’t find a review for it. From what I remember of it, this animated film was quite faithful, despite leaving out quite a bit. It’s the story of a group of rabbits who leave their warren when one of them has a premonition of the land being destroyed, and go to seek a new home, making allies and enemies along the way. It’s quite dark in spots, but has an overall positive message of cooperation and negotiation. The movie didn’t pull any punches when it came to the violence; we see a lot of mauled and bleeding rabbits. The animation is realistic in its depictions and movements, with watercolor backgrounds, but more simply naturalistic than lush. It did a good job of showing things from the rabbits’ point of view, and had some interesting art choices like the rabbits in the military dictatorship warren all having glowing blue eyes. There were two scenes that used different styles: the rabbits’ origin myth at the beginning, and a psychedelic segment accompanied by an Art Garfunkel song that really doesn’t seem relevant to the plot. John Hurt, who died earlier this year, provided the voice of Hazel; while Zero Mostel made his last film appearance as the voice of a seagull, using an accent that sounds sort of Russian-adjacent. Maybe it was just supposed to seem generally foreign, to mark the language barrier between him and the rabbits, who I believe all had English accents.

Posted in Animals, Cartoons, Ethnicity, Families, Humor, Islam, Music, Relationships, Religion, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thy Won’t Be Done

One thing I wonder about people who insist that the law should be based on their religion is why they think the civil authorities should be doing what they think God is supposed to do. Shouldn’t the Almighty do His own dirty work? If you think homosexuality is a sin, why do you feel the need to make gay people’s lives a living hell before they go to actual Hell? Isn’t God the one who should be doing the judging? Granted, I don’t believe the oft-quoted idea that only God can judge people is actually in the Bible in so many words, any more than God helping those who help themselves or cleanliness being next to godliness. Indeed, there are some passages that say pretty much the exact opposite. In the Torah, followers of Yahweh are instructed to inflict capital punishment on blasphemers, adulterers, people who pick up sticks on the Sabbath, men who have sex with other men, and disobedient children. And not just any capital punishment, but stoning, a particularly terrifying form of execution carried out by an angry mob.

But then, this was largely within the context of a nation run as a theocracy, which seems to have been the norm in those days. It doesn’t really work in a multi-faith society, because, among other things, not everyone’s idea of what constitutes blasphemy is going to be the same. In the New Testament, Jesus admonishes those who judge hypocritically, which would certainly be a blow to the holy rollers who speak out against gay marriage while cheating on their spouses and getting rich at the expense of others.

Obviously some judging is necessary; we can pretty much all agree that murder and rape are wrong, and people are entitled to speak out against those things even if they are doing lesser bad things themselves, regardless of religious beliefs. The trickier part is when you get into things that people only consider wrong because their religion is against it. You’re not actively harming anyone by having consensual gay sex, taking the Lord’s name in vain, or working on the Sabbath (which is a different day according to Jews and Christians anyway). And while adultery is certainly wrong, it’s a wrong against your partner, not against society as a whole, so legislating it gets into much the same difficulty. I’ve also noticed a general trend in the development of religion, and of the Bible in particular, from people deserving what they get in life toward an acknowledgement that life isn’t fair combined with the assurance that it will work out in the end, which ties into the emphasis on afterlife and resurrection that was so central to Jesus’ teachings.

This seems to me to indicate a diminishing focus on taking matters into your own hands, because sinners will get theirs in the end without your needing to kill them. The old theocratic approach looks to have largely fallen out of favor more than 2000 years ago. So is refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple really obeying the will of God, or just being a jerk? But then, I’m still confused by how people think they’re getting clear, concise information from a deity who defies human understanding.

Posted in Christianity, Fundamentalism, Judaism, Politics, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yale, Yale, the Gang’s All Here

Today’s mythical creature is the Yale, which was included in a list of uncommon mythical creatures on Quora, a site I’m always getting e-mails from despite not remembering ever signing up for, but I don’t unsubscribe because there’s interesting stuff every once in a while. As with many such animals, the first known mention is in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, much of which is apparently not at all natural. It’s described as a creature the size of a hippopotamus, black or dark brown in color, with the tail of an elephant and the jaws of a boar. The most interesting feature of the Yale, however, is that it has two long horns, more than a cubit in length, which can be moved around as needed in battle. It can, for instance, keep one horn in the back as a spare in case the other is broken off.

It’s said to be native to Ethiopia, although the ancient Greeks used that name for a considerably larger area than the modern country. It’s not clear whether Pliny is describing a real animal or simply a legend, although it’s been suggested that he might have been trying to write about an antelope, gnu, or water buffalo.

Not sure who the artist is on this one, but I got it here.
It’s fascinating how many old descriptions of previously unknown animals described them as combinations of known ones. The old Greek name for a giraffe, for instance, was “camelopard,” because the best way the Europeans could think of to identify it was as a combination of a camel and a leopard.

Picture drawn by John Johnston in 1665
And the scientific name for the animal is still Giraffus camelopardalis. But getting back to Yales, the name is quite similar to the Hebrew yael, meaning an ibex or mountain goat. Jael, the woman who killed the commander of the Canaanite army as per Judges, was presumably named after the animal. The Yale is also known as a Centicore, a name that seems to have originated in French manuscripts, although the derivation of the alternate name isn’t clear. Some later descriptions give the Yale some features of a lion or tiger, and it was apparently regarded as carnivorous, using its horns to impale prey. It was eventually known as particularly hated by basilisks, which would sting sleeping Yales between the eyes. That’s saying something, as I don’t think there’s any kind of animal that basilisks like. Interest in the mythical animal was revived in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century when John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford and third son of King Henry IV of England, used a Yale and an eagle as supporters on his coat of arms.

The common explanation for this is that it’s a rather labored pun, the Yale also being called an Eale, and John being Earl of Kendal, or “Kend-Eale.” It was later passed on to Sir John Beaufort, and from the Beauforts to the House of Tudor. King Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was also a benefactor of Cambridge University, which is why some Yales can be found there.

While the Bedford Yale was slim with straight horns and a long tail, the Beaufort one was stockier and more goat-like, with a short tail like more like the one Pliny described. It also appears to be the Beauforts (or their arms designers, anyway) who started giving Yales spots that were essentially polka dots.

And yes, Yale University has taken note of the animal, even though it was named after Elihu Yale rather than the creature, and it’s one of the symbols of the university.

So are there mythical beings called Harvards or Princetons? Actually, a Cornell sounds like it could be some kind of animal. But getting back to Yale and strange animals, the Whiffenpoofs are said to have been named after the Whiffenpoof Fish from the operetta of Little Nemo, although it seems to have existed as a general term for imaginary creatures even before that.

Posted in Animals, Etymology, Greek Mythology, Language, Monsters, Mythology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crispin’s Night Speech

Beth, Stephanie and I saw Crispin Glover at the Alamo Drafthouse last night. If you don’t know who he is, he played George McFly in Back to the Future and came close to kicking David Letterman in the head. He’s known for being very odd; I remember R. Lee Ermey saying he didn’t know if Glover knew what year it was or who the President was. From what he said last night, he clearly knows both of these things, but he does give off the impression of being somewhat of an outsider from society, at least as much as an occasional Hollywood actor can be. The first thing he did when coming on stage was a slideshow of parts of old books that he had rearranged and imbued with his own absurd content. One of them I recognized as The Water-Babies, a popular nineteenth-century children’s book that nobody reads anymore, which Glover turned into a story of sex and rebirth. He then showed his film What Is It?, originally intended as a short but turned into a feature. Honestly, I think it probably would have worked better as a short, as it kind of drags. Of course, with avant-garde stuff, you can’t always tell whether that’s part of the point.

It was a bizarre and disturbing piece, involving murder, sex, monkey women, Shirley Temple mixed with Nazi imagery, and a lot of snail-killing. Most of the actors had Down Syndrome, which Glover assured us was not meant to be mean or mocking. It also utilized an incredibly racist country song by Johnny Rebel, who apparently is commonly confused with Johnny Horton. Horton did have a song called “Johnny Reb” that took a positive view of the Confederacy, but it didn’t actually mention race. That’s problematic in and of itself, but I’m pretty sure none of his songs used the N-word. Also, he died before any of the Johnny Rebel recordings were made. Glover explained that the message of the movie was how Hollywood and its corporate sponsors tend to censor anything that might make people uncomfortable, or cause them to ask questions. He did do a follow-up, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine, which he showed on the previous night. A question-and-answer session followed, and Glover gave long answers and frequently went off on tangents. When we’d been there for almost four hours total, we decided we should leave, as we had work in the morning. I really don’t know how much longer the show lasted. Glover is pretty extreme in his viewpoints, or at least comes across that way. He did bring up some interesting thoughts about propaganda and corporate control, and I agreed with him on many of them, even if I wouldn’t have expressed them in quite the same way. But then, that could be why I’m not the one giving shows at the Alamo Drafthouse. He did mention Back to the Future at one point, saying that he didn’t like how the McFlys became richer at the end, giving the suggestion that money was what marked a happy ending. This was actually in the book I read about the movie series, but it was dismissed as simply an easy visual way to represent a happier family. According to Glover, Robert Zemeckis told him that he wanted to make money from the film, and that was what audiences and sponsors wanted to see. I didn’t really think of that when watching the movie, but I think there’s a valid point there. Of course, stories ending in material rewards long predate corporate sponsorship.

“Hey, you corporate sponsors, get your damn hands off her!”

Posted in Celebrities, Conspiracy Theories, Corporations, Humor, Live Shows, Music, Prejudice, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Can Read Your Mind from Half a Mile

To continue on the topic I brought up last week about Ozian magic that affects minds, it’s worth noting that, in The Emerald City of Oz, the Wizard claims to be “working out a magic recipe to fuddle men’s brains, so they’ll never make an airship that will go where they want it to go.” Although airplanes had been invented by this point, he would have been referring to dirigibles, which would have been more difficult to control. Still, the Wizard, who had only just recently learned real magic at this point, thought he could enchant all of the aeronautical engineers and pilots in the world? It turns out that this is unnecessary because of Glinda’s invisible barrier, so we never find out whether it would have worked. The Wizard eventually changes his mind on airships anyway, inventing airplanes with balloon attachments in Ozoplaning.

But as to whether magic can impact a large population’s knowledge of one particular subject, there is something of the sort in Henry Blossom’s apocryphal Blue Emperor, in which Mombi is shown to have cast a spell to make everyone forget about Ozroar. And Phyllis Ann Karr’s Gardener’s Boy reveals that the witches of Jinxland cast a spell on the country that keeps anyone who leaves the country from fully remembering it, although it isn’t always totally effective. Another sort of mental magic outside the canon occurs in Roger Baum’s Dorothy, when the Wicked Witch of the West’s wand corrupts Gayelette’s jester.

Finally, we come to mind reading, which I don’t recall being all that common in the Oz series. Of course, being able to fully discern someone’s thoughts would be complicated, as our minds don’t just think of one thing at a time. On the other hand, if someone just understands another’s fully conscious thoughts, that’s still not realistic, but it’s easier to suspend disbelief. In Tin Woodman, Polychrome says that Mrs. Yoop “can read your thoughts whenever she cares to do so,” but it never comes up after that. Wishing Horse relies on Pigasus having the ability to read the thoughts of anyone on his back, although he isn’t stated to have this power when introduced in Pirates.

Bitty Bit, the Seer of Some Summit, has at least some insight into people’s thoughts; and Glinda’s Book of Records also sometimes seems to record thoughts as well as actions, although I don’t think this is fully consistent.

The most effective mind-reading device appears to be a book simply (and punnily) called the Mind Reader, which is somehow in the possession of Yammer Jammer, chief counselor to King Jack-a-lack of Wackajammy.

It prints the thoughts of anyone nearby, and other sections give prophecies and general backgrounds of people present. Tompy and Yankee steal it, but Jinnicky later gives it to Jack-a-lack’s Aunt Doffi, who takes it back to Wackajammy. I’ll bet Professor Marvel wished he had had something like that.

Posted in Characters, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Phyllis Ann Karr, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wages of Sin

Snuff Fiction, by Robert Rankin – While Rankin often employs dark humor, this one is even darker than most, focusing on the narrator’s unfortunate friendship with tobacco magnate, terrorist, and generally underhanded guy Doveston. He’s constantly helping out Doveston with some scheme or other, pretty much always resulting in Doveston coming out ahead and his getting screwed over. These schemes range from running a tobacco plantation in Brentford to bringing back snuff in the late twentieth century to the abolition of income tax and secret legalization of all drugs. Written in 1999, it also makes use of the then-current Y2K panic, presenting a worst-case scenario that allows Doveston to pretty much take control of the world. Of course, there are also plenty of running gags and references to Rankin’s other books. Norman Hartnell, the local shopkeeper who builds seemingly impossible machines from common household parts, is a significant character; and many other recurring characters and ideas receive mentions. I did think that, while the sentient plants grown by Doveston’s mentor towards the beginning of the book did return, it wasn’t as much of a payoff as I would have hoped. But then, a large part of Rankin’s style is that you can never really guess what’s going to become important and what isn’t.

The Enchanter Reborn, by L. Sprague de Camp and Christopher Stasheff – I’d read an earlier collection of Harold Shea stories before, and the ones here are follow-ups written well after the death of co-author Fletcher Pratt. I actually first heard of this series from a review in The Baum Bugle of “Sir Harold and the Gnome King,” which brings Shea into Oz. That story is in here, although I believe it was slightly rewritten from the earlier publication in order to fit it in better with the other tales. Sprague de Camp shows a thorough familiarity with Oz, or at least the L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson books, including references to some more obscure characters (Shoofenwaller and Potaroo are both mentioned) and expressions straight out of the series. There is a twist, however, as an amateur magician named Dranol Drabbo managed to undo the anti-aging enchantment, so characters like Dorothy and Ozma are now grown up. Dorothy is married to a farmer, and Ozma to King Evardo of Ev. In order to use the Magic Belt, Harold has to rescue Ozma and Evardo’s son from Kaliko, bringing a disenchanted Ruggedo along as a guide. It’s an enjoyable story, with the old Nome King quite true to form. Also in this volume, Shea and his colleague Reed Chambers visit the worlds of Journey to the West, Don Quixote, and Virgil’s Aeneid, trying to rescue Chalmers’ wife Florimel from an evil enchanter. There are some new takes on the nature of these alternate worlds, with Quixote’s world being the one he imagines where he’s actually a heroic knight instead of Cervantes’ lunatic, and the Aeneid not having Dido commit suicide. The latter is explained as a possible early draft of the poem, which was never really completed to Virgil’s satisfaction. The enchanters also learn the perils of practicing magic in worlds where gods and demons are real.

The Management Style of the Supreme Beings, by Tom Holt – We’ve all heard the ridiculous notion that the government should be run like a business. Well, this is essentially proposing the idea of the metaphysical being run like a business, a frequently recurring concept in Holt’s books. Here, the premise is that God and Jesus decide to retire and sell the Earth, which is purchased by two Martian brothers who decide to do away with good and evil as we know them, and instead simply demand cash payments for sins. It actually does decrease the crime rate and make things run more smoothly in many ways, but it also removes most of the hope and joy from the world. The protagonists here include an Indiana Jones parody, the man who runs the business side of Hell, and God’s second son Kevin. The latter character, introduced in Only Human as generally incompetent, here is allowed to come into his own. Also playing a major role is Santa Claus, who comes along with the planet and is a dangerous anomaly to the Venturi Brothers. I think Holt did a better job with the supernatural characters than the humans in this one; Kevin is sympathetic, God demonstrates the paradoxes inherent in a being who’s omnipotent and omniscient but shows signs of a human personality (it turns out that He really DID make a rock so heavy He couldn’t lift it, and the angels Michael and Gabriel had to turn it into a fireplace), Santa is bad-ass without being the villain he was in Grailblazers, Lucifer is a guy just doing his job, and even the Venturis are developed enough that we can at least somewhat see why they’re so intent on owning as much of the universe as they can. Jersey Thorpe’s exploits are amusing enough, but he’s not that interesting as a character, and I didn’t really buy his relationship with Lucy. It seems like pretty much every Holt fantasy has to have a romantic subplot, and while he does keep them flawed, they still generally involve two people who just met quickly falling in love.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Characters, Chinese, Conspiracy Theories, Humor, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Religion, Robert Rankin, Roman, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Tom Holt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In for a Pennywise, Out for a Clown

It – SPOILERS! (Do I need to put in the warning, or is that not something people bother with anymore?) I’ve never read the book (or anything by Stephen King, actually), but I did see the miniseries some time ago. I didn’t realize before coming into it that this was only half the story, but it makes sense considering how much there is. My first thought when seeing the new Pennywise was that he was way over the top, and this might have been a case where less is more.

Having seen the movie, he was generally too silly to be particularly scary, although the stuff going on around him tended to make up for it in terms of creepiness. There were a lot of weirdly eerie scenes. Really, though, the most disturbing parts involved the psychotic bullies, one of whom tried to carve his name in another kid’s belly with a switchblade, and later almost shot a cat. You could kind of root for Pennywise to kill them. Insane bullies are pretty common in the films I’ve seen based on King’s stories; regular bullies are bad enough, but these tend to be downright murderous. There are also a lot of parents who are abusive in various ways. Don’t you think that, after your parents were burned to death in the same house you were in, you might be rather squeamish about killing sheep? Then again, the grandfather was also probably still in mourning to some extent. I did find it odd that the kid who lived on a farm was home-schooled; I don’t know how his grandfather would have had the time (or the money, if he hired a tutor) for that. I was told that the kid with asthma did take placebos because his mom had Munchausen by Proxy (maybe not specifically identified as such, but that sounds like what it was) in the book, but it’s strange that the one who revealed that information in this movie was some weird girl at the drugstore. What reason would he have to believe her? It seems like Pennywise went down pretty easily in the end as well, although of course he’s not totally gone. But anyway, I think it was an effective film, and the performances were good. Also, they played the first verse of XTC’s “Dear God,” and a poster in Beverly’s room mentioned the Young Fresh Fellows (opening for the Replacements). I would think they should have used Modest Mouse, not because I’m a fan but because, you know, we’ll all float on, okay.

Posted in Music, VoVat Goes to the Movies, XTC, Young Fresh Fellows | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments