The Second Most Dangerous Game

I would have to suspect that, in a land in which practically all animals can talk, humans killing and eating them would pretty much disappear. Perhaps strangely, however, there are a few mentions of human hunters in Oz. They’re most common in the Ruth Plumly Thompson books, but aren’t totally absent from L. Frank Baum either. We’re told in The Marvelous Land of Oz that the Gump was shot with a gun, then had his head stuffed and hung above a fireplace in the Royal Palace.

In Dorothy and the Wizard, Ozma states that her grandfather was captured by Mombi while out hunting.

I’ve seen it suggested that this former king is the one who killed the Gump, which could explain why his head would have been in the palace (although it presumably wouldn’t have been exactly the same palace at that point). Henry Blossom’s Blue Emperor indicates that Ozma’s grandfather was friends with the Gump, whose name was Namyl, so presumably wouldn’t have been the one who shot him. It also says that Mombi captured him during a banquet rather than when he was hunting, however. Joe Bongiorno’s workaround is that the character of Ozroar in Blue Emperor is Ozma’s great-grandfather. Her grandfather, according to Edward Einhorn’s Paradox, was imprisoned in Absurd City and then transported to an alternate world where time ran in the opposite direction. The rabbits of Bunnybury refer to their wild relatives fearing “man and gun and hound.”

Professor Grunter Swyne, a civilized pig in Tin Woodman, keeps his teeth sharp in order to deter butchers; and Pigasus is said in Wishing Horse to dislike farmers for much the same reason. In Cowardly Lion, Notta Bit More dresses up as a hunter with a gun. He isn’t really one, but the Lion immediately recognizes him as a potential threat.

Grampa shoots down a bird, and while it turns out to be a weather-cock who isn’t injured, he’s fully intending to kill it for dinner. We’re told in Ojo that “the heads of deer, elk, and other large animals proved the robbers to be doughty hunters.” Of course, they ARE outlaws who think nothing of trading a boy in for sapphires. Later in the story, Realbad kills “two wild fowl” in order to make a meal for himself and Ojo. He also describes his father, the former King of Seebania, as being “ever fonder of hunting than of ruling.” Since the Gump says he’s from Seebania in Blue Emperor, that gives us another possible killer. And that’s not even mentioning all the occasions of people catching fish, or Snip’s lack of surprise at a talking goose being a potential dinner in Lost King.

There are probably ways to get around some of these examples. For instance, maybe Ozma’s grandfather was captured and enchanted before animal sentience was the norm. And we could say that some of these hunters are ostracized by society, but since Ozma makes friends with Grampa and allows Realbad to take the throne of Seebania, this doesn’t seem that likely unless we consider Thompson an unreliable narrator (which all of the Oz authors presumably are sometimes, what with all the contradictions, but I prefer to consider as much of the authorial voice as I can to be accurate). Or maybe she discussed this with them off the page. Elmer Fudd might have no problem trying to kill animals who can converse with him, but I like to see Oz as rather more functional than the world of Looney Tunes. There could also be cases of ancestral memory; maybe hunting rabbits is frowned upon now, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a time in Ozian history when it was common. And maybe some cases of hunting for sport don’t involve any actual killing, but just chasing. There are a few precedents for this, the most significant being that View-Halloo in Merry Go Round is a community centered around fox-hunting, but they just tag the foxes instead of killing them.

There’s also Sir Hokus chasing a dragonette in Wonder City with no intention of harming her. Some gallows humor could also be involved. We know the Hungry Tiger has no qualms about telling people and animals that he’d eat them if it weren’t for his conscience, and the Cowardly Lion has a few instances of this sort of thing as well.

Still, it’s an element of the fairyland that I don’t think the authors fully thought out. Hunting was a common activity for historical kings, so Baum and Thompson just had Ozian kings doing that as well without being concerned with the implications.

Posted in Animals, Characters, Edward Einhorn, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Food, Humor, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Strings Attached

Kubo and the Two StringsWARNING! SPOILERS! I thought this film looked interesting, but I didn’t get around to watching it until I’d heard some good things about it, and borrowed the DVD from Netflix. I think it was definitely my kind of movie, which isn’t to say it was one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen or anything, but the mythical/fairy tale style really appealed to me. It has a structure that sums up a lot of my favorite media: an inexperienced hero teams up with unusual companions to go on a quest for some mystical items, fighting monsters and overcoming obstacles along the way, then finally has to overcome the main antagonist. Filmed in stop-motion animation, it was not a Japanese film, but took place in Japan and used Japanese themes. The more prominent members of the voice cast were white, including Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, and Ralph Fiennes. Kubo is a one-eyed boy who lives in mountain cave near a village with his mother Sariatu, voiced by Theron. She tells him stories of his father, a samurai hero named Hanzo; and of her father, the Moon King, who sought to kill him. Kubo isn’t sure how much of this is actually true, but he incorporates these stories into performances in the village involving origami and music from his three-stringed shamisen. When he stays out after dark to attend a festival, his creepy aunts track him down and his mother dies, using the last of her power to send Kubo away on magic wings and bring his snow monkey charm to life.

Beth told me she’d seen pictures of snow monkeys before, and they always looked like they led miserable lives. This particular monkey certainly comes across as pretty world-weary.

They’re soon joined by McConaughey’s character, a former samurai who’s part man and part stag beetle, and claims to have known Hanzo, although he hardly remembers anything at all.

Kubo also finds out that he can work magic by playing his shamisen. The three companions seek out Hanzo’s armor in order to defeat the Moon King, and are constantly on the run from Kubo’s aunts. Along the way, they fight a giant skeleton with swords in his head, based on the Gashadokuro of Japanese mythology; and have to escape an underwater pit of eyes.

The boy eventually learns that his animal companions are actually his parents, Sariatu having transferred her own spirit into the monkey charm and Hanzo being cursed by Sariatu’s sisters. There’s some build-up to this, as they fight like a married couple, and Beetle is constantly making what people now call dad jokes. Mind you, they’re the same sort of jokes I tend to make, and I’m not a father. They both die protecting their son from his aunts, and he has to face his grandfather with his shamisen, replacing its two broken strings with his mother’s hair and father’s bowstring. I guess that explains the “two strings” in the title, at least in part.

He uses the magic of memories to defeat the Moon King, voiced by Fiennes, who turns mortal loses his memory, and is then brainwashed into thinking he was a nice guy. And that’s pretty much it, although I feel I should also mention the promotional tie-in with Discover the Forest, for the sake of posterity if nothing else. Also, the cover of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor, which is played over the end credits, is pretty cool.

Posted in Animals, Beatles, Cartoons, Fairy Tales, Families, Humor, Japanese, Magic, Monsters, Music, Mythology, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

They Blue Themselves

At the risk of lacking variety, I’m featuring another malevolent sea creature from Scottish mythology this week. This myth appears to be very localized, limited to northern Scotland. These sea people, known as the Blue Men of the Minch, are…exactly that, blue-skinned humanoids inhabiting the Minch, a strait between the Hebrides and mainland Scotland. Various descriptions also give them gray faces, green hair and beards, blue headgear, long arms, and sometimes even wings.

They dwell in undersea caves and are organized in clans led by a chief. They’re said to sleep on the surface of the water, and swim somewhat like porpoises. They’re also said to enjoy a sport called shinty, which is played with sticks and a ball. I’m not sure exactly how they adapt that to life underwater. Like many mythical sea-dwellers, they can affect the tides and stir up storms to harm unwary sailors.

Source: Viner Art
There was, however, a way to avoid this, which was that the Blue Men were fond of rhyming contests. If a captain could correctly answer them in verse, they’d be allowed to pass unharmed. And people say there’s no practical use for poetry! A story reported by John Gregorson Campbell tells us a Blue Man being captured by sailors, but he escapes as soon as his fellows call to him. This tale seems to be the only one in which the Blue Men call each other by name. Donald Mackenzie has them call themselves Duncan, Donald, and Ian. Gregorson Campbell’s version calls one of them Farquhar. Their chief is quite possibly named Seonaidh, or Shony, and there was a ritual that involved pouring malt ale onto the water for him, which would hopefully entice him to provide seaweed.

I don’t think he’s the same one who started the restaurant chain, although I HAVE had the seafood buffet there. And while we’re on contemporary references, I’m not sure the Blue Men of the Minch could be as scary as THESE Blue Men.

They probably don’t recite much poetry, either.

As with many myths, there are several hypotheses on how the stories originated. Some think they were derived from memories of the Picts, who were known for their blue tattoos. Others propose they were based on black Africans brought to Europe by the Vikings. Perhaps more likely is that they were just personifications of the sea itself. Their mythical classification is as a sort of fairy, and specifically a subset of kelpies, even though they don’t turn into horses. Wikipedia references Mackenzie for the idea that fairies are fallen angels who can be divided into three groups, based in the sky, land, and sea, respectively. The sky fairies would have been the Northern Lights.

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That’s Life, Isn’t It

The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir – This project was based on an idea someone suggested to Stephin Merritt in 2015, when he turned fifty. He would write and record one song to represent each year of his life, an idea he apparently resisted a bit because he never liked to write straight autobiographical work, but he later decided he could bend the rules a bit. Most of the songs are at least inspired by true events or trends in his life, but not always correct in every detail. It’s sort of a response to what’s probably his most famous album, 69 Love Songs from 1999. As on that one, there’s a great variety in style and instrumentation, yet everything is still unmistakably Stephin Merritt. He mixes a grumpy, melancholy attitude with a heavy dose of humor and wistfulness, coming out with songs that are often dreary, funny, and irresistibly catchy at the same time. I attended a performance at which he premiered the first twenty-five songs back in December (there was another for the next twenty-five the following night, but I didn’t go), and pre-ordered the album right afterwards. It came with a print of the album artwork and liner notes featuring an interview on all the songs (well, except “Quotes,” for some reason) with Daniel Handler, accordion player and writer of the Lemony Snicket books. The music was on five CDs, kind of weird as I think it could have easily fit on two; only one of the fifty songs breaks the four-minute mark. Maybe it was to maintain consistency with the vinyl LP release. Merritt is clear that the songs don’t reflect the styles of their respective years, at least not intentionally. “A Cat Called Dionysus,” the song about his childhood cat who hated him is definitely a stand-out, funny but also kind of sad. Merritt has mentioned that he’s more of a dog person now, specifically favoring Chihuahuas. “They’re Killing Children Over There” is another bizarrely humorous one, about a young Merritt misinterpreting a statement by Grace Slick at a Jefferson Airplane concert as being about children being killed at the venue itself. “Life Ain’t All Bad” celebrates the death of one of Merritt’s mother’s terrible boyfriends, turning trauma bitterness into something entertaining, and featuring Handler on Hammond B3 organ. “No” mocks various spiritual beliefs to a jangly riff and drum machine beat. “The Blizzard of ’78” has a buzzy, out-of-tune three-string dulcimer riff running through it. “London by Jetpack” has a retro-futuristic theme in both music and lyrics. “The Day I Finally…” is a minimalist song with Merritt playing synthesizer and various percussion. “Haven’t Got a Penny” is kind of indirectly reggae-influenced. “You Can Never Go Back to New York” has a mixed mood on how much and how quickly the city changes. The closer, “Somebody’s Fetish,” is an unconventional sort of love song featuring a fun organ part (or at least I think it’s an organ; there are some unusual instruments in use on this record), the song being described by Handler as “a happy ending in a fairy tale sense and a massage parlor sense at the same time.” There’s a lot to digest on this album, and I’ll probably notice more about the other songs later on, but for now I think I’d better go ahead and post the review.

Posted in Albums, Authors, Daniel Handler, Humor, magnetic fields, Music, Stephin Merritt | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behold the Coagula

Get Out – I’d heard good things about this movie, but really knew nothing about it other than that it was a horror film (or at least horror-adjacent) and that it dealt with racism. I can’t say I know much about Key and Peele, either. Beth and I finally watched this last night, and I found it effective. There are definitely going to be some significant SPOILERS in here, so proceed with caution.

After an opening scene of a black man being abducted in an affluent suburb, we shift to a white girl named Rose taking her black boyfriend Chris home to meet her family. They turn out to be the sort of people who try to overcompensate for racism by obsessing over how cool black people are. Not only is this uncomfortable for Chris, but he also suspects something sinister is going on when he discovers that the only other black people are cheerfully subservient in an almost robotic way, and engage in many unusual behaviors as well.

It turns out that, through a combination of hypnosis and brain surgery, the family is transplanting the minds of white people into black bodies. The captives’ original minds remain, but in a dormant state. Chris’s girlfriend turns out to be in on it too, luring people in to serve as vessels. The triggered hypnosis and surgery complete with spooky music are a bit corny in their execution, but the mood is tense enough that they work anyway.

It’s a ridiculous and often comical scenario that’s also rather uncomfortable, calling out the hypocrisy of what I suppose could be called admiring racism. The family and their clients seem to believe that black people are superior in many ways, not really acknowledging how that’s also racist, especially when they have no problem with removing their agency entirely. The grandfather, who started the transplant project, is said early on to have lost to Jesse Owens in the qualifying trials for the Berlin Olympics. He’s since implanted his consciousness into a physically fit black man, and constantly admires its speed and strength. I had to wonder if there was something to the girlfriend tying back her hair as soon as she revealed herself to be evil. Maybe I’m reading too many into it, but it seemed weirdly symbolic to me, as if she’s demonstrating that she’s no longer the fun-loving girl with her hair down but a serious threat.

Stephen Root makes an appearance as a blind art dealer who wants to take over Chris’s body. I guess somebody must have liked his performance as a blind guy in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Chris eventually does escape with help from his friend Rod, a conspiracy-minded TSA agent who actually figures out most of what’s going on, but obviously nobody believes him. The implication is that, while Chris might be safe, it’s unlikely anything will be done about the body-stealing organization. The music was also quite interesting. Two of the three songs mentioned in the credits feature running (the other is “The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, which Rose listens to while searching online for NCAA prospects to seduce), and the Swahili lyrics to the main theme roughly translate as, “Listen to your ancestors, run!” I think there might be some sort of theme going on there.

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

Fairyland Lost

Anyone who’s read the Oz books from The Emerald City of Oz on knows that residence in that fairyland grants certain magical effects, including a lack of aging unless you want to grow older, and presumably the inability to die except through total destruction. In Tik-Tok, Private Files assures his officers that, even if an Ozite is torn into pieces, each piece would technically still be alive. In Magic tells us that “it is doubtful whether those who come to Oz from the outside world…will live forever or cannot be injured. Even Ozma is not sure about this.” By the next book, however, Glinda is sure that Dorothy will remain alive and free from pain even if she’s cut into pieces. And Bucky Jones does survive being buried in a blizzard of talcum powder. It seems to be the general rule that those who came to Oz from elsewhere are only affected by this magic so long as they stay within its borders, while those who are born there retain them elsewhere, but even this might have its exceptions. Going back to Tik-Tok, Queen Ann Soforth seems certain that she can’t die even while in Ev, while the Shaggy Man, despite being a citizen of Oz, might be killed while there. We never really find out whether she’s right, fortunately for Shaggy. When Dorothy absent-mindedly wishes herself to the United States in Lost King, she grows to the age she would have been if she hadn’t settled in Oz, although the effect isn’t immediate.

It’s also reversed by her wish to be back, which not only returns her to Oz but restores her former age. I guess we don’t know if she would have remained an adult in Oz if she’d phrased the wish differently. It’s the Wizard of Oz who explains this, and according to apocryphal sources, maybe he knows this from experience. In Witch Queen, the Wizard and Glinda visit the States to obtain some herbs, and neither of them can work any magic until they reach the magic barrier around Oz in a balloon. It doesn’t say that the Wizard ages at all while there, but perhaps he does, or he took precautions against it. Christopher Buckley’s Beach Blanket BabylOz has the Wizard accidentally transport himself, Ozma, Dorothy, Toto, Trot, Scraps, and the Scarecrow to California. Once there, the Wizard, Dorothy, Toto, and Trot all begin to age; and the two magical constructs become inanimate.

Ozma is able to use her magic to restore everybody, although it takes a lot of her energy to do so. George Van Buren’s Zimbo and the Magic Amulet mentions that anyone from fairyland who is over one hundred years of age will die within a half hour if they enter the Outside World, although there are likely exceptions to this rule. Jeremy Steadman’s Emerald Ring gives a name to this sudden aging, the Urbof Effect, after Torrian magician Farmooth Urbof. It does seem like this only happens when someone visits a non-fairyland, and not another fairyland where death is still possible. The Wizard explains in Paul Dana’s Magic Umbrella that Button-Bright and Ojo will age when visiting Ev, but only at a normal rate from their current age, not all at once.

I’ve already looked at how magic often doesn’t work in the Outside World, but there have been exceptions since quite early on in the series. At best, I think we can say it’s uncertain whether any particular magic will work outside fairyland. When several magically animated Ozites visit America in the Queer Visitors stories, they not only remain alive, but have access to magic they never do while in Oz.

It’s possible that someone gave this extra magic to them, and maybe also provided protection to make sure they wouldn’t become inanimate. Glinda would be the most likely, since this would have been before Ozma or the Wizard had learned magic (or at least they hadn’t learned much of it). Exactly how such protection would work isn’t clear.

Animals talking is also a regular part of Ozian life, and this generally applies to any mundane animal who is in Oz at the time. Even Toto, who seemed to be the exception at first, reveals in Tik-Tok that he just didn’t want to talk. Billina is able to talk as soon as she reaches Ev, but it doesn’t seem like all other chickens there can, at least as per remarks by Nanda and the Nome King.

Hank the Mule doesn’t talk while in Ev or the Nome Kingdom, and Bilbil’s speech is unusual to the Nomes. It does seem that animals from Oz don’t lose their ability to talk when they enter fairylands where such a thing isn’t the norm. The talking dog in Queen Zixi of Ix is an anomaly to the army of Ix, but Kabumpo has no problem talking when he’s there in Silver Princess. On the other hand, it appears that any animal visiting Samandra is unable to talk, even ones who normally can. So is Samandra actually less magical than Ix in this one respect? As for whether Ozian animals are able to speak in non-fairylands, it’s somewhat unclear. Humpty Bumpty, the camel in Enchanted Island, claims that he was unable to understand the circus workers, so he didn’t bother trying to speak to them either. He talks to David Perry, but only after he uses a magical button to wish the camel could talk. And while I’m not sure if it’s official, Rachel Cosgrove Payes stated in her author’s notes that she received information from a talking bird who lived in Oz. When Oz loses most of the effects of the enchantment in Enchanted Apples, Billina is no longer able to talk, and the Scarecrow becomes lifeless.

Posted in Animals, Comics, Eric Shanower, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Oz, Oz Authors, Phil Lewin, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Drove My Chevy to the Nuckelavee

Since St. Patrick’s Day was two days ago, it might make sense to feature Irish mythology this weekend, but instead I’m going with Scottish. Hey, I’m part Scots-Irish, after all. The particular focus of this post is local to the Orkney Islands in the north, although it appears to have been influenced by Scandinavian folklore. I refer to the Nuckelavee, a much-feared beast capable of causing all sorts of destruction. Although it lived in the sea, it would occasionally venture onto land to cause droughts, wilt crops, and give diseases to cattle with its venomous breath. It was truly a force of nature. The Nuckelavee was known to especially get angry at the smell of burning seaweed, which the Orcadians did to make ash that would neutralize acidic soil. It does have its weaknesses, however, most notably an aversion to fresh water. As such, anyone being pursued by the creature could escape by crossing a river or stream. Along the same lines, it refused to leave the sea when it was raining. That malevolent entities were incapable of crossing running water was a pretty common idea, but I couldn’t say how it originated. The most famous account of a Nuckelavee encounter comes from nineteenth-century Scottish folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, who credits the tale to an islander named Tammas who escaped the monster by splashing lake water on it. The Nuckelavee is also kept under control during the summer by a seasonal spirit known as the Sea Mither. She was known to provide life and warmth, and to keep away storms.

Her main enemy was a winter spirit called Teran, who stirred up the sea and waves. Every year, she’d triumph over Teran during the spring and hold him captive at the bottom of the sea, but he’d break free and overpower her during the fall.

Sounds like a rather tedious existence, but such is the way of myths explaining the seasons. When at the height of her power, the Mither was able to confine the Nuckelavee as well.

I haven’t yet gotten into the appearance of the Nuckelavee. As with most such creatures, descriptions differ a bit. It’s also suggested that it might have had a different form when under the sea, which I guess humans would have never seen. Sometimes said to ride a gruesome horse, the story credited to Tammas fused the two together. It wasn’t quite a centaur, but rather the head and torso of a man growing out of the back of a horse. The man’s head was ten times as large as an ordinary one, and the mouth like that of a pig. The human-like torso also had arms long enough to reach the ground. The horse’s head had one flaming red eye. And most disturbing of all, the Nuckelavee had no skin, so its insides were constantly visible.

Its blood was black, and flowed through yellow veins. Apparently nasty beings that looked like horses but came from the water were a major problem in the British Isles at one point. You can see a gallery of recent Nuckelavee illustrations here.

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