Saving the World While We’re Young

I’ve seen the topic come up of how everyone tends to be young in Japanese role-playing video games, to the extent that people in their thirties are considered old. I noticed this in Final Fantasy VII, where everyone seems to consider Cid Highwind an old man, including Cid himself.

Later, I looked it up online and found that he was only supposed to be thirty-two. Not only is that not old, but it’s younger than Barret. But then, Cid probably looks older because he’s a chain smoker, and black don’t crack. The thing is, while the FF games prior to this one did tend to have young heroes, there was generally at least one token party member who was fifty or older, often a wise old wizard type. In FF4, Cid is fifty-four and Tellah sixty, and Cid is still alive and kicking seventeen years later in The After Years.

Fusoya, who’s millions of years old, doesn’t really count as he’s not human and so ages at a different rate, but he’s certainly depicted as an old man. FF5 has Galuf, who’s sixty, and thanks to the class system you can make him a brawler instead of or in addition to a mage, if you so choose. In FF6, Cyan starts out as fifty (maybe a little old to have a son with a child sprite, although that’s certainly not impossible) and Strago seventy, in a group where none of the other characters with established ages are older than twenty-seven.

That doesn’t count Shadow, whose age we really don’t know, although he’s old enough to have a ten-year-old daughter. So what happened after that? I looked up playable character ages in FF games after VII, many of which I haven’t played, and it appears that none of the human ones are older than forty, and that’s an outlier.

This guy is thirty-five.
And the heroes’ ages tend to decrease slightly as well, with Cecil and Bartz in their early twenties, Terra eighteen, Squall seventeen, and Zidane sixteen. Twenty is still pretty young for Cecil to lead a branch of the military, and the same goes for Celes being a general at eighteen. I guess they started along these career paths at a younger age than Americans would consider typical.

The playable characters in the Dragon Quest series also tend to skew pretty young. The hero in Dragon Quest III begins his adventure on his sixteenth birthday, and that’s the official age of the heroes in the first two games as well. While the hero in DQ4 is eighteen, two of his companions are a merchant in his forties and a mage in his sixties.

The main protagonist of DQ5 grows older over the course of the game, but he marries around sixteen and later travels with his eight-year-old children. The oldest human party member in DQ6 is Amos, who’s in his early thirties. The hero’s parents seem to expect their son to hook up with Ashlynn, and they’re both seventeen.

And I commented on how much sexual tension there is between the teenage heroes of Dai no Daibouken, which takes place in the DQ universe but isn’t based on any particular game. And DQ7 has pretty much all young people as playable characters, except for Sir Mervyn, who’s of an unspecified age but obviously old.

So this series definitely tends toward young heroes as well. But even when there are older men, there are pretty much never older women. What, you can’t save the world once you’re past prime childbearing age? I fail to see the connection.

A Quora discussion on the topic suggests that it’s partially because Japanese teenagers are expected to grow up more quickly than American ones, as well as that there are so many young heroes in manga. Western epic fantasy tends to be based more on authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, whose protagonists were pretty much always adults. Personally, I still read a lot of children’s and young adult fantasy, and those often have their characters even younger than the JRPG heroes but no less heroic. But it does seem less frequent that these Western characters are expected to form lasting romantic relationships, and that happens all the time in the games. And Square Enix has pretty much said they like using teenage characters because their gaining experience mirrors the transition into adulthood. The coming-of-age tale is prevalent throughout the world, although what age the protagonists are when they come of age can vary considerably. But then, I’m forty-one, and I still don’t know that I’ve fully come of age yet.

Posted in Authors, Comics, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Gender, J.R.R. Tolkien, Magic, Prejudice, Relationships, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Are Family

This post on the Merry Old Land of Oz Facebook group got me thinking about how most of the kids who visit Oz tend to be only children. Okay, to be fair, it’s possible they have siblings we don’t know about, but it doesn’t seem that likely. We could definitely interpret Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot as essentially being unofficial sisters.

The only kids in the Famous Forty specifically said to have siblings are Twink and Tom in The Shaggy Man of Oz, and they’re twins.

In Alexander Volkov’s Magic Land books, Ellie Smith, the equivalent of Dorothy, has a younger sister named Annie who visits Magic Land after Ellie becomes too old. I’m not sure why she’s too old for magical adventures while her uncle and cousin aren’t, but that’s what happens. Ellie and Annie also live with their parents, and are not orphans like Dorothy. Robin Hess’s Christmas does give Button-Bright a younger brother named Walt who stays in Philadelphia, although I’m not sure whether that can be reconciled with Paul Dana’s account of Button-Bright’s family in Lost Boy.

What’s also interesting is that the adults who visit Oz from the United States mostly are said to have siblings. Aunt Em’s sister is married to Bill Hugson; and while it’s never specifically stated, it’s implied that Uncle Henry is the brother of one of Dorothy’s parents. The books never identify Henry and Em’s last name, but the movie calls them Gale, and many fan works have followed suit. The Shaggy Man searches for his brother in Tik-Tok, and eventually brings him to Oz to live.

Cap’n Bill’s brother Joe, formerly from the ship Gladsome, features in The Sea Fairies, where he turns up living in Zog‘s undersea palace despite Bill thinking he’s drowned.

Cap’n Bob from Frank Joslyn Baum’s Laughing Dragon has also been said to be a brother of Bill and Joe’s, even though I’m pretty sure this wasn’t in the original version, in which he was really just more of a rip-off of Bill.

And Notta Bit More is the youngest of twelve. The only exception is the Wizard, and even then we just don’t know one way or the other.

It seems that Ozian natives often aren’t said to have siblings either, perhaps not too surprising in a place where people hardly ever die. I’m mostly counting human protagonists here, as animals are often born in litters, but there isn’t much mention of this in the books. We do know that the Nine Tiny Piglets are all siblings, as are Pinny and Gig in Hidden Valley. And artificially animated beings often seem to define their own family relationships. Jack Pumpkinhead considers Ozma his parent, but there’s no indication that the Scarecrow has that sort of relationship with the farmer who made him, or the Patchwork Girl with Dr. Pipt or Margolotte. The Tin Woodman, who of course was flesh and blood at one time, claims to have six nieces in Lucky Bucky, which presumably means he has at least one brother or sister. There’s also a brief reference in the 1926 Ozmapolitan to a Utensian skillet being his nephew, but it’s not entirely clear how that relationship works. Obviously Number Nine‘s family of fourteen is an exception to the general rule.

Polychrome has many sisters, and Queen Ann Soforth in Tik-Tok has a younger sister named Salye.

The Three Adepts in Glinda are likely to be sisters, but it’s never actually stated.

And Tim in Dick Martin’s Ozmapolitan is the youngest of seven.

Other books by unofficial authors have given siblings to characters who weren’t previously said to have them, including Glinda’s sisters in Greg Hunter’s Enchanted Gnome and Allison McBain’s Cory, Kabumpo‘s sister Kabina in Jeff Freedman’s Magic Dishpan, Pastoria‘s half-brother Riskitt in Donald Abbott’s How the Wizard Saved Oz, Ruggedo’s brothers Fumaro and Acinad, and Prince Philador’s newborn brother in “Mysterious Pool” (although he isn’t born until some time after the events of Giant Horse). I believe I’ve read a few books that identified the Soldier with Green Whiskers and Guardian of the Gates as brothers, Atticus Gannaway’s Time Travelling being the one I recall offhand.

And Jellia Jamb coming from a large family is something I recall from at least one short story, and I went with that idea in “The Other Searches for the Lost Princess of Oz.” And I’ve written about how the Wicked Witches of the East and West are generally considered siblings, something that was first established in the MGM movie, but made it into a lot of fan-written works based on the books. Mombi also has siblings, according to Paul Dana’s works. I’ve done a bit of family-building myself, as with Handy Mandy in my Goat Girls.

Posted in Atticus Gannaway, Characters, Dick Martin, Families, Jack Snow, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Have the Power!

Hell’s Super, by Mark Cain – This comedic look at the popular conception of Hell is narrated by Steve Minion, a rich guy in life who became the superintendent in Hell, conscripted to fix everything that breaks. The fact that he’s not good at it is part of his punishment. The presentation of Hell is as a fairly structured place where everyone goes about their day-to-day lives, only everything is designed to be as crappy as possible, but with a tiny bit of hope remaining so it can be crushed. Not surprisingly, a lot of it is based on Dante’s Inferno, but modernized. Here, Minion is made to fix the escalator to Hell. He interacts with a lot of real people: Orson Welles is his assistant; Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Nikola Tesla help him out with the technical stuff; the Three Stooges lead a group of anarchists plotting an escape; and Minion has a relationship with Florence Nightingale (who, unlike the others, wasn’t assigned to Hell; she went there because it’s where she thought she could do the most good). I think it was a pretty good collection of gags that didn’t necessarily add up to a good story overall. Still, it was decent, and I might read some of the sequels if I run out of other ideas.

Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, by Lou Scheimer with Andy Mangels – I bought this at OzCon last year from Mangels, a Filmation historian, who was there as a guest to discuss Journey Back to Oz, an animated film with a surprising number of celebrity voice actors. He drew a Skeletor on the title page for me. And I just finished it not long after THIS year’s OzCon. I knew Filmation was responsible for the He-Man and She-Ra series, but I didn’t realize just how much else they’d done. Fat Albert was one of their biggest hits, which is kind of embarrassing knowing what we now know about Bill Cosby, but it’s obvious that they did put a lot of work into it. Filmation developed both original shows and ones based on existing properties, like DC superheroes, Archie, Tarzan, and Star Trek. They did live action programming as well, including that Shazam! show where Captain Marvel rode around in a motor home with an old guy. I was aware as a kid of the Ghostbusters cartoon with the gorilla, although I don’t think I ever saw a full episode of it. What I didn’t know was that it was originally a live-action series with a guy in a gorilla suit. It was the first use of that title, and I’m not sure why Harold Ramis and company decided to reuse it instead of calling their film something else, but it’s the reason why the cartoon based on the movie was titled The Real Ghostbusters (and I did watch that fairly regularly). I guess it was because busting made them feel good enough to negotiate to use someone else’s title. Another show that ran from 1978 to 1981 that I don’t think I’d previously heard of, Jason of Star Command, is interesting to me in that Rob Zombie apparently chose Sid Haig to star in House of 1000 Corpses based on his performance as a villain on the show. Scheimer tells his life story as well as that of the company, often highlighting their push for character diversity, including messages for kids (I’m not sure, but I think they might have been the first to include the public service segments at the end where the cartoon characters talk directly to the audience, although certainly not the last), and keeping their animation jobs in the United States. There’s a general feel of their being a scrappy little company that managed to achieve some success, but always had to fight for it. Scheimer mentions how Filmation saved money by using stock animation, and how Scheimer and his kids did a fair number of the voices. One bit of trivia that stuck with me was how Orko’s name was originally Gorpo, but because the S on Superman’s chest in an older series meant they couldn’t just flip the stock flying scenes, they instead decided to have his name start with an O. It’s a good read for anyone interested in animation history.

Posted in Book Reviews, Cartoons, Celebrities, History, Humor, Mythology, Oz, Religion, Star Trek, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Banana Slammer!

In my ongoing viewing of cartoons based on video games, I knew there was a Donkey Kong Country series, but not that much about it. Made by the Canadian animation company Nelvana, the same one that made the Care Bears series, it aired in Canada and France before coming to the United States in 1998. It’s computer-animated, which at the time was enough of a novelty that it presumably didn’t matter that it wasn’t computer-animated all that well. What’s weird is that, in the second season, the animation was crisper, yet the characters seemed to have less personality. Sometimes you can’t win. It’s a pretty typical cartoon series of the time when I grew up, with pretty much every episode involving the bad guys cooking up a plot, the good guys thwarting it, and everything being back to normal the next time. A lot of the episode plots had familiar themes as well: someone de-aging into a baby, a treasure hunt, a bad guy temporarily joining the good ones, amnesia, an almost-wedding, an election, brain switching, etc. Some of the voice actors had worked on other video game cartoons: Andrew Sabiston as Yoshi, Len Carlson as Ganon, and John Stocker as Toad. Ian James Corlett, who had voiced Dr. Wily on Captain N and Mega Man in his own series, wrote a few episodes. Each episode includes one or two songs, which are…actually pretty good, at least musically. Donkey Kong has a good singing voice, but not so much with some of the other characters. I wouldn’t say I particularly recommend the series, but it did grow on me a bit over the course of watching it.

The back story for the series has it that Donkey Kong found the magical Crystal Coconut in the ancient Temple of Inka Dinka Doo, and it predicted he’d be the future ruler of Kongo Bongo Island (Donkey Kong Island in the games), where he and his clan live. King K. Rool and his Kremlings are constantly trying to steal the Coconut, but DK (you know, those are Diddy and Dixie’s initials too, but only Donkey ever seems to be called that, perhaps partially because just calling him “Donkey” sounds a little weird) thwarts every attempt, generally through brute strength. It’s not entirely clear how the Coconut works, as sometimes it grants any wish made in its vicinity, but usually only when they’re unintentional. If it really has that kind of power, why don’t the Kongs just wish the Kremlings off the island? Other times it answers questions. K. Rool steals it a bunch of times and never does anything with it. All of the Kongs from the first DKC game appear regularly, and Dixie is semi-regular, but there’s no sign of Wrinkly or Swanky.

Cranky keeps the Crystal Coconut and works magic, his potion mixing eventually making it into the games with Donkey Kong 64. There’s no indication of his relation to DK, probably the right move considering that the games are contradictory about it. Funky has a Jamaican accent and mystical beliefs. In one episode, he saw trees while accidentally flying his plane upside down, and said something like, “I’ve never seen green clouds before. Well, once.” Is there any way that ISN’T a marijuana reference? Candy is DK’s girlfriend who, like other famous cartoon girlfriends, is constantly mad at her beau, sometimes with good reason and other times because she just assumes the worst. She also has short, much less feminine-looking hair for some reason.

Not only is DK not that bright, but he’s really terrible at explaining what’s going on even when he DOES have a valid excuse. And since this is a cartoon, everyone tends to fall for every trick, no matter how stupid or obvious, which often leads to DK getting in trouble for things he didn’t even do. Candy works at a barrel factory run by an original character, Bluster Kong, the self-proclaimed richest ape on Kongo Bongo, who’s obnoxious, cowardly, and always hitting on Candy. His unseen mother actually owns the factory, which suggests SHE’S the richest ape, but maybe she doesn’t live on the island. I’m not sure why Candy needs to work when other Kongs get along all right without it. I guess Cranky must be paying DK’s expenses in exchange for his guarding the Coconut, or…something. There was an early episode that suggested bananas were currency, which doesn’t make sense both because they don’t last and because they grow freely on the island. The only other Kongs who showed up were Baby Kong, DK’s nephew who looks exactly like DK himself did when he magically turned into a baby; and Kong Fu, who teams up with K. Rool to challenge DK. And Eddie the Mean Old Yeti, who’s grouchy, speaks in broken English, and lives by himself in the snowy White Mountains, shows up from time to time as well; and he looks like he could be related to the Kongs, even though his fur is white.

As for the bad guys, K. Rool is the really hammy sort of villain who’s not uncommon in cartoons. And for some reason, except for a few instances in the pilot (the pilot EPISODE, that is, not Funky), everyone pronounces his name “Ka Rool” instead of “Kay Rool.” Maybe the K stands for Ka, but that would be kind of stupid. He doesn’t have the permanently bloodshot eye he does in the games, but one of his eyes does enlarge when he gets angry.

His second-in-command, Klump, has a Southern accent and a military lingo and fancies himself a master strategist, but isn’t really that bright. Still, he’s smarter than Krusha, a dumb muscle character with a childish personality. K. Rool also has a whole army of Kritters and wood-eating Klaptraps who double as ammunition, but a lot of the time it’s just the big three enacting the plans to steal the Coconut.

There’s also a band of pirates led by Kaptain Skurvy, who are also trying to take the Coconut. They’re new characters, but presumably based on the pirate theme of DKC2.

In the second season, it’s revealed that Skurvy is Klump’s older brother, who took the fall for Klump when he accidentally burned down their old swamp home, which is why Skurvy became an outlaw. Piracy must have been in the family anyway, however, as the reason Skurvy feels entitled to the Coconut is that a pirate ancestor of his hid it on Kongo Bongo in the first place (or at least that’s what he claims). So who’s lacking from the games? The animal friends! Come on, if you asked me for ideas for a DKC cartoon, the first thing I’d try to do would be to figure out how to get Rambi into it. About the closest they get is that there’s a parrot character named Polly Roger, who works for both Skurvy and K. Rool, but will willingly stab someone in the back for a cracker. None of the non-reptilian mini-bosses show up either. An element of the games that we do see pretty often is the minecarts, which are the primary mode of transportation in the Kremlings’ underground lair. It’s interesting how, when a TV series based on a game series is made early in the latter’s run, it tends to introduce a lot of its own lore to make the plots work, and it often tends to be contradicted or just ignored by later games. I guess that’s common among different adaptations of the same property. That said, Crystal Coconuts do show up as items in DK games, although there are a bunch of them instead of a single super-powerful one.

Posted in Animals, Cartoons, Donkey Kong, Humor, Magic, Music, Relationships, Television, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Superfueled Elasticycle


Doom Asylum – Beth really liked Frankenhooker, and this was the only other film with Patty Mullen, who played the titular character and was also a Penthouse Pet. And like Frankenhooker, this is a comedic horror film. Mullen plays two different characters, the first being a lawyer’s fiancee who dies in a car crash. The lawyer himself is presumed dead as well, but he turns out to have miraculously survived, and kills the coroners examining him. Ten years later, a group of teenagers including the fiancee’s daughter Kiki, also played by Mullen, goes to see a presumably abandoned asylum.

Also in the group are a dorky kid who loves baseball cards and the daughter of two psychiatrists, the latter played by Kristin Davis, who would go on to star on Sex and the City. There’s also an avant-garde punk band hanging out at the asylum, and the band leader, played by Ruth Collins, has a memorable laugh that just sounded like she’s saying, “Ha ha ha ha ha!” instead of like regular laughter. She also shows her breasts, which according to one of the few trivia items on the IMDB for the film, she received an extra hundred dollars for doing.

I think their hairstyles might have been the main appeal of this movie.
Anyway, the lawyer is still hanging around the asylum, sometimes called “the Coroner” despite the fact that he wasn’t one. He makes a corny joke pretty much every time he kills someone, like some sort of less witty Freddy Krueger. He kills all the visitors except for Kiki, whom he’s reluctant to slay as she reminds him of her mother. The movie was not well-reviewed, but I thought it was funny for what it was, a goofy, low-budget slasher flick.

Incredibles 2 – This was the last of the Pixar films Beth and I still had to watch, so we’re all caught up until…next March, if the release dates aren’t changed. And I have to say that this one didn’t really grab my interest. I thought The Incredibles was pretty good, if nothing really amazing; but I don’t think they really did much new with this one. There’s still a society where superheroics are illegal, commentary on whether superheroes cause more harm than good, and a villain whose motivation is a personal tiff with heroes. The main thing this story does do is to give Elastigirl the starring role. Technology executive Winston Deavor, a big fan of superheroes, recruits her for his mission to improve public opinion of heroes and hence make them legal again, reasoning that Mr. Incredible does too much collateral damage. He’s jealous, but lets her go ahead and becomes a stay-at-home dad. This involves dealing with the aftermath of Violet’s intended date having his memory erased after seeing her secret identity, as well as the baby Jack-Jack’s multiple and particularly dangerous powers, which he discovers for the first time. Helen finds herself facing a villain called Screenslaver, who is able to hypnotize people using screens, and turns out to be Winston’s sister Evelyn. She’d posed as a friend and confidante to Helen, but was secretly working against her as she blamed all superheroes for not saving her parents. (Actually, that’s pretty similar to Nova, the main protagonist in Marissa Meyer’s Renegades.) The whole family has to work together to thwart Evelyn’s plans. The movie introduces two new vehicles: the Elasticycle, recreated by the Deavors; and the Incredibile, thought to be destroyed but instead in a private collection, and Bob still has the remote control.

The world in which the movie takes place, being inspired by comics, has all sorts of advanced technology, including a hover-train, yet seems to be stuck in the sixties in many respects. The Outer Limits and Jonny Quest are shown on television, and Dash is learning New Math. I’ve seen an indication that the first film took place in 1970, though, so who knows? But I guess screen savers exist, because otherwise how would Evelyn have come up with her villain name?

Posted in Cartoons, Families, Humor, Names, Relationships, Revisiting Disney, Technology, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glutton for Punnishness

Something I’ve looked at before is the nature of puns in the Oz series, and how they can serve different purposes. Some are purposely made by the characters, some are asides, and others are just kind of part of the story. L. Frank Baum was already a punster, but Ruth Plumly Thompson upped the game, and John R. Neill went even farther overboard. I love puns, yet I’ll admit they can sometimes be irritating. My wife, who isn’t keen on them, asked why it seemed like everyone at OzCon groaned at puns when they were fans of books containing a whole bunch of them. Paul Dana said that he LIKES to groan. One thing that’s interesting to note is how, in The Marvelous Land of Oz, Professor Wogglebug makes puns to show off his intelligence, and his companions hate them. But they also make puns themselves sometimes, and no one has any particular reaction to them one way or the other. Emerald City is particularly full of them, not only containing the pun-filled Bunbury and Utensia episodes, but quite a bit from the familiar characters as well. The Wizard of Oz says he gave the Sawhorse brains made of sawdust, which “was made from hard knots, and now the Sawhorse is able to think out any knotty problem he meets with.” When showing his guests around his new home, the Scarecrow says, “The corn I grow is always husky, and I call the ears my regiments, because they have so many kernels. Of course I cannot ride my cobs, but I really don’t care shucks about that. Taken altogether, my farm will stack up with any in the neighborhood.” Interestingly, the chapter where the Wogglebug appears doesn’t have any really notable puns, as he’s too busy gushing about his college instead.

As Wonder City was heavily edited, reportedly without Neill’s knowledge or consent, we can’t be too sure how many of the puns in the book were his. Since many are associated with the ozlection, which wasn’t in Neill’s earlier manuscripts, those particular ones probably weren’t. But his other books are also loaded with puns, and mostly in a way where no one seems to be aware they’re making them. Indeed, the tone of Wonder City is kind of weirdly serious for a book full of more nonsense and puns than most of the series. And it seems that the Wogglebug thrives in this environment. He tells his students to “mind your P’s and Q’s,” and then hands out alphabet blocks. When discussing the ozlection, everyone makes suggestions based on wordplay. After rejecting a few ideas, the insect decides on right shoes as votes because “We want the people to throw their SOLES into the matter, and to use their RIGHTS.” Instead of threatening him for his bad jokes, they instead find the idea acceptable for deciding the leadership of the nation. It’s like, since Neill’s Oz runs on terrible puns, the most notorious punster of them all is a natural leader. That’s not to say that I think Neill and/or his editor were really thinking it through that way, but it’s interesting to me in light of how the character is treated by other authors. It’s one of those bits of probably accidental continuity. Neill also had the generally simple-minded Jack Pumpkinhead building a pipe organ and designing Scraps’s Spoolicle, but that actually kind of fits with how the Scarecrow credits Jack with designing his mansion. And for another one involving the Wogglebug, his sudden interest in genealogy in Thompson’s Royal Book seems totally out of nowhere, but there is a bit in The Woggle-Bug Book where he tells a chimpanzee, “As for breeding…my father, although of ordinary size, was a famous Bug-Wizard in his day, and claimed descent from the original protoplasm which constituted the nucleus of the present planetary satellite upon which we exist.” I don’t think that last part means anything in particular, but if he just means he was descended from single-celled organisms, can’t any terrestrial life claim that? Regardless, it’s an odd connection Thompson probably didn’t intend.

Posted in Characters, Humor, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Language, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You’re in Luck

I’d thought before about how the appellation “lucky” is applied to so many Oz characters. Well, only three that I can think of, but that’s still kind of weird. They were introduced by three different authors, however. The first is Ojo, who is initially called Ojo the UNlucky.

He doesn’t seem to know why when Margolotte identifies him as such in The Patchwork Girl of Oz; but later he tells his traveling companions that it’s because he was born on Friday the Thirteenth, is left-handed (as was L. Frank Baum himself), and has a wart under his right arm. They dismiss these reasons, and the Tin Woodman recommends he change it to “Ojo the Lucky,” because he’s more or less inviting bad luck. If Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Ojo is any indication, the “unlucky” might have had to do with his being born into captivity. I don’t think Thompson ever actually called Ojo “the Lucky” or “the Unlucky,” however. But in the book right after Ojo, which was Speedy, she introduces a giant called Loxo the Lucky. According to Fred Meyer’s essay in the International Wizard of Oz Club’s edition of the book, a trade list erroneously referred to the character as “the giant Ojo,” perhaps because they used the same adjective. The thing is, when we first meet Loxo he really ISN’T that lucky, as he’s hit in the head with a flying island.

Maybe the description has something to do with his magic magnet, which he can use to draw anything toward him. The last of the three is John R. Neill’s Lucky Bucky, who manages to make a lot of narrow escapes in his own book, including surviving a boiler explosion on his uncle’s tugboat. His companion is the wooden whale Davy Jones.

I thought it would be fun to write a story involving all three, with Loxo no longer in giant form, which makes sense considering how Speedy ends.

(Fred Otto’s “The Forbidden Cave of Grapelandia” also briefly addresses Loxo’s life after being shrunk down.) I’m not entirely sure what they’d do, though. In my own novella, Prince Pompadore in Oz (published in the 2015 Oziana), I wrote in a gag about a boat called Good Luck that saves Pompa’s life, then later decided to do something else with it. I was considering making it the product of magic-workers who were trying to channel luck, but ended up going with a bit of a play on commercialism by making it advertising for a casino run by a leprechaun.

There is another leprechaun in the Oz books, Siko Pompus (spelled Psychopompus in earlier drafts), Jenny Jump‘s fairy godfather who gives her magic powers in Wonder City.

Some post-Famous Forty books also use them, including Mark Haas’s appropriately titled Leprechauns and Melody Grandy’s Zim Greenleaf. I’m not entirely sure how leprechauns came to be associated with luck, however. There are Irish legends that, if you can catch a leprechaun, he will grant you wishes, so that might be part of it. But I also think it might be sort of a combination of different Irish folklore filtered through an American lens, sort of like how leprechauns traditionally wear red but are now pretty much always depicted in green because of the Emerald Isle. From what I’ve seen, the phrase “luck o’ the Irish” was originally coined because of Irish immigrants having success in mining, but it’s also often been used ironically, as Ireland as a nation hasn’t always been particularly lucky. I don’t even know that Lucky the cereal mascot is all that lucky, since it seems to be his fate to be constantly chased around by hungry children.

I was trying to think of other characters associated with luck, and I came up with a few. One is the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story, who was named Fuchur in the original German after the Japanese Fukuryu, or “lucky dragon,” also the name of a squad of divers during World War II. The English translation changed it to Falkor because, well, look at the first four letters of the German. The descriptions in the novel give him paws and hair, and the movie makes him very dog-like.

He’s a very amiable companion to Atreyu, and is known to attract good fortune. I don’t think he’d be out of place in Oz.

A less positive look at luck comes with Gladstone Gander in Carl Barks’s Donald Duck comics, who’s Donald’s extremely lucky cousin. As Donald is associated with bad luck (it’s in his theme song), that makes sense for a foil of his. He’s portrayed as very lazy and insufferably smug, getting everything he wants through no effort of his own, and often at the expense of others.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has a goddess representing luck, which is technically her name, but it’s a bad idea to use it so she just goes by “the Lady,” being the only deity who only comes when not invoked. She’s a rival to Fate and rather fond of the failed wizard Rincewind. He’s not someone you’d generally think of as lucky, as he’s always getting dragged into difficult and dangerous situations against his will. Still, he also always manages to survive by making narrow escapes. She appears in the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic, then again in Interesting Times and The Last Hero. Her title is a play on “Lady Luck,” an anthropomorphic personification inspired by Tyche, the Greek goddess of luck. Her Roman equivalent, Fortuna, was often portrayed as blind.

And Deadpool 2 used Domino, a mutant with the power to manipulate probability. I didn’t know about the character before that, but apparently she first appeared in the comics in 1992, as part of X-Force.

She has pale white skin in the comics, but was played by black actress Zazie Beetz in the movie.

And here’s some Domino cosplay by Shayla and Cheyenne.

And some real people were called “Lucky,” like Leif Erikson and Charles Lindbergh.

Luck is a strange concept, because while it’s related to probability, it’s a lot more casual. Sometimes it’s entirely a matter of random chance, but you might wish someone good luck before a job interview, and that’s unpredictable but not random. A lot of religions and philosophies play down the importance of luck, suggesting that you get what you deserve, but it’s difficult to defend that position in light of real-life circumstances. It is possible to attract bad luck in the sense that, if you expect to fail, you might not put in as much effort. But at the same time, you can be totally confident and put in all the effort and still fail. A lot of it is outside a person’s control, which sucks, but at the same time also means that things not working out is not necessarily your fault.

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