Killers and Creeps

Since Beth has been asking me to write about the horror and horror-adjacent films we’ve watched recently, here they are:


Hatchet III – In the third part in the story of monstrous serial killer Victor Crowley, a reporter thinks she’s found out the way to stop Victor Crowley for good: to return his father’s remains to him. To this end, she recruits Danielle Harris’ character from the earlier installments. A large part of the appeal of this series is all the appearances of horror movie veterans. Kane Hodder portrays Crowley, Zach Galligan from Gremlins the sheriff, the SWAT team leader by Derek Mears from the Friday the 13th remake, and Crowley’s brain-damaged racist cousin by Sid Haig. The thing is, I can’t remember that much from the other two films. Not that you necessarily need to know that much to watch a slasher, but still.


The Witch – This period horror film is set in seventeenth-century New England, featuring a Puritan family banned from the larger community for being TOO strict in their interpretation of the Bible, which is definitely saying something. It’s based on witchcraft legends of the period, which in the context of the movie turn out to be true. It’s fairly slow-moving and didn’t always hold my interest, but it does a good job at creating an atmosphere.


Frozen – This came out a few years before the Disney film of the same name, but there were other movies with the same title before this one, so neither was original. It’s the story of three annoying college students who end up trapped on a ski lift, argue a lot, and try to escape. I guess it’s all right for what it is; it certainly showed the despair of the situation. The main thing I got from it was that you should always follow the rules, because they wouldn’t have been stuck up there if they hadn’t bribed and cajoled the operator into making a special exception for them.


Pieces – After an establishing scene showing a mother overreacting to her son putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a naked woman and the son murdering her, we cut to a college campus about forty years later, where the now-grown-up killer is trying to assemble the woman from the puzzle out of actual human body parts. The thing is, while we know the killer is the kid from the beginning, we don’t know his grown-up self, and several different characters are suspects. A lot of the murders are done with a chainsaw, which was pretty common after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, only it’s even less realistic here. It’s a very corny slasher film with a few moments that don’t even make sense in context, like the appearance of a goofy Asian stereotype martial arts instructor who never appears again, and what happens at the very end. Also, there’s a tennis player who goes undercover as a tennis instructor to try to catch the killer. It’s so hard to find volunteers for cases like that, I suppose.


Elvira, Mistress of the Dark – Beth, who had seen this before (I hadn’t), compared it to UHF, and I see what she means; it’s the same sort of generally light-hearted absurdity, and it’s also a film from the 1980s based around a comedian with a specialization. There are a lot more breast jokes, though. There’s also a little bit of a John Waters feel in the mockery of prudish, repressive people, here living in a town called Fallwell (get it?) where Elvira goes to collect her inheritance from an aunt she didn’t know she had, hoping to obtain enough money to launch a show in Las Vegas. She fixes up her aunt’s old house, intending to sell it, and finds out that her aunt was a witch and her uncle an evil sorcerer trying to get his hands on her spells. This doesn’t happen until after a scene where Elvira tries to cook a casserole that turns into a monster, though. It’s interesting that I saw this when the Harvey Weinstein harassment story was in the news, as it starts with Elvira losing her job at the television station after she fights off the new station owner when he sexually harasses her. Overall, it’s silly and campy, as you’d likely expect an Elvira movie to be.

Advertisements
Posted in Calvinism, Christianity, Humor, Magic, Monsters, Religion, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Birds


I don’t think I’ve ever written a post about the Simurgh, the giant bird from Persian mythology that I actually first came across in the Xanth series. Pretty much always identified as female, this peacock-like bird is often shown as having the head of a dog and claws of a lion, but with only three on each talon. It is large enough to carry off an elephant or a whale, but quite beneficial, with healing powers.

The Simurgh is old enough to have witnessed the destruction of the world three times (guess she has a place off-world so she doesn’t get destroyed as well), and has gathered more knowledge than any other creature. She perches on top of the Tree of Life, located in the middle of the World Sea.

Some sources give her home as Alburz, the name of an actual Iranian mountain range, although her particular peak is allegedly too steep to climb. The Simurgh’s main job is to distribute seeds throughout the world. Seeds from every kind of plant are left on top of the Tree of Life, and they fall when she lands on the tree. A creature known as the Chamrosh, which has the head of wings of a bird and the body of a dog, then uses its wings to blow the seeds into the sea, where they’re then gathered into a raincloud.

The Chamrosh is also said to protect Persia from invaders, lifting them in its talons. Apparently the Chamrosh eventually fell out of favor, and the Simurgh was usually credited with doing both jobs. Even mythological creatures aren’t immune to downsizing, I suppose. The Simurgh is sometimes said to have a particular enmity with snakes, like the Hindu Garuda, and some myths tell of serpents that repeatedly eat her eggs. The bird has an evil counterpart in the Kamak, which caused drought and devoured people and animals. The heroic monster slayer Kerasp killed Kamak by shooting him with arrows for seven days straight. The most famous legend associated with the Simurgh might be that of Zal, a prince whose father Saam abandoned him as a baby because he had white hair, which the king regarded as a sign of demonic parentage. The Simurgh took Zal and raised him as her own until Saam finally repented.

She gave Zal three feathers to burn in case of danger, and he did so with one of them when his wife Rudaba appeared to be dying in childbirth. The bird taught them how to perform a caesarean section, and both Rudaba and the baby survived, the latter growing up to be the hero Rostam. In the twelfth century, the Sufi poet Attar wrote The Conference of the Birds, about the birds seeking out the Simurgh so that he could choose a king for them. The thirty who survive the journey find only their own reflections, suggesting that they’re all part of the Simurgh.

The Chamrosh replied to this with, “Okay, but I’m still out of a job.” Seriously, this story is partially derived from a pun, in that “Simurgh” can meet “thirty birds,” although that doesn’t seem to have been its original meaning.

The Simurgh is closely associated with giant birds from other cultures. Legends of the Greek phoenix have gotten mixed with those of the Simurgh to the point that the latter is also sometimes said to burn itself up and become reborn after a certain number of years (generally 1700). Anzu, sometimes known simply as Zu, a demon from Mesopotamian mythology associated with storms, is shown as a lion-headed eagle, sort of a reverse griffin.

He’s said to have stolen the tablet that confirms rule of the universe to Enlil, and then to have been killed by either Marduk or Ninurta.

He is also said to have taken over a willow tree Inanna was keeping to make a throne. And the Sumerian hero Lugalbanda is said to have fed Anzu’s chick, in return for which the bird-demon gave him the ability to travel at super speed, so he could be beneficial at times.

Picture by Jane Ray
The bird-monsters Zu and Zuh in the Final Fantasy games are named after Anzu.

Then there’s the Ziz of Hebrew mythology, not to be confused with the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz.

This immortal bird also resembles a griffin, and is said to have had a wingspan large enough to block out the sun.

It is the protector of other birds and a great singer, and the Talmud gives the story of the Ziz warning travelers not to bathe in deep water. The eggs of the Ziz usually slide smoothly into her nest, then hatch without her intervention. Once, however, the Ziz dropped a rotten egg, which ended up smashing 300 cedars and flooding sixty cities. Ziz, like Leviathan, will be food for the faithful at the end of the world. Since the Ziz is capable of procreating, however, this presumably wouldn’t wipe out the species as it would with the Leviathan.

And the Roc of Arabian Nights fame also has similarities to these others, most notably its incredible size and preying on elephants.

Posted in Animals, Authors, Babylonian, Final Fantasy, Greek Mythology, Hinduism, Judaism, Monsters, Mythology, Persian, Piers Anthony, Religion, Semitic, Video Games, Xanth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Respect Your Mother


Mother! – Beth is a fan of Darren Aronofsky’s films, and we finally saw this one at the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, the part of Brooklyn that you can’t get to from other parts of Brooklyn. That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. The theater is similar to the Alamo Drafthouse, only much smaller. The film itself didn’t do well at the box office, but has had some great reviews. It’s a pretty bizarre movie with a lot of surreal imagery, climaxing in a total assault on the senses. And there are some pretty major SPOILERS in this review, so be forewarned. The movie is essentially split into two parts, one absurd but mostly plausible and the other batshit crazy. It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple with a significant age difference who never refer to each other by name. In fact, no one in it has a name, but it wasn’t something I thought much about until I saw the credits. They live in an isolated country house that had once burned down, killing Bardem’s first wife.

Lawrence spends her time fixing up the house and tending to the needs of her husband, a writer who begins the movie with severe writer’s block.

A man mysteriously arrives at their house and decides to stay there, with his wife arriving the next day. Lawrence is understandably disturbed by this, but Bardem is strangely unconcerned. The guests are rude and nosy, and there probably could have been a decent movie made just out of how difficult it can be to get rid of unwelcome visitors.

It was part of the home invasion genre, similar to a few others we’ve seen, but what particularly came to mind was this Monty Python sketch:

I noticed that a few of the commenters said the same thing. Things get even worse when their two sons arrive and get into a fight over their parents’ will, which ends in one murdering the other. Then, for some reason, the wake is held in the house as well. The ever-increasing crowd finally leaves after two of them break a sink. After that, Lawrence becomes pregnant (and somehow just knows she is without taking a test or anything) and Bardem is able to write again. His new book becomes an overnight bestseller, and once again the house is mobbed, this time with his fans. The crowd becomes increasingly ridiculous and disturbing as the film goes on, stealing things, wrecking the house, and eventually murdering each other. Unable to escape and with her husband brushing off her concerns, Lawrence gives birth in the one room that isn’t full of people. She tries to protect her baby, but Bardem gives him over to the crowd, who proceed to kill and eat him. I suspect that’s a large part of why the film was so controversial, and it was definitely uncomfortable, but at the same time nothing happening at this point makes any sense and it isn’t portrayed realistically. Eventually, Lawrence burns down the house, but Bardem survives and is last seen living in the rebuilt house with an even younger wife. And apparently nobody is suspicious that he’s had two wives die in fires that he lived through, because this isn’t that kind of movie.

It seems pretty clear that there’s some symbolism going on here, but what exactly is the meaning? Aronofsky and other people involved with the film have revealed that it’s a religious and environmental allegory. The only character whose credit is spelled with a capital letter is Bardem’s character Him, indicating that he’s God. Lawrence is Mother Earth, which is why she’s “mother” even before she gets pregnant.

Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit come in with the couple played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer being fascinated by the crystal that was the one thing remaining from the first time the house burned down and breaking it, the one thing that actually makes Him mad. The brothers are obviously Cain and Abel, and the broken sink Noah’s flood. Then there’s a baby who’s killed and ritually eaten, and destruction of the world by fire. I guess the world burning up and then being reborn is more directly comparable to Ragnarok than Revelation, but there are a lot of similarities there. The environmental theme comes in with how Lawrence is generous even when she doesn’t want to be, and everybody takes advantage of her.

While these themes fit, I’m not sure they’re that clear in the actual movie. I noticed some of the religious stuff, but the environmentalism not so much. It’s not surprising (hey, Noah was a straight-up retelling of a Bible story with an environmental message), but I’m not sure it was a fully effective metaphor if I didn’t even think of until seeing a mention of it online. Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve also seen suggestions that it’s self-examination on Aronofsky’s part, an examination of the parasitic nature of creativity, although wouldn’t that mean he’s comparing himself to God? I found out after watching the film that Aronofsky is now dating Lawrence, which makes me wonder if she paid attention to the movie she was in. Isn’t he more or less saying he just assumes he’ll take advantage of her? Or is it one of those cases where it’s okay because at least he admits it? Regardless, I think the movie works well enough on its own even without really taking the allegorical elements into account; it’s effectively surrealistic and emotional, and there are some mundane messages you can take from it as well, like how it feels to be the only sane person in a situation, and how having a baby won’t fix a bad relationship.

Posted in Christianity, Environmentalism, Mythology, Names, Norse, Relationships, Religion, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Martian Magic, Monoliths, and Mallards


Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf, by L.G. Estrella – This author has written quite a bit of self-published material, much of it in the humorous fantasy and science fiction vein, but this is the first one I’ve read. It was pretty good, if rather short, but there are sequels I haven’t read yet. The necromancer Timmy Bolton and his eager young assistant are seeking a pardon, and in order to get it they have to assist their country to prepare for war. Their first mission is to seek assistance from a renegade elf, with a bureaucrat accompanying them to make sure they fulfill their part of the deal. The bureaucrat has some magic himself, being able to store and conjure items. It’s pretty inventive, with its zombie chimeras, ninja rats, and shovel of death; but a bit thin on plot and world-building. I’ll probably still read some more by the author, though.


A Wizard of Mars, by Diane Duane – The ninth book in the Young Wizards series, which has previously brought its protagonists to distant galaxies as well as many locations on Earth, here focuses on Mars and its fascination for humans. There are a lot of references to previous fictional works that feature Mars, including War of the Worlds, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter series, and even Marvin the Martian. Nita, Kit, and their relatives and associates eventually find out that the planet was once inhabited by two warring tribes. And one of the members of this ancient species claims to have a connection to Kit. Really, he’s pretty obnoxious in this book, but there is a reason for it. There are some interesting new characters as well, including the tomato-loving saurian Species Archivist Mamvish.


2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke – I remember trying to read this a long time ago, before I’d seen the movie, and I didn’t get very far. I can’t say I recall why this was the case, but I’ve finally finished it. An introduction by the author talks about how he was working on the novel at the same time the screenplay was being developed, and the latter cut out Saturn because it wouldn’t have looked right on film. I have to say that, as impressive as the movie looked, the novel had much better pacing. It also gave explanations for some of the weirder elements, including why HAL went crazy and what the ending signified. It’s interesting that the book and movie were both released the same year as Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, which also proposes that aliens influenced the development of humanity. The difference is that some people take that book seriously, even though his ideas make less sense and are much more insulting. Clarke had developed the basic idea in a short story in 1948, and other authors had addressed the topic before that. There’s also kind of a bittersweet feeling in reading old stories about space exploration, and how we still haven’t accomplished a lot of what Clarke predicted even though 2001 has come and gone. Not that I think space exploration should be a priority in modern society, just that it reflects my feeling on how optimism about the future has largely died out.


Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck, Volume 1: The Son of the Sun, by Don Rosa – I’d read the second volume already, but it’s not like the order is particularly important. This one has Rosa’s earliest stories set in the Duck universe, with a rougher art style than what he’d later use, but still a lot of background details and references back to Carl Barks stories.

Rosa saw his work as Barks-consistent, so even though the character of Donald Duck was presumably created to be a non-aging cartoon character, Rosa prefers to stick to the time period in which Barks wrote, as otherwise Scrooge would have been well over one hundred years old. I can respect the adherence to continuity; I like plenty of media that operate on a sliding time scale where the characters either don’t age or age irregularly, but they do lose a certain amount of verisimilitude. Rosa also paid close attention to such details as what kind of car Donald drives (it’s actually assembled from parts of several different makes). And for all the continuity obsession, Rosa’s stories are still clever and funny. These stories have Scrooge and Flintheart Glomgold competing for lost Incan treasure, Donald’s nephews figuring out a way to make Gladstone Gander’s luck work against him (although it still doesn’t completely work out), the Beagle Boys trying to steal Scrooge’s money with ray guns that nullify friction and inertia, and Scrooge returns to the Klondike to retrieve his glacier-bound sled.

Posted in Book Reviews, Cartoons, Conspiracy Theories, Humor, Magic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Game Name


It’s good to know I’m not the only one who gets a bit stressed when trying to name a video game character. I guess it’s a little weird as I’ve always enjoyed making up character names, but at least there I have some idea as to who they’re going to be. You don’t really know what a kid is going to be like before you name them either, but that’s not an experience I’ve had. I usually stick with the default names when they’re there. I mean, I’m controlling this character, but it still isn’t really my character; I want something that fits into the game world. Sometimes there isn’t a default name, though, or there is one that it doesn’t tell you.

Most of the Dragon Quest heroes were given names in media outside the games themselves, or when they guest star in games where they aren’t player-controlled. Apparently somebody had a preference for names starting with A: Alef in I, Aren or Allen in II, Arel in III (this character is the Erdrick/Loto mentioned in the first two games, but that’s explained to be a title), Abel in V, and Arus in VII.

In IV, a male hero is Solo and a female Sofia; and the hero of VIII is officially named…Eight, spelled phonetically with the English pronunciation.

Secret of Mana doesn’t have default names in the game, but the Japanese instruction manual calls the three playable characters Randi, Primm, and Popoi.

There are also games that give the characters default names but let you change them later, although I never do.

In Final Fantasy IV, there’s a character called Namingway who can change characters’ names. He’s a rabbit-like creature in a turban who’s from the Moon.

I haven’t played the DS remake, but I understand that you can’t change the characters’ names because of the voice acting, so Namingway goes on a journey of his own. I thought it was kind of amusing how you can choose the hero’s name in Ocarina of Time and the text calls you by your chosen name, but Navi still calls him Link in her spoken parts. But then, we all know the hero in the Zelda games is named Link, so I’m not sure why you even have the option of calling him something else. Maybe it’s a nickname, or Link is his last name.

I remember the end credits for Final Fantasy VI giving the name you used and then the character’s official full name.

I’ll often take the lame route of just using my own name, although that sometimes takes me out of the fantasy. Then again, my name is common enough that it doesn’t seem that strange in a video game world. It’s actually the name of the protagonist in the Uncharted series, although I only know that from a commercial. When I first played The Sims, Beth pretty much made me create a Sim of myself, but since then I’ve mostly made Sim versions of characters I like from other media or ones I just made up myself. I’m not sure it makes sense, at least within my own mind, for me to be living in the same neighborhood with these people. Or would that make the me-Sim an avatar of their god? Anyway, in other games, I’ll sometimes use pets’ names, or those of characters from something I’ve read recently. I mentioned the coincidence with the name I chose for my DQIX heroine, which probably doesn’t amuse anyone except me. And I think one of the female Townies in an expansion for the original Sims had my sister’s name, which is weird as it’s not very common. So those are some possibilities for character names, although you could always go with toilet humor, because that won’t get old fast.

In Captain SNES, Alex names a lot of characters after himself and his babysitter Hope, so those become the most common names in Videoland. He also gives insulting names to characters he doesn’t like.

Posted in Comics, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Mana/Seiken Densetsu, Names, Sims, Video Games, Zelda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

All’s Fair in Oz


It’s interesting how much of the Oz series can be seen as referencing circuses and fairs. I guess it’s not surprising for children’s books of the time (or, really, even today, although the traditional circus is severely waning in popularity). The Wizard of Oz worked in a circus as a stage magician, ventriloquist, and balloonist. Many of the exotic animals living in Oz, including the famous lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) as well as elephants and camels, at least one of each being a significant character at some point. J.L. Bell pointed out how much of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, an appropriate book for this time of year in some ways, is influenced by circus and carnival rides. He writes, “We have the haunted house of Scare City, the equestrians of Baffleburg, and the high-flying acrobatic Swingers. In Mogodore’s castle Peter must overcome not only the funhouse mirrors, but a tilting room that slides everybody to one side and an indoor labyrinth.”

The comparison of Scare City to a fun house is definitely apt, as its inhabitants seem more keen on scaring people than on actually doing anything to hurt them, although they do keep prisoners. The atmosphere is provided by flashing lights, lanterns shaped like goblin heads, bluish-green smoke, and wails and screeches. The Scares live in rocky cliff dwellings, and the air is dry and sulfurous. It’s traditional to tremble and groan for the King.

During the sequence in the mirror room, Peter Brown remembers “the mirror maze at Willow Grove,” referring to an amusement park in the suburbs of Philadelphia that was open from 1896 through 1975. There’s a shopping mall on the site now. Swing City, appearing later in the book, is an aerial community of trapeze artists and tightrope walkers that the Iffin accidentally flies into. The people dress in pink and blue silk tights; and are ruled by King Hi-Swinger, self-described highest Swinger in the city, and his wife Queen Tip Toppsy the Tenth.

Lin Carter, who reused quite a few names and concepts in his two Oz books, Queen Upsy Daisy of Tip Top Mountain in Merry Mountaineer has a daughter named Tip Topsy, and I have to wonder if they’re related. There’s also a Tip-Topper, the ruler of the Topsies of Turn Town in Handy Mandy. There’s a net underneath Swing City, but it’s not specified whether the trapezes and tightropes are actually connected to anything.

There are a few mentions of carousels in the Oz books. Lost Princess has the Merry-Go-Round Mountains, fast-spinning peaks situated in a gaping pit in the Winkie Country, which really don’t have that much to do with the ride beyond the name. As Trot says, “They go ’round, sure enough…but they don’t seem very merry.”

There’s an enormous carousel in the middle of the Round-abouties‘ round house in Giant Horse, with carved animals including a zebra, a tiger, and an elephant. A living carousel horse named Merry Go Round is a significant character in…well, Merry Go Round. Robin Brown finds her at a carnival in Oregon, and there’s no indication as to how she comes to life or exactly how the two of them get to Oz. Dorothy states later in the book that she doesn’t know of any merry-go-rounds in Oz, apparently forgetting the one in the round house, or maybe purposely not mentioning it because the Round-abouties are hostile to strangers.

The Silver Mountain has a transportation system consisting of a silver carriage without wheels that moves up and down a track like a roller coaster. Thompson compares it to a “scenic railway” or “chute the chutes,” both old-fashioned terms for amusement rides. The scenic railway was an early sort of roller coaster, based on gravity railroads like the coal delivery one in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania (now called Jim Thorpe). A Shoot the Chute is a ride where a flat-bottomed boat runs down a ramp and lands in a pool, like a log flume but generally less elaborate. There’s also a waterfall in Cavernland in Ozmapolitan that goes around in circles, and Dorothy compares it to a Shoot-the-Chutes. The Isle of Phreex in John Dough and the Cherub is largely based on a sideshow, with many of its inhabitants being curiosities of one sort or another.

And Purple Prince mentions Big Top Mountain, a home of giants that presumably doesn’t have anything to do with circuses, but that’s probably where the name came from.

In addition to the Wizard, several other characters have worked in circuses or fairs. Cowardly Lion features a clown named Notta Bit More who essentially never breaks character, which means he relies on jokes and disguises even when they’re repeatedly ineffective.

He’s an unpopular character with readers, but Thompson seemed to be trying to present him in a generally positive light, even if he wasn’t all that bright. He ends up living in a tent and putting on circus shows for the inhabitants of the Emerald City. Snufferbux in Ojo is a dancing bear, forced to perform tricks at fairs. It’s mentioned that he’s mistreated by his handlers, Zithero’s gypsy band. And Humpty Bumpty in Enchanted Island is also treated cruelly while in the circus. It seems like Thompson might have developed more sympathy for the captive animals at circuses and fairs over time.

Posted in Animals, Characters, Dick Martin, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, L. Frank Baum, Monsters, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Scourge of Persia


Not too long ago, Marcus Mebes sent me a book of monsters from mythology, folklore, and fantasy literature. I was already familiar with many of them, but one I can’t recall having read about before was Zahhak, or Azi Dahaka, a three-headed dragon from Iranian mythology who plays a significant role in Zoroastrian texts. It appears that the most complete account of Zahhak’s life is in the Shahnama or Book of Kings, an epic legendary history of Iran written by the poet Ferdowsi in the tenth century, after Islam had become the dominant religion there. Mentions of the character appear in the Avesta, the earliest known Zoroastrian texts. While presumably always a dragon-shaped demon in earlier tales, the Shahnama made him originally human, son of an Arabian ruler named Merdas. The evil god Angra Mainyu advised him to kill his father, which he did by tricking him into falling in a pit. The evil one then served as Zahhak’s cook, but when he kissed the man on his cheeks, snake heads grew out of them.

Picture by Pary Shahsamandi
These heads each demanded one human brain every day, and while his cooks were usually able to slip in the occasional sheep brain instead, they weren’t able to save all of his victims. Around this time, the great hero Yima or Jamshid had become ruler of the world, and while he was initially beneficent and successful, he eventually grew arrogant. Zahhak and his brother Spitiyura, who doesn’t seem to have otherwise featured in these stories, decided to cut him down to size.

More accurately, they sawed him in half, and Zahhak ruled the world for the next millennium.

He was a terrible tyrant, although one source indicates that otherwise the immortal demon of wrath would have taken over if he hadn’t. Things can always get worse, after all.

Like many autocrats, Zahhak was obsessed with securing his reign and making sure his people were loyal, so he had his courtiers sign a document indicating how benevolent this murderous dragon-man was. When the blacksmith Kava heard about this, he declared in public how Zahhak’s heads had eaten seventeen of his eighteen children. The king tried to win over Kava’s favor by pardoning the eighteenth, but obviously it didn’t work, and the smith tore up the document and fled to the mountains. It was here that he met Fereydun, the young man who was fated by prophecy to end Zahhak’s reign of terror.

The demonic ruler had tried to have Fereydun killed when he was still a boy, but as usual he left the job to his underlings, who unsurprisingly botched it and let the child get away. The grown Fereydun led a rebellion against Zahhak, and eventually smashed the monster in the head (the big one, I guess) with a mace made from the head of an ox.

While some versions of the story say this killed Zahhak, it’s also been said that scorpions and lizards came out of the dragon’s wounds, and the good god Ahura Mazda feared that these creatures would overrun the world. So instead of killing Zahhak, Fereydun trapped him under Mount Damavand, the highest volcano in Asia.

The Zoroastrian apocalypse includes Zahhak escaping from his prison at the end of the world for one last rampage, but he’ll eventually be defeated again by a resurrected hero. This role is generally not given to Fereydun, however, but to another monster slayer named Kirsasp, although there is some speculation that the two might have originally been the same guy. Let’s just hope Donald Trump doesn’t goad the Iranian government into letting the dragon out early. Actually, as far as relatively contemporary politics go, there were postcards based on the story of Zahhak used as anti-Hitler propaganda during World War II.

Posted in Monsters, Mythology, Persian, Religion, Zoroastrianism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments