Tesser Action

Many Waters, by Madeleine L’Engle – I’d read L’Engle’s original Time Trilogy back in my younger days, definitely in elementary school for at least the first two and probably the third. I remember A Wrinkle in Time pretty well, and the others not quite as much, although some parts of them stuck with me. They tended to mix scientific elements with Christian theology and pure fantasy: Jesus fighting a dark force shading various planets, a planet of flying centaurs who recite Biblical passages, a cherub going inside a mitochondrion, etc. Some of the science is a bit outdated at this point, but the attitude toward it is quite positive. We now know more about the workings of mitochondria and that they don’t contain sub-organisms called farandolae, for instance. And the word “tesseract” seems to be somewhat misused; it’s actually a cube extended into the fourth dimension. Still, it was these books that largely introduced me to mitochondria and dimensions beyond the third. The main characters in this fourth book are the twins Sandy and Dennys Murry, younger brothers of Meg and Charles Wallace. One of their parents’ experiments ends up sending them back in time to just before Noah’s Flood, bringing in the religious component. L’Engle’s version of the antediluvian world has humans accompanied by tiny mammoths, manticores, seraphim, and nephilim. There are also unicorns, but they only exist when believed in, which the twins compare to quantum physics. The characters, some directly from the Bible and others extrapolated, all have their own distinct personalities. I’m not sure how the weird mythical biology fits with the promotion of science, but it’s a good story.

An Acceptable Time, by Madeleine L’Engle – This is considered the fifth Time book, but it features characters introduced in another series (sub-series?), so I might have to go back and read some of those. The main character is Polly O’Keefe, Meg and Calvin’s daughter, who is staying with her grandparents and finds a way to travel back in time what she guesses to be 3000 years, although the mountains having become hills over that period hints suggests it’s actually longer ago. She finds out that a bishop who’s friends with her grandparents has also gone back and forth multiple times, and has taught English to one of the natives. Most of the others speak the old Irish language of Ogham, which is actually an alphabet rather than a spoken language. They consider making Polly a blood sacrifice, and her supposed friend Zachary Grey makes a bargain with an enemy tribe to capture her in exchange for their healer fixing his heart condition. He’s apparently another recurring character from books I haven’t read, and I don’t know if he’s as obnoxious in those. Even before considering making this bargain (which he later regrets), he’s uncomfortably hitting on Polly. One complaint I’ve seen a lot about this one is how Polly’s grandparents remain skeptical even though they’ve experienced some pretty miraculous things, some of which they even mention here. I mean, Alex Murry transported himself to an alien world many light-years away, so why is time travel so difficult to accept? The theology here is fairly prominent but pretty liberal, with the bishop acknowledging that the natives’ pagan nature worship is a valid aspect of truth even though he’s sure Jesus existed even in their time.

Before I close this out, here’s the teaser trailer for the film version of Wrinkle that’s coming out next year:

We’ll have to wait and see whether we can give this Wrinkle in Time any credit, but that Camazotz scene looks totally accurate and creepy, and I approve of the multi-racial cast. Yes, I know Meg had brown hair in the books, but the girl in the trailer still totally looks the part. And here’s an earlier post of mine that explains the origin of the name Camazotz. Also, while Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is often said to be a reaction to C.S. Lewis, the bit about angels being made of dark matter seems very L’English. I’m not sure if he meant it as a parody or what, as he apparently didn’t like Wrinkle either.

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Fantasy Repeats Itself

I’ve been playing the PC version of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, and I have a few things to say about what I’ve played so far. The game is, as the title suggests, a direct follow-up to FFIV, set fourteen years later. Although the FF games were originally intended to each take place on separate worlds, there had already been direct sequels to FFVII, X, and XII; and an anime taking place in the world of FFV. The game is episodic, with various stories focusing on different characters, most of them fairly short so far. The main complaint I’ve seen about the game is that many of the locations visited are pretty much exactly the same as in the original FFIV, which makes sense from a continuity point of view, but means you’re doing a lot of the same things over again. For that matter, the plot is pretty repetitive as well, once again involving Baron stealing the world’s crystals. Even the characters note how everything is repeating itself. On the other hand, I like how the various chapters intertwine, sometimes filling in gaps. There’s also a recurring element of passing the torch: Cecil‘s son Ceodore goes on a quest to become a knight, Yang’s daughter Ursula wants to follow in his footsteps, and Edge is training four new ninjas.

In Rydia’s chapter, both Luca and the Calcabrina are playable.

Different mechanics from FFIV include a moon phase system that strengthens some battle commands and weakens others, and combination attacks for characters with a history of working together. While early versions of the game had graphics in the original sixteen-bit style, the PC one uses 3D sprites reminiscent of the DS remake of FFIV.

In terms of difficulty, most of it has been fairly easy so far, but with occasional surprisingly difficult battles. I feel like it kind of builds up your confidence, then dashes it by suddenly throwing a bigger challenge at you. I’ve been unable to get through the fight between Ursula and Kain, but every website I’ve consulted says it’s easy, so I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. At least the episode system means I can switch to a different story until I’m ready to tackle that again. The characters have vastly different beginning statistics, most of the heroes of the first game still being pretty strong, while newcomers can take a while to stop dying at the drop of a hat. Fortunately, levels increase pretty rapidly, a definite change from Dragon Quest where a level increase is a major event. And if you die, there’s a continue function sort of like the one in Mystic Quest, where you can go back to shortly before the fatal battle. It’s been enjoyable enough so far despite its flaws, but we’ll see what happens later on.

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Zeebee and ze Bee

The Spelling Bee of Oz, by Robin Hess – The follow-up to Toto and the Cats of Oz has two new visitors to the fairyland. Elizabeth Warren from California, or Zeebee for short, is captured by the Nome King Korph, who has taken the throne from Kaliko. It turns out she’s the spitting image of Dorothy, and he wants to use her in a plot to conquer Oz. Meanwhile, Amal, a Somali orphan, has teamed up with the titular Bee. We also learn the Bee’s origin story, which is linked to the creation of the Hip-po-gy-raf, the Kalidahs, and the giant spider the Cowardly Lion killed. It’s nice to see an Outside World visitor who isn’t a white American for a change. Hess tends to give a lot of background, which works well for his small Oz communities. A few characters from the Russian Magic Land books appear, only altered to better fit a more Baumian Oz. And like many Oz authors, he tries to explain some of the more mysterious aspects of the land: where it’s located, how people and animals communicate, the language barrier, the contradictory origins for Ozma, how the calendar works, etc. His takes on these issues is interesting, but sometimes get in the way of the story. I usually take such explanations with a grain of salt, as pretty much every fan has their own theories, and they usually don’t impact the stories a whole lot. The book provides the date of 22 June 1493 O.Z. for Dorothy’s initial arrival in Oz, which would fall in the time when tornadoes are most prominent in Kansas. Joe Bongiorno’s Royal Timeline of Oz goes with November in order to better accommodate W.W. Denslow’s “Dorothy’s Christmas Tree.”

Dorothy and Old King Crow, by Dorothy HaasIn the mid-eighties, Random House published a few Oz books that were largely consistent with the original series, but intended for younger readers. This one is written on the lowest reading level of all, recommended for second or third graders. The story is very simple, concerning a crow who enchants the Scarecrow and will only let him go if Dorothy beats him in a spelling contest. She wins with help from a Spelling Bee, here pictured as ordinary insect-sized instead of the giant creature in Hess’s books. They might still be the same individual, but it’s an old joke. The only traditional Oz characters are the five from Wizard, although Ozma does merit a brief mention. Although nothing much happens, there’s no reason it couldn’t be part of the history of Oz. I did think there was some weird anti-crow prejudice on Dorothy’s part; one crow being evil doesn’t mean all of them are.

Dorothy and the Seven-Leaf Clover, by Dorothy Haas – This somewhat more substantial story by the same author has the big five encountering a golden boy who holds Toto hostage. It turns out that he’s under an enchantment by the Wicked Witch of the East, and the friends have to find a seven-leaf clover in order to break the spell. I liked the cow who helps them find the clover, characterized as a lackadaisical connoisseur of plants. There’s not much to it beyond that, but it’s a pretty fun little read.

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The Brick Bat

The Lego Batman Movie – Lego has become a significant franchise apart from their actual plastic building bricks, and sometimes it really seems to complicate things. I mean, Lego Star Wars? Just pick one or the other! I’ve heard these games are good, though, so I probably shouldn’t judge. And I enjoyed The Lego Movie, which included appearances from several licensed characters, but none as prominently as Batman. He’s played as an affectionate parody, exaggerating the traits we all know and love about the Caped Crusader and mixing in a childish stubbornness and a fondness for rapping about himself. This film expands upon this characterization by making him the central focus, and making a lot of inside jokes and references along the way. Not only do the most famous Batman villains appear, but so do some much more obscure ones.

And various comments suggest that every past iteration of Batman is at least sort of canonical, even though they frequently contradict each other and would mean he and Robin had already teamed up several times. The Joker references his plans from both the 1989 Tim Burton film and The Dark Knight, and other lines riff on Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. Not only do little-known members of the rogues’ gallery appear, however, but villains from other franchises, the explanation being that they had been exiled to the Phantom Zone and the Joker helps them escape.

How can you turn down Batman battling Voldemort, Sauron, the Wicked Witch of the West, Godzilla, and King Kong?

It’s kind of like a fanfic that was theatrically released. I wonder why anyone felt the need to exile Kong to a prison dimension when he’s just a wild animal who was mistreated, not actually evil. Same basic deal with the shark and the dinosaurs, but I realize criticizing a Lego superhero film for going with what’s cool and funny over what really makes sense is pretty pointless. Also, General Zod never appeared, despite Superman specifically saying that he’d exiled him to the Phantom Zone. It’s interesting that, even though Ralph Fiennes voiced Alfred, he didn’t reprise his role as Voldemort. Two-Face was Billy Dee Williams, who played Harvey Dent in the 1989 movie but never got to be his alter-ego. And Bane was a straight-up parody of his voice in The Dark Knight Rises. The Lego aspect was used more in the animation than in the plot, at least up until the characters stacked themselves on top of each other to pull Gotham City back together. While largely a spoof, Batman did have a genuine character arc with his fear of losing loved ones. I’ve seen it pointed out before how he’s generally presented as a loner, yet has a fairly large support network. Lots of heroes have had sidekicks, but Robin is probably the most recognizable. This movie explains that, at least to an extent.

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It’s All About Mimi

Last week, I finished reading the last book in Patricia Wrightson’s Song of Wirrun trilogy based on Australian mythology, which taught me about a few spirit beings from aboriginal folklore. One of them was the Mimi, a kind of spirit said to be so thin and frail that they could be blown away or broken apart by the wind. Because of this, they usually dwell inside or between rocks.

They apparently had more human forms at some time in the past, but lost them when the land was settled by modern humans around 60,000 years ago. Their job is to clean up after storms, and they are also skilled hunters and painters. They will hunt emus and kangaroos, but apparently also will tame the latter.

Picture by Robin Nganjmira
While they presumably eat meat, they are also quite fond of yams. Long ago, they taught humans how to hunt, make fire, and paint; and they are popular subjects in art, particularly in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

Mimis are not always beneficent to humans, however, especially humans who intrude on their territory or bother them. They’ve been known to play tricks or physically lash out, and even to trap humans in their caves and/or eat them.

It’s a pretty typical aspect of fairy and spirit lore that such beings aren’t really good or evil, but rather amoral and capricious, helping or hurting as they see fit at the time. I haven’t been able to find many particular stories about them, aside from this one about a father rescuing his son from their world. So many pages I found through Google just cut and pasted the same information, something I learned not to do in elementary school. Another significant creature in Wrightson’s series was the Yunggamurra, described as a siren-like river spirit that lured men to the water to drown. One of them is exiled from her sisters and becomes Wirrun’s wife. I can’t find anything from searching this term other than references to the trilogy itself, so I have to wonder if it’s usually known by some other name. I have found some mentions of river spirits who drown people in Australian lore; they seem to be pretty ubiquitous in world mythology. I also found this musical adaptation of Wrightson’s work by Betty Beath, with vocals by Laura King and piano by Jonathan Wilson.

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Mice, Ducks, and Aliens

The Song of Wirrun, by Patricia Wrightson – Paul Dana recommended this trilogy of books based on Australian mythology: The Ice Is Coming, The Dark Bright Water, and Behind the Wind. I have a passion for mythology, but I haven’t really looked that closely into native Australian lore, so quite a bit of it was new to me. The series focuses on the aboriginal hero Wirrun, who saves the country a few times. The Yunggamurra, the Mimi, and the Bunyip all feature in these stories. I read it a bit gradually, so I don’t remember all of the details that well. While Wirrun does face evil, a lot of it consists of the characters traveling, making for a slow pace at times. Still, I think this fits with the general style.

The Dalemark Quartet, by Diana Wynne Jones – If I don’t remember the Wirrun books that well, this series is even worse, as I read Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet years ago, and only recently got around to The Spellcoats and The Crown of Dalemark. The first three are largely self-contained, with completely different characters and situations, but they all come together for the last one. The world is a pre-industrial high fantasy sort of place, lacking the more modern elements of many of Jones’s fantasies. There is time travel in Crown, though. Enjoyable enough reads, but they didn’t really hold my interest as well as a lot of the author’s work.

Mickey and Donald: The Search for the Zodiac Stone, by Bruno Sarda, Massimo De Vita, and Franco Valussi – IDW and ComiXology have been releasing collected editions of Disney comics, some foreign and others more obscure American tales. Earlier this year, they put out a translated version of a very ambitious 1990 Italian story from the Topolino (the Italian name for Mickey Mouse) magazine that made use of many different aspects of the Disney universe, and encompasses several different types of storytelling. Mickey is seeking the twelve lost Zodiac Stones for two archaeologist friends of his, and Scrooge McDuck is also interested in them due to their supposed ability to tell the future. In twelve different chapters, Mickey and Donald Duck seek out the Stones, with help from Goofy, Donald’s nephews, and others. Gladstone Gander, Grandma Duck, Gus Goose, Minnie, and Pluto all play significant roles at various times. In one story, Donald takes on the role of the Duck Avenger, his superhero alter-ego known as Paperinik (a combination of his Italian name Paperino and an anti-hero called Diabolik) in Italy. In another, he ends up on a planet obsessed with fashion. Scrooge encounters a ghost in Scotland, Goofy takes the place of a rich lookalike in Paris and tells the story of his ancestor Goofaloo Bill, and a quiet story has Huey, Dewey, and Louie find one of the stones on Grandma’s farm. Pete and the Phantom Blot team up to try to steal the stones, and Magica de Spell features in one tale. There are a lot of in-jokes as well, with the references to Darkwing Duck’s St. Canard presumably either added in by a later editor or a translator, since the series didn’t start until 1991. While I know Don Rosa thinks of the Duck universe as separate from the rest of Disney’s properties, I do like the idea of a shared universe between different media featuring these characters, even if that obviously means some inconsistencies. It seems like American Disney comics are now starting to incorporate more popular elements from European stories that were either unused or underused in traditional tales, like the Duck Avenger and Donald’s beatnik cousin Fethry.

Waiting for the Galactic Bus, by Parke Godwin – A humorous take on the Chariots of the Gods idea that gods are actually advanced aliens, this credits human evolution and development to two aliens who are stranded on the primitive Earth as a joke, then not rescued for millennia because their companions can’t remember where they were. They pass time by speeding up the advancement of the local apes, and end up being thought of as God and Satan despite not really promoting those identifications. Barion runs Topside and Coyul Below Stairs, two realms of human post-life existence, and interact quite frequently with such historical figures as Jesus (who goes by Yeshua and tends not to be accepted by Christians expecting a tall white guy), Judas Iscariot, St. Augustine, and John Wilkes Booth. Much of the plot involves Barion and Coyul’s attempts to break up white nationalist Roy Stride and his naive but actually fairly intelligent girlfriend Charity Stovall, fearing that any offspring might bring on the apocalypse. To this end, Coyul recruits the help of actors to create a scenario in which Roy succeeds in his takeover attempt, and I don’t think this part works quite as well as when Godwin focuses on aliens and historical figures, but there’s definitely a message in it that’s still quite valid today.

The Snake Oil Wars, by Parke Godwin – The follow-up to Bus has Coyul taking over Topside after Barion is banished, and dealing with another bigoted American fundamentalist. Godwin tries to make Lance Candor his own character, and he’s not the racist Roy Stride was, but it still feels like a bit of a rehash. A trial ensues after Lance bombs Coyul’s office, with Marcus Aurelius serving as judge and two unidentified historical figures as lawyers. While Godwin drops hints about who the attorneys are, I actually had to look it up afterwards. Kind of odd considering that Judas’ identity is spelled out in the first book despite being obvious. I did recognize another person not specifically identified by name, L. Ron Hubbard reincarnated as an answering machine. Other new characters include Coyul’s old girlfriend Purji (who had been playing fertility goddess on another planet), Lance’s shrewish and sex-hating wife Letti, and flaky hippie revolutionary Scheherazade Ginsberg. The general assessment is that this isn’t as good as the first book, but I did appreciate seeing the characters again.

Posted in Australian, Authors, Book Reviews, Comics, Diana Wynne Jones, Humor, Mythology, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fast Food Abomination

Okay, I guess I have to write a review of Good Burger. Beth put it on our Netflix queue years ago, presumably out of morbid curiosity. We kept putting off getting it, but we finally watched it last night. It was actually released the summer I worked at the movie theater, so I could have seen it for free, but I didn’t. I do remember walking the theater during the scene when all the burgers were exploding. The movie was actually an extension of a sketch from Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell’s Nickelodeon show All That, which neither of us watched. Kenan wasn’t in these particular sketches, but he was worked into the film as a kid who gets a summer job at Good Burger to pay off the money he owes his teacher (played by Sinbad with an afro) for crashing into his car while driving without a license. There’s a recurring gag of Sinbad’s property being wrecked, even though the character doesn’t do anything to deserve it. Most of the humor is based on really dumb plays on words or often gross slapstick. To give you an example, when Kel is told his watch his butt…well, you can probably figure out what happens. He also climbs inside the milkshake machine at one point, and there are apparently no consequences for this, as health inspectors don’t exist in this world. The conflict, such as it is, involves a bigger burger place opening up across the street, with a fascist-seeming manager who will stop at nothing to put Good Burger out of business. They also use an illegal food additive to make their meat patties bigger. It turns out Kel can make a really good sauce for which we never find out all the ingredients, and the Mondo Burger manager unsuccessfully tries to get the recipe from him. When he fails, he instead locks up Kenan and Kel in a mental institution. I’m not sure why asylums in movies always seem to lock people up with no actual evidence. I mean, Kel’s character clearly IS mentally ill, but there’s no psychiatric exam or anything. I guess psychiatrists went the way of health inspectors. Linda Cardellini, who played Lindsay on Freaks and Geeks and Hawkeye’s wife in Avengers: Age of Ultron, appears as a mental patient who identifies herself as a psychopath, although if anything she’s likely schizophrenic. Get your psychological terms right, low-quality children’s movie! Abe Vigoda co-stars as a cranky old man who works at Good Burger, and Shaq makes a cameo appearance. Yeah, it’s bad, but maybe a kid would actually be entertained by it? I don’t know. I’d say it was a nothing burger, but apparently that means it would have colluded with Russia. Kenan has gone on to be a regular on Saturday Night Live, and I was curious as to what Kel is doing now. Looks like he still works for Nickelodeon.

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