Double Your Fun

One idea that’s shown up several times in Oz and related books is that of a place where everything is double. I believe the first appearance of the theme is in The Enchanted Island of Yew, in which Prince Marvel and Nerle visit the hidden Land of Twi, located in the middle of a thick hedge near the Kingdom of Spor. L. Frank Baum describes this country as follows: “Before them were two trees, exactly alike. And underneath the trees two cows were grazing–each a perfect likeness of the other. At their left were two cottages, with every door and window and chimney the exact counterpart of another. Before these houses two little boys were playing, evidently twins, for they not only looked alike and dressed alike, but every motion one made was also made by the other at the same time and in precisely the same way. When one laughed the other laughed, and when one stubbed his toe and fell down, the other did likewise, and then they both sat up and cried lustily at the same time.” Mind you, this could potentially lead to a bit of a paradox. Baum mentions “the double doors of the double houses,” but if both the houses AND doors are doubled, then wouldn’t that mean FOUR identical doors? Where does the doubling end? There is no word “one” in the language of Twi, although they do use the term “singular.” Twi exists in perpetual twilight, and is ruled by women called the High Ki, assisted by the Ki and the Ki-Ki.

When it looks like the High Ki are going to order Marvel and Nerle to be executed, the fairy prince splits the double leader into two separate individuals. This leads to civil war, but Marvel manages to stave off serious trouble by calling in his allies, King Terribus of Spor and the reformed bandit chief Wul-Takim. The prince then restores the High Ki, and they and the Ki accompany him on his journey. They later return to Twi and have the hedge restored, which might mean that the isolated land remained as it was when the rest of the Isle of Yew became civilized.

Ruth Plumly Thompson also uses the double idea with Double Up, a city in the Winkie Country introduced in The Purple Prince of Oz. In this place, “the houses were double, the windows and doors in the houses were double, the double-faced citizens walked stiffly in pairs.” The residents each have two faces, one on each side of their heads, like Janus or the Scoodlers. These faces frequently talk at once and contradict each other. The ruler is known as Too Too the Second, King, King, and Double King.

Double Up is one of Thompson’s typical hostile communities, where the army disguises themselves as a marching band and then knocks out strangers with sliding horns. The Doubles capture Randy, Kabumpo, and Jinnicky, locking the boy in the dungeon and trapping the elephant in a log enclosure. The Jinn uses his blue incense to put the Doubles to sleep, allowing his party to escape. And in Sissajig, Two City is a place where the people generally do everything in pairs, wear two hats each, and have doors with two knockers and gardens with two gates. The rulers, the Duchess Guess Sue and the Duke Me Too, apparently do not have twins, but they do each wear two crowns. The Duchess also has a double chin and wears her hair in a double pompadour.

Finally, there’s Twinlet-Town in Frank Joslyn Baum’s Laughing Dragon, part of the area of the Quadling Country ruled by Princess Cozytoes. It’s inhabited by sentient flowers that are all double, and think single people are incomplete.

Unlike the inhabitants of the other double communities, however, the flowers are friendly to strangers. The town is famous for its double pools made of children’s tears, and it is governed by the Perfumed Council.

There’s a guest room in the double castle that’s made to accommodate humans, particularly the Princess when she visits.

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A Troll in Chicago

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente – This is the fourth book in the Fairyland series, and the first to focus on a new protagonist, although the old one does appear. The story involves the concept of changelings, in which a fairy child is exchanged for a human one. Here, the changeling in question is a troll named Hawthorn, who is torn away from his life to a mundane human existence in Chicago, with no memory of his previous home. Eventually he manages to return to Fairyland in the company of his best friend Tamburlaine, who is also a changeling, a wooden Fetch. Along with Hawthorn’s stuffed wombat and Tamburlaine’s live gramophone, they meet up with September and her friends, as well as King Charlie Crunchcrab, a walrus shoemaker, and the boy for whom Hawthorn was exchanged. The ending has a dodo egg restoring certain things, resulting in the human boy returning to Chicago, but there’s still quite a bit of mystery involved that the sequel will hopefully clear up. As usual, Fairyland is a fun place to visit, sort of a mix of multiple established fantasy lands with plenty of new ideas, full of puns and eccentric characters. What really struck me in this book, however, was Valente’s description of Hawthorn growing up in the mundane world, and his parents dealing with his being different from the other kids. She writes, “Thomas [Hawthorn’s human identity] did not have any clear idea what Normal meant, except that it was something Gwendolyn and Nicholas were, and Mysterious Unnamed Other Children also were, and possibly Grocers and Teachers and Street Sweepers as well, but that Thomas was not.” I’ve certainly had the experience of feeling I don’t fit in and not being sure why, although in my case I don’t THINK it’s because I’m a changeling.

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I Smell a Frat

Having read this article from last year, I am even more against fraternities than I already was, which is saying something. The Greek system has always seemed full of contradictions to me. They’re a source of embarrassment for the associated colleges, yet the colleges gladly affiliate with them. They’re full of guys who live together, stick things up each others’ butts, and call themselves “Greek”; yet tend to be incredibly homophobic. And they’re authority-flaunting troublemakers, but also very conservative. It’s not like I ever would have joined a fraternity even if they WEREN’T hotbeds of privilege and assault. I’m by no means a guys’ guy, I rarely drink, I like to be alone, and I’m not all that big on parties. Even their language comes across as pretty creepy to me. I doubt most of them don’t take the whole thing about being loyal for life all that seriously, but even joking about that comes across as a little unsettling to me. I know there’s recently been a lot of talk about the frat with the racist chant, but it’s not like they’re unique in their bigoted attitude.

I found it interesting how frats more or less changed from means of escape from the strictness of college life to defenders of the status quo. While I’m sure not all fraternity brothers are politically conservative, I tend to link the two because it seems like frat culture shares the same attitudes as the modern Republican Party: self-satisfaction, disdain for women and minorities, and the belief that you can get away with anything if you have money. I don’t think too many CPAC speakers live in houses that people routinely fall out of, though. Colleges are going to defend fraternities because there’s money in them, and the frats themselves claim that the bad apples are outliers. While I don’t believe in blaming the many for the actions of the few, I also feel there’s something about getting a bunch of manly men together that brings out the worst in them. It’s sort of like the military, except without the necessity for national security. I’ve never been in the military (I’m sure you’re shocked), but the media always portray it as full of drill sergeants who insult the troops by calling them faggots. Perhaps this isn’t entirely accurate, but if there’s any truth to it, is it really all that shocking that this macho posturing would contribute to the culture of sexual assault and disrespect for women? Not that I’m keen on sororities either; I haven’t heard about their members being violent, but I do think they produce a kind of group-think that’s disturbing. Yes, I’m generalizing, but I think this is the image such groups portray.

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Off the Walrus

Snarked!, by Roger Langridge – When looking for information on the Popeye comics Langridge wrote, I saw some mentions of an earlier comic he both wrote and drew that I’d heard of before, which was sort of a re-imagining of Lewis Carroll’s work.

It stars the Walrus and the Carpenter of the poem, here named Wilburforce J. Walrus and Clyde McDunk. I’ve seen Langridge’s Walrus compared with J. Wellington Wimpy, in terms of his laziness and trickiness, his manner of speaking, and even his name. This is, of course, consistent with the character in the poem as well. McDunk is the dim-witted sidekick who turns out during the course of the story to have useful talents. The Red King has disappeared, and his eight-year-old daughter Scarlett teams up with the two con-artists to bring him back. Many of Carroll’s characters show up, some like the Cheshire Cat and the Bellman’s crew fitting pretty well with how they appeared in the original works, while others have somewhat different roles. The Gryphon is a relentless bounty hunter (who bears a physical resemblance to Sam the Eagle, which can’t be a coincidence as Langridge has done Muppets comics), the Mad Hatter a hapless pirate captain, and the White Knight a street performer.

While there’s certainly some Carrollian humor, the overall style is less absurd but still quite funny, being largely driven by the eccentric characters. And Langridge provides a happy ending of sorts for the poor Baker, who disappeared at the end of The Hunting of the Snark. The series is definitely worth a read.

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To Chop the Unchoppable Tree

I was already familiar with some of the Chinese myths retold in Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but there were others I’d either never or rarely come across. One of these is the story of Wu Gang, which bears some clear similarities to the myth of Sisyphus and other Greek tales of never-ending torment in Tartarus. Wu Gang’s punishment is trying to chop down a tree that constantly heals itself. Oh, and the tree is on the Moon, which the ancient Chinese must have thought was a lot more fertile than we know it to be today.

I played on the idea of the Moon once having supported life in an Oz story I wrote that incorporated aspects of Chinese mythology, although I didn’t use Wu Gang or his tree in it. The lunar tree might originally have been an attempt to explain the lunar phases, with the tree growing and then losing its leaves every month. That Wu Gang was chopping this particular tree might well be the result of merging two different myths, but it’s not like I have any actual proof for this. The tree is over a mile high, and is often identified as either a cherry laurel or an osmanthus. Wu Gang’s crime varies from one version of the legend to another. The most common seems to be that he lost interest in everything very quickly. He sought to become immortal, but gave up his Taoist studies after a few days. The Jade Emperor, who was annoyed by his attitude, said he could become an immortal when he finished chopping the tree, which of course was impossible. I suppose this DOES give him eternal life of a sort, but certainly not the kind he could enjoy. An possibly earlier legend has it that the chopping was a punishment for his murder of the man with whom his wife was having an affair. Since NASA has never been able to find the guy, perhaps the Emperor finally relented, or maybe Wu and the tree were just relocated.

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More Moon Men

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin – I remember being drawn to this book on a library shelf, but not checking it out because I already had several books checked out. More recently, Amy mentioned it in response to a post I made, and by that time I’d already requested it from the library. I think there might have been a magical red ribbon of fate connecting me to the book. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s been compared to The Wizard of Oz, in that it’s the journey of a little girl and her magical companion to see a powerful man whom she hopes will grant their requests. Minli is living in poverty near the Fruitless Mountain, and she seeks help from the Old Man of the Moon in changing her fortune, meeting a painted dragon who can’t fly along the way. Her adventures bring her into contact with several characters from Chinese mythology, including the Buffalo Boy and the Da-A-Fu. The former is sometimes known as Niu Lang, and I wrote about his story here. It also reminds me of something from a book I read when I took a Chinese history course in college, Jung Shang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, about life in Mao’s China. At one point, Shang mentions her mother being sent to a camp on the Buffalo Boy Flatland, which was named after the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl because it’s a place where the Milky Way and the stars Vega and Altair are particularly bright. For some reason, the name “Buffalo Boy Flatland” really stuck with me. As for the Da-A-Fu, they’re the lucky children displayed on doorways at the Chinese New Year, who according to folklore destroyed a green beast through trickery.

In the book, the beast is a nasty green tiger. The story is told in short chapters, with frequent breaks from the narrative for legendary flashbacks of a sort, usually based on Chinese mythology. Minli eventually achieves her goal by being selfless and realizing that her life isn’t so bad, which leads to a happy ending. Too bad that kind of thing doesn’t always work in real life.

The Collector’s Book of Science Fiction by H.G. Wells – I don’t think I’d read anything by Wells previously, although I knew the basic outlines of some of his stories from other sources and popular culture in general. This volume includes the full novels The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, and When the Sleeper Wakes, all printed in the form in which they originally appeared when serialized in magazines, as well as several short stories. Some of them are fairly forgettable, but they all show a large amount of creativity. It’s interesting to read old science fiction to see what they got right and wrong. Wells correctly predicated human voyages to the Moon, synthetic diamonds, airplanes, and tanks; although the details were somewhat off. Some of his best work, however, came when he let his imagination run wild and come up with such things like the bizarre flora and fauna of the Moon, or the ornate but oppressive future into which the Sleeper wakes. Wells freely acknowledges his antecedents in such sorts of fiction, like Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon for space travel and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward for someone waking up in the far future. And to today’s scientists, why hasn’t Cavorite been discovered yet?

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Hey, Let’s Do the Limbo Rock

There’s something I’ve always liked about the word “Limbo,” which has entered into popular usage as meaning a state where nothing can happen until certain conditions are met. It comes from the Latin limbus, meaning an edge or border. The dance that involves going under a bar is presumably not related, instead more likely relating to “limber.” Anyway, in Catholic theology, Limbo is sort of the edge of Hell, where people who haven’t really done anything wrong but also haven’t accepted Jesus are required to wait for divine intervention.

This includes the virtuous who lived before the time of Jesus and unbaptized babies. The thinking behind this is that Jesus is necessary for salvation, but it wasn’t your fault if you never had the chance to accept him. You still can’t get into Heaven, though, because that’s a private club for people who have been through the initiation, I guess. That said, Limbo is not official Catholic doctrine, just a possibility that’s remained fairly popular throughout church history. The Limbo for infants looks to have largely fallen out of favor in recent years, however. Dante made Limbo the first circle of Hell, and described it as a dull and somber place somewhat based on the Greek Elysium, where the virtuous pagans hang out.

Perhaps it can be described as a place where nothing ever happens, although David Byrne says that’s what Heaven is like.

I think I might have first come across the term, at least used as a location of sorts, in one of the Endless Quest books based on Dungeons & Dragons, Revenge of the Rainbow Dragons. The evil wizards offer your character a choice of going to several places, all of which not surprisingly turn out to be traps. Described by your owl sidekick as being nowhere rather than a physical location, it’s full of clouds, and contains a cloud castle where the titular rainbow dragons are living.

If what Wikipedia says is correct, the official D&D version of Limbo is an astral plane in constant chaos. I find it interesting that Allison McBain’s Cory in Oz has Cory and her witchy mentors travel through Limbo when magically traveling from the United States to Oz, and they almost turn into blue clouds while there. I wonder if McBain had read the Endless Quest book, or that was just a coincidence. Is there an earlier source linking Limbo with clouds? It apparently appears as a place full of clouds in a 2009 episode of Doctor Who, a show I’ve never watched but many of my online acquaintance enjoy.

I also remember an episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon where Shredder uses a magic sword to transport himself and Splinter to Limbo, a void containing nothing but floating platforms.

It was a space between dimensions in other episodes as well.

And Marvel Comics makes Limbo a pocket universe that exists outside of time and space.

While there are differences between these portrayals, the common theme appears to be that modern fantasy makes Limbo a space between universes, and it’s often Nowhere as a physical location. It can sometimes also be a nexus point, which is probably why I can’t see the word as totally negative. Sure, it means you’re nowhere at all for now, but the possibilities for the future are many.

Posted in Cartoons, Catholicism, Christianity, Comics, Etymology, Games, Greek Mythology, Mythology, Oz, Places, Religion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment