Mellow Yellow

When you go back far enough, it can be difficult to tell real personages from mythical ones. Lists of kings often include some far-fetched entries toward the beginning, like people who ruled for centuries. One of the most significant quasi-historical figures in China is the Yellow Emperor, who is credited with just about every hallmark of civilization.

He’s generally known as Guangdi, which literally means “Yellow Emperor” (or “Yellow Thearch”); but his personal name is sometimes said to be Xuanyuan, the name of the hill on which he was supposedly born. According to myth, he was conceived when his mother was zapped by the Big Dipper. When exactly he would have ruled isn’t entirely clear, but Jesuit missionary Martino Martini calculated that it began in 2697 BC, which is now commonly used as the beginning of the traditional Chinese calendar, which Guangdi is said to have invented. Prior to the twentieth century, there wasn’t any continuous measure of years, with a new era simply starting when a new emperor took the throne. Mythology claims that he invented the very concepts of civilization and law, as well as the beginnings of agriculture, mathematics, and astronomy. One of his wives was the first to cultivate silkworms, and he convinced his court historian to create a new system of writing. It’s also said that he invented the mirror, and presented twelve of them as a gift to an empress from the west so that she could use a different one every month.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote a story in his Book of Imaginary Beings about Guangdi trapping invaders from the spirit world in mirrors, where they would be forced to imitate the actions of humans, but would eventually escape.

A few pages I found suggest that this was an actual Chinese myth, but I suspect it’s Borges’ own invention. He was known to mix real mythology with his own creations, and include spurious references to add verisimilitude. Also associated with the Emperor is a small chariot with a figure on top that would always point south, an actual Chinese invention, but one that more reliable sources date to the third century BC.

From what I’ve read, the chariot contained no magnets or other means of actually determining direction, but probably had a mechanism that would generally keep the figure pointing the same way even when the chariot itself turned. Guangdi used this chariot to guide his army through the fog produced by an enemy, although I think this story is sometimes told of a different emperor. Another tale has it that the Yellow Emperor visited the Bai Ze, a fantastic beast described as having bovine and leonine features, as well as six horns and as many as nine eyes.

“Hey, I’m watching you! I’ve got eyes in the back of my…back.”
The Bai Ze told him about all 11,520 supernatural animals in the world, and he compiled the information in a book. He tamed bears, tigers, and winged lions; and rode in an ivory chariot pulled by dragons and an elephant. There are mentions of his having four faces so he could look in all cardinal directions at once, but this is probably metaphorical. In his later life, he became a student of Taoism, and achieved enlightenment and immortality. After an earthly life of about one hundred years, he set up a copper sacrificial tripod at the Mountain Bridge, which summoned a dragon that took him and seventy of his officials to Heaven. He dropped his bow and part of his beard, and these along with his clothes and walking stick were buried where his mausoleum would later be built.

He was subsequently worshipped as one of the Five Forms of the Highest Deity, associated with the center of the cosmos, the element of earth, the dragon, and of course the color yellow.

The star Regulus is called Xuanyuan in his honor, which is apparently what led to the ancient alien crowd insisting that he’s originally from that star system. This conspiracy theory also refers to his tripod being able to record information and his chariot traveling so quickly it made riders age at an accelerated rate, but I’ve only seen these references on pages written by UFO enthusiasts, so I’m not sure what the basis is. I’d be interested in knowing if there is some traditional myth that inspired these ideas, or the Borges story for that matter.

Posted in Animals, China, Chinese, Conspiracy Theories, History, Monsters, Mythology, Religion, Taoism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Room in the Elephant

I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve had the desire for some time to visit Lucy the Elephant, a building on the shore in Margate, New Jersey.

Beth had gone before, but I was doing something else that day. When my dad visited this past weekend, the three of us all went together. When we first entered, it looked like there were other people in our tour group, but they left after climbing the stairs. I still don’t know what was going on with that. Anyway, we watched a video and then took the steps to the howdah, where you get a good view of the surrounding area.

The main room has several artifacts associated with the elephant, and of course there’s a gift shop. Apparently elephant-shaped buildings were a thing at one point. I’m reminded of the elephant statue where Gavroche lived in Les Miserables, which wasn’t designed as a building, but was hollow. This was a real statue commissioned by Napoleon and built on the former site of the Bastille.

Napoleon’s intention was to have it made of bronze with a stairway to the top in one of its legs, but only a wood and plaster version was made. It quickly fell into disrepair, but was not demolished until 1846.

A replica of it can be seen briefly in the film version of the Les Mis musical.

The Elephant Bazaar, which later came to be known as Lucy, was built by James Lafferty as a tourist attraction in 1881, actually the same year my mom’s house was built. It’s made of cedar covered with tin, and is about sixty-five feet tall. It’s commonly thought to have been a hotel, but I don’t think it ever officially was, although there was a hotel nearby. An English doctor and his family did stay there during the summer of 1902, however, and I believe their bathtub is still inside.

It was also apparently a rooming house for a while, and served on and off as a tavern in the early twentieth century. In addition to its being a roadside attraction, Lafferty originally used the howdah as vantage point to show properties to potential customers. He had a patent to design animal-shaped buildings for seventeen years, and was responsible for two other elephant structures: the Elephantine Colossus on Coney Island and the Light of Asia (also known as Old Jumbo) in Cape May.

The former was 122 feet tall, and the latter around forty.

Both ended up being failures, with the Colossus receiving too much competition and eventually burning down in 1896, and Jumbo never making enough money to cover its cost and falling into disrepair. The Colossus was essentially a brothel for a while after tourists lost interest in the observatory and museum. Lafferty was forced to sell the Bazaar in 1887 to a Prussian immigrant named Anthony Gertzen, and it remained in his family until 1970. The official story is that his daughter-in-law Sophia first called the structure Lucy in 1901, and the name stuck. Only male Asian elephants have tusks like Lucy’s (female African elephants have them, but they also have bigger ears), but presumably due to the name, the building is referred to as female. There’s also a window in the butt, and I’m not entirely sure why, but I guess it was pretty much a necessity.

When a developer purchased the land on which Lucy stood, the Margate Civic Association raised the funds to have her moved a few blocks over and slightly more inland, to the site where she now stands. She now requires constant maintenance, but I have to say I would have liked to have stayed in a place like that back when such a thing would have been feasible.

While Lucy is the only remaining elephant building in the United States, there is one in Bangkok that’s sort of elephant-shaped, although it’s much more abstract than Lafferty’s structures. Completed in 1997, the Chang Building (or the Elephant Building, as it’s nicknamed) consists of three towers with a top floor connecting them. It’s 335 feet tall, and contains both office and residential units.

Posted in Animals, Art, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Eggerland’s Best

Continuing with my interest in crossover characters in video games, here are two that I caught immediately. There are recurring bosses in the Kirby series called Lololo and Lalala, basically two brightly colored spheres with eyes, arms, and legs. They push boxes around in order to attack the hero. The thing is, the characters are actually references to another series from the same developer, HAL Laboratory. I remember reading about the Adventures of Lolo games in Nintendo Power, and I think my brother rented one of them once.

They’re action puzzle games, with the plot generally being some variation on Lolo (the blue one) trying to rescue Lala (the pink or red one) from the evil King Egger.

He’s the ruler of Eggerland and Lala the Princess of the neighboring Eden Land, whom the King captures because he’s jealous of her kingdom’s beauty. At some point, Lolo is revealed to be the Prince of Gentry Land. At least, some sources say that, while others give Gentry Land as the name of an amusement park in Eden Land. Regardless, the two of them eventually marry and become king and queen.

They also have a son named Lulu, who is yellow in color.

Officially, I believe they’re called Egg Fairies. Gameplay consists of Lolo having to move boxes around and collect frames in order to obtain a jewel that will let him progress to the next level.

He can temporarily turn enemies into eggs, but can only destroy them permanently by getting the jewels. Both Lolo and Lala are playable in Adventures of Lolo 3.

There were several Japanese games starring Lolo and Lala for the MSX and Famicom, with “Eggerland” in the titles but not “Lolo,” before the series made it to North America and Europe with the 1989 Adventures of Lolo. This game was actually just a combination of puzzle stages from the earlier Japanese games in a different order. Its two sequels had original content, and hence were released in all three markets.

I’m not sure whether the characters in the Kirby series are supposed to be the same ones or just references to them, although I kind of think the former is more fun. But if that’s the case, why are they working for King Dedede? Were the extra syllables added to their names to better fit with that of their employer? And are Eden Land and Eggerland located on the planet Popstar? I’ve recently started watching the anime Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, which gives an alternate back story to Lololo and Lalala, called Fololo and Falala in the English dub for some reason. They were once a single creature called Fofa who couldn’t really do anything but float, so Nightmare had it divided into two so he could make Dedede think he was getting a good deal on them. He found them useless as well, so he fobbed them off on his courtiers Sir Ebrum and Lady Like, the parents of two of the series’ main protagonists. They remain remarkably close, only splitting up when they absolutely have to.

They’re also friends of Kirby’s rather than enemies, but the line tends to be thinner in Kirby games than in other series. Dedede himself is often more of a nuisance than a flat-out villain. Fololo and Falala’s origin story kind of suggests they’re more like siblings than a couple like they are the Eggerland games, but maybe it’s an allusion to Plato’s story about sexuality coming about because Zeus split double-bodied humans in two, so people are looking for their other halves.

Or maybe the anime writers just didn’t know they were husband and wife in the Eggerland series.

Posted in Cartoons, Focus on the Foes, Kirby, Monsters, Relationships, Television, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earthsea

Ursula K. LeGuin’s first book in the Earthsea series, A Wizard of Earthsea, is nearly fifty years old at this point. My reading of these books has been a bit sporadic, as I received the original trilogy as a kid and read the first two books in junior high, but didn’t get around to reading the third until eight years ago, by which point I’d forgotten much of the earlier ones. Then a recent display in the local library reminded me that there are now three more books, the first of them having been published around when I first read Wizard. LeGuin does a pretty thorough job at creating a fantasy world that, while it does have plenty of magic and supernatural threats, also feels realistic. I’ll admit that my preference is usually more for whimsical fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the more serious sort. The known world of Earthsea consists entirely of islands, home to multiple cultures that are mostly Iron Age in terms of technology.

The original trilogy focused on Ged, a young wizard from the island of Gont who attends the school of magic on Roke as a young man, and goes on to become Archmage and bring about the return of the High King. Magic can be found everywhere in Earthsea, but it functions within limits. It’s largely based on learning the true names of things in order to manipulate them to beneficial effect. The school will only teach celibate males, but there are also witches and sorcerers on the islands. One of LeGuin’s main focuses in the later books is on how women’s magic, traditionally frowned upon and thought of as lesser and even evil, can actually be just as powerful and useful as what the men practice. And the rule of having wizards concentrate on nothing but magic leaves them unprepared if they lose their powers, as Ged does in The Farthest Shore and has to deal with in Tehanu.

He eventually settles back on Gont with Tenar, the girl he rescued from a solitary life as a religious symbol in The Tombs of Atuan. Although Ged remains a significant character, women tend to be given much larger roles in the more recent volumes.

The fifth book, Tales from Earthsea, is actually a collection of short stories, covering the founding of the school on Roke, the education of Ged’s first teacher Ogion the Silent, and how a woman sees to break the gender barrier for wizards.

Finally, The Other Wind resolves several issues, including the riff between humans and dragons and the enmity between the archipelago and the magic-hating Kargad Empire, as well as the artificial afterlife created by wizards that served as a prison for souls. The last book was published in 2001, and that’s likely all we’ll see of Earthsea, although LeGuin is still alive at eighty-seven.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Gender, Magic, Names, ursula k. leguin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jackasses of All Trades

I’d say this tweet sums things up pretty well as far as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un go. There are some definite similarities, and not just the bad hair and total disregard for the people of their respective countries. No, what really strikes me is how they both try to mythologize themselves, and build themselves up as naturally better than other people. In Jong-un’s case, this didn’t start with him; it’s his father about whom most of these seem to have originated, although some have been passed down.

Both of are said to have learned to drive at the age of three, with Jong-il also reported to have learned to walk and talk prior to the age of six months. Jong-il was born on a sacred mountain, and his birth was marked by a double rainbow and winter changing to spring. He’s even credited with inventing the hamburger (which he called “double bread with meat”; I’m not sure whether that loses something in translation or he’s just bad at naming things), so I have to wonder how Wimpy in the Popeye comics and cartoons was conning people for them before Jong-il was born.

Also, he never needed to use the bathroom, which could explain why he was so full of crap. Trump’s myths aren’t quite so bizarre, because the United States isn’t as isolated, but he certainly seems to be going in that direction. He claims to have been the greatest baseball player in New York, but you couldn’t make any money doing it then. That sounds kind of like how Jong-il says he was the best golfer ever and a fashion icon, and Jong-un a skilled composer. Not that I can see how any of these things relate to skill in leadership or diplomacy, although I guess not having to urinate would mean more time to devote to your job. I’ve mentioned before how Trump seems to think he’s naturally talented at just about everything. According to him, he’s genetically predisposed to be a businessman and negotiator. At one point, he backpedaled after saying he learned a lot about negotiation from his father, insisting that it’s an inborn skill that can’t really be learned, and that of course he has it. And remember when he claimed that the rain stopped as soon as he started his inauguration speech, which was wholly untrue according to eyewitness testimony? Well, guess what, controlling the weather is another power with which the Kim family is credited.

Actually, I seem to recall people blaming Obama for a hurricane, so maybe some Americans just think that’s part of being president. It must be hidden somewhere in the Constitution. And apparently some people actually believed the Alternative Fact about the huge turnout at Trump’s inauguration, so I guess he’s on his way toward a Kim-style cult of personality. This kind of thing was common back in the day when kings traced their descent directly from gods, but it seems weird nowadays. Has Vladimir Putin been credited with any miracles yet?

Let’s hope somebody in the world has the power to neutralize nuclear warheads.

Posted in Current Events, Magic, Politics, Snobbery | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dig Dug Divorce

You know about Dig Dug, right? If not, I wrote a bit of an overview on it before. It has creative gameplay, featuring a hero who digs tunnels and inflates enemies with an air pump. While the hero was simply known as Dig Dug at first (maybe it could have been short for Digory Douglas), his official name was later established as Taizo Hori, a play on the Japanese for “I want to dig.” He would reappear in the 1985 game Dig Dug II, which takes place above ground and has Taizo destroying islands.

I hope he has a good reason for that. Anyway, perhaps inspired by how Pac-Man would obtain a wife and child, Namco would also give Taizo a family. His wife is the protagonist in Baraduke, a game from 1985 that has still only been officially released in Japan. It involves a character in a spacesuit floating around an alien world and shooting invaders in order to rescue the friendly one-eyed Paccets.

In every level, you have to unlock a gate to the next one, gradually progressing deeper into the planet. The main enemies are the cephalopods called Octis, but they control other creatures as well. There’s sort of a cameo in that one sort of invading alien, the Baggans, look like purple Pac-Men with sharp teeth.

If you finish the game, you find out the protagonist is female.

Yeah, it sounds a lot like Metroid, which came out the following year. I don’t know whether there was any direct influence on that game or not. The heroine was called Kissy at first, but her official name is Masuyo Tobi, wordplay on “I can fly.” I mentioned before that they have a son named Susumu Hori, hero of the Mr. Driller series.

The first of these games came out in 1999, and it looks like a bit of a throwback in some ways, with pretty simple gameplay. The graphics are in a cute, comical anime style, not at all realistic but hardly anything they could have rendered back at the time of the original Dig Dug. A bunch of brightly-colored blocks has come up from underground, and Susumu has to drill through them to get to their source 1000 meters underground, while also making sure they don’t fall on his head and that he doesn’t run out of air.

Blocks of the same color will disappear when they come into contact with each other. Susumi has two brothers who also appear in the games: Ataru Hori, who is also a driller; and Taiyo Tobi, who gets claustrophobic underground and is training to be a pilot.

Susumu has a pet dog, and Ataru a rabbit. The 2005 game Dig Dug: Digging Strike features the whole family, beginning with Taizo, now honorary chairman of the Driller Council, being jealous of his own son, and hence responding to a call for help from the island nation of Horinesia to Susumu on his own.

Monsters have invaded during a dig for fossils, and Taizo has to destroy them.

The gameplay is a mix of the first two Dig Dug games, with what you do underground affecting the surface.

There are boss monsters who can only be beaten by sinking the land on which they’re standing.

Susumu does show up to help out occasionally. I can’t help but see a bit of Cranky Kong in Taizo, a classic video game character longing for his glory days and being somewhat bitter toward his successors. I would imagine he’s not that fond of Mr. Do either. He also apparently ages in real time, being twenty-seven at the time of the original Dig Dug, forty-six when playable in Mr. Driller G, and presumably fifty for Digging Strike. I don’t know if other Namco characters age that way, but I’m curious as to what an elderly Pac-Man would look like.

Picture by Crafty Barnardo
In an ending that you can only see if you complete all of the bonus stages, Masuyo surprises Taizo, who has blown off a date with her to receive accolades from fangirls.

The two of them are officially divorced according to Namco, and this might be part of why. According to the Mr. Driller Wiki, he’s also not that bright and hardly ever home.

And while Taizo still gets on pretty well with Susumu despite his professional jealousy, he’s estranged from Ataru. I suppose Namco wasn’t going for Happily Ever After with these related series; it kind of seems unprecedented in games that are more on the cute, funny side than the dark and gritty one, although I could be wrong about that. I understand there was also a 2005 game that included both Namco and Capcom characters, but so far I don’t think Masuyo has met Samus Aran.

Picture by Myke Greywolf
Maybe there’s a chance now that Pac-Man is in Super Smash Bros., though.

My original goal with this post was to write about a few other character connections between different game series, but I ended up saying so much about the Hori/Tobi family that I should probably leave the others for later.

Posted in Families, Gender, Metroid, Pac-Man, Relationships, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bear-Making Lady

Some years ago, I came up with the idea of writing one mythology-themed post every week. Obviously I’ve missed some weeks, but the feature has persisted. I’ve only scratched the surface as far as world mythology goes, but it’s much harder for me to come up with ideas. A lot of interesting stuff I find seems to have very little information related to it, especially when it comes to certain gods about whom we have few sources. I came across some interesting pictures of Mielikki, the Finnish goddess of the hunt, and thought she might be a topic for a post; but I couldn’t really find much about her online. But there’s nothing wrong with the occasional short post, is there? The main source for classical Finnish mythology is the epic known as the Kalevala. I haven’t read the whole thing, even in translation, but it’s been relevant to at least one post I’ve made in the past. I’m ashamed to admit I can’t help reading her name as “me likey” in an offensive Asian accent, but the pronunciation was actually more like “mih-lick-ih,” at least from what I’ve read. Mielikki is married to Tapio, the spirit of the forest, although apparently some sources claim she’s his daughter-in-law instead.

Tapio himself is said to sometimes manifest as a tree, but is also the guardian of forests in general, which cover most of Finland.

Picture by Amy Cole
I saw a comparison of him to Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings, which makes sense.

Picture by DustyCandy. I like this modern take on the goddess.
Mielikki is the leader of the spirits known as the Thousand Daughters of Creation, and anyone going hunting was expected to make an invocation to her first. She could appear in multiple forms, with her looks and behavior reflecting how well the hunt would go. Successful hunters would see her dressed gold and silver, while unsuccessful ones would see a hag in rags. This probably relates to her name, which is thought to derive from the Finnish for “luck.” Mielikki is also known as a healer of animals, and would sometimes share her knowledge of healing herbs with humans if they pleased her. She would also protect cattle grazing in the forest, and keeps the keys to a chest of sacred honey. In the Kalevala, Lemminkainen is said to have prayed to her and Tapio while hunting an elk or moose.

It also refers to her role in the creation of the bear. It starts with a woman in the heavens dropping wool and hair into the waters of the Earth, which Mielikki found and fashioned into an animal. She raised and educated the bear Otso, but as he had no natural defenses, she asked the creator Ukko for permission to give him claws and teeth. He granted this on the condition that the bear would swear an oath never to use his teeth or claws for evil, or to harm anyone worthy. She then fashioned them from cones on a fir tree.

Picture by Dragon in the Mist, in the style of Ivan Bilibin
She also gave him his fondness for honey, as there was a lot in the forests.

As is common with animals in many mythologies, Otso is sometimes treated as an individual and other times as a symbol of all bears. Elsewhere in the epic are mentioned the two children of Mielikki and Tapio, their son Nyyrikki and daughter Tuulikki. The former is a god of the hunt in particular, while the latter is seen as a gentle friend to all animals. I understand she’s also associated with winds and flute music. Mielikki is also part of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting in Dungeons & Dragons, and indeed a Google search places a page related to the game above one to the actual Finnish mythology. The D&D goddess appears to be pretty closely based on the classical goddess, although she is said to hang out with unicorns, not part of Finnish lore as far as I know but still really cool.

She’s the daughter of Silvanus, who in actual mythology was a Roman protector of the forest.

Posted in Animals, Finnish, Games, Mythology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment