I Can’t Believe It’s Not Magic

The word “magic,” with or without the K at the end that Aleister Crowley preferred, derives from “magus,” a term for a Zoroastrian priest. I’ve seen indications that it might have referred to a specific tribe or caste. When the word made its way into Greek, their opposition to the Persians caused them to give the term a negative connotation, that magic was either fraudulent or otherwise in opposition to Greek religion. This influenced Christianity, which is why even today it seems like Christians often take a dim view of magic, even though in its broadest sense of things that appear to break the natural laws, the Bible is full of magic performed in the service of God. What else is it that Jesus was doing?

I know the preferred term is “miracles,” which seems both more impressive and beneficial than magic. That is to say, magic can be anything from pulling a rabbit out of a hat to destroying cities with fire from your hands, but miracles have to be big and helpful. I’ve generally seen the word “magicians” used in English for the Pharaoh’s wonder workers, but I understand there are a few different terms used in Hebrew and Greek. They seem to be priests of Egyptian gods, and they’re definitely able to do some impressive things, as they imitate Moses and Aaron in turning rods into snakes, water into blood, and thin air into frogs.

Aaron’s staff snake eats theirs, however, and they can’t do any of the plagues after the second one. So it’s not like competing magic doesn’t work, just that it’s less effective. By the way, apocryphal sources claim that the two main magicians are named Jannes and Jambres, and they’re Balaam‘s sons. Moses himself is said to have disobeyed God by striking a stone with a stick instead of speaking to it to produce water, but it still worked.

And the account in the Bible says that a bronze snake statue Moses used to kill parasites was later worshipped as an idol and destroyed by the authorities, even though it was made at Yahweh’s command in the first place.

Even if the power derives from God, it isn’t necessarily just God working magic through a person; they have a certain amount of agency in how they employ it. The same sort of thing goes for Simon Magus, who in the Bible was mostly just a guy who wanted to buy Christlike healing powers for himself, but apocryphal sources made a magic-worker of no mean ability who is nevertheless defeated by Peter. The general idea is that it’s only magic (or sorcery) if it’s part of a competing religion or tradition. If it’s not from the god you worship, it must be from a competing god or being, Satan being a common choice these days.

Performers of supernatural rituals for good purposes are priests or prophets. When looking at words related to magic and religion, I’ve seen some argument on the actual meaning of the verse in Exodus famously rendered in the King James Version as “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” suggesting that the term used, mekhashepha, might mean a chanter, a herbalist, or a poisoner. Of course, witches were traditionally thought to do all of these things, but the exact distinctions aren’t entirely clear.

The English word “witch” is of obscure origins, popularly connected to terms for wisdom as “wizard” is, but I don’t know that there’s much evidence for that. It does appear to have originally been masculine, despite how it’s commonly connected with women. I remember being kind of surprised when learning about the Salem witch trials that some men were executed for witchcraft. Regardless of the specific word, though, there’s a common idea of a woman who practices low magic (essentially natural instead of scholarly) and is often blamed for harming people.

The Witch of Endor is referred to as a woman possessing a familiar spirit, or something similar to that. She is also successful in her magic, in this case summoning Samuel from beyond the grave, even though her magic is presumably ungodly as Saul outlawed it in his own territory. The words “magic”  and “witch” have been somewhat rehabilitated in our culture, if not so much among fundamentalist Christians. I doubt people who hire magicians for their kids’ birthday parties expect rival priests to show up. Many fantasy settings have magic users who use their powers for good, and don’t always get them from gods or demons. While extremists still act shocked at media with good witches and wizards, I think the intention is kind of the opposite, to separate magic from religion in order to produce secular material that isn’t offensive to specific belief systems.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Can’t Kill the Boogeyman

Halloween KillsSPOILERS for this and some other movies in the franchise! It’s not entirely fair to blame a day of the year for the people who die then, is it? Seriously, it’s a strange title, but that doesn’t have much bearing on anything. It picks up where the previous film left off, with Laurie Strode and her remaining family blowing up her house with Michael Myers inside. But he survives, because he’s gone through much worse. Except that’s not entirely true, as these sequels are only following the first movie, so his living through a hospital fire is no longer part of his back story. And it’s not like the films that were supposed to be in the same continuity really paid that much attention either. Both Michael and Dr. Loomis were originally supposed to die in the fire at the end of Halloween 2, but someone wanted to make another one, so they lived. The end of 4 suggests Jamie Lloyd is turning evil, but they backpedal on that in the next one. Laurie cuts off Michael’s head in H20, then they say that isn’t really him. It’s all pretty sloppy, is what I’m saying. Since they’re saying 2 never happened, they had to come up with a new explanation of what happened to Michael after the first one, and it’s basically that he killed some more people, went back to his old house, and was captured and brought back to the mental hospital, where he stayed for forty years without incident until his new psychiatrist decided it would be a fascinating experiment to let him go on another murderous rampage. He still got up after being shot six times, but it kind of seems like Laurie and some other characters realize Michael is some practically unstoppable force when there’s no indication of that. The audience knows because we’re aware of the sequels, but the people in the movie shouldn’t know what we know from alternate timelines. You could say that these films are more about atmosphere than story, but we didn’t really get too much of that here either. Michael is still sneaking up on people and murdering them, but it’s nowhere near as creepy or creative as in the 2018 movie. That’s partially because he isn’t really the focus, as we instead mostly follow an angry mob led by Tommy Doyle, one of the kids Laurie was babysitting in the first movie. I believe Tommy showed up in The Curse of Michael Myers as well, but that’s now an alternate continuity and I don’t remember it very well anyway. The mob chases a confused mental patient who escaped from the hospital the same time Michael did, forcing him to jump out a window to his death. They eventually find the real Michael and beat him to what would normally be a pulp, but he lives and starts killing everyone there. Laurie, who’s still in the hospital, comes to the realization that Michael is a symbol of fear who can’t be beaten by violence, although I’m not sure how she came to this conclusion. So the moral is that angry mobs are a bad idea and two wrongs don’t make a right? That’s pretty trite at this point, although an obvious lesson wouldn’t have ruined the movie if it had just been more interesting. Despite this, I’m still curious as to what they’re going to do with the next sequel. On the plus side, I did appreciate another reference to the Halloween 3 masks, and the gay couple who lived in the old Myers house were pretty charming.

Posted in Halloween, Holidays, Monsters, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All in How You Spell ‘Em

I saw something recently about the difference between the words “fairy” and “faerie.” Really, there’s no difference; the latter is just an archaic spelling. The word comes from the French for “fate,” and therefore “enchantment”; and was applied to many different magical beings from mythology and folklore, including Norse Elves and Greek Nymphs, but is perhaps most associated with the Celtic Sidhe.

The thing is, “fairy” came to be so closely associated with the cute, tiny, winged figure, so some people came to use the “faerie” spelling, or just “fae” (also “fey” or “fay”) to mean the more traditional beings who were morally ambiguous and often dangerous to deal with.

Some of these were still winged and/or of diminutive size, though.

I’ve also seen “Faerie” used to mean the place where fairies live, but I’m not sure how that started.

I’ve been trying to think of other occasions where such a thing was done. Aleister Crowley spelling “magic” with a K at the end to distinguish the study of the occult from stage tricks is one that comes to mind.

And it looks to be common in goth subcultures to spell “vampire” with a Y, as John William Polidori did back in 1819. Terry Pratchett commented on this with his modern vampires in Carpe Jugulum. There have been a lot of reinterpretations of vampires, with that book coming well before Twilight. Yet they’re still pretty much always upper-class snobs. J.R.R. Tolkien was known for popularizing the plural “dwarves” rather than “dwarfs,” and “elvish” or “elven” instead of “elfish” or “elfin.” Again, the intention seems to have been to make the words look more dignified rather than cutesy. In the introduction to The Hobbit, he admits that “dwarves” is technically incorrect in English, but he intends his alternative spelling to  “remove them a little, perhaps, from the sillier tales of these latter days.”  He also mentioned that the traditional English plural of the word was “dwarrows” or “dwerrows,” which he used in the name “Dwarrowdelf” for Moria. Largely replacing the term “goblin” from The Hobbit with “orc” in Lord of the Rings was probably along the same lines, although that wasn’t just a minor spelling change. As mentioned in an article in the latest Baum Bugle, he originally referred to the Noldor as Gnomes, only to change it because people tended to have a different association with that term. He apparently stopped using “Gnome” in the 1940s, which would have been after people started using the word for lawn ornaments. The same article addresses how L. Frank Baum eventually decided to spell the word “Nome,” allegedly to make it easier to pronounce, but that explanation kind of falls apart when you consider some of the other words he used.

Dennis Wilson Wise proposes that the alternate spelling could be related to the ancient Egyptian word “nome,” meaning a territorial division

I remember Lee Speth suggesting that the Nome King’s ornament rooms were based on Egyptian tombs, which Baum saw while visiting that country.

I don’t know that we actually see these rooms again, although it’s possible that they appear in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Hungry Tiger of Oz, where the underground castle is described as “[l]ighted with jeweled lanterns, spread with silken rugs, furnished with taste and even magnificence.” If so, there must have been some amount of remodeling, as in Ozma this place appeared to only be accessible through the throne room.

For what it’s worth, while Baum used the spelling “fairy,” his were human-sized, powerful, and beneficial, although some of his other Immortals were of the cute, tiny variety.

And Thompson reverted to the traditional spelling of “gnome.”

Posted in Authors, British, Celtic, Discworld, Etymology, Greek Mythology, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Mythology, Norse, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Terry Pratchett | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Born Under a Bad Sign with a Blue Moon in Your Eyes

The SopranosWARNING! SPOILERS! I’ve seen headlines recently that a lot of young people have started watching this show. Beth and I just finished watching it recently, but I don’t think we count as young people anymore. I didn’t realize how old it was, really; I was still in college when it started. It’s the whole thing with my generation especially where everything after 2000 still seems kind of new. It was Beth’s idea to watch it, and she was more invested in it than I was, but I did enjoy it. I think the main things I knew about it beforehand were Tony being in therapy, people yelling “OH!”,and “gabbagool.” It’s also interesting to me that, when they kept playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in the commercials for Glee, people would have already known it as the song playing when Tony Soprano was probably killed. I don’t really have a deep analysis of its themes or anything, but there were things I felt worthy of mention. Beth commented on how a lot of it is kind of everyday and mundane despite the violent crime constantly going on. The gangsters aren’t glorified, but they’re humanized. There’s also a genre-savvy layer to it; the characters talk about mob movies and how they’re not entirely accurate, yet a lot of the same attitudes and tropes come into play. Everything comes across as ultimately futile, not because crime doesn’t pay (as we can see, it plays plenty), but that a profession that fosters violence and secrecy can’t possibly end well. The hypocrisy of the emphasis on family and loyalty is obvious, particularly with Tony and Uncle Junior maintaining a level of civility with each other while in a constant deadly struggle for power. Tony ends up killing some of his best friends. And Adriana, who sticks with Christopher through his constant abuse and cheating, and is then betrayed and murdered for something she really had no control over, is especially screwed. Another bit of hypocrisy that stuck out for Beth was how Phil Leotardo kept insisting that homosexuality is a sin, as if stealing and murder somehow aren’t. (Hey, those two made the Top Ten!) With the therapy, Tony tries to work through his everyday problems without touching on the root causes, and his therapist somehow sticks with him for years when he alternately threatens and hits on her, presumably out of some underlying belief that she can help him. Apparently people falling in love with their therapists is a thing, sort of a less R-rated equivalent of thinking a stripper likes you. But then, Tony DID have sex with strippers. What’s my point here? I’m not sure. I have heard that the therapy itself isn’t all that accurately portrayed, and while that’s not something on which I have a lot of knowledge, it did seem a little overly Freudian. But part of that might be because the fictional narrative structure is kind of Freudian, every dream being symbolic and problems often coming down to issues with parents. Tony’s dreams come into play a lot, sometimes being almost an entire episode. I wasn’t sure I’d seen Lorraine Bracco in anything else, but she was actually in Goodfellas, there playing a character who wasn’t Italian. She’s second in the opening credits, despite appearing much less often than other characters. I also remember seeing something recently about how “gabbagool” comes from a southern Italian accent that’s common among people in the New York area. I suspect that’s also why a lot of Italian-Americans (including in the show) say “Mare-io” when he himself clearly says “Mah-rio.”

I suppose Mah-rio likes capicola and Mare-io likes gabbagool. You know, a Gabba Ghoul sounds like it would be a Dragon Quest monster.

Just today, we watched The Many Saints of Newark, the prequel film, which came out very soon after we’d finished with the show. I’ve noticed that, with prequels, there are often frequent references to and foreshadowing of the material people already know. It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing, just a thing. It can be annoying when characters who really shouldn’t have known each other are forced together, Muppet Babies style, but this didn’t have that problem as it was already well established that most of the characters had known each other for a long time. I’ve heard the movie got some bad reviews, but while I didn’t necessarily think it added a whole lot to the story, I didn’t have problems with it either. The late James Gandolfini’s son Michael plays a young Tony, but the main focus is on his mentor Dickie Moltisanti, Christopher’s father. Christopher narrates the film from beyond the grave, and the movie makes it clear that the guy Tony claimed killed Dickie had nothing to do with it; it was an inside job. The plot is tied in with the 1967 race riots in Newark, and part of the story focuses on a Black man working for Dickie who decides to start his own Black-led numbers racket, and the resulting conflict with the mob. It’s interesting that we see very little of Dickie’s wife, while his relationship with his mistress, who was originally his stepmom, gets a lot of attention. Other familiar characters have significant roles as well. A young Carmela has only a small part, but the actress they got really looks like her.

Posted in Families, Food, Language, Music, Prejudice, Relationships, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh Boy! A Carnival!

Bacchanal, by Veronica G. Henry – Eliza Meeks, a Black woman with a strange ability to communicate with animals due to her spirit guides, joins a traveling carnival during the Great Depression. It turns out to have a dark secret, an African demon who seeks to feed on guests. It switches a bit between just being about the carnival and about the back story, the latter of which is more confusing and slow to develop. There are significant portions of the book where the demon plot doesn’t come into play at all, although obviously it takes center stage toward the end. There are a lot of characters, some developed and others not that memorable. Eliza’s sister was introduced late into the story, and while I understood how important she was to Eliza, I didn’t get much sense of who she was. There’s a guest appearance by an actual person, Stephanie Saint-Clair, a Harlem crime boss of African and French descent. In the book, her nephew is part of the carnival, and has feelings for Eliza.

The Last Fallen Star, by Graci Kim – Kim is actually the second author writing about Korean mythology for the Rick Riordan Presents label, as Dragon Pearl was in that tradition as well. And there’s some overlap, like the dokkaebi. But while that one took place in outer space, this one is set in Los Angeles in a secret society of Korean-American witches. They’re divided into clans, each with their own sort of magic and patron goddess. The protagonist, Riley Oh, is part of the Gom clan of healers, but as she’s adopted, she seems to not have magic of her own. Her sister Hattie gets the idea to share her power with Riley, but the spell goes wrong because Riley turns out to have magic after all, from her birth parents in the cursed Horangi clan of scholars. When Hattie overexerts herself trying to summon a goddess, the Cave Bear Goddess insists that Riley find a lost artifact, the titular Last Fallen Star, before she would heal her sister. Accompanied by her friend Emmett and a magical dragon scooter, Riley seeks out the item, learning along the way how a lot of her perceptions were wrong, or at least had another side.

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares, by Tehlor Kay Mejia – As this story starts out, Paola has fallen out of touch with her best friends Dante and Emma, and her mom is dating an annoying guy, and Dante’s grandmother has gotten sick. Due to her prophetic dreams, Pao realizes that her long-lost father has an important clue to what’s going on, and that he’s in Oregon. She recruits the help of Naomi from the Ninos de la Luz to track him down, and on the way runs into some duendecillos, essentially Mexican pixies. Partway through the adventure, Dante starts blaming Pao for all the bad stuff that’s happening, and obviously she’s disturbed by this. I found this one to have a better pace than the first, and it gave more of a sense of who the characters are.

Posted in African, Authors, Book Reviews, Dreams, Great Depression, History, Korean, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Relationships, Rick Riordan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Right Off the Bat

When I played the first Dragon Quest, then called Dragon Warrior, I had a strategy guide from Nintendo Power that described Drakees as flying baby dragons. 

This was interesting to me, as it gave a bit of a hint into the life cycle of dragons, sort of like L. Frank Baum’s Dragonettes in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.

I’m not sure if he was the one who invented the term, but there is a kind of fish called a dragonet.

Onyx Madden goes a bit more into the life cycle of Ozian dragons in The Mysterious Chronicles of Oz. But anyway, I only recently learned that Drakees, now spelled Drackies in English translation, were never intended to be dragons, but rather bats.

There was a similar confusion with the Wyverns, Chimeras in Japanese and later translations, which also aren’t dragons. Despite the game’s title, I think dragons were only supposed to be elite monsters who weren’t that common.

Source: Coatey on Newgrounds
The name “Dracky” presumably came from “Dracula,” while an English speaker probably figured it was from “drake.” Of course, both words ultimately come from the same source. The Count was named after Vlad Dracula of Wallachia, whose nickname came from his father Vlad Dracul, a member of the chivalric Order of the Dragon. But if you hear “Dracula,” I would think you’d be more likely to think of bats than dragons. Dragons are also often depicted with bat-like wings, adding to the confusion. Regardless of species, Drackies tend to be among the weakest monsters in games where they appear. There are recruitable Drackies called Vlad, Sippy, and Slurpy in DQ5 and 8, adding to the vampire bat association.

There’s also a bat-winged vampire enemy in 3 called Drac the Vlad.

Bats are fairly standard video game enemies, and appropriate for this time of year. I’m just going to mention ones that come to mind instead of trying to be exhaustive. Pokémon players are aware of how caves are loaded with Zubats.

Even some quite early games use bats, perhaps because they’re easy to graphically render. One of the first games I played, Hunt the Wumpus for the Texas Instruments 99/4A, had bats that would randomly transport you to other parts of the maze if you ran into them enough times.

In Adventure for the Atari, bats will fly around and try to steal your items. And they’re apparently exceptionally strong, as they can pick up dragons as well.

I don’t know whether bats being tricksters in both games demonstrates direct influence, but it certainly might. The Zelda series has Keeses, which will fly toward Link and attack him. They’re not all that strong, as they can be killed instead of just stunned by boomerangs.

Source: Link’s Blacklist
In the original Legend of Zelda, the demonic enemy called a Vire will split into two Keeses when hit.

Mega Man has Battons, which are invulnerable to the Blue Bomber’s weapons when they’re hanging in trees.

Source: Daily Rockman
According to Rockman Complete Works, some people keep these robotic bats as pets.

Bats actually didn’t show up in a Mario game until the Super Nintendo years, with the Swoops (originally Swoopers) in Super Mario World. Like bat enemies in other games, they just hang around upside down from cave ceilings until Mario or Luigi gets close, at which point they, well, swoop toward them. They’re green in that game, but in later appearances are typically blue or purple, although they retain the bulbous noses.

The Japanese name for these enemies is Basabasa, onomatopoeia for rustling.

There are other bat enemies in the series, most notably Antasma from Mario and Luigi: Dream Team.

He was a normal enough bat until he started eating nightmares, turning him into a monstrous being who turned the Pi’illo people to stone upon being trapped in the Dream World. He teams up with Bowser, and I could never get past the first battle with the two of them combined.

Posted in Animals, Dragon Quest, Dreams, Etymology, L. Frank Baum, Mario, Mega Man, Monsters, Onyx Madden/Jim Nitch, Oz, Oz Authors, Pokémon, Video Games, Zelda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pandering to Pandavas

I’d been interested in the story of the Mahabharata, even more so since reading the Aru Shah books, in which the Pandavas are reincarnated as teenage girls. So I checked out an abridged edition translated by William Buck. While much shorter than the full epic, it was still a little difficult to follow. The Pandava brothers were exiled numerous times, there were a lot of tangents, and it was sometimes hard to remember who was who. Maybe it’s just me. It tells the story of the Kurukshetra War between two branches of the same family for the throne of Hastinapura in northern India. The name of that place means “city of elephants,” but it’s not where Babar rules. There have been attempts to date the conflict that might have inspired the story, but nothing has been determined for certain. When an earlier king, Vichitravirya, dies without an heir, his mother gets her oldest son, the sage Vyasa, to father children with the late king’s two widows. This results in the birth of two sons, Dhritarashta and Pandu. The former is blind because his mother closed her eyes during sex (not really how genetics work, as far as I know), which prevents him from inheriting the throne. The latter is born pale, as his mother turned pale upon seeing the sage. And this Vyasa is credited with writing the epic, so I suppose this is some self-deprecation. A later tradition was that Ganesh wrote down the poem with his broken-off tusk.

Dhritarashta has one hundred sons, while Pandu is cursed by a sage he accidentally shoots with an arrow to die if he ever has sex. Fortunately for him, his wife Kunti has access to a mantra that she can use to summon gods to impregnate her, so she has Yudhisthira with Dharma Raja, Bhima with the wind god Vayu, and Arjuna with Indra. She shared her secret with Pandu’s other wife, Madri, and she had Nakula and Sahadeva with the twin gods known as the Ashvins.

Kunti had actually had another son out of wedlock before this, Karna, son of the sun god Surya, whom she placed in a basket on the river like Moses, Sargon, Romulus and Remus, and the Luminary.

He allies himself with the Pandavas’ cousins, the Kauravas, due to his friendship with Duryodhana and rivalry in archery with Arjuna. He’s written as kind of a noble villain, someone who’s intent on doing the right thing but is on the wrong side. Arjuna wins the hand of the Princess Draupadi by winning an archery contest, but since Kunti tells him to share his prize with his brothers without knowing what it is, all five brothers end up married to the same woman.
Some of them end up with other wives as well, by the way, although these wives aren’t allowed to live in the same place with Draupadi. The Pandavas go into exile, turn a barren tract of land into a prosperous kingdom, and go into exile again after Yudhisthira gambles away his and his brothers’ freedom, their kingdom, and their wife. I think ancient India could have used some stricter gambling laws. Draupadi actually did challenge the legality of her being gambled away after her husband had already lost his own freedom, but she just ends up being abused by her captors. She seems to be a somewhat divisive figure, with whether it was right of a woman to protest injustice being in question. Retellings of the story also tended to make Draupadi appear worse, although she really was the one who was done wrong. Women never do seem to be treated very well by these old epics. Anyway, I’ve seen some indications that the game Yudhisthira played was a version of Pachisi, which I used to play as a kid, although I’m sure the rules have changed over the centuries.

During the long, bloody war between the cousins, Arjuna’s charioteer Krishna told him he had to do his duty as a member of the warrior caste, and that part of the tale is the Bhagavad Gita.

An article I came across points out that, while here the Gita encourages killing, Gandhi used it as support for nonviolent resistance. Of course, he was in a different caste than the Pandavas. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of birth determining your lot in life, even though that’s somewhat the case even in our culture, where most people don’t believe in dharma. There’s no official class system, but your fate is still largely determined by the situation you’re born into, unless you happen to be one of the lucky ones who gets other opportunities. I sometimes wonder whether there’s something in which I could really make a difference, but I’ll never know what it is. And as a white guy born in the United States, I don’t even face the barriers many of my fellows do.

Posted in Board Games, Book Reviews, Dice, Dragon Quest, Families, Games, Hinduism, History, India, Magic, Mythology, Pachisi, Philosophy, Poetry, Prejudice, Relationships, Religion, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Right City, Wrong World

One interesting aspect to Philip Jose Farmer’s A Barnstormer in Oz is his indication that the human inhabitants of Oz are descended from people who arrived there from our world, mostly Goths but also Celts and Native Americans. This sort of follows from L. Frank Baum revealing that the Wizard who built the Emerald City was from Omaha. He never really did anything like that with entire populations, however, aside from a brief suggestion that the Mifkets might be related to Arabs due to a common language. Names like Munchkin and Gillikin do look pretty German, though. Ruth Plumly Thompson did introduce cultures in Oz and nearby lands based on existing ones, often including offensive stereotypes, as with the East Asian Silver Islanders (whom the Grand Chew Chew claims are “a much older race than our Chinese cousins”), gypsies, and various desert countries with Middle Eastern influence.

Less offensive counterpart cultures are the medieval English Corumbians, the Scottish kilted Uplanders, and the Alpine yodelers of Peakenspire and Mount Mern (although the Alps don’t have that many people with seven arms).

Thompson gave the impression in a few books that Sir Hokus of Pokes was from Arthurian England before eventually revealing him to be a native Ozite.

There’s a very English flavor to several of the McGraws’ Oz countries, and Kiltoon in Gina Wickwar’s Toto of Oz is Scottish-themed.

None of these peoples are specifically said to be descended from similar nations in the Great Outside World, but it’s a possible explanation. Joe Bongiorno uses this idea in Lost Histories from the Royal Librarian of Oz. It’s sort of like how Narnia’s original human population descended from an English couple, and the Telmarines from pirates in our world.

There are other fantastic worlds that don’t interact with our own, so similarities in culture are more likely due to some sort of parallel development, or possibly just coincidence. Anyway, this relates to something else I’d been thinking about recently, which is the place of the so-called Real World in the Super Mario series. The original concept was that Mario and Luigi were from Brooklyn, and the games before they came to the Mushroom Kingdom were set in New York. This wasn’t actually mentioned in the games themselves, mind you; I think the only exception is Mario’s Time Machine, which wasn’t published by Nintendo.

It was used in pretty much all other media, however. Nintendo seems to have gradually gotten away from this idea, first by implying that the brothers were born (well, delivered by the stork) in the Mushroom Kingdom in the first place. More recently, Super Mario Odyssey introduced New Donk City as the place where the original Donkey Kong, and most likely other games originally said to be set in New York, took place.

New Donk even has its own equivalents of the Empire State Building (there it’s the city hall) and Brooklyn Bridge.

The weird thing is that the part of the city you visit, which has several skyscrapers, appears to be on top of another, much larger building.

Most of the kingdoms in the game are constructed with empty space around them, presumably to form a more natural boundary than just not letting you past a certain point, but it might be the most striking here. Streets and parks are presumably just on top of a giant roof. There’s some concept art that indicates the Mario Brothers’ plumbing shop was once intended to be part of the city, although it’s not there in the finished version.

The implication seems to be that New York is no longer part of the picture, and while I did like the idea of Mario and Luigi being from our world, it would certainly simplify things quite a bit. I grew up with the cartoons where the brothers were constantly talking about Brooklyn, yet for some reason a lot of people in this other world had New York accents. Is this like how, in the movie version of The Wiz, Diana Ross goes from New York to an Oz that’s based on New York?

There was also an episode that played on the American Revolution, but the two Americans who were present didn’t seem to notice the similarities.

The thing is, 2019 saw the release of the mobile game Mario Kart Tour, which includes both classic courses from earlier Mario Kart games and new ones based on real-world cities, one of which is New York.

So is that part of the Mario universe or not? And does anybody comment on the similarity to New Donk? This isn’t even the first time the two worlds have crossed over in a Mario game, as I’ve written about before. In NES Open Tournament Golf, Mario and Luigi play on courses in the United States, and the former wears an outfit based on the American flag.

And this outfit reappears as something you can buy at a Crazy Cap store in Odyssey.

As such, it might be LESS complicated to say New Donk was intentionally based on the American city by immigrants from there, even if that doesn’t include the Mario Brothers themselves. Or it could even be the other way around. The live-action Mario movie, however, goes with the parallel world explanation.

It would have been amusing for Dinohattan to have been a borough in New Donk, but that’s not how Nintendo does things.

Posted in Authors, C.S. Lewis, Cartoons, Characters, Chronicles of Narnia, Donkey Kong, L. Frank Baum, Language, Mario, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Prejudice, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Television, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Plane Truth

A Barnstormer in Oz, or A Rationalization and Extrapolation of the Split-Level Continuum, by Philip Jose FarmerSPOILERS! I watched a discussion of this book as part of the last virtual OzCon, and I’d considered reading it earlier, so I finally went ahead and did so. I haven’t read anything else by Farmer, except a short piece on Oz that appeared in Oz-Story Magazine. It’s kind of a weird book, certainly not a traditional Oz work, but rather an attempt to explain the Land of Oz through the means of science fiction. Of course, L. Frank Baum himself would often work in sort-of-scientific explanations for the magical elements in his books, but he still left a lot of whimsy, while Farmer’s take is rather duller. The basic idea is that Dorothy did indeed visit Oz and tell Baum about it, but while he kept the main plot intact, he also simplified things to make it work as a children’s story. For instance, rather than everyone in Oz speaking English, Dorothy had to take some time to learn the native language, which is derived from old Gothic. The other Oz books are entirely Baum’s invention, although he used some names and concepts Dorothy had told him about. This tale starts with Dorothy’s son, Hank Stover, flying into Oz through a green cloud in his biplane, and getting caught up aiding Glinda in a two-front war against a Gillikin witch named Erakna and other Americans who have found the way there in a secret army experiment and want to exploit it. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman show up, and Hank supposes that they were brought to life by energy beings called firefoxes. What’s weird is that an Oz manuscript I wrote has a fire fox as a character as a joke on the web browser, and I wasn’t aware that Farmer had used the term well before that. One of them ends up possessing his plane, which he calls Jenny because it’s a Curtiss JN-4H. Hank insists on referring to the Scarecrow as “it,” but refers to Jenny with female pronouns, which hardly seems fair. I have to say that I found the style a bit dry. Hank isn’t all that interesting of a character, although he has his moments when he criticizes his own country, and it’s hard to ignore his horny moments. Early on in the story, he thinks he’s in love with Glinda because he sees her naked. That’s kind of the tone of the whole thing, mostly just a lot of exposition until Farmer decides to throw in a “what the hell?” moment. And some of the rationalizations, while they work within the context of the book, are rather bland. For instance, the talking animals all speak like Victrola recordings, I guess because they don’t have the right parts to make all the necessary sounds. On the other hand, Farmer does get into what a society where animals are on the same level as people might be like, which Baum never fully committed to. At one point, Hank teams up with two characters who don’t have much to do with the story or the setting, a Very Rare Beast who’s afraid of his own reflection and a parody of Doc Savage called Sharts the Shirtless. I haven’t read any Doc Savage stories, so I probably missed most of the jokes there. And at the end, Glinda assassinates President Harding to stop the American invasion of Oz, another one of those “what the hell?” moments. As I wrote before, this book was very controversial among Oz fans, with some hating the entire premise. Of course, Barnstormer‘s existence doesn’t do away with the other Oz books, but I do get seeing Oz as kind of a sacred thing. I read what’s identified as the First Mass Market Paperback, with its strange cover art of Glinda jumping into the air, the Scarecrow’s head looking like a balloon, and Nick Chopper’s face on backwards. To be fair, Farmer does say that Nick can turn his head that way, but there’s no reason for him to be doing it in this situation.

Posted in Animals, Book Reviews, Characters, Conspiracy Theories, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Oz, Oz Authors, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

So I Says to Mabon, I Says

This past Wednesday was the Autumnal Equinox, so I guess you should keep an eye out for pumpkin Piranha Plants and Koopas in Mario masks. I believe I was first aware of the season change in Super Mario World from Nintendo Power, and later my brother was able to beat the Special World so I saw it first-hand, but I don’t think I put the autumn thing together at the time. Looking back, I guess the pumpkins go with the fall theme and the masks with Halloween, but I’m still not sure about the Bullet Bills turning into Pidgits.

Apparently Halloween has become a thing in Japan, so the references in video games aren’t just for the West. But anyway, I know some pagans refer to the equinox as Mabon, but unlike other seasonal festivals, this one doesn’t seem to come from any traditional holiday. Although harvest festivals are a thing, this time of year just doesn’t get the same attention Western European culture as its fellows. Well, who wants to celebrate when school is starting again? The term Mabon comes from a figure in Welsh folklore, Mabon ap Modron, who is associated with King Arthur, but probably comes from an earlier source.

There are references to an ancient Celtic god called Maponos, or “great son,” whom the Romans equated with Apollo.

Legend has it that he was stolen from his mother Modron on the third night of his life, and imprisoned in Gloucester. He gained a reputation as the world’s greatest huntsman, apparently while locked up. Years later, Culhwch, son of a Scottish king, is cursed by his stepmother to only be able to marry Olwen, daughter of a chief among giants.

The giant, Ysbaddaden (whose name likely means “hawthorn”), has a curse on him as well, that he’s doomed to die if Olwen gets married, so he requires Culhwch to perform forty seemingly impossible tasks to win her hand. Fortunately, Culhwch is related to King Arthur, and secures his help in performing the trials. One of these is to bring back the head of Twrch Trwyth, a particular wild boar that was originally human, the son of a prince.

Gwyn ap Nudd was also involved with that hunt. They need a particular hunting dog to catch the boar, and the only one who can hunt with that dog is Mabon. Culhwch, Arthur, and their companions seek help from the five oldest animals in the world, a blackbird, a stag, an owl, an eagle, and a salmon. Only the last of these knew the whereabouts of Mabon, who had apparently been imprisoned for long ages, and took Arthur’s foster brother Kay and another knight to the prison, where Arthur and company freed the prisoner, who helped them to kill the boar.

Culhwch and his companions form an alliance with Goreu, son of the shepherd Custennen, who was Ysbaddaden’s brother. The giant had taken over his brother’s lands and killed twenty-three of his children, only Goreu surviving. The allies attacked Ysbaddaden’s castle and shaved off the giant’s hair and flesh, after which Goreu beheaded him. It’s a complicated story in which Mabon only plays a minor, if pivotal, role. Mabon shows up in a few other stories, but the idea of his being a prisoner is pretty consistent. He’s said to have been an ally and advisor of Arthur after being rescued. His mother Modron is often associated with Morgan le Fay, as both are associated with Avalon and have sons named Owain with kings named Urien.

It appears that Urien and Owain were possibly actual historical figures, best known from the work of Taliesin, who were later incorporated into Arthurian legend as the High King’s brother-in-law and nephew. I guess Mabon would have been Owain’s much older half-brother. Aidan Kelly, who named the holiday, says he called it that because of the similarity of Mabon’s rescue to the story of Demeter and Persephone, which has to do with seasonal change, and the Eleusinian Mysteries were associated with the equinox.

Posted in Animals, Arthurian Legend, British, Celtic, Greek Mythology, Halloween, Holidays, Mario, Mystery Cults, Mythology, Religion, Video Games, Welsh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment