Princess of Power

In case you didn’t know, Ozma’s birthday was on Sunday, so I should probably write an Ozma-centered entry. I know I’ve discussed the ruler’s magical powers in the past, but I can’t find a post where I did so. Since Google won’t bother searching my older LiveJournal posts, it’s possible I did write one. If so…well, I guess you’ll be getting the same basic thing again, but that’s pretty much bound to happen now and then. The first indication that Ozma can work magic beyond tools that anyone can use appears in The Emerald City of Oz, in which General Blug claims that Ozma “has certain fairy powers that would render my army helpless,” and General Guph later adds that she “has a fairy wand.” The wand actually first appears in Ozma, which describes it as “an ivory wand that separated at the top into two prongs, the prongs being tipped by the letters “O” and “Z”, made of glistening diamonds set closely together.” John R. Neill instead drew the Z within the O, a pattern that would become symbolic of the land and the series.

The wand appears to double as her scepter. I believe Ozma herself is first referred to as a fairy in Scarecrow, and she finally works some magic of her own in Tin Woodman. Her magical ability is introduced quite casually, and no one is surprised at it. David Hulan’s Magic Carpet, which takes place in between Lost Princess and Tin Woodman, reasonably proposes that Ozma traveled to Burzee to learn magic after being kidnapped in the earlier book. In Tin Woodman, she uses her wand to break some of Mrs. Yoop’s transformations, easily turning the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman back into their normal forms, as they were only changed in shape rather than substance.

Turning Polychrome back from a canary is more difficult, and requires a series of transformations similar to the one Glinda used on Prince Bobo in Rinkitink. It also involves mixing several powders in addition to simply using the wand. In order to give Mrs. Yoop the form of Woot the Wanderer and then switch it with that of the green monkey (a form that apparently cannot be destroyed), she needs to mix powders in a cauldron of boiling water in addition to making passes with her wand.

Before leaving the palace to perform these feats, she prepares in her Magic Room, likely the same as the laboratory said to be in her suite in Lost Princess.

Glinda adds extra powers to her repertoire, including warding off a giant spider who is trying to pinch her, changing the color of a crab, creating a tent and food (something the Wizard of Oz does in a more involved way in Emerald City), producing light with the jewel on her wand, making herself and Dorothy invisible, and enchanting Lady Aurex’s house so that Queen Coo-ee-oh could not spy on its inhabitants.

In Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books, Ozma generally only does magic with tools, usually the Magic Belt. One exception is in Ozoplaning when she uses her wand to transport herself and several others from Glinda’s palace to the Emerald City. Thompson does hint that Ozma’s fairy nature might give her some extra physical strength, as when she doesn’t get hurt when falling out of bed in Kabumpo, or when it takes longer for her to tire when running back to the city in Lost King. The fairy princess uses more of her own magic in John R. Neill’s books, although since it’s Neill it’s not always that consistent. In Wonder City, she enables Jellia Jamb to talk through her ear when her mouth is sewn together with magical thread, and also prevents her from being hungry until her lips are free. Scalawagons shows her using her scepter to transport a Mifkit out of Oz; while an emerald ring she wears gives the same Mifkit a winder’s outfit, drives off the inflated Bell-Snickle, and gets the attention of everyone in the area. Jack Snow reports in Magical Mimics that Ozma uses her wand to transport herself and Glinda to Burzee, and to extinguish flames created by Queen Ra to burn the Scarecrow. And in Shaggy Man, she rather confusingly refers to the Magic Picture as “my own fairy creation,” which suggests she magically created it before it first appears in Ozma, but there are other possible interpretations.

A common interpretation of fairies in the Oz universe is that they have innate magical abilities, although how much varies depending on the particular fairy. In Ozoplaning, the Wizard explains that, to fairies, “working spells and charms just comes natural–like playing the piano by ear.” That’s not to say that they can’t learn new sorts of magic, of course. Polychrome, a sky fairy, doesn’t know any in Road, but does quite a bit of it in Tin Woodman. Fairies also tend to use wands, which likely enhance and focus their power. Queen Dolly of Merryland has a wand that she uses to animate the dolls in her valley.

The fairy in The Enchanted Island of Yew who becomes Prince Marvel uses her wand to work various transformations, but is unable to transform herself.

Even though the Prince is ostensibly mortal, he still retains some fairy powers, which he uses to counteract poison, capture darts in a sack, give King Terribus of Spor a more pleasing form, and even separate the twin High Ki of Twi into two separate individuals. He also throws a champion wrestler out a window, another possible demonstration of super strength for fairies. Queen Aquareine in The Sea Fairies uses her wand to create circles of protection, change the temperature of the water, and destroy the monster known as the Yell-Maker. Ozma’s cousin Ozana employs “a slender wand which she drew from the folds of her blue dress” to enlarge her swans, and later to break the Mimics‘ enchantment.

The King of the Fairy Beavers in Shaggy Man uses “a slender beech rod” as a wand, using it to produce food, generate water to scare off the Flame Folk, make the Cloaks of Visibility vanish, and store Water of Oblivion to use on Conjo.

While I don’t recall Polychrome using a wand, she does take a twig in the beak of her canary form when removing Tommy Kwikstep’s extra legs, and she might be using it for much the same purpose.

Ozma frequently employs her wand as well, but has to augment it with magic powders during Tin Woodman. Fairies are not the only magic-workers to use wands, but the instruments are obviously a significant part of fairy magic.

Posted in Characters, Jack Snow, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adam Bombs of the Eighties

Today, I’ll be looking at two not-too-fondly-remembered movies from the 1980s, both based on toy lines. In both cases, the toys were still a going concern when the films were released, but no longer at the height of their popularity. I guess that’s a tricky thing, as you don’t want to rush out a movie for something that’s just going to be a flash in the pan, but putting it out too late means it might well be ignored. In these two cases, they were terrible movies anyway, so they pretty much HAD to rely on the toys’ popularity to achieve any box office success, and there apparently wasn’t enough.

Masters of the Universe – The toy line and cartoon were huge when I was a kid. I didn’t watch it that much, but I remember seeing it occasionally. It concerned the constant struggle between He-Man and Skeletor over the fate of the planet Eternia, a world where nobody was allowed to take more than thirty seconds to come up with a name. The animation was incredibly cheap, but there was a certain amount of real creativity involved. This didn’t really hold true for the movie. There’s an article on how it was made, which mentions that it was mostly set on Earth in order to keep it low-budget, but there was one elaborate (but still cheesy) Eternia set for the beginning and end of the film.

Due to technical issues, Battlecat (the character I tend to remember the best) and Orko didn’t appear at all, the latter being replaced with Gwildor, a tiny inventor played by Billy Barty.

I believe all of Skeletor’s henchmen except for Evil-Lyn and Beast-Man were also specifically created for the movie. Dolph Lundgren, fresh from killing Apollo Creed, was cast as He-Man because they could afford him and he looked the part. Frank Langella’s Skeletor was appropriately corny and allowed to be more sadistic than in the cartoon, but I have to think a drugstore Skeletor mask would have looked better than what the movie went with. For that matter, a skeleton mask that didn’t have anything to do with the character might have worked better.

Also in the movie was Courteney Cox, who would then have been known as the girl in the Bruce Springsteen video. She and her musician boyfriend provided a subplot that tied into the main story due to his having a perfect memory of musical tones. Also roped into the adventure was a cop played by Mr. Strickland from Back to the Future, who ended up staying on Eternia.

For a property based on action figures and a cartoon, the film felt incredibly slow-paced. It also seemed to rip off Star Wars quite a bit: Skeletor’s troops wore Vader-like armor, he ends up falling down a shaft exactly like Emperor Palpatine, and even the music is suspiciously similar. The main thing I got out of it was that Skeletor seemed to have a crush on He-Man, which is creepy when you consider that he was hinted in other media to be He-Man’s uncle. Then again, they also didn’t acknowledge that He-Man’s mom, and possibly Evil-Lyn as well, was from Earth. I have to wonder if the implications that Eternia doesn’t have cows and that meat-eating is pretty much unknown there are part of established canon, or just to make the fish-out-of-water aspect of the plot more obvious (although it was somewhat lessened by the fact that everybody spoke English). And at the end when Courteney and her boyfriend are sent back to Earth, she apparently goes back in time to before her parents died. You’d think they would have established that Gwildor’s key was capable of time travel, because that would have come in handy on other occasions.
Some of the images I used are from here.

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie – Widely acknowledged as one of the worst movies ever made, it somehow actually held my interest better than Masters of the Universe. It was more of an entertainingly bad film, I guess. Garbage Pail Kids are another thing I grew up with; I had quite a few of them in second grade, although I ended up giving many of them away after that.

A product of the trading card company Topps, they were sort of an extension of the Wacky Packages line, as well as a parody of Cabbage Patch Kids. Based on gross-out humor, puns, and alliteration, they were turned out quite cheaply, but were a pretty ingenious idea. Kids pretty much universally love gags that are as grotesque as possible, and there were occasional hints of wit beyond what kids were likely to get; I remember having to have explained to me what the jokes were behind Bruised Lee, Farrah Fossil, and Didi T. Other cards referenced the Odyssey, Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh, Uncle Sam recruitment posters, and the Coppertone ads with the dog pulling on a girl’s swimsuit.

Art Spiegelman, the cartoonist perhaps best known for Maus, a graphic novel involving the Holocaust, was the director on the project, although the art was all uncredited at the time. A few years back, I gave my wife a book with the art from the first five series, with a foreword by Spiegelman and afterword by John Pound, who drew the cards.

They point out that, as repulsive as the Kids were, there was still a certain cuteness to them, although this became less prominent after a lawsuit from the Cabbage Patch owners. There are images of all the cards at this website. The movie stars Mackenzie Astin, son of John Astin who was also on The Facts of Life, as Dodger, a frequently bullied kid who hangs out with a magician who owns an antique store. It’s never clear whether the magician Captain Manzini, played by actor and musician Anthony Newley, is actually his guardian or just some guy he’s always around; there’s no hint as to whether his parents are around at all. The Kids come into the story via a garbage can from space that Manzini takes into his shop and warns Dodger not to open, but of course the Kids eventually get out due to an accident. There are seven Kids present in the film: Greaser Greg, Messy Tessie, Windy Winston, Valerie Vomit, Foul Phil, Nat Nerd, and Ali Gator. Exactly how much they’re actually kids seems to vary from one to another, with Phil being a baby, while Greg is more of a small, somewhat immature adult. For some reason, Nat’s main trait is peeing on himself, and I really don’t know what that has to do with nerdiness.

The Kids are somewhat ambivalent characters with disgusting personal habits and a tendency toward mischief that’s sometimes borderline psychotic; yet they’re also friendly and helpful to anyone who gives them a chance, and ultimately portrayed as sympathetic characters. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that their actions are pretty reminiscent of those of the Gremlins. There’s even a weird and rather out-of-place bit of attempted social satire, with the Kids being exploited due to their fashion design and sewing skills (yeah, they’re basically sweatshop workers) and locked up in the State Home for the Ugly. It’s like someone working on the project wanted to be John Waters but didn’t have the talent. The movie was rightfully panned, but then again, what would you expect? There are some properties that, no matter how popular, just shouldn’t be made into full-length live-action films. It has the dubious distinction of not being quite as bad as I thought it would be.

Posted in Art, Book Reviews, Cartoons, Humor, Uncategorized, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

You’ve Come to the Wight Place

I first remember coming across the term “wight” in Tunnels of Doom, a dungeon-crawling role-playing game for the Texas Instruments 99/4A computer. I’m assuming the game was inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and in turn by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I believe D&D wights can drain energy, and Tolkien’s barrow-wights were malevolent spirits of the dead who hung out around burial mounds.

The Norse term Vaettir, from which the word is derived, could mean a ghost or undead creature, but more generally referred to any kind of sentient being, particularly those who were neither gods nor humans.

The Landvaettir were spirits or creatures who were tied to the land, often dwelling in rocks or waterfalls. It was important for people living on a piece of land to establish friendly ties with the local Landvaettir, as they could bless or curse the area as they saw fit. People gave them offerings of food and drink, and I’ve seen several mentions of an Icelandic law that required sailors to remove the dragon-shaped prows from their ships to avoid frightening the land-wights. Rituals were performed when moving to or from a piece of land. There are several stories like that of Goat-Bjorn, who was rewarded with very fecund goats when striking a deal with a wight in a dream. The Icelandic warrior Egil Skallagrimsson, who had an ongoing feud with King Erik Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhild of Norway, cursed the land by using a nithing pole (basically a pole with a freshly killed horse’s head on the end) to torment the local Landvaettir until they had driven Erik and Gunnhild from the land. The two of them were eventually forced to flee to Northumbria in England.

Landvaettir were generally invisible to humans, and were also capable of changing shape. They were sometimes known to appear in a troll-like form, or as animals. The four main Landvaettir in Icelandic legend took the forms of a giant, a dragon, an eagle, and a bull.

Legend has it that King Harald Bluetooth Gormsson of Denmark sent a wizard to scout out Iceland, which he intended to invade. Arriving at the island in the form of a whale, the wizard was frightened away by the four guardians, one in each corner of the land. Part of what inspired me to write this post was a picture of a Landvaettir that I found on Pinterest, which made the creature literally part of the land.

While Christians attempted to stamp out belief in Landvaettir, it apparently still persists, especially in Iceland. When the Keflavik International Airport and its NATO military base were built in the 1940s, the construction foreman insisted on giving the local wights time to move out of a rock on the site, finally receiving the go-ahead in a dream two weeks later.

Posted in Authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mythology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who You Callin’ Cracker?

Here’s my review of the two albums I purchased at the Cracker show last week:

Welcome to Cracker – This two-disc album consists of the entirety of the 2006 Greatest Hits Redux on the first disc, and recordings from the Rockpalast Crossroad Festival in Berlin on the second. Redux was originally released in response to the compilation put out by Virgin Records after they’d dropped the band, for which they allowed Cracker no input. So Cracker re-recorded these songs and put out their own greatest hits album (and included “Ain’t Gonna Suck Itself,” their kiss-off song to Virgin). The re-recordings don’t sound all that different from the originals, but you can tell they aren’t exactly the same. On “Low,” for instance, there’s some prominent accordion during the solo. It seems a little out of balance that it includes four songs from Kerosene Hat and none from Forever, but I guess the former WAS their best-selling record. The live selections were likely made so as to avoid any duplicates of the Greatest Hits, so much of it is made up of songs from Greenland and Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey. There are also some other favorites that didn’t make it to the other disc, like “Seven Days” and “One Fine Day.” David Lowery forgets a few of the words on “Waiting for You Girl,” which kind of seems a petty thing to point out, but it’s often what stands out the most during live performances. “Another Song About the Rain” comes across as overly long, but for the most part it contains good selections. “Show Me How This Thing Works” is a favorite of mine, and “St. Cajetan” makes a good closer.

Johnny Hickman, Tilting – Johnny’s first solo album introduced two songs that would later make it to Cracker albums, “Friends” and “San Bernadino Boy.” We’ll have to wait and see if that happens with any of these. It’s a good record, mostly in the typical country-tinged rock vibe, although “Sick Cynthia Thing” has more of a pop sound. Johnny returns to political themes with “Not Enough,” a sarcastic number about American attitudes toward the rest of the world, with some nice backing vocals. There’s fiddle and mandolin on “Measure of a Man,” and a classical guitar solo on “Papa Johnny’s Arms.” “Destiny Misspent” is a song about coming to terms with regrets, based around a catchy riff. “Dream Along with Me” is a rather sweet ballad. What I want to know, however, is why he’s never released his anti-conglomerate anthem “Costco Socks.”

Posted in Albums, Concerts, Cracker, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Princes Proving Their Prowess, Whatever That Means

Since the main theme of this year’s OzCon International was Rinkitink in Oz, with Captain Salt and Ozmapolitan sidelining, it’s not too surprising that the subject of boy protagonists in the Oz books would come up. And yes, there are going to be some pretty major SPOILERS for some of these books. Someone mentioned that Rinkitink served as somewhat of a model for many of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books, in that it centered around a young prince trying to save his kingdom. Inga of Pingaree is a serious child accompanied by a loveable but flawed comic-relief adult and a curmudgeonly animal.

In Thompson’s Kabumpo, we get much the same model, except Kabumpo more or less plays the roles of both Rinkitink AND Bilbil. He’s grumpy, but also makes jokes. When the two of them join up with Wag, he’s more straight comic relief. Grampa is so close in plot to Kabumpo that it’s more or less Thompson ripping off herself, and Prince Tatters is accompanied by a curmudgeonly adult and a comic relief animal.

While Evered’s companions in Hungry Tiger don’t map so well to Rinkitink and Bilbil, the fact that he has talismans that protect him from harm should sound familiar. In Purple Prince, Randy explicitly thinks that he wants to be just like Pompadore, and he’s off to a good start by journeying with Kabumpo. For that matter, Jinnicky is sort of like Rinkitink as a wizard, even having the same habit of breaking out in uncontrollable laughter over very little.

So what do we know about these princes individually? Not surprisingly, they tend to blend together somewhat. While generally not as serious as Inga, they’re still mostly defined by their staunch loyalty to their kingdoms and families. Pompa is initially willing to go along with the plan to marry a nasty old woman, but is dragged out of Pumperdink by Kabumpo, who wants him to propose to Ozma.

His father, the bad-tempered King Pompus, is so set on the idea of his marrying Faleero that he and the elephant have to escape the kingdom without telling anyone what they’re doing. At the beginning of the story, he’s celebrating his eighteenth birthday for the tenth time. I had considered that this might mean he’s actually lived twenty-seven years, he might well have had other birthdays multiple times as well. At eighteen, he’s definitely on the older end as far as child heroes in Oz books go. Kabumpo was a gift at Pompa’s christening, and while we don’t know how old he was at this point, the implication might be that the two of them grew up together. Throughout his adventures, Pompadore remains friendly and courteous, but usually lets Kabumpo take charge.

It’s never stated how old Prince Tatters of Ragbad is, but I tend to think he comes off as somewhat younger than Pompa. On the other hand, he also ends up married, so I would imagine he’s at least an older teenager. While Pumperdink comes across as a prosperous place that just happens to be threatened by an evil magician, Ragbad is economically depressed due to King Fumbo squandering the treasury, so even though Tatters is a prince he’s had a more frugal upbringing. J.L. Bell pointed out that, for all Tatters’ loyalty to his family, he might not be all that close to his father. When he finds Fumbo’s head in the clouds, the head immediately talks to Grampa rather than his son.

About the only time Tatters acts on his own instead of under Grampa’s lead is when he follows Urtha out of Play, “his only thought to find and comfort the sweet and lost little fairy who had made the days so pleasant and the journey so happy for them.”

Evered of Rash, or Reddy for short, appears to be even younger, and he doesn’t get married. His father has left Rash to study radio, and his wicked uncle has seized the throne. Reddy hides out in a cobbler’s shop until his uncle finds him, but then manages to escape in the company of Betsy Bobbin, Carter Green, and the Hungry Tiger.

Unlike how Inga started his journey with the magical pearls, Reddy has to find the Rash Rubies himself. Fortunately, he manages to stumble upon all three of them.

Although it’s out of necessity, Reddy becomes a more active character than the other princes when he is carried into Immense City by a giant pigeon and has to find the Tiger and escape. He’s aided by the two rubies he’s found so far, but still has to be clever, stealthy, and athletic in order to accomplish his mission. He expects to have to fight to regain his country, but manages to drive off the army with the help of a wig that makes him a giant and the aid of Atmos Fere. Prince Philador actually sets out alone to seek help from the Good Witch of the North, although he soon does gain companions. He’s never all that active either, but he doesn’t really need to be when his goal becomes simply reaching the Emerald City, and he has the assistance of a High Horse to help him overcome obstacles.

Philador is physically only ten, although he’s lived over twenty years. He breaks the chain of distant fathers, as King Cheeriobed is very concerned about him.

It’s interesting to note that Thompson teams up both Betsy and Trot with boy princes, which could be seen as hinting at a future
romance if it weren’t for the fact that they never grow any older.

Pumperdink is threatened by another evil magic-worker, this time Faleero herself, in Purple Prince. Since Pompa is enchanted along with the rest of his family, however, this time Kabumpo brings along his attendant Randy, who is actually the Prince of Regalia traveling incognito. Silver Princess establishes that he’s about fourteen at the time, although Kabumpo thinks he’s physically only around ten. As I mentioned before, Thompson has to play with the numbers a bit to make him of marriageable age in the later book. While several of these princes are teenagers, Randy is the first to really show the rebelliousness and moodiness that is associated with boys of that age.

It’s not surprising that he starts both of his books in a bad mood, as he also was abandoned by his father and forced into proving himself and taking the throne. As Purple Prince progresses, he becomes more of the level-headed straight man to Kabumpo and Jinnicky.

You could potentially count Ojo as a prince seeking to save his kingdom, but he doesn’t know that’s who he is or what he’s doing when he sets out on his journey in Ojo. For the most part, Thompson keeps him consistent with how he was in Baum, rather insecure and prone to despair and crying. Like Randy in Purple Prince, he’s also forced to be a mediator between his companions.

And in Captain Salt, we meet Tazander Tazah of Ozamaland, a spoiled brat who is next in line for the throne of his country. He’s the subject of an essay in the OzCon program written by Frederick Wiegand, and I briefly discussed him in this post. With help from Roger the Read Bird, he overcomes his self-centered snobbishness.

He does end up saving his kingdom, but it’s almost an afterthought, the majority of the plot centering around exploration and Tandy’s learning to be a better person. He doesn’t stay in his home country anyway, instead leaving it in the hands of a capable and loyal sheik and sailing off again with Captain Salt. His only remaining family appears to be a few aunts, so we don’t know how his parents treated him, or if he even knew them. He spent much of his childhood locked in a tower, after all. In Enchanted Island, Rupert of Kapurta is a reckless young king whose father died (like Rinkitink, this started as a non-Oz book, which could explain why Thompson didn’t do the “oh, his dad is still alive, just far away” thing she did with Reddy and Randy), and he uses magic he discovers to transport his entire kingdom to both the sea and sky.

As heedless as this is, he does work out ways to make this practical after the initial excitement of the move. Unfortunately, when traveling to the sky, he loses his wishing button. It’s David Perry, not Rupert himself, who saves Kapurta from its precarious position. His adviser Totter Off is sort of a surrogate father to him, a bit annoying and stuffy but very concerned about his welfare and eager to help him out.

Along with the absent (whether physically or emotionally) fathers, many of these princes have other male role models. Tatters has Grampa, Randy has his Uncle Hoochafoo, and Tandy has Roger, Captain Salt, and Ato. With Inga, Pompa, and Reddy, their older companions are more on their own level. There’s also a recurring theme of these young princes being armed with swords. Randy carries one in both of his adventures, Pompa wishes he’d brought his, and Reddy picks one from the Indus Tree. I wonder if Thompson was aware of the phallic implications of this choice of weapon, or she just found it appropriate for fairy tales.

The McGraws’ Merry Go Round definitely owes a debt to Thompson, although their characters tend to be better defined. The plot involves a prince trying to find three magic items in order to save his kingdom and take the throne. The twist here is that Prince Gules, like everyone else in his country, is lazy and stupid due to the missing magic. So at first he mostly relies on his squire Fess, although once they start to retrieve the Circlets Gules begins taking charge of things.

His father is even dimmer than he is, but is still kindly.

Dick Martin’s Ozmapolitan also plays on the theme with a prince who specifically DOESN’T want to take over his kingdom, and sets out to prove that he’s too useful to do so.

Posted in Characters, Dick Martin, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Fairy Tales, Families, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burn Me Thrice, Shame on You

It’s known that there are two distinct groups of gods in Norse mythology as it’s come down to the modern day, the Aesir and the Vanir. That is, if you don’t count the giants, elves, and dwarves, who also frequently have supernatural powers and are related to the two main communities of deities. While there are some exceptions, the general rule seems to be that the Vanir were fertility gods, and the Aesir more warlike. The two groups had a war, which the Aesir won.

There are a lot of myths about gods conquering other gods, often resulting in those associated with war and politics triumphing over the Mother Earth types. It’s believed that this is often reflective of trends in religion, and of some nations conquering others. Anyway, in the Poetic Edda, one figure who features in the lead-up to the Aesir-Vanir War but seemingly nowhere else in the myths is Gullveig, a witch and presumably a member of the Vanir, who visited Asgard and led its inhabitants into temptation.

Women are always doing things like that in myths, or at least in myths written by men. The poem asserts that she was a delight to evil women. According to some interpretations, it was simply her practice of feminine magic, including soothsaying, that the Aesir frowned upon. Others take into account that the first syllable of her name means “gold,” and propose that she promoted greed. The “veig” part can refer to power or to alcoholic drinks. Regardless of their reason, the Aesir stabbed Gullveig and then burned her body.

She came back to life, however, and after two more tries they apparently gave up. It was apparently after this that she took the name Heidr, meaning “bright” or “fame.” Although this name is sometimes transliterated as Heidi (which seems to have reached the height of its popularity in the United States around when I was born; I remember at least two being in my graduating class in high school), apparently the modern girl’s name is instead a variation on Adelaide. This attempted execution was one of the events that led to the war of the gods.

I’ve seen speculation on a few sites that Gullveig-Heidr is an alternate form or form of a different goddess. She might, for instance, be the dark aspect of Freyja, who is known to have come from Vanaheim and have a lust for gold. Freyja generally seems to have assimilated pretty well into the Aesir, however, which might have been difficult if they’d repeatedly tried to kill her. You never can tell with gods, though, especially ones with aspects.

Another possible identification is Angrboda, the giantess with whom Loki fathered three monstrous offspring. Loki is said to have eaten the half-cooked heart of an evil woman, possibly Gullveig’s after one of the burning attempts, and it made him pregnant.

If this falls before the war in the loose timeline of Norse mythology, I guess Sleipnir was not the first child to whom he gave birth.

I recently read Joanne M. Harris’ The Gospel of Loki, in which Gullveig was the mastermind behind the fall of the Aesir as part of a revenge plot she hatched with Mimir. Loki becomes her pawn in the scheme, and she’s clearly not the same as either Freyja or Angrboda in this interpretation. She also appeared in Marvel’s Thor comics, in which she was the sister of Freyja (who’s merged with Frigg in the Marvel Universe) and ally of Surtur.

Posted in Comics, Etymology, Magic, Mythology, Norse, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Back to the Books

It’s been a long time since I’ve written any book reviews. When I had a job, I would generally read on my way there and back, as well as during breaks. When I’m at home most of the day, I usually find myself using the computer instead. I’m actually going to start another temp job soon, so maybe that will give me more time to read. That said, I have finished a few books in the past month or so. I just really couldn’t think of much to say about them, so I was waiting to combine them. I think I’ve waited long enough now, though, so here goes.

Handbook for Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell – Most of the basic ideas behind this story weren’t really anything new as far as modern takes on fairy tales go. We have a headstrong young heroine learning that dragons aren’t all bad. Haskell puts her own twist on the concept, however, and the characters are quite engaging. Princess Matilda, who prefers transcribing manuscripts to performing her royal duties, and also feels out of place due to her club foot, sets out to write her own book with the same title as the one for this novel. (Hey, kind of like The Royal Book of Oz.) After an encounter with the Wild Hunt that results in her and her friends winning two of their magical horses, Matilda finds herself a prisoner of a nasty prince who sacrifices women in order to summon the Hunt. I found it interesting that the characters reference some real-world people, legends, and institutions (many centered around medieval Catholicism); yet it’s also a world where monsters exist. From context, I suppose Matilda’s fictional kingdom is in Germany or thereabouts.

Songs of Earth and Power, by Greg Bear – This is actually a set of two different books, The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage. While primarily known as a science fiction author, these books are more straight fantasy. The poet Michael Perrin befriends a composer named Arno Waltiri, and ends up in the realm of the Sidhe. The first book mostly consists of Michael exploring the realm, and eventually completing Coleridge’s Kubla Khan in his own way in order to defeat a mage. In the second book, Michael returns to Earth and becomes the caretaker for Waltiri’s collection. This leads to him organizing a performance of Waltiri’s magical concerto, which results in the two worlds being merged. He also finds out that Mozart and Mahler are still alive in the fairy world. As you can tell, in addition to dropping references to earlier mythology and fairy lore, Bear makes music and poetry integral parts of his plot. As with the Eon books, the author makes his world so vast that we only see a little part of it with the protagonist. Also, there was some gratuitous sex thrown in. It seemed that, for every woman Michael met, either he was attracted to her or her to him, if not both. It didn’t bother me; it just seems like this might be a quirk of the author.

Ziggy Zig-Zags the Light and Dark Fantastic, Volume 1, by Ron Baxley Jr., illustrated by Vincent Myrand – I bought a copy of this picture book from the illustrator at the last Oz Convention. It’s a very elaborately illustrated volume featuring a cute story about a Welsh Corgi who travels through various fantasy lands doing good deeds. Yes, he does visit Oz, and meets with some Winged Monkeys. Neverland and Wonderland are also part of the brief narrative, as is an encounter with a neo-Nazi scientist practicing sinister genetic experiments. One picture I found particularly amusing was that of the crocodile who ate Captain Hook and is now being worshipped as a god.

He is, somewhat incongruously, wearing both an Egyptian headdress and a pimp hat.

The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne M. Harris – It wasn’t until after I read this that I found out the author was the one who wrote Chocolat. Not that this means much to me, as I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I found it interesting that an author known for a totally different kind of novel was diving into classical mythology. Basically retelling Norse mythology from the viewpoint of Loki, Harris generally sticks pretty closely to the original stories, but adds in some more continuity, making some attempt to explain how Loki can be the Aesir’s ally in one myth and their worst enemy in another. There’s also an element of conspiracy to the plot, with the downfall of the gods being worked out as a revenge plot by Mimir and Hullveig, and Loki basically being a pawn in their scheme. It’s a rather tragic end to a character whose main complaint tends to be that the gods don’t appreciate him except when he can do something useful, and he ends up in that same role against his old allies. That said, I do think Harris could have done a little more with Loki’s voice. As it is, it’s a good retelling of the myths, but not as much fun or as interesting of a commentary as you might think the trickster would provide. I’ve also seen some reviews comment on the title, as “gospel” is such a Christian term. There are a few allusions to Christianity in the book, and perhaps it’s supposed to be sarcastic as “gospel” means “good news” and Loki’s view is cynical throughout, but I don’t know for sure.

Posted in Art, Book Reviews, Fairy Tales, Humor, Magic, Music, Mythology, Norse, Oz, Oz Authors, Poetry, Ron Baxley Jr. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment