The Darlings of Slumberland

With the new Little Nemo comic series by Eric Shanower, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Nelson Daniel now in its third issue, I thought checking out the history of this franchise might not be amiss. I believe I first heard of Little Nemo when the Nintendo game came out in 1990, and was quite heavily promoted by Nintendo Power. I believe we rented it once. Perhaps building on the popularity of the then-recent Super Mario Bros. 3, Nemo was able to ride on some animals and gain the powers of others by wearing their skins as suits.

The whole thing started long before that, though, back in 1905 and a very early continuing comic strip by Winsor McCay. The local library system had the first volume of the 1989 collection of strips, running through March 1907. This page has the strips up through 1918, so I’ll be sure to read those at my leisure. The premise is that of a boy named Nemo who, in his dreams, is summoned to the court of King Morpheus of Slumberland to be his daughter’s new playmate.

Every strip would involve him getting into a surreal adventure; but at the end he’d wake up, sometimes due to his own fear or curiosity, and other times because of the machinations of the nasty and jealous clown Flip, son of the Sun.

One of his parents would then often make a comment about how he shouldn’t be eating some bizarre kind of food before bed. Fortunately, once Nemo reached the gates of Slumberland, he was able to return to where he left off with each new dream. In the earliest strips, you can see the development of McCay’s style, and how he eventually decides to leave out the running narrative as the whole story is already being told in the pictures and word balloons. It’s a good choice, as the narrative for each frame would sometimes stop in the middle of a sentence, making it awkward to follow that and the art simultaneously. The word balloons are often too small to fit the dialogue in comfortably, but then McCay was drawing by hand in a relatively new medium. What is consistent throughout is the ornate imagery, inspired by circuses and the architecture of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and Coney Island.

It would be nice if Coney Island still looked like that, but it doesn’t. The strip only ran on Sundays, but McCay would make references to the time of year by bringing in other characters from popular folklore who were friendly with the folks of Slumberland: Santa Claus at Christmas, Father Time at New Year’s, Cupid at Valentine’s Day, Jack Frost in the winter, etc.

Yes, King Morpheus looks a lot like Santa, but there are clear differences in how McCay draws the two.

The first Thanksgiving week strip had the house being devoured by a giant turkey and Nemo falling into a lake of cranberry sauce. It was also the first in which his parents took part in the dream, instead of just showing up in the last panel.

Flip later becomes Nemo’s friend rather than his rival, and I understand that a portion of the strips starting in 1908 take place in a dream version of New York City instead of Slumberland.

I also watched the animated film from the early 1990s, and have to say it came across as a case of too many cooks. It had some big names involved with it: Ray Bradbury and Chris Columbus both contributed to the screenplay, Hayao Miyazaki worked on it until he quit and cited it as the worst experience of his professional career, and the Sherman Brothers wrote the songs. What resulted was a decent effort with cute visuals, but for a movie about dreams it lacked somewhat in magic. The plot involves King Morpheus selecting Nemo as his heir, and giving him a golden key that can unlock any door in Slumberland (they haven’t heard of the Fourth Amendment there, I guess) but warning him not to use it on one particular door. Flip, who here has the voice of Mickey Rooney, convinces Nemo to open the forbidden door, thereby allowing the residents of Nightmare Land to kidnap Morpheus. He doesn’t appear to be in league with Nightmare Land; he’s just a general troublemaker, and Nemo apparently goes along with anything. To be fair, his name DOES mean “no one”; even in the comic he’s more someone whom things happen to, rather than an active protagonist. Although there are story arcs in the strip, it’s primarily episodic, so trying to come up with enough plot to fill a full-length film would have been challenging in any case. The Nightmare King, an original character in the movie, does look pretty cool, though.

The visuals also include the walking bed and Gertie the Dinosaur, star of an early animated short created by McCay. It also gives names to two characters who had previously been nameless, calling the Princess Camille and Nemo’s father Ralph. The Nintendo game was intended as a tie-in for the film, but while it came out in Japan after the movie, in the United States the game came first.

The new series, Return to Slumberland, is very much in McCay’s style with a few updates. The colors are bolder, although that could be partially because the original drawings aren’t a century old.

I’m kind of disappointed that Eric isn’t doing the art, although it does seem pretty reminiscent of his work. Then again, I mostly know Eric’s work from his Oz illustrations where he’s largely drawing more ornate and detailed versions of what John R. Neill did, and McCay worked in a similar style to Neill. L. Frank Baum is known to have mentioned at some point that he would have preferred McCay as the illustrator for the Oz books, but I doubt he was ever approached. I’m not sure Reilly & Britton could have afforded him. The Return comics introduce a new protagonist, James Nemo Summerton, who mentions that his dad actually named him after the original comic. He prefers to go by Jimmy, but the inhabitants of Slumberland insist on calling him Nemo anyway. His annoyance at the dream people not taking his feelings into consideration is part of what leads him to go off with Flip at the end of the second issue, which brings him to the Tessellated Tower in the third.

Posted in Art, Cartoons, Christmas, Comics, Dreams, Eric Shanower, Holidays, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Thanksgiving, Video Games, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If I Could Talk with the Animals

While they can often amount to the same thing in narrative, there’s a clear difference between animals speaking in human language and people being able to understand animal language. Dr. Dolittle is probably the most famous example of the latter, but he’s hardly the first.

The ability to understand animals is a power King Solomon was sometimes said to have, presumably as an aspect of his wisdom.

And Siegfried was able to understand birds after drinking Fafnir’s blood.

There’s the interesting question as to whether animals really do talk in the sense that humans do, as we’re the species that has managed to complicate everything so much that constant talking has become necessary for us.

It’s an interesting conceit that I could theoretically translate what the cats say into English, but most of what I’ve read about the subject suggests they’re really only trying to convey a few key ideas, not converse about philosophy and current events. A lot of animal communication is done through body language as well, and to be fair Dr. Dolittle does learn that as well.

Still, it’s a common theme, particularly in children’s media, for animals to be regarded as carrying on conversations in their own languages. Sometimes animals are able to communicate quite easily with ANY other animals besides humans, while other times it’s only with other animals of the same sort. L. Frank Baum mostly goes in for the latter. While animals in Oz and some other fairylands can speak Ozish and know it to be different from their own means of communication (meaning it presumably isn’t some kind of universal translation spell at work), there are other cases in Baum’s fantasies of people being able to talk to animals in their own languages. In The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, we’re told, “The language of the beasts became clear to little Claus; but he never could understand their sulky and morose tempers.” Queen Zixi of Ix is said to have learned “the language of the beasts and birds and reptiles” due to her witchcraft, although whether this means she learned them through study or used some kind of magic to gain the ability to communicate with them isn’t entirely clear.

The book that probably says the most about this subject is John Dough and the Cherub, in which the Elixir of Life gives John the ability to speak all human and animal languages. Indeed, the impression given is that a human could theoretically learn to speak the language of rabbits or bears just as they could learn a foreign human language. At one point, the bear Para Bruin says to John, “The Mifkets speak one language, and you and I another, and the Princess and Chick speak still another! And it is all very absurd, for the only language I can understand is my own.”

The gingerbread man has to act as translator. Baum doesn’t appear to have been entirely consistent with this, however, as Pittypat the Rabbit is later able to understand John’s conversation with Ali Dubh even though it isn’t in rabbit language, and after leaving the Island of the Mifkets Para has no trouble conversing with humans. In The Tin Woodman of Oz, Polychrome is transformed into a canary and the Tin Woodman an owl, and they’re able to converse in the bird language. And in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Royal Book, the Comfortable Camel refers to the language camels speak amongst themselves as Camelia, and the Doubtful Dromedary later mentions Turkey and Donkey as other languages.

Posted in Animals, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Mythology, Norse, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ring Recycled

Expecting Someone Taller, by Tom Holt – Holt has written many books of weird fantasy, science fiction, and satire; but his main thing is bringing a fictional world into the modern one. This was actually his first comic fantasy, based on Wagner’s Ring Cycle. When a kindly but timid man named Malcolm Fisher accidentally hits a badger with his car, he’s surprised to find that the animal is actually the giant Ingolf in disguise, and he is now the owner of the magical Tarnhelm and the Ring of the Nibelungs. This officially makes him master of the world, although his effect on things is often based more on his mood and intentions than his direct actions. The resemblance to the FISHER King might well have been intended, but it’s Germanic mythology that takes center stage here, as Wotan, Alberich, and the Rhinemaidens are all seeking the Ring. There are some amusing episodes with Wotan dealing with his Valkyrie daughters, and some interesting reveals. Holt also humorously fills in some of the gaps in the original story, like why getting the goddess Freia would have been written into the giants’ contract when they built Valhalla. Turns out it was a handwriting mistake on the part of Loki, here known by his German name of Loge. I found it a quite enjoyable read.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, German, Mythology, Norse, Tom Holt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hell on Wheels

Ixion, King of the Lapiths in Thessaly, was a pretty thoroughly bad guy. He married Dia, the daughter of Deioneus, who is sometimes called Eionenus. He refused to pay the customary bride-price, however, so Deioneus took some of his horses in retaliation. Rather than just calling it even, Ixion invited Deinoneus over for a party, and then threw him into a fiery pit.

Hence, not only did he violate the Greek laws of hospitality, but he also killed a kinsman, being possibly the first person to ever do so. He became widely hated after this, but finally Zeus himself decided to perform a purification ritual, inviting him to Olympus for this purpose. So this guy is repaid for murder and bad hospitality (which was, by the way, something Zeus drowned pretty much all of humanity for in the past) by getting an invitation to the most exclusive club in the world? Well, some sources say that it was because he was interested in Ixion’s wife, and he might have even had a child with her. So it might have been sort of a “you forgive me and I’ll forgive you” deal. Regardless, Ixion messed things up by hitting on Hera. Now, Zeus might make the moves on other people’s wives, but he’s not okay with others doing the same with his. Pretty typical, really. Not that Hera was happy about it either, mind you. So Zeus tricked Ixion into having sex with a cloud that took the form of Hera, and their union gave birth to a guy who got romantically involved with mares and fathered the centaurs.

Is that what happens when your mother is condensed water vapor? When Ixion appears in the Final Fantasy series, it’s usually as a horse-like creature with lightning-based powers, presumably a reference to the centaurs being his descendants.

Zeus kills Ixion with a lightning bolt, but death is hardly the end of his punishment. Instead, he’s chained to a flaming wheel for eternity, with this torment sometimes said to take place in the sky (in which case it would presumably cause lightning) and sometimes in Tartarus.

Interestingly, there’s also a Japanese myth about a guy who was punished in the afterlife by being attached to a flaming wheel, although in this case his head appears to be the only human-like part remaining. This is Wanyudo, a daimyo who would execute people by having them drawn on an ox-cart wheel, so he became a fiery wheel with a face after he died.

He’s one of the many yokai that are said to roam Japan and bring torment or death to those hapless people who come across them. In this case, he’s said to steal the souls of anyone who gets close to him. There’s also the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a likely non-existent Egyptian princess in the fourth century who converted to Christianity in her teenage years. Emperor Maxentius tried to have her killed by crushing her on a wheel, but it miraculously broke, and afterwards came to be known as a Catherine wheel.

While this wheel wasn’t on fire, there is a firework called a Catherine wheel, so that sort of brings us full circle.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the use of the wheel for execution wasn’t totally abolished in Europe until 1841. I guess the people in charge of regulating such things were just spinning their wheels.

Posted in Christianity, Final Fantasy, Greek Mythology, Japanese, Mythology, Religion, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Can’t Use Facts to Prove Anything That’s Even Remotely True

This National Geographic article on science denial brought up some points I consider on occasion. It’s strange how some aspects of science have become so political, with global warming and evolution especially being viewed as left-wing concerns. Oddly, the anti-vaccination movement seems to attract both the far right and the far left, for different reasons. And it’s more of a leftist idea to oppose genetically modified food, although the issue is complicated somewhat by the fact that a lot of the genetic research is under the control of big businesses like Monsanto. The same concern plays a role in medical skepticism as well, because the science shows that medicine can save lives, yet it also puts money in the pockets of Big Pharma. When it comes to global warming, the science is largely against the corporate world, while on these other subjects it’s not so clear cut. I think the article was on to something when it mentioned the “two antagonistic tribes.” Yes, politics and religion play a role, but the larger concern is that of tribalism, of going along with the group with which you most identify. This can also help to explain how people can identify as Bible-believing Christians when the ideals they hold have nothing to do with Jesus or the Bible.

Mind you, some of the terms that Joel Achenbach takes from Dan Kahar are rather problematic in and of themselves. How can someone be both individualistic AND hierarchical? And doesn’t being an individualist pretty much mean you WOULDN’T want to go along with your tribe? I guess it depends on how you’re using the term “individualistic,” because Kahar appears to use it as indicating that you look out for number one, not that you necessarily value independent thought.

But then, independent thought is a tricky thing anyway, because we all have to trust somebody when it comes to concepts for which we have no frame of reference. I’m not really that knowledgeable about science; my educational background is more in liberal arts. So yes, I have to have a certain amount of trust in others when I accept the gradual process of evolution or the age of the planet, and even that the Earth revolves around the Sun. People who deny basic tenets of science and other common knowledge like to imagine that there’s some kind of conspiracy to hide the real truth. I’m not entirely sure what the goal of this conspiracy would be, but there have certainly been occasions when the commonly accepted model turned out to be wrong.

The thing I don’t get is why you’d then believe people with obvious ulterior motives, like preachers, corporate spokespeople, and snake oil salesmen. There’s a pervasive attitude that scientists and academics are elitists, and in some cases the intellectuals aren’t doing much to dissuade this. Not that I know what they COULD do when people aren’t going to be swayed by facts and peer review. I also don’t understand when someone goes on about elitists and then votes billionaires who want tax cuts for their rich friends into office. But I guess some of these politicians are good at talking the talk of being on the side of the common person. Fundamentalist Christians loved that George W. Bush came across as one of them, regardless of what his actual policies were.

I also have to say that, from my perspective, I’m not sure how science goes against common sense in some of the cases Achenbach mentions. Yes, I get that the Sun appears to be going around the Earth. But with evolution…well, what’s the alternative? There are certainly aspects of evolution that I don’t fully grasp, but at its most basic it comes down to mutation and changes in genetics, which we CAN observe. On the other hand, has anyone ever seen an organism generated out of nothing? For a long time, people believed that flies could automatically come into existence from rotting meat. I don’t think too many modern Creationists believe this, but at least it was based on observation. I guess the missing factor here is that Creationists already believe in an all-powerful God, while to me that’s also something that has to be verified by evidence.

Vaccinations are another area in which I don’t think the basic principles are that difficult, but people refuse to learn them. When I was a kid, I learned that an inoculation put a little bit of a disease into your body so the white blood cells would find out how to fight it. I’m sure it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s essentially how it works, right? On a recent episode of Real Time, Bill Maher (whom I generally like) was trying to compare vaccines to antibiotics, saying something about ruining the immune system. The difference is, at least as far as I understand it, that antibiotics cut out the white blood cells entirely, so taking too many of them can have a negative effect on immunity. With vaccines, isn’t it pretty much the opposite? I do have to give props to the comments from another Bill on the same show, Bill Nye, who pointed out that the term “climate change skeptics” was misleading. I agree, because aren’t skeptics people who refuse to accept something until they know all the facts? Climate change deniers typically don’t care about the facts.

Posted in Capitalism, Christianity, Climate, Conspiracy Theories, Corporations, Drugs, Economics, Education, Environmentalism, Evolution, Food, Fundamentalism, Genetics, Global Warming, Health, Medicine, Politics, Real Time with Bill Maher, Religion, Science, Snobbery, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Living La Vida Levana

Fairest, by Marissa Meyer – I’ve been enjoying the Lunar Chronicles series so far, and while I believe it was originally intended to be four books, this prequel actually came out before the fourth one. Unlike the others, I don’t think this is based so much on any specific fairy tale, although the title and some aspects of Levana’s personality are Snow White references. It fits into the trend of stuff like Wicked and Maleficent that tell the story from the villain’s point of view. Levana is the Evil Queen of the series, the ruler of the Moon with magic powers and a plot to conquer Earth. While it explains how she came to be the way she is in the main series, it does not make her a particularly sympathetic character. She’s vain, scheming, and seemingly incapable of true love. When she develops a crush on a guard whose wife dies, he magically manipulates him into becoming her husband, but there’s no real chemistry there. Part of her obsession with glamor is due to her face being badly burned when she was young, so she constantly uses illusion to hide her true appearance. We also learn how she tried to kill her sister’s heir, and the beginning of the plot to infect Earth with a deadly plague. It’s shorter than the others, but no less interesting. Although it takes place chronologically before any of the main series, it assumes knowledge of the revelations in those books, so I would definitely recommend reading them first.

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Let’s Be Fair to Fairies

Fairies in the Zelda series are largely of the English variety of tiny people with wings and magical powers, but there are exceptions. The Great Fairies in Ocarina of Time can fly without wings and look kind of like drag queens to me.

And the ones in The Wind Waker are rather bizarre and ghostly in form.

In the first game, fairies are established as living in ponds and restoring Link’s health when he approaches them.

They’re also sometimes found captured by enemies. Later games, starting with A Link to the Past, give you the ability to trap a fairy in a jar and release them when you need a one-time health boost. They’ll also restore you if you die.

Seems pretty cruel to keep what’s apparently a rational being in a jar. That’s worse than smashing some poor guy’s pots.

The fairy in a bottle motif is also used in the original Final Fantasy, although here it’s a pirate who traps her in a bottle and sells her to a desert caravan, from which you can buy the bottle at an inflated price. If the game wanted to be REALLY mean, the guy would have sold multiple bottles, only one of which contained the fairy. Anyway, the fairy lives in a pond in the town of Gaia, and can provide Oxyale to let the Light Warriors breathe underwater.

LttP also introduces some larger fairies, including their Queen Venus.

Some of these fairies can upgrade your equipment. In one pond, if you drop a shield or a boomerang and then truthfully respond that you did so, the fairy will reward you for your honesty by giving a better one. This is apparently a reference to Aesop’s fable of the Honest Woodcutter. When this woodman drops his axe in the river, Hermes shows up and asks him if a gold or silver axe was the one he lost, and when he says no the god gives him all three. Another man observes this and purposely drops his axe in the river, but when Hermes offers the golden axe (hey, isn’t that a Sega Genesis game?) he immediately says it was his, for which untruth he ends up with nothing. Honesty is the best policy, except when it isn’t. I wish it were that easy to get a golden axe in Animal Crossing. Venus will increase your carrying capacity with bombs and arrows in exchange for an offering of money, and another fairy who lives inside Ganon’s pyramid will give you the Silver Arrows. This fairy is noticeably fatter than any of the others, and she blames her figure on Ganon’s curse.

In the Captain SNES comic, her sprite is used for Seraphina the Pabst Fairy, King Hippo’s ex-wife.

Link first has a fairy companion during his adventure in OoT, but the idea existed in some other media before this. The DiC cartoon series had a fairy named Spryte, daughter of King Oberon, helping out Link and Zelda; and in true Tinker Bell fashion she had an unrequited crush on Link.

A female fairy being jealous of Link’s feelings for Zelda is also present with Epheremelda in the LttP Nintendo Power comic and Navi in OoT. At the start of OoT, Link is the only resident of Kokiri Forest who doesn’t have a fairy companion, but the Great Deku Tree assigns Navi to fill that role. I assume her name is a reference to how she navigates, and she has a reputation for being annoying with her constant “Hey! Listen!”

Companion fairies would become somewhat of a staple of the series, although they don’t appear in every Zelda game. Their powers might also be different, as they don’t seem to be able to heal Link.

The Valiant comic series features a fairy named Miff who doesn’t have a lot of respect for Link’s tendency to act without thinking.

I understand that Tatl in Majora’s Mask is also rather rude to Link.

There’s a fair amount of discussion on the Internet as to whether Link himself would be considered an elf, seeing as how he has pointed ears and dresses in green. He’s officially a Hylian, and I don’t believe the term “elf” is ever used in the series. Still, seeing as how Hylians have pointed ears and heightened magical abilities, they might well have been based somewhat on elves. The ears, at least according to legend, are so they can better hear messages from the gods.

Picture by Ivy Beth Gladstone

Posted in Animal Crossing, Cartoons, Comics, Fairy Tales, Final Fantasy, Magic, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Television, Video Games, Zelda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment