Ach du Lieber! Raccoons!

Here’s some stuff that I watched this weekend, all without Beth as she was away for a lot of the time, and not interested in them anyway. There are SPOILERS for all of it.

Guardians of Galaxy Volume 2 – I’m behind on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and with the sheer number of movies and TV shows they’re putting out, I’m not sure they WANT anyone to keep up. The Guardians have always kind of been their own thing, though, even though there are obviously elements that cross over. And it’s generally been a little sillier than the others, which makes it even more noticeable how dark and sad this one is. Even the soundtrack is mostly depressing. It largely focuses on Rocket and his origins, how he was genetically modified by the High Evolutionary, a scientist who claims to be trying to create perfection, but who has absolutely no problem with harming and killing living beings in order to achieve this. I’m a little weird about misrepresentations of evolution in the media because I have to wonder if they affect anti-science positions. That’s probably a stretch, but when I see fundamentalist Christians claiming dinosaurs lived alongside humans, I can’t help but suspect these beliefs are based at least partially on fantastic fiction. But I guess that’s beside the point. There are some nods to the early Rocket stories, which had a supporting cast of genetically engineered animals, including his love interest Lylla the Otter and sidekick Wal Rus. They both appear in flashbacks, but the walrus goes by Teefs, and they don’t live long enough to have any adventures.

Lylla’s voice, Linda Cardellini, always played Hawkeye’s wife. As Rocket seems to be capable of thought and creativity beyond any of the Evolutionary’s other creations, he tries to recapture the raccoon to study his brain. After he’s attacked by Adam Warlock, the other Guardians are unable to cure Rocket without a passcode from the Evolutionary’s corporation, so they go to infiltrate the headquarters, and then to the villain’s failed pet project of Counter-Earth, inhabited by people who are part animal.

The version of Gamora from the past has become part of the Ravagers, and Peter Quill is kind of creepy in trying to get her to develop a relationship with her. I mean, I get how freaky it must be for him to be around someone who’s essentially the same as her late girlfriend but not really, but she’s still a different individual who doesn’t appreciate his treating her like someone else. Rocket takes a lot of abuse in both the flashbacks and the present, and, especially in movies, violence to animals can come across as much worse than violence to people. There’s a general moral of being nice to animals, and not just with Rocket, who takes it upon himself to save as many of the High Evolutionary’s test subjects as possible. Adam, who seems a bit tacked on in some respects, questions his role in working for the Evolutionary and the Sovereign when he befriends the F’saki Blurp, a small animal sort of like a dog with features reminiscent of an axolotl.

Mantis is able to tame some monstrous Abilisks, and Kraglin has a pointless feud with Cosmo. I understand this is intended as a conclusion to the Guardians’ saga, although I’m sure some of the characters will reappear. I have read that Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista aren’t interested in playing Gamora and Drax again, but I’m not privy to the world of Hollywood negotiations.

The Magic Book of Oz – I figured I should mention this, since I watched it on a Zoom event with Jane Albright. Filmed in 1994, it was thought lost, but it turns out that Stephen Teller had a VHS copy. The quality isn’t great, but it’s mostly intact. A very short movie, and even with its brief run time, it’s still padded somewhat with repetitive dialogue and a dance sequence at the end. The plot involves a witch called Scratch who wants to eliminate all happiness in Oz, and finds out how to do so from a talking boot. The actors are apparently all Carroll’s family and friends, many of them children. Carroll himself plays the Scarecrow. It is pretty accurate to the books, using several characters and magic items from them; but very little happens, so it seems like it’s mostly just a way to showcase the costumes and props. Not that those are of professional quality, but they’re pretty good representations of how they looked in the books. It’s not the same as Scott Dickerson’s book of the same title, although they’re both referencing the same magic book. I’d seen some indications in the past that this would be made into a book, but it never was.

History of the World, Part II – The end of Mel Brooks’s movie History of the World, Part I ended with a teaser for Part II, which he didn’t intend to actually make. Apparently it’s partially a joke on how Sir Walter Raleigh was executed before he could finish more than one volume of his The Historie of the World. But anyway, Part II finally exists now, as a multi-part Hulu release. Reviews I’ve seen for it haven’t been particularly good, but I thought it was pretty funny. It’s not like the original movie was particularly deep or subtle in its comedy either. It does mostly follow a simple formula of combining some historical person or event with more recent media, including a lot of social media jokes. I guess you can find that just about everywhere these days, but there were some combinations that made sense and I hadn’t come across before, like Johnny Knoxville as Rasputin. Some of them worked in multiple parodies, like Jesus and his disciples spoofing Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Notebook, and the Beatles, in turn. Mary Magdalene as Yoko Ono is another connection that seems fairly obvious in retrospect, especially with how Mary was portrayed in Jesus Christ Superstar. While the movie had its sketches in chronological order, this skips back and forth between them, often meaning a single sketch is revisited throughout several episodes. I’m not entirely sure whether it would have been better to just do them straight through. Some of them, like the Civil War bit and the Shirley Chisholm sitcom, kind of ran out of steam after a while, although they were still amusing enough. Comedian George Wallace playing segregationist Governor George Wallace was a nice touch. Aside from spoofing, there were a lot of anachronisms, repeated gags, meta-humor, and references to Brooks’s other works, all stuff I’m sure you’d expect. And yes, some fart jokes as well. As promised, both “Hitler on Ice” and “Jews in Space” are revisited, although “A Viking Funeral” isn’t. Brooks narrated the show, and I don’t know how much of the writing he did, but his spirit is recognizable; and a lot of modern comedians wrote and starred in it.

Posted in American Civil War, Animals, Beatles, Characters, Comics, Evolution, History, Humor, Magic, Magic Items, Monsters, Music, Oz, Politics, Relationships, Science, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protect the Lifeforce

Here’s some music I’ve been listening to, and all of these albums were actually released on Bandcamp. I usually buy the CDs when they’re available, even though I mostly listen on the computer, and it’s easier to download thsn to rip. Companies removing media from online sources is in the news a lot now, so maybe being old-school in that respect will pay off somewhat, although it’s not like CDs last forever either.

David Lowery, Vending Machine – This is the third in David’s series of autobiographical songs, starting with an account of Cracker having some commercial success with their second album. As with the other albums in this series, the lyrics have a pretty straightforward narrative style. I particularly like “Mark Loved Dogs and Babies,” about some dogs David had. “Fat Little Babies” is not about the Hungry Tiger, but does seem to be about having babies to maintain a relationship. The title track is about recovery from alcoholism using a flickering vending machine as the higher power. And it closes with “Every Time I Try to Get Out,” about David’s attempt to go into a different sort of work, only to keep returning to music. There are a few repeats here, as “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey” was the title track of a Cracker album, and “Darken Your Door” was a Camper Van Beethoven song. I guess they were personal enough to work here as well.

Obey Robots, One in a Thousand – This band is a collaboration of Rat from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, a band I don’t know anything about (cool-sounding name, though), and Laura Kidd, who’s released music as She Makes War and Penfriend. Laura handles the vocals and plays most of the instruments, while Rat mostly focuses on guitar, with what I would describe as a crunchy style that works well. There’s a riff I quite like on “Glitter to Dust.” And “One of These Days” is a song that immediately grabbed me.

The No Ones, My Best Evil Friend – This is a project by Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, together with Arnie Kjelsrud Mathison and Frode Stromstad. As is common with Scott’s work especially, it’s largely a tribute to the music they listened to growing up, including direct references to George Harrison with the psychedelic “Song for George,” and the urgent “Phil Ochs Is Dead, which has a line I quite like: “The revolution was ridiculous. Turns out Elvis couldn’t work with Mao or Che.” “Time Sent Lewis” is about a more recent musician, and a favorite of mine as well, Jenny Lewis, who has a new album coming out in about two weeks. Debbie Petersen of the Bangles does some backing vocals, and Victor Krummenacher of Camper Van Beethoven plays bass. I understand there are some bonus tracks on the LP version, but I haven’t heard them.

Robyn Hitchcock, Life After Infinity – The album is all instrumental, with the only credited performers being Robyn himself and Charlie Francis on bass and percussion. When an instrumental has an evocative title like many of the ones here, I like to try to figure out how it relates. I kind of wonder if a lot of it is the power of suggestion, like they could be called anything and I’d still think the names were appropriate, but I’m sure there’s always some thought put into them. It’s not too surprising that Robyn’s cat Tubby would show up in one of the titles, and the song sounds kind of Indian to me. I don’t see a list in the credits of what instruments were used, but I can hear what sounds like a Chinese stringed instrument I don’t know the name of in a few of these. “Daphne, Skipping” definitely has an appropriate rhythm, and “Veronica’s Chapel” has church bells breaking through cacophony. “Plesiosaurs in the Desert” refers to the discovery last year of fossils in the Sahara. There’s some pretty fancy guitar work on “Nasturtiums for Anita.” It’s a good listen, and still pretty surreal even without lyrics.

Aside from the Jenny Lewis album coming out soon (I wonder if I should pre-order it), Beth has purchased new Ben Folds and Sparks records, and the Minus 5’s tribute to Neil Young has been released for download. We’ll see if I have anything to say on those; I’ll admit I often feel out of my depth when writing about music, especially the non-lyrical part. I know when I like something, but there are only so many times I can say something is catchy or rocking, you know?

Posted in Albums, Animals, Beatles, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, Minus 5, Music, Robyn Hitchcock, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Down on the Farm

Here are a few Oz things I’ve read recently.

Dark Wind in Oz, by Tarl Telford – It’s been some time since I read the first two books in the Hidden History of Oz series, but now I’ve finally read the third as well. It’s sort of an alternate history of Oz, fitting with Wizard but not the rest of the series, although it incorporates characters from other books. The Wizard of Oz isn’t just a humbug, but someone who can create things through his dreams. There’s a timeline of rulers and events, and the characters have some rather complex connections. The Wicked Witch of the East has the power to throw things into the air, Omby Amby is a champion of freedom who’s descended from famous architects, and the Guardian of the Gates a former apprentice to Smith and Tinker. Glinda is young and enamored of the Wizard. Come to think of it, Gabriel Gale’s Ages of Oz also has a young Glinda. She’s canonically centuries old. There’s also a trio of fairies with immense powers.

The Glinda Letters – A follow-up to the main Hidden History series, it’s presented as a series of fifty letters Glinda wrote to the Wizard over the years after he hid himself in his palace, none of which received answers. She gives her perspective on various events that have been occurring in Oz. This includes the birth of Ozma to Pastoria, who here has been ruling in his own castle adjacent to the Emerald City, but with mental issues and a lot of influence from Mombi.

The Giant Garden of Oz, by Eric Shanower – This one is a reread of Eric’s only published Oz novel, which is a thriller of sorts, dark in tone while still fitting in with the main series. I’ve noticed a theme in some of his Oz writing of magic being TOO effective: the Frogman becomes an outcast after bathing in the Truth Pond, Conjo goes into a vegetative state from the Water of Oblivion, and here a growth potion causes a nightmarish scenario. In this story, Dorothy’s Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are given a farm in the Munchkin Country, and Dorothy goes to visit, along with Toto and Billina. Not long after she arrives, the crops start growing to enormous size, and giant moles start digging up the place. Dorothy herself accidentally drinks some of the potion straight, and grows huge, crushing both a friend and the person who caused the problem in the first place. Her clothes don’t grow with her either, marking a change from how L. Frank Baum usually wrote such size alterations. A new character here is Imogene, a cow named after the pantomime character who replaced Toto in the original Wizard stage play, who produces different kinds of dairy products depending on her mood. Both Dorothy and Imogene take a ride in the Wizard’s new balloon, and run afoul of some storm giants. In the end, Dorothy makes the less obvious choice to save her friend, but it works out due to a sort of magic that was mentioned earlier in the story, even though Dorothy obviously didn’t know it would happen. The idea of Henry and Em getting back into farming is one that had previously appeared a few times: Grampa says that they “have a comfortable little farm just outside of the Emerald City,” Mary Rakestraw’s “Journal of a Journey” includes a visit to such a farm, and they intend to start a new farm in Hollyhock Dolls. The Wizard taking up ballooning again also appears in a few other tales.

Sundays at Sam’s, by Phyllis Ann Karr – This book collects Karr’s Computer Wizard stories, and adds several more. The ones that had been published in Oziana aren’t exactly the same here, though, due to copyright concerns. “Foiled by the Iffin” in particular, which used a lot of material from Jack Pumpkinhead, has been rewritten to involve the Gump and creatures who live inside the Yips’ mountain. The collection alternates between stories based on Oz and on Gilbert and Sullivan. I’m not as familiar with the latter, but the stories were still enjoyable, a little looser in format than the Oz stuff. It’s all presented in the context of role-playing, but here not in the future but in a world that’s mostly like ours but with a few differences, and with more people involved in the games. Oziah, Corwin, and Angela from the Computer Wizard stories take part in the G&S sessions as well. The differences between worlds are largely for copyright reasons, but it also allows for the existence of Oz books and G&S operettas that don’t exist in our world. So it’s an account of fictional role-playing set in media that are mostly ones we have here, but not entirely. Yeah, I think it’s a little too high-concept in that respect. Two stories were co-written by Melody Grandy, one reusing the character of Storja from “A Study in Orange” and the other retelling an episode from Zim Greenleaf with a few differences to accommodate Dr. Poe. There’s also a rewrite of much of Wishing Horse that tells basically the same story, including a lot of Thompson’s writing, but with the Computer Wizard instead of Pigasus accompanying Dorothy. The parts with Skamperoo are largely the same, but not exactly. And Bitty Bit doesn’t appear at all.

Posted in Animals, Book Reviews, Characters, Dreams, Eric Shanower, Games, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Melody Grandy, Music, Oz, Oz Authors, Phyllis Ann Karr, Plays, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And Then There’s Saint Maud

These are both disturbing movies Beth picked out, and there are SPOILERS for both. They both share a sort of medical theme.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – This was partially inspired by Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, which I actually read recently. The title refers to how some versions of the story have Iphigenia replaced by a deer at the last minute, and there’s even a mention of a character having written about the unfortunate Greek girl. The main similarity between the two stories is the idea of a child having to be sacrificed for what the father did wrong. Martin, a kid whose father died during surgery, starts hanging out with the surgeon who performed the operation. Colin Farrell plays the surgeon, and Nicole Kidman his wife. Martin is generally friendly, if a little awkward. Later, he starts to act more inappropriately. He constantly hangs around the hospital and the surgeon’s family, dates the doctor’s daughter, and encourages his mother to hit on the guy. Eventually, Martin tells the surgeon that his wife and both his children will die in a specific and painful way unless he picks one of them to kill, as a form of justice for what happened to his dad. Exactly how any of this works isn’t clear, and isn’t really important to the story. It’s repeatedly stated that there’s no medical explanation for any of it. I guess that kind of makes sense if you remember he’s basically playing the role of Artemis. The doctor attacks Martin and ties him up, but that doesn’t help anything, so he finally has to go through with the killing. It’s obviously pretty dark, and hard to watch in parts. The symptoms the children suffer include paralysis and bleeding from the eyes. A scene of Martin eating spaghetti with the plate on his lap is also pretty gross. It’s hard to sympathize with the doctor when you find out he was drunk when he performed the operation, but it’s not like his family did anything wrong.

Saint Maud – This movie is set in England, although confusingly one of the first signs that shows up says “Coney Island.” I think it’s just the name of an arcade in this English seaside town. Maud, who used to go by Katie, is a nurse who, after losing a patient at a hospital, takes a job at a hospice. She’s also a recent convert to Catholicism, which she basically makes her entire personality, and she regularly hears a voice that she assumes is God. Apparently God takes the form of a cockroach and speaks Welsh. At her new job, Maud befriends Amanda, a former dancer with lymphoma, but is troubled by her lack of belief and the fact that she has sex with another woman. She’s fired after she smacks Amanda at a party. Then, after seeing visions of tornadoes, she decides she has to kill her former patient, whom she now thinks is a demon, and then herself. You can sympathize with her to a degree, but she’s cruel in her religious zeal even before she totally snaps. I guess it’s not a great idea to try to deal with mental illness through religion. It was also interesting to me that the film contains a lot of William Blake pictures, as Amanda gives Maud a book of them.

I liked this one better than the other, but it was the reverse for Beth.

Posted in Art, Catholicism, Christianity, Families, Food, Greek Mythology, Health, Medicine, Mythology, Plays, Relationships, Religion, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Impure Evil

One Bible verse I’ve heard a fair amount recently is from Isaiah 5:20: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Mostly just the first part, really. Kirk Cameron likes to use it a lot, and this past February, there was something similar at the National Day for Prayer and Repentance stated by Mary Miller. Right Wing Watch quotes another speaker from that event talking about “the sins of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, and sex confusion.” One thing the attendees apparently didn’t do was repent, instead leaving that for other people to do. And one of Cameron’s main causes recently has been opposing drag queens reading to kids, something that seems totally harmless to me. I’m sure it’s partially an attempt to maintain the patriarchy (if gender isn’t rigid, how can we use it to say men are better than women?), but it’s also scapegoating and a way to try to control people, as with racism and misogyny. I would have thought creating arbitrary divisions and treating people who aren’t hurting anybody as dangerous was about as evil as you could get. Isn’t that what the Devil is supposed to do?

So I guess it’s more projection, which is what Republicans do best. “Sin” is a pretty meaningless word except when you’re around people with the same religious beliefs, and “evil” isn’t really all that helpful either. Not that people aren’t evil, but there are probably better words to use that don’t make it sound like they’re burning kittens for fun. And I’m not entirely sure how gender and sexuality are inherently moral or immoral. If you belong to a religion that considers sex sinful outside specific parameters, I would say that’s still an issue of ritual impurity rather than of ethics.

Another verse I recall hearing on Christian radio (Beth and I went through a period of listening to some of that, mostly just because it was so weird to us) was Romans 1:22: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,” which I think they were using against people who teach evolution, or something like that. Combined with the next passage, it kind of sounds more like Paul was talking about idol worship, but whatever. It’s probably no coincidence that the same chapter is used to condemn homosexuality. It’s amazing how people today still seem to have the same attitude about how everyone secretly knows that God (and their God specifically) is real, but pretends otherwise because it’s more satisfying and they don’t have to follow all the rules. I mean, sure, it IS more fun not to have someone set limits on your leisure activities, but as far as I know, that’s not generally WHY people don’t believe in God. It’s just a bonus that, if you already don’t believe, you also don’t have to obey the rules. But then, people who DO believe apparently don’t either, just as long as they’re sorry afterwards. The whole thing about redemption by faith is confusing as hell, at least to me. I wrote the other day about how making an animal sacrifice to atone for a crime doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but at least you’re actually DOING something then. It’s not really fair for me to knock ritual when I have so many personal ones that don’t even make sense to me, but I don’t think they’re going to get me into Heaven, just maintain my own comfort.

While it’s rather old hat at this point, I also wanted to say a bit about how Republicans love to use “woke” as an insult. As far as I can tell, the term comes from Black vernacular, so I’m not sure it would be appropriate for a white guy like me to use it anyway. But I also figure it’s aspirational, not something you can really claim to be. Christians claim to want to be Christ-like, which is presumably impossible by their own theology, as Jesus was superhuman. But it’s still something you can aim towards. And of course the idea of “waking up” or “opening your eyes” or the like to mean becoming aware of what’s going on in the world is a really old one. I’ve seen some right-wing comments about “taking the red pill,” which is much the same thing. And it’s from a movie written and directed by two trans women. It’s ultimately what religion tends to be based on, the idea that there’s something going on beyond what we can garner with our senses that we can only learn by attuning our minds the right way and doing the right things. Conservatives are big on hidden knowledge, but it seems to usually be in ways where they can blame someone else for what’s going wrong, like Jews secretly ruling the world, Gay Agenda, or child sex trafficking in a pizza parlor. I guess recognizing systemic inequalities like the marginalization of Black people is more complicated, not only because it questions the status quo, but because it means we have to look at ourselves and our own prejudices, and not just say it’s all the fault of people who are naturally evil.

Posted in Christianity, Conspiracy Theories, Current Events, Education, Gender, Language, Philosophy, Politics, Prejudice, Religion, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Washing Your Sins Away

One recurring theme in Greek mythology is that of ritual purification for someone who’d committed a crime. There’s a pattern in some stories of a person doing a heinous act, being exiled from their home, and going to someone in another place who would be willing to perform the ritual. There are some indications that this was an actual practice, not just something made up for the myths, although I couldn’t say how common it was. It appears that the process included both a symbolic washing and the sacrifice of an animal, a kind of propitiation to the gods. There’s an idea in cultures that practiced animal sacrifice that shedding innocent blood was necessary to atone for the initial bloodshed, which kind of seems like two wrongs making a right to me. But then, requesting that the gods turn away their wrath might have been different from what was done to appease the victim’s family and society. There was no official separation of religion from law, but I’m sure people still recognized that there were different matters at hand. It does seem strange if capital crimes were punished way less harshly back in a time I normally associate with Hammurabi’s eye for an eye. Yeah, that was Mesopotamia, not Greece, but there was some overlap. We see such a ritual with Jason and Medea, who, after leaving Colchis with the Golden Fleece, travel to Circe’s island of Aeaea in order to receive purification for the killing and dismemberment of Medea’s brother. Apollodorus of Rhodes actually shows us some of the process, with Circe killing a newborn piglet and pouring its blood on Medea and Jason’s hands, then performing food and drink offerings to Zeus in hopes of his forgiveness.

When she learns the true severity of their crimes, however, she refuses hospitality to them. Bellerophon is said to have been exiled for Corinth after accidentally killing his brother, and was purified by Proteus of Argos (not the same as
the shape-shifting sea god), but then got kicked out of there as well after his wife falsely accused him of rape. There’s a story in Herodotus about Adrestus of Phrygia, who accidentally killed his brother, and sought purification from Croesus of Lydia. He then accompanied Croesus’ son Atys on a boar hunt and accidentally caused his death as well. Croesus forgave him for it, but he killed himself anyway.

While naked, apparently.
Heracles, after killing his family in a fit of madness brought on by Hera, is purified by Thespius, the same king whose fifty daughters he impregnated. He then is told by the Oracle of Delphi to make penance by performing labors for Eurystheus of Tiryns, a cousin and rival of his who was favored by Hera. The labors are apparently not part of the purification, but still necessary for his redemption. But Eurystheus must have known something about the ritual, as he performed it for a guy named Copreus, who then stayed as his herald. His name might possibly be related to dung, fitting with his unpopularity. Homer mentioned how much better his son was than him. And Oedipus is purified at Colonus for his crimes in Thebes of killing his father and having an incestuous relationship with his mother.

He could claim ignorance of the family relations, but not of the fact that he definitely killed someone, and a king at that. I have to wonder if things might have been different for these people because they’re all essentially nobility of some sort, many of them related to kings, but maybe not.

Posted in Greek Mythology, History, Magic, Mythology, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Spring Queen and the Demon Queen

The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History, by Edward Brooke-Hitching – This was one I bought based on an Amazon recommendation, or something of the sort. It’s not what I would have expected from the title, but it’s pretty interesting, describing all sorts of strange books throughout history. One chapter deals with books bound with human skin or written in human blood, including a Quran owned by Saddam Hussein that was supposedly written in his own blood. It’s now kept in a vault locked with keys owned by three different people, as it’s considered sacrilegious to destroy a Quran. Another discusses coded books, including the Voynich Manuscript, which has never been decoded. It only has that name because it was introduced to the world by a book collector and dealer named Wilfrid Voynich. Literary hoaxes include those credited to or about entirely fictional people, and touches upon the infamous Hitler Diaries. I’d heard of those, but I didn’t realize that it had sixty volumes. There’s also a bit about Pedro Carolino who wrote a book of English phrases without knowing English, instead roughly translating Portuguese to French and that to English, with absurd results. There are grimoires with fascinating pictures of demons, books dictated by psychics, Bibles containing well-known printing errors, really tiny and enormous books, bound collections of cheese slices and sugar packets, and a list of particularly entertaining titles. There’s a mention of the first published study of a single psychiatric case, that of James Tilly Matthews, who came up with the idea of the mind-controlling Air Loom, as featured in Robert Rankin’s The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code.

The Corn King and the Spring Queen, by Naomi Mitchison – This book is fascinating, but so long and complex in scope that I sometimes had trouble keeping track of what had happened. It’s set in the Hellenistic world, beginning in a fictional country on the Black Sea (and hence inhabited by people the Greeks would have considered barbarians), then moving to Sparta and Egypt. It’s a good imagining of what life might have been like in those days, and shows a lot of research, particularly with the historical details of the part in Sparta with Kleomenes, a king who instituted what I guess would now be called socialism. The main character, Erif Der, is the titular Spring Queen, who marries the Corn King Tarrik, the village chief. She’s a witch, and it’s a marriage based on ritual magic, with both of them required to play parts in the pageantry associated with the changing seasons. She is exiled after killing her father, which is how the two of them end up in Greece. The characters give their view on the syncretism between Greek and Egyptian religion, and even a brief look at their take on Jewish monotheism. Stoic philosophy also enters into the story through the character of Sphaeros, who was historically Kleomenes’ tutor. Another theme is that of art, and one inspiration for the story was that the Scythians were known to be skillful in making bronze objects. Mitchison is quite interesting herself, an activist and supporter of women’s rights and birth control. She lived to be 101, and was alive for almost the entire twentieth century. Her brother, J.B.S. Haldane, was a biologist who wrote the children’s book My Friend Mr Leakey.

Crown of Flames, by Sayantani DasGupta – The follow-up to Force of Fire, and a prequel to the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond trilogy, dealing with the parents of that series’ characters. There’s even a younger version of the transit officer for the Kingdom Beyond. While Sesha, the son of the serpent Governor-General and father of Kiranmala, sacrifices his father and tightens control over the Rakkhosh and others subject to the snakes, Pinki reluctantly enters the competition to choose a new Demon Queen. She’s forced into choosing Sesha as a potential consort in order to save one of her instructors, while he mostly just wants to make Chandni jealous. The wedding from The Chaos Curse that Kiranmala and her friends go back in time to affect is shown here from a different perspective. Pinki’s real love interest is Arko, a revolutionary leader and son of the human Rajah; but she ends up with his brother Rontu instead, and they’re the parents of Neelkamal and Lalkamal.

Thakurmar Jhuli: Princesses, Monsters and Magical Creatures, by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar, translated by Sutapa Basu – This 1907 collection of Bengali folk tales was a major influence on the Kingdom Beyond books, and this is a recent English translation. The books play with the stories a bit, combining elements from various ones. For instance, Neelkamal and Lalkamal are combined with two other princes from their story, and their father is one of the champak flower princes from a different tale. The Rakkhosh grandmother Ai-Ma appears in two different tales. Transformations, jealousy, and strange births are recurring themes. The first story, “Princess Kalavati,” is about Buddhu and Bhutum, human children in the form of a monkey and an owl, who have magical powers that they use to help their ungrateful brothers. In “Seven Champak Flowers,” jealous women try to kill some newborns by burying them in flowerpots, but they come to life again in the form of said flowers. The titular character of “Needle King” has needles grow out of his body when he forsakes his best friend and doesn’t recognize that a maid has taken his wife’s place. In Kiranmala’s story, she and her brothers are set afloat in clay pots, and she later disenchants the boys when they’re turned to stone. There are also several monsters featured in here, mostly shape-shifting Rakkhosh, but some others as well. “Prince Pomegranate” has flying horses and a snake with multiple heads. There are some similarities to European fairy tales as well, with, for instance, “The Palace of Enchantment” having its own Sleeping Beauty in the Lotus Princess. The story of the scheming Fox Pundit has the character opening a school in order to eat the other animals who enroll as students, then getting into other cruel misadventures. “Sukhu and Dukhu” uses the motif of the kind and unkind girl being rewarded and punished, as in Charles Perrault’s “Diamonds and Toads.” “Finger and Half” is a Tom Thumb sort of tale, with a tiny child having a series of adventures.

Posted in African, Art, Authors, Book Reviews, Conspiracy Theories, Economics, Egyptian, Fairy Tales, Feminism, Food, Greek Mythology, Greek Philosophy, Hellenistic Greece, Hinduism, History, Islam, Judaism, Language, Libraries, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Philosophy, Relationships, Religion, Robert Rankin, Socialism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The FLDS Took My Baby Away

I understand Netflix is going to give up their DVD distribution later this year. I think we’re just about the only people who still use it, so I’m not surprised, but I don’t know the best way to watch movies that aren’t on the streaming services we subscribe to. I guess Netflix was best when it had a near-monopoly, but that isn’t practical for other reasons. I’m wondering if we should drop it entirely, but since we just watched a Netflix original, I’m not so sure about it. Anyway, here are two movies and a television series that we watched fairly recently:

Blood Moon – This was a DVD that Beth got from my sister as a gift, and it really didn’t hold our interest that well. The premise was decent enough, a horror movie set in the old west. When a skin-walker, a sort of witch from Navajo lore, starts attacking people in a Colorado town, an unlikely group of people are forced together, including a newspaper writer, a bartender, two criminals, a sheriff, and a gunslinger. It doesn’t really go much of anywhere, though, beyond the obvious of the people not trusting each other and the skinwalker attacking.

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones – I’ve never been that knowledgeable about the Ramones, but their music is pretty fun, although it sounds like being in the band wasn’t. We watched the Behind the Music on the Go-Go’s recently, and there’s a similarity there in that they were both composed largely of people who wanted to be in a band without having a whole lot of musical knowledge first. That was kind of a thing with punk music, not always a lot of technical prowess involved, but it’s not like anyone could have done it. It was a pretty tragic story, really. They discussed Joey’s really bad OCD, Johnny being a conservative control freak, and Dee Dee’s drug addiction. While the title comes from a Ramones album, it makes me think of the Blur song. And yes, I know that’s “End of a Century.”

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey – This disturbing Netflix documentary series of four episodes examines the rise and fall of Warren Jeffs, former head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, who split from mainstream Mormonism due to their insistence on practicing polygamy. Jeffs succeeded his father Rulon, and married some of the same women he did. And when I say “women,” this actually includes a significant number of children. It’s a good example of how, in an isolated community, a truly sick individual can get away with pretty much anything. After all, he’s a prophet of God, right? You apparently don’t need any credentials for that position. But yeah, he was sexually abusing children, and dressing them in a way that emphasized they were kids, like they were going to a church picnic every day.

He also set up his followers with their own child brides. But even if he weren’t a pedophile, the whole idea that you would want to have total control over another person freaks me out. But there are religions considered much less fringe that still have the idea that women should be obedient. Jeffs was eventually arrested and convicted, thanks partially to former members of the church who were willing to testify against him, incurring the hatred of friends and family in the process. They didn’t mention that he apparently was constantly masturbating in prison. There was a point made by one of the lawyers that they made sure to keep the case against him to the law without bringing religion into it too much, since otherwise he’d just claim it was persecution.

Posted in Celebrities, Drugs, Health, Magic, Monsters, Mormonism, Music, Mythology, Native American, Navajo, Relationships, Religion, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shanower Shorts

I don’t think I’ve ever done a proper review of The Salt Sorcerer of Oz and Other Stories, by Eric Shanower, and I’m not sure I’m entirely doing so here either. I’ve recently written about two of the tales, “The Final Fate of the Frogman” and “The Silver Jug,” which both appeared in Oziana. The former was changed a bit for this version, and the latter was just the beginning of a story that’s fleshed out here, but I did address the additions and alterations. The stories alternate with short poems, mostly from the point of view of characters: the Glass Cat, the Hungry Tiger, the Scarecrow, and the Woozy. “Kabumpo” is in the third person, so I don’t know who’s narrating it. It would kind of fit the character of Aa from the story that precedes it, but it doesn’t work too well with his way of speaking. I will mention that, when I first read the poem “Parts Available,” I thought of how Waddy in Speedy says, “Magic instruments are more delicate and perishable than any other kind,” which sort of negates its premise.

The Salt Sorcerer of Oz – We start the book with a story that showcases the more absurd side of Oz. I’ve written about this one before, but there are a few more things I want to say about it. The only established character in it is Kabumpo, who, as usual, is forced into undignified situations. Aa, the titular Salt Sorcerer, is a man made of salt who uses salt-based magic, and he enlists the Elegant Elephant’s help in trying to stop the rain over his home. It  turns out that it’s coming from the nearby Cork Mountain, where Geyser Gremlins, under the command of a crusty lady named Zyzzwyzz, have to release the pressure occasionally to sustain the place. Other characters are Aa’s robotic helper Clank, the pessimistic Fardels Bear, and some tropical birds who were being kept on the mountain. The ending is happy but somewhat unexpected, with what seems like a crisis ending up working out all right. I feel I have to mention that Kabumpo jumps in this story when I remember reading that elephants can’t do that. Then again, he does in Purple Prince as well, so maybe it’s artistic license. And yes, I know elephants can’t really talk, either.

Dorothy and the Mushroom Queen – Originally published under the pseudonym Janet Deschman, this rather darker story has Dorothy, the Glass Cat, and Flicker from The Ice King of Oz trapped in Ma-dul-ma-dun, an underground country inhabited by mushroom people. It’s ruled by Queen Piopelp, who’s obsessed with beauty and art, and practices eugenics. She’s also quite fond of Bungle, and the cat appreciates it, but still ultimately helps her friends escape. The artwork for this one is rather heavily stippled, and apparently there’s such a thing as a stippled mushroom.

The Balloon-Girl of Oz – This is another one originally published under a pseudonym, and I’m not really sure why. The name he used, Stephen Kane, is a character from The Flying Girl. Anyway, this is based on a goofy, cartoony sort of premise, but it’s taken pretty seriously in its details. The Patchwork Girl finds some magic rocks that inflate her like a balloon and make her float into the air. I don’t know if the image of an inflated Scraps came first and the story afterwards, but that would make a certain amount of sense. Anyway, she has to use various methods to get herself back to the Emerald City, and everyone she encounters laughs at her instead of helping her. While not mentioned in the text, one of the illustrations even shows Tik-Tok laughing.

The story gives the city an opera house, something that had also been mentioned in a promotional Ozmapolitan.

Gugu and the Kalidahs – Another more serious one, this has King Gugu from Magic learning that Kalidahs have entered his forest, and figuring out how to deal with them. After a meeting with the Kalidah King, previously referred to in Magic without actually appearing, he finds out that they’re not affiliated with the main Kalidah society either, and are in fact troubled youths. Gugu and his counselors have to traverse dangerous terrain and face dangers, reinforcing how, despite the animals talking and being more civilized than in the Great Outside World, their home is still wild. And Bladgaar, the leader of the renegade Kalidahs, effectively dies. This is actually the second story in this collection where a character dies (or is destroyed, at least), as it also happened to Piopelp. Zyzzwyzz looks like she might have been destroyed, but is instead restored to her original form. The illustrations have a lot of shading, fitting both the forest setting and the dark mood.

That’s all for the book, but here are two other Shanower stories that appeared in Oz-story:

Abby – A follow-up to Jack Snow’s Shaggy Man, it takes place in 1977, with Twink (now going by Abby) and Tom all grown up and facing their past. It’s a sad story that takes place in the United States, although Oz is obviously in the background. It portrays their having been to Oz in a disturbing way, with their parents not believing their story, and their mother absolutely refusing to even look at the book when Twink buys a copy. It also addresses other difficulties from their life, how their father was often away from home (the Snow book never says where Professor Jones teaches, but here it’s Columbia when his home is in Buffalo), and that he had helped to build the atomic bomb during World War II. Ultimately, Tom decides to return to fairyland to try to help Conjo and Twiffle, while Abby goes back to her life with her husband and kids.

Trot of Oz – This is a longer tale that Eric wrote with Glenn Ingersoll, switching off between chapters. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s weird that there were two stories involving mushroom people in Oz-story, although this one was written first. Glenn has said that this idea comes from how mushrooms were about the only thing Oz characters hadn’t already been made out of. It’s an adventure of Trot and Cap’n Bill, and while they are living in Oz, it’s almost entirely set in a subterranean land where the rules of that land don’t apply, so in some ways it feels like the characters’ two fantasy adventures from before they went to Oz. Shroom City is developed as a place with a stratified society that studies both the scientific and the spiritual. One Shroom, Rottug, is a scientist who seeks to gain control of the religious artifact known as the Multiplying Overcoat. It’s a sort of science fiction device in that it makes copies of a person, but it also utilizes the power of Shrooms’ souls, a sort of magic we don’t see a whole lot of in Oz stories. The lake monster Quaddle provides some comic relief.

He’s called Quaddle because he lives in Lake Quad, an analog to Nessie in Loch Ness. What’s weird about that is that Quaddle claims to have been trapped underground for millions of years, so what are the odds that he’d have the same name the lake would have eons later? I suppose there have been weirder coincidences in Oz. There’s a mention that the story wouldn’t include any “stupid little countries,” which is basically true, although there are a few elements that end up being rather irrelevant, particularly the merman Shump.

Posted in Animals, Art, Book Reviews, Characters, Eric Shanower, Families, Humor, Jack Snow, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Monsters, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Poetry, Relationships, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Whiny

There are so many things related to politics that I hear or read that just piss me off, but I usually try not to say anything, because it’s kind of just taking the bait. That’s especially the case with the Own the Libs mentality, when you can’t even be sure people actually BELIEVE what they say; they might just want to get a rise out of someone. But anyway, I recently heard someone talking about how Donald Trump was treated unfairly in the recent trial, that it was ridiculous that E. Jean Carroll sued him for something that happened twenty years ago, and that he should sue her. Gee, you think that kind of talk could be part of why it took her so long to come forward?

The idea that people are unfair to Trump is so weird, because it’s obviously false. He’s done all kinds of terrible things and faced hardly any consequences. Some people just don’t care, or think he’s cool for getting away with them. You could even say that becoming President of the United States is the opposite of a consequence. But again, does anyone believe that he never did anything wrong, or is that just baiting? And the whole idea of someone suing for being accused of sexual assault seems like another way to make sure rich people never have to answer for anything. It’s not like anyone could possibly defame Trump’s character any more than he’s already done himself. On the other hand, survivors of abuse are constantly belittled and threatened by the public. Trump fans will tell you that they make it up for money and attention, but would that really be worth all the crap they give you? It’s much more common that people get away with abuse than that they’re falsely accused of it. It doesn’t feel like Trump really faced justice anyway; he just had to pay money. I want to see him taken down, just like Fox News should have been; but sometimes a civil suit is the best you can get. And this is all to defend the repulsive bully who gets away with everything else?

This also made me think of the weird inconsistency between Trump’s tough-guy attitude and his whiny victim act. Why is a tough attitude something people want, anyway? I read a New York Times headline today about how Erdogan’s attitude is popular in Turkey, and I don’t really get why. The whole MAGA crowd has a weird fixation on Mafia movies, even though those media pretty much always make the point that people who get rich, powerful, and popular through organized crime are always taking the risk of getting whacked at any time. Maybe that’s why Mike Pence seems so unconcerned that his followers came close to hanging him. That’s just the kind of risk you’re taking when you join a criminal organization. I guess it’s okay as long as you get the chance to spread homophobia and misogyny. I’m not saying a leader should be a wimp, but what does making threats accomplish?

A related thing I’ve thought of is the rise in vengeance politics as of late. I’m sure it’s nothing new, but it seems to come up all the time these days. Chris Christie created traffic problems on the George Washington Bridge because of a disagreement with this one mayor, Ron DeSantis thinks he has to punish Disney for calling out one of his bigoted laws, and Trump doesn’t seem to have been capable of doing anything that WASN’T to get back at someone.

It all seems incredibly petty, and not a viable way to govern. And for that matter, what about guns? Macho posturing isn’t the only reason people own firearms, but it’s what Republicans like to emphasize.

I’m always seeing gun-obsessed people talking about the Second Amendment as if they’re Constitutional scholars all of a sudden, and claiming that the government is coming for your guns.

I have to suspect there’s overlap between these people and the ones who think taxation is theft. No one is trying to take the stuff you already have, at least not unless it’s a really extreme case. It’s more about regulating stuff you might obtain in the future, and it’s a stretch to call that taking something. I also recall seeing something recently about how the Second Amendment kind of counteracts the First, in the sense that introducing a gun to a situation makes people less likely to speak their minds. Intimidation is rarely the best way to make a point.

I mentioned earlier about how I read an NYT headline. No, I didn’t read the article; they’re always putting those behind paywalls. And some of those headlines give pretty good reasons not to give them any money, like the thing about how Elizabeth Holmes, who defrauded a lot of people with fake medical equipment, loves her kids, or something irrelevant like that. Wasn’t her whole scam that she could accurately test tiny amounts of blood? Is that just a form of homeopathy? And people still talk about the article from December saying that Elon Musk isn’t really a conservative.

Technically, that one might be correct, in the sense that I don’t think he necessarily has conservative values, because that would necessitate having values at all. I don’t know the guy, but as with Trump, he gives the impression of being someone who grew up rich and has been able to get away with anything, and either never learned morals or just ignored them. And they both get off on being mean and promoting offensive conspiracy theories, sometimes even prioritizing that over making money. It really seems like Musk paid billions of dollars for Twitter just so he could use it to insult and mess with people, when I suspect there are plenty of ways to do that for free. I still don’t fully understand the whole thing with the blue check marks, where Musk spread some bizarre conspiracy theory about how they were status symbols, and then sold them to idiots.

It’s strange, because when I think of someone getting special treatment on Twitter due to celebrity status, the example who immediately comes to mind is Trump. Sure, he was banned eventually, but not until there was an outcry that threatened the bottom line. Musk and Trump fit in with the modern Republican Party because they’re racist, sexist, pro-authoritarian, and don’t want to pay taxes; but I don’t think they have any loyalty to anyone but themselves.

Posted in Advertising, Celebrities, Conspiracy Theories, Current Events, Fox News, Politics, Prejudice, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment