Fair Value

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire – The third book in the Wayward Children series follows up on the first. A girl named Rini arrives at Eleanor West’s home, looking for her mother Onishi Sumi, who had been murdered. As she was supposed to have defeated the Queen of Cakes, history is being rewritten in the confectionary world that Sumi visited. Christopher Flores, who had visited a world themed around Dio de Muertos, temporarily brings Sumi back to life so they can sort things out. There’s a lot of description of Confection, its history of successive baker-creators and how physics works there, whether someone could drown in soda and if it’s safe to eat the landscape. Edible worlds are obviously an old theme, and one I’ve come across a lot especially in stories for young children, and McGuire puts an interesting twist on it. I’ll admit that, while I found the supporting cast intriguing, I couldn’t always keep track of who was who. Hopefully later books in the series will help with this.

In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire – The fourth book in the series tells the story of Katherine Lundy, who finds a magical door to the Goblin Market. The place comes from the poem by Christina Rossetti, which was also referenced in McGuire’s Tricks for Free. Here, the market is a fanciful place where the people are obsessed with the concept of fair value. What’s interesting about it is that we hear of a lot of adventures Lundy had in the market world, but only second-hand. It’s more about her relationships with people in the market and her own world, and how her family deals with her going missing for long periods of time, complicated by how her father had also been there in his youth.

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, by Tehlor Kay Mejia – Another in the Rick Riordan Presents series, this one focuses on Latin American folklore. The titular character is a very scientific-minded character who’s embarrassed by her mother’s superstitious beliefs. When her friend disappears, she and her friend Dante go to investigate, and find out there’s some truth in the old legends after all. Both La Llorona and Chupacabras play significant roles, and there’s a shape-shifting shoe in the mix. I think the story meandered a bit, but I liked Paola as a protagonist, and the book touched on some serious issues. I found it interesting that one of La Llorona’s kids was named Ondina. I don’t know of any traditional names for these children, but the name has links to a water spirit in European folklore who, in some tales, married a mortal and later killed him through asphyxiation for being unfaithful to her. The name, invented by Paracelsus, derives from the Latin for “wave.”

The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present, by Ronald Hutton – This was a Christmas present, and I finally got around to reading it. That said, I have books I’ve owned for much longer and not read. It’s a scholarly work about belief in witchcraft in different societies, rather dry in style, but still interesting. It compares and contrasts fear of witches with other supernatural beliefs, like the evil eye, demons, elves, and fairies. And the changing role of religion is discussed, how some societies saw witches as worshippers of Satan, while others were less extreme. The belief that magic was opposed to religion was fairly common even before the Christian era, with Egypt being somewhat unusual in that service magic was tied in with worship of the gods, and it included compelling deities to do the magicians’ bidding. Of course, religion generally allows for good miracle workers, but this tends to be separated from magic and witchcraft, even though the results are pretty similar. Hutton mostly dismisses the idea that witchcraft derives from an ancient pagan religion.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Christianity, Conspiracy Theories, Economics, Fairy Tales, Families, Food, History, incryptid, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Poetry, Relationships, Religion, Rick Riordan, seanan mcguire, Wayward Children | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shake Out the Sillies

NewsRadio – This was a show Beth (my wife, not Vicki Lewis’ character) watched when it was current, and she quotes it a lot in her day-to-day life, so now I actually know what she’s referencing. There’s overlap with Kids in the Hall fandom, which makes sense as Dave Foley was in both. It’s absurd comedy, not fantastically absurd (the space and Titanic episodes notwithstanding, as they were clearly outside continuity), but still. I’m sure there are categories of absurdity, but I’m not going to look that up right now. It’s also sarcastic and witty, which I guess makes sense for a show from the nineties. A lot of the humor is based around bizarre dialogue, but there are other sorts of jokes as well. Beth has mentioned liking that it’s not sentimental; the characters generally don’t learn lessons, and there aren’t any Very Special Episodes. On the other hand, it’s not exceptionally mean, either. The characters usually get along and get things done, in a way that probably shouldn’t work but somehow does. I noticed that the characters’ main traits were established very early on, but there were still some changes and developments over time. Matthew was always the naive, clumsy guy, but it was more common early on to see him actually working. While we didn’t exactly watch the show straight through (there was some Brady Bunch and other stuff in between), it was in a short enough period that I noticed some seeming contradictions that I might not have normally. There’s an early episode where Jimmy James (Stephen Root) says Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) is good at sniffing out frauds, then in the third season Halloween episode Bill freaks out when a phone psychic predicts his death. Also in the first season, Matthew helps Catherine get back at Bill for revealing her age on the air by giving her a copy of Bill’s birth certificate, while he later hero-worships Bill and probably wouldn’t have done anything like that. Dave started out as kind of an everyman, but was quickly fleshed out as a geeky guy with strange hobbies and a passion for classic television. Then, in the final season, he was really mean. The cast remained mostly constant, but Khandi Alexander left in the fourth season, allegedly because she wasn’t getting many good lines, which I can’t really argue with, she was underutilized. And of course Phil Hartman was murdered during the summer of 1999, so his friend Jon Lovitz took over in the fifth and final season as Max Louis, Bill’s replacement as on-air talent. He’d actually played two similar characters previously, all brash and neurotic guys. Reusing guest stars for multiple parts was something they did a few other times as well. David Cross appeared as one of Jimmy’s nephews, then later as an old friend of Dave’s. And Toby Huss played a security guard early on and a compulsive impostor in the last season (well, unless he was impersonating a guard the first time). It was late in the show’s run that they started having story arcs with recurring characters, notably the mom from Gilmore Girls as an efficiency expert who fires Matthew and shakes up everyone else, and Patrick Warburton as Jimmy’s equally strange rival Johnny Johnson. The ending of the fourth season seemed to suggest that Jimmy’s nephew (not David Cross, a different nephew) would stay on as part of the cast, but that didn’t happen. It was a great comic ensemble cast, but I’ve heard less than flattering things about some of the actors outside the show. I know Jon Lovitz blames Andy Dick for Phil’s death, and Lovitz himself famously criticized President Obama for not being nice enough to rich guys. I’m not even sure what’s up with Joe Rogan, but from what I’ve read he’s liberal on some issues, but thinks conservatives are being silenced, or something like that. So he’s like if Bill Maher knew martial arts? I don’t know. And I really don’t have much idea what Maura Tierney and Vicki Lewis are doing these days. NewsRadio still holds up despite that, however.

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Egg Overload

I have a few video games I either want to start playing or get back into, but my game-playing time these days is taken up entirely by checking on my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island. It’s a pretty relaxing game, except for how the tools are always breaking at inopportune times. While it’s easy to make more, it’s still frustrating. Anyway, the game’s equivalent of Easter is Bunny Day, which I believe was the first event that took place after the game’s release, although I didn’t have it back then. There’s a week or so where eggs are hidden everywhere, and I understand that they were so common last year that it was too difficult to find anything else, so they toned it down a bit this time. It also looks like the egg-finding period was shortened from twelve days to eight. On the first day, Zipper T. Bunny shows up to begin the festivities.

As his name hints, he has a zipper on his back, yet he insists he’s not wearing a costume.

There’s nothing strange about an anthropomorphic rabbit in this world; there are two as regular residents on my island, Chrissy and Cole. The former is a peppy pink polka-dotted girl who aspires to be a pop star, and has an older sister named Francine, although I haven’t encountered her as of yet. Cole is a lazy sort who talks about bugs whispering recipes to him.

There are apparently contradictory references as to whether or not Zipper is wearing a suit, so it remains a mystery. He’s very active and enthusiastic when he notices someone, prone to reciting verses, but sometimes reveals himself to actually be tired and bored of his job. I guess he’s kind of a Krusty the Clown type in that respect. There are six kinds of eggs, each found in a different sort of material: earth, water, stone, wood, leaf, and air. If you collect one of each, you can trade them in to Zipper for a recipe. And if you craft all of the Bunny items, recipes for which can be found during the same period as the eggs, plus one extra item, that gets you another recipe. I found the air eggs, which sometimes floated by on balloons, to be the hardest to procure. When Zipper shows up on Bunny Day, though, you can trade egg types that you have in excess for others. So I was able to do all the crafting, even though I spent a good portion of the day driving.

Last month, there were a bunch of Mario-related items you could order, and I bought most of them (with in-game currency, not real money). In addition to things like blocks and power-ups, there were clothing sets for Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Peach. I’m not sure why Toad and Bowser weren’t represented, but maybe they are elsewhere. In addition to the two rabbits and the others I’ve already mentioned, the other standard residents are a food-loving strawberry-horned rhinoceros named Merengue and a smug German-speaking yeti called Hans. I know I can recruit a few more, but so far I’ve been concentrating on other things. More recently, there have been cherry blossoms all over the place, perhaps reflecting the early blooming this year in Japan.

What’s strange is that a bunch of trees that normally don’t bear fruit suddenly become cherry trees for this purpose.

Posted in Animal Crossing, Animals, Current Events, Easter, Food, Holidays, Mario, Monsters, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baskets Full of Easter Joy

Now that Easter is over, I suppose I should write about the relevant cartoons Beth and I watched this year.

A Claymation Easter – This was on the same DVD as A Claymation Christmas, and I thought it would be in a similar style, but it’s really something totally different with the same style of animation. Wilshire, a mad scientist pig, hears on the radio that the Easter Bunny turned down a five million dollar endorsement deal. In order to pay his insanely high electricity bill, he decides he should become the new Easter Bunny and sell out, to which end he traps the current one in a super-powerful vacuum cleaner. He turns to Dr. Spike Rabbit for lessons in acting like a bunny, claiming that he’s a rabbit trapped in a pig’s body, and he wants to come out of the carrot patch. Since this plays on LGBT terminology, it’s strangely relevant to the recent conservative insistence that trans women shouldn’t be allowed to play sports. Wilshire is co-opting LGBT terminology to gain an advantage in a contest, in this case the race to become the new Easter Bunny. I doubt anyone really thought about it that much, though.

Anyway, Spike finds out about the kidnapping, so Wilshire feeds both rabbits to his shark. While the pig cheats his way through the race, with plenty of booing but no disqualification, Spike sings a song to upset the shark’s insides, allowing him and the Easter Bunny to escape. A good gag here is that a few small sea creatures the shark had already swallowed, including a fish who’s just bones, briefly join in singing. The real Easter Bunny reclaims his throne, and Wilshire is hit by a truck. Considering the physics of this program, I suspect he survives, but it’s the last we see of him. The special is pretty bizarre and entertaining.

The First Easter Rabbit – While Rankin/Bass is largely known for their animated Christmas specials, they did three Easter ones as well. This one, narrated by Burl Ives as a rabbit rather than a snowman, uses traditional animation instead of stop-motion, which I think makes for a less appealing product. Oh, well. The back story here is based on The Velveteen Rabbit, with a kid (here a girl, oddly named Glinda, instead of a boy) coming down with scarlet fever and her mother burning her possessions, only for her stuffed rabbit to be magically transformed into a real one.

The transformation is done by a fairy named Calliope, who looks kind of like Rainbow Brite.

The bunny is tasked by Santa Claus with finding a valley near the North Pole that a magical golden Easter lily keeps in eternal spring, which is to be his new home as, well, the first Easter Rabbit. He’s accompanied by a group of three other bunnies who are low-level thieves, but are pretty easily convinced to turn to the good. The villain is an ice wizard named Zero, who keeps the polar region covered in ice and snow. He looks similar to the Winter Warlock from Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and really, how many winter makers does Rankin/Bass need?

Anyway, Zero wants to freeze over Easter Valley as well. He manages to sneak in with his pet snowball Bruce, but Santa threatens to leave the Arctic if Zero doesn’t leave the valley alone, in a scene reminiscent of his shaming Professor Hinkle in Frosty the Snowman. Apparently Santa’s secret weapon is guilt. The special is once again narrated by Burl Ives, this time as an older version of the titular character, who sings the Irving Berlin song “Easter Parade.” Paul Frees again does a lot of the other voice work, along with Stan Freberg and Daws Butler. Glinda’s voice is presumably done by a kid, and she doesn’t put much emotion into her lines.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail – This one is stop-motion, and is narrated by Danny Kaye, playing a magical inventor and peddler named Seymour S. Sassafras, sort of a less sinister Willy Wonka. After the commercial breaks, he repeats the last line that was spoken, which is pretty redundant when you’re watching it without commercials. Anyway, Colonel Bunny (also voiced by Kaye) is retiring, and wants to appoint Peter Cottontail, who’s creative and enthusiastic but also lies a lot and isn’t entirely reliable, to be his successor. Peter is voiced by Casey Kasem. The villain of the piece, January Q. Irontail, voiced by none other than Vincent Price, is a rabbit who lost his tail when a kid roller skated over it, and had it replaced with, well, an iron one. He wants to be Head Easter Bunny so he can spread chaos and meanness, and points out to the Colonel that, according to the rules, whoever delivers the most eggs gets to be the ruler of April Valley. Is this the same place as Easter Valley? it’s not addressed. Peter throws a big party the night before Easter and sleeps through the whole day, Irontail’s tampering with his rooster alarm clock not helping matters. And since Irontail is so mean, he’s only able to give away one egg, but he still wins by default. I guess none of the other bunnies want to be in charge, as the rules make it sound like anyone can participate, and there have to be better options than a well-meaning screw-up and a guy who wants to watch the world burn. Anyway, Peter leaves the valley in disgrace, and Irontail comes up with a bunch of nasty ideas. Chocolates in the shape of spiders and octopuses do sound pretty cool, though. Peter meets up with the narrator, who just happens to have a time machine, and offers to give the rabbit a do-over.

It doesn’t quite work out, though, as Irontail’s henchbat tampers with the controls, and instead Peter and the French caterpillar pilot Antoine are sent to one holiday after another: Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s. I guess the writers didn’t think this would ever be shown outside the United States. Reasoning that the eggs don’t have to be delivered on Easter, Peter and Antoine keep repainting the eggs to rebrand them for different days, but lack of interest, Irontail’s attempts at sabotage, and Peter’s repeated failure to keep his guard up get in the way. He eventually does shape up and unload the eggs, but I’m still not sure he has the right qualities for a leader.

The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town – This is largely a reworking of Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, right down to being narrated by Fred Astaire’s mailman character, who explains the origins of various Easter traditions. Needless to say, it’s not consistent with The First Easter Rabbit. You only did three of these, Rankin/Bass! How hard would a little continuity have been? This is probably the best of the three, though. And oddly enough, despite all the connections to the earlier Christmas special, this is the only one of three where Santa doesn’t show up to help his fellow holiday host. The story starts out in a place called Kidville, inhabited entirely by orphan children. The kids find an abandoned baby bunny and raise him, giving him the name Sunny. When Sunny grows up, he decides to take some of the eggs laid by a trio of singing chickens to the neighboring Town, only to find the way is blocked by a bear named Gadzooks, who’s kind of like the Abominable Snow Monster from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I have to say I really like his design. He ruins all the holidays, but he’s eventually won over when Sunny and the kids give him a new outfit.

The bunny also befriends a hobo, Hallelujah Jones, who becomes the only adult to live in Kidville, and nobody seems to think that’s a little creepy. Our equivalent of the Burgermeister Meisterburger is Dowager Duchess Lily Longtooth, the aunt of the boy king, who bosses him around and makes all the laws herself, including making everyone in Town eat nothing but beans. Since this was a kids’ program from the seventies, this didn’t lead to any flatulence jokes. Like Kris Kringle in the earlier special, Sunny has to find ways to sneak into town and win over the people, inadvertently leading to some traditions. Hallelujah gathers some workers to build a railroad between Kidville and Town, and they recruit a rusty locomotive named Chugs, who sings a blues song with the chickens on backup. They fix him up, but all of his other lines are short repeated phrases. I get that they’re going for a Little Engine That Could thing, but it’s kind of annoying. When the Duchess’ attempts to thwart Sunny and company all fail, the Bunny wins her approval by naming a flower after her, leading her to hint at unspecified trauma in her youth. And apparently everything people now do on Easter started in this one obscure town.

Peter and the Magic Egg – This one is sort of a long commercial for Paas egg dye, but there is an actual story to it. It takes place in Pennsylvania Dutch country, even though the dye was invented in Newark, New Jersey. Ray Bolger narrates in the character of a talking egg with an Amish-style beard. It starts with a poor farm couple in debt to a cyborg. Originally Tobias Toot, he became rich through automation, bought up the bank and the nearby town, and had his body replaced with metal, becoming Tobias Tinwhiskers.

I don’t think the characters are actually Amish, but they’re kind of adjacent to it, so I guess the anti-machinery stance goes along with that. The couple finds an abandoned baby who turns out to be the magical Peter Paas, a boy who grows up quickly and gives clothes to the farm animals that give them human characteristics.

The four main ones are a rabbit, a duck, a turtle, and a lamb, who were the Paas mascots for a while. Apparently now only the former two are on the packages.

Paas also has some miraculous connections, and manages to get the farm a contract to supply the Easter Bunny (who’s only ever seen in shadow) with eggs. Tinwhiskers tricks Peter into falling into a hole and seriously injuring himself, but the animals receive an egg from Mother Nature that hatches into a sort of comedian duck, called a Kookibird, who makes everyone laugh, curing Peter and turning Tobias back to flesh. This duck isn’t particularly funny, but I guess you have to round up in Amish country. It’s interesting that the farmers never actually ask for magical help; they seem to receive it just because they’re good people and hard workers who need it. I guess a lot of fairy tales work that way, though.

The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Surprise – I remember seeing this one as a kid, but it didn’t stick with me that much. Beth pointed out that it’s kind of wacky compared to the books (as was the Thanksgiving special), but I think some of the earliest Berenstain Bears books had more silly slapstick, often with Papa’s overenthusiastic clumsiness being to blame. They developed over time into being more about problems child readers were likely to face. While there are explicitly Christian books featuring the Bears these days (from what I’ve heard, those are the work of Stan and Jan’s son Mike, who took over writing and illustrating the series), this special was kind of pagan. The Easter Bunny has to do his thing in order for winter to change into spring, and he’s tired of it.

The Bunny’s son is a friend of Brother’s, so they go to convince him to change his mind, but what actually does so is a rainbow. Kind of anticlimactic, really. As for the titular surprise, Sister is born on Easter, and I don’t know offhand whether that’s consistent with the books. They still call the young bear Brother throughout, even when he isn’t one, although the pre-Sister books called him Small Bear. I also couldn’t say whether Papa’s middle initial being Q is mentioned anywhere else.

Posted in Animals, Cartoons, Christmas, Easter, Fairy Tales, Food, Holidays, Humor, Magic, Music, Stan Freberg, Technology, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Picture by Susan Seddon Boulet
One of the mythical Navajo beings who plays a part in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun is Spider Woman, and there is a mention of Peter Parker in this context. Spider-Woman in Marvel Comics is Jessica Drew, but there isn’t any particular connection that I can see.
This Spider Woman is an important figure in Southwestern Native American mythology, and is often seen as a creator goddess and benefactor of humanity. It’s a little weird to think of a spider in this context, as a lot of people find them creepy, but they do make ornate webs and catch harmful insects.

Picture by Jo Jayson
The Hopi of Arizona have KokyAngwuti, or Spider Grandmother, ruler of the underworld, who teamed up with Tawa, the Sun, to create the world through thought and a thread of webbing.

Sculpture by Lauren Raine
They make humans out of clay and bring them to life by singing. Spider Grandmother then teaches them various skills and proper gender roles. She’s also said to have started the Snake Clan in particular. A boy named Tiyo from what is now southern Utah sought out the end of the Colorado River, meeting the woman in an island cave along the way. She gave him a rainbow bridge on which to travel and a serum to subdue monsters on his journey. Where the river reaches the sea is an island inhabited by the Snake People, who can take the form of snakes. He participates in a ritual where he shows himself to be unafraid of the snakes, and then marries into the clan.

The Hopi and Navajo, like the Aztec, both have myths that tell of a succession of worlds being destroyed or abandoned in turn. In the Hopi, Spider Woman helps people progress from one to the other. In the Navajo, her role isn’t as significant, but she and her counterpart Spider Man teach weaving to people while they’re in the third world. It was in the current world, the first one, that the first man and woman had a daughter, or rather turned a piece of turquoise into a daughter, Changing Woman. She in turn gave birth to twins, with the Sun as the father, and they grew up to be monster-slaying heroes. Spider Woman gave them advice on how to reach the Sun, and provided them with hoops made from eagle feathers that would enable them to progress along the rainbow trail and drive off dangers, in similar fashion to how she helped Tiyo. She does have a sinister side, however, as she’s said to capture, boil, and eat disobedient children. Their bones then melt, causing the white bands at the top of her home, Spider Rock in Canyon De Chelly.

It’s been proposed that these spider deities were derived from an earlier goddess worshipped in ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico, who is depicted on murals surrounded by or covered in spiders, often on vegetation growing out of her head.

As far as I can tell, though, there isn’t really any indication as to how this goddess was portrayed outside the murals, if she even is a goddess.

Posted in Animals, Aztec, Comics, hopi, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Navajo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Glindaness Is Next to Godliness

I appreciate that The Baum Bugle has recently been putting out some issues that largely focus on a particular book. I don’t know if there are plans for this to continue, but I’ve found some information there that I hadn’t seen in all my years of Oz fandom. The Winter 2020 issue discusses Glinda of Oz, including likely origins for canned brains and the title “Supreme Dictator.” Robert B. Luehrs compares Glinda to the Egyptian goddess Isis (no relation to the terrorist group, I hope), whom L. Frank Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda Joslyn Gage had written about. She’s a maternal goddess with great magical power, and was seen as the protector of the Pharaoh.

She is also known to be quite wise and cunning. This fits with Glinda, who is perhaps the most powerful magic-worker in Oz, motherly despite having no actual children that we know of, and the protector and advisor of the Ruler of Oz.

As Luehrs mentions, Isis was also associated with weaving, and Glinda’s handmaidens spend much of their time in embroidery and such. In Egyptian mythology, though, it’s really the hunting goddess Neith who is more closely associated with such things.

Luehrs also proposes that the mention that Dorothy could potentially be cut into pieces is possibly a reference to Isis putting together the parts of her husband (and brother) Osiris.

It’s a clever connection, but someone being cut to pieces was a go-to for Baum as far as a fate that could still befall people and animals who can’t die. Both Private Files and Kaliko discuss it in Tik-Tok, and Ruggedo mentions it as a possibility in Magic. I’ve mentioned before that the first draft of Margaret Berg’s Reading Tree explicitly links Glinda to Egypt. And the tall crown John R. Neill often gives Glinda is sort of reminiscent of what Isis wears in some depictions.

She also sometimes wears a vulture headdress, which could be linked with Glinda keeping birds.

On the other hand, I’ve never seen Isis with a snood, which I don’t think was a thing in ancient Egypt. It’s a sort of net for keeping hair back that dates back to the Middle Ages, and became fashionable instead of just practical in the Victorian era. Maybe in addition to the style, it’s to keep her hair out of the way when performing magic.

Glinda has several women who have great magical power. The only two male magic-workers are the Wizard of Oz, who’s Glinda’s apprentice; and the Su-Dic, who’s largely dependent on his wife. One interesting note about the original manuscript is that Glinda consulted a spirit cabinet, which was part of the Spiritualist movement introduced by the brothers Ira and William Davenport in the 1850s. The Davenports had a traveling show where they’d be tied up inside, then the doors would close and strange phenomena would occur, mostly rapping and instruments playing.

Other magicians utilized variations on this prop. Since no one could see what was happening inside the cabinet during this, it was much along the lines of the Wizard behind his screen. Of course, there’s no reason there couldn’t be one in Oz that’s actually magical, and that can answer questions. I assume the Spirit Cabinet was in the part of Chapter 13 in which Glinda goes into her magic room. The published text is confusing, because her question is answered, but there’s no explanation as to how. Then we’re told that “the Record refused to say more,” suggesting that the Great Book of Records might be involved, but the Book isn’t in the laboratory earlier in the story. There’s another connection to Spiritualism shown by Michael Patrick Hearn, with Neill’s illustration of the Wizard on a ledge based on a drawing of a man levitating that the artist used for a review of a book on Spiritualism.

Posted in African, Animals, Art, Characters, Egyptian, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Religion, Spiritualism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

There’s Only Three Real Monsters

Son of Kong – Released only nine months after the original King Kong, this does a bit to explain the aftermath of the first movie, in which Carl Denham brings a giant ape out of his natural habitat to New York and seemingly suffers no consequences for it. As this one starts, he’s being sued for damages and faces the possibility of being indicted, so he flees the country with the captain of the ship that brought back Kong, intending to do some overseas shipping. In a Dutch port at Dakang, China, Denham meets and develops feelings for Hilda Petersen, a woman who performs with trained monkeys in her father’s show. It just so happens that Nils Helstrom, the man who originally sold Denham the map to Skull Island, is there as well, and he kills the father while drunk. In order to escape justice, he tells Denham and the Captain that there’s a treasure on the island, and then launches a mutiny of the sailors. He ends up getting thrown off himself when he tries to boss the crew around, and the principle characters end up once again on Skull Island where they encounter a non-quite-as-giant ape whom Denham thinks must be King Kong’s son. Whether or not that’s true, I wonder who the mother is. Repenting of his earlier deeds, he befriends the young Kong, who saves his life when the whole island sinks. Helstrom is killed by a sea serpent, and the others plan to take care of their money problems with a jewel they found on the island. I appreciate that there’s a redemption arc of sorts for Denham, and there’s also a larger role for Charlie, the ship’s cook. For some reason, even though he’s called by name throughout the movie, the opening credits just call him “The Chinese Cook,” or something of the sort.

Tabloid – This 2010 documentary directed by Errol Morris is about and largely narrated by Joyce McKinney, a former beauty contestant winner who, according to her testimony, fell in love with a young Mormon man who left for a missionary trip to England without telling her. She hired a detective to find him, and allegedly kidnapped him, tied him to a bed, and raped him. McKinney then fled back to the United States and never faced charges. She maintains that he was okay with it, but refused to admit it because of the repression promoted by the Church. For some reason, she became very popular with the British tabloid press, who apparently thought a rape accusation would be fun to read about. It’s known as the Manacled Mormon case. Even McKinney herself said she didn’t think a woman could rape a man, which is obviously untrue. The tabloids investigated McKinney as much as they could, spreading the idea that that she was a sex worker, as if that’s somehow an inherently bad thing or proof that she’s a rapist. I didn’t get the impression she was psychopathic, just calculating, but I’m not familiar enough with the case to hazard a guess on whether she’s actually guilty. Towards the end of the film, McKinney talked about how she had her dog cloned.

Interview with the Vampire – I’m really not at all knowledgeable about Anne Rice, but I’m aware that she tried to make vampires (well, some of them, anyway) sympathetic and romantic characters. In the movie, Christian Slater interviews Louis, a Creole man from Louisiana played by Brad Pitt. He’s turned into a vampire by Tom Cruise’s Lestat, and the two of them live together for quite a while. I’ve heard that readers have found gay themes in Rice’s work, and she didn’t really intend them, but so much of this is about an intimate relationship between two men. Not a GOOD relationship, of course, as Lestat is abusive and psychotic, but it’s still there. The only really significant female character is Claudia, played by a young Kirsten Dunst. Her mother dies of the plague and Lestat turns her into a vampire, intending that Louis take on a paternal role toward her. Being a kid, she’s unable to fend for herself, and disturbed that she’ll never grow up. After escaping from Lestat, Louis meets another man who’s interested in him, Antonio Banderas’ Armand, but he also turns out to be a creep who desires power even if he’s less obvious about it than Lestat. One thing Rice didn’t change about vampires is that they’re rich people who tend to prey on the poor, although Louis only does so unwillingly. It’s a very opulent-looking movie. I’m not entirely sure how near-immortal blood-sucking monsters came to be about class and forbidden attraction, but it tends to show up in the popular works I’m aware of. I thought it was pretty good, if not for the squeamish.

Posted in Animals, Christianity, Economics, Monsters, Mormonism, Relationships, Religion, Sexuality, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Navajo Know

The Chronicles of Banarnia, by Robert Rankin – The follow-up to The Lord of the Ring Roads continues the tale of fairies who had been driven underground by humans taking over Brentford. In this book, Jim Pooley and John Omally journey underground with Professor Slocombe and the monster-killing Goodwill Giant Julian Adams. After a visit to Soap Distant’s subterranean bar, they come to the fairy city of Banarnia, where they’re all kept distracted by the inhabitants. Meanwhile, above ground, the shopkeeper Norman, the barman Neville, and the seemingly deceased Old Pete plan to counter the fairy attack on their borough. P.P. Penrose, an author mentioned in numerous other Rankin books, actually appears here, and is confusingly said to have written his own versions of the Brentford novels, only with the names changed in silly and often insulting ways. There are also flying monkeys and an enormous squid. I did hope there might be a little more done with the title, which is addressed and acknowledged as a bad pun, but nothing really comes of it. I also have to say I’ve gotten kind of tired of jokes about straight guys being offended when someone suggests they’re gay. I liked the use of some traditional British fairy lore, and Norman’s inventions are also amusing. Here, he creates an implosive by holding the formula for dynamite up to a mirror.

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse – Another Rick Riordan Presents (boy, a lot of R names are showing up in this entry) book, this time a standalone instead of part of a series, it deals with Navajo mythology. Nizhoni Begay discovers that she can detect monsters, but the first one she does turns out to be her dad’s new boss, and he doesn’t believe her. The monster reveals his plan to kill Nizhoni and force her brother Mac into his service. He also has special powers, as the two of them are descendants of Changing Woman, mother of the original Hero Twins. I don’t know whether they have any connection to the Maya Hero Twins, who were total jerks in J.C. Cervantes’ The Storm Runner, but heroic twins are pretty standard in world mythology. Nizhoni and Mac join up with her best friend Davery, and they learn from a horned lizard masquerading as a stuffed toy that they’ll have to pass several trials and receive weapons from the Sun before they’ll have any chance at defeating the monsters. Along the way, they meet several other Dine Holy People. I can’t say I knew much of anything about Navajo mythology, or Navajo culture at all, so this was interesting in that respect as well as a good story.

A Disagreement with Death, by Craig Shaw Gardner – The last book of the Ebenezum and Wuntvor series has the apprentice compete with Death for his master’s life. The specter is intent on the idea that Wuntvor is the Eternal Apprentice, who is always reincarnated, so Death can never take him. Throughout the series, he’s been showing up to try, being thwarted by Wuntvor’s ever-increasing group of companions every time; but taking the master wizard is a new tactic. The apprentice sets out for Heaven to request help from the lesser god Plaugg. Along the way, they stop by the dragon Hubert’s old home, where his success in the theater has led to his relatives trying to be comedians, although it hasn’t stopped their desire to eat humans. In Death’s own territory, they first have to beat his champion at bowling, then fight off his forces. The ending wraps up most of the loose ends in the series pretty quickly. As with many of the other books in the series, it seems a bit padded, but it was a fun dragon ride.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Brentford Trilogy, Humor, Magic, Mayan, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Navajo, Prejudice, Rick Riordan, Robert Rankin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nobody Ever Suspects the Butterfly

Picture by Carsten Witte
In this post about a Chinese drama, there’s a mention of butterfly demons, and some possibilities as to how this links to mythology. Butterflies are apparently considered manifestations of the soul in Greek, Chinese, and Japanese culture. The ancient Greek word for a butterfly, psyche, also meant the soul, and was the name of Cupid‘s wife.

They are sometimes seen as bad omens, though. The post mentions the Shinchu, a kind of Japanese yokai that resembles an enormous silkworm moth with horrific features. I guess moths are often thought of as butterflies gone bad, what with their clothes eating and hanging around lamps. But then, the Purple Emperor Butterfly eats decaying animal flesh.

I’m kind of lumping all lepidopterans together in this post, though. But anyway, the Shinchu is a kind of holy insect with saucer eyes, sharp teeth, and eight legs. While violent and ravenous, they don’t harm humans, instead eating demons and evil spirits, some devouring as many as 6000 per day.

It’s a surprise there are any of them left at this point, but I guess demons reproduce like rabbits. Or insects, for that matter.

I also came across the Okiku Mushi, which looks like a caterpillar with the top half of a woman.

Okiku was a servant girl at a wealthy household, and the samurai Aoyama was in love with her, but she didn’t return his advances. The samurai hid a plate and blamed it on Okiku, telling her that he’d make sure she didn’t get the blame if she became his mistress. She refused, and he tortured her, tied her up, and threw her body in a well. Her ghost constantly counts the dishes, then screams, making anyone who hears it sick. In one version of the story, a priest eventually put her spirit to rest, but that’s not always agreed upon. Anyway, she was supposed to have created the Chinese windmill butterfly, the chrysalis of which is said to look like a tied-up woman’s body.

Itzpapalotl, said to literally mean “obsidian butterfly” or “clawed butterfly,” is an Aztec warrior goddess who takes the shape of a butterfly, and who rules over the heaven for dead infants and women who die in childbirth.

She’s also associated with bats and eagles. And for more modern folklore, there were the sightings of the Mothman, described as a flying man with ten-foot wings and glowing red eyes, in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 1960s.

The Dragon Quest games have Batterflies, Betterflies, and Dread Admirals, human-eating butterflies that use the Dazzle spell to create illusions, leading to the obnoxious status effect where physical attacks frequently miss.

I suspect the illusions and the dog-like faces reference how some moths mimic features of other animals to scare off predators.

And some of the Zelda games have Mothula, a giant moth capable of producing smaller versions of itself. Well, at least it sometimes is; its attacks apparently vary quite a bit depending on the particular game.

The name was probably inspired by Mothra from the Godzilla films, but there’s also a bit of Dracula in there.

And there is an actual animal called a vampire moth, which sucks blood from vertebrates.

Posted in Animals, Aztec, Chinese, Dragon Quest, Greek Mythology, Japanese, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Roman, Urban Legends, Video Games, Zelda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ostriches and Old Ones and Vampires, Oh My!

I’ve read a few new-to-me Oz books recently, and I’d like to share my thoughts on them. There are potential SPOILERS for all of them.

The Rubber Ostriches of Oz, by Marin Xiques and Chris Dulabone – Greg Hunter’s “Unc Nunkie and the White King of Oz” promised a follow-up addressing the plight of the rubber ostriches living in the Deadly Desert, and now it’s finally here. Co-author Chris actually died not too long ago, which makes the experience of reading this kind of sad by association, although the book itself is pretty cheerful. It also involves the robots from R.K. Lionel’s Braided Man. While Oscar Higher tries to seek help from Gayelette and thwart an energy-draining machine, the Shah of Lopperwomp and his attendant Brother Portcasa are sailing toward Oz for a visit. They come across the locations from John Dough and the Cherub, and accidentally set in motion the events of And Justice for Oz.The ending is the sort of thing that’s common for Chris’s books, where everybody (well, okay, not EVERYBODY) turns out to be enchanted and to have connections to each other. Not that that’s necessarily bad, just that it seems a bit rushed, and means that the new characters aren’t even quite the ones we’d been following throughout the story. I’m also curious about how the Shah mentions that Lopperwomp has only three inhabitants, and two of them turn out to be enchanted. I wonder what the story is for the other one, the Old Stag. Sam Milazzo did the illustrations for the book, giving his interpretations of many John Dough characters as well as others.

Dorothy of Oz Prequel, by Denton J. Tipton and Blair Shedd – This was released to promote the CGI film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, which obviously hadn’t yet had its title finalized at the time. Reading it after seeing the movie (years after, in fact) makes it clear that there really isn’t anything particularly significant there that isn’t addressed in the film itself. It tells how the Jester came to power, and how the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion built the Rainbow Mover that they used to bring Dorothy back to Oz. Why they necessarily need Dorothy isn’t explained. Wiser, Marshall Mallow, and the China Princess all make appearances. There are also a few elements that weren’t in the film, like the cursed Gamekeeper incident from Roger Baum’s book and an encounter with the Fighting Trees. Candy County (Candy Country in the book) is said to be located in the Valley of Bonbons, which is the name of one of the valleys in Merryland. Additional appeal comes in covers drawn by Eric Shanower. Like the movie itself, it’s slight, but pretty fun.

Cthulhu Invades Oz, by Travis Gibb, et al. – This graphic novel by multiple artists is a crossover between the worlds of L. Frank Baum and H.P. Lovecraft. The former is obviously one of my favorites, but I’ll admit I could never really get into Lovecraft. And it’s not even because of the racism, but that I find his style hard to read. He had some interesting creations, though, and the idea of mixing two such disparate properties is bound to be fascinating. It’s not even the first time it’s been done, as Phyllis Ann Karr wrote a story called “The Eldritch Horror of Oz,” although that was more of a parody in many ways. In this new work, the Great Old One learns about Oz from Dorothy and invades it with his minions. The inhabitants make a valiant stand against the invaders, but ultimately fail, although the experience does change Cthulhu. While there are some clear MGM references, including a story featuring the Lollipop Guild, the creators definitely show some familiarity with books beyond the first. There are appearances by Fuddles, Flutterbudgets, Rigmaroles, the Frogman, the Shaggy Man, and Ozga. There are some new recurring characters in a swarm of bees who rebuild broken things.

Vampires and Oz, by Nikki Kay Richardson – This is also the name of the narrator and protagonist of the story, so I suspect it’s not the author’s real name, but I don’t know who actually wrote it. It’s an interesting take on vampire mythology, featuring a vampire born into a normal human family who desires to be good and helpful. She attends historical events, runs afoul of self-righteous killers, and offers opinions on how the media portray her kind. It’s interesting that, in this take, vampires can change into a greater variety of forms than just bats and sometimes wolves. Partway through, the book changes focus to Vookey Volcano, a lemonade-drinking vampire from Egor’s Funhouse, which shows up from time to time in Chris Dulabone’s Oz books. He’s explained to have been switched with Nikki at birth, so he was raised by vampire parents who are upset that he lacks the usual powers. There’s plenty of bigotry, often of the violent sort, in both the human and undead communities. It’s a weird mix in that it combines serious issues with corny humor, but I think it works pretty well. What’s disappointing is how minor the Oz content is. While Oz is mentioned from time to time, nobody actually visits it until close to the end. There is, however, a guest appearance by two other Dulabone characters, Lunarr Bernstein and his girlfriend Maureen.

Posted in Animals, Characters, Chris Dulabone, Comics, Eric Shanower, History, Humor, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Marin Elizabeth Xiques, Monsters, Oz, Oz Authors, Phyllis Ann Karr, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments