The Male Must Get Through

I’ve noticed an obsession the far right seems to have with masculinity. Someone on Twitter linked to this article, which is four years old at this point, but seems pretty accurate. It’s based on a non-scientific study, but it supports what generally seems to be the case, that people who are preoccupied with a rigid idea of masculinity also tend to be the most insecure about it, and that someone like Donald Trump who projects phony machismo (to be fair, there might not be any other kind) would appeal to them. More recently, Josh Hawley has announced that he’s writing a book called Manhood: The Masculine Values America Needs. I don’t know whether running away when you’re caught in an insurrection is one of these values. He also somehow thinks pornography and video games are making men soft, when of course toxic masculinity is very active in the gaming community. But even if you put aside the hypocrisy, what’s so great about traditional masculine gender roles? Even if nothing else, they seem exhausting. I guess I’m biased in this respect, as a cishet man who was picked on for not being sufficiently masculine. There’s a lot of gatekeeping involved in such things. I think back to how other boys took the sports we played in gym class way too seriously, causing them to lash out at people like me who weren’t very good. Never mind that this probably helped to turn me off sports in general, and made me feel like there was no point in even trying. It’s too bad the title I used for the post I linked to references a guy who turned out to abuse women, but I didn’t know that at the time. I’ve wondered before why some women don’t like men identifying as feminist, and I still don’t know for sure, but I suspect some of it might have to do with men who use it as a way to get out of responsibility. I don’t know much about Joss Whedon, but that seems to have been a similar case, someone who proudly espoused feminism and probably did support it on paper, but was terrible toward women. But anyway, I’ve come to really appreciate the term “toxic masculinity,” which I know some dismiss as politically correct nonsense, because it acknowledges that not ALL masculine traits are bad; it’s more in how they’re expressed.

The masculinity obsession ties in homophobia and transphobia as well. We’ve pretty much determined that gender is a social construct, but when much of your identity is based on it, I guess that’s a scary concept. I’ve kind of had the idea that identifying as a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, while certainly not a problem, might be putting too much emphasis on gender. But from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t usually work that way. I’m probably never going to totally understand being trans, but I HAVE been in plenty of situations where I felt like I couldn’t be myself, and from that perspective I totally get it. People who come out as gay or trans often seem much happier, like stuff that never made sense to them before now does. I guess there isn’t really a comparable experience for cishet people, although being diagnosed as autistic has SOME similarity. While not a new thing, the insistence that kids are being “groomed” into being LGBTQ seems quite prevalent nowadays. We come back once more to hypocrisy, as a fair number of these people seem to have no problem with indoctrinating kids into far-right, racist, sexist viewpoints. And saying you don’t think your kids will understand is both insulting and likely a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the parents who apparently think a man wearing women’s clothing to read to kids is such a confusing concept.

I’ve also seen some stuff about how this ties into white supremacy, as they think a breakdown in gender roles means fewer white babies being born. It sounds far-fetched to me, but so do many such ideas that are disturbingly common. When examined outside of context, does “only full-blooded Germans are decent people, and everyone else should be marginalized or killed” sound like something that would attract enough people to lead to millions of deaths? Has it occurred to these people who think the survival of the white race is of the utmost importance that forcing others to give birth probably isn’t going to get the parents or their kids on your side? But I guess that doesn’t matter if you think intelligence is a racial trait, or whatever. Of course, it’s not like white people are the only ones obsessed with gender roles. I just came across an article about how much Hawley’s ideas are in line with the Chinese Communist Party. And there are people who think men having sex with other men isn’t effeminate but hyper-masculine, perhaps as in the ancient Greek model. I suppose neither of these is that relevant to my main point, but when has that stopped me before?

Posted in Conspiracy Theories, Games, Gender, Philosophy, Politics, Prejudice, Sexuality, Sports, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Enchanted Garden of Sedj

The 1994 Oziana has two stories that were written for the Oz Story Circle, run by Fred Meyer. I was a member back then, but it would take twenty more years for something I wrote around that time to appear in the journal. The cover artist, Allison McBain, was also part of the Circle. I have her book Cory in Oz, but I remember her contributing the beginning of a tale about Pigasus and an apprentice cook in the palace, and I don’t know if that ended up going anywhere. A lot of intended books that circulated in that group apparently didn’t.

“Billy Bumble of Oz,” by Jane Albright – Bill Eubank, who did a lot of illustration work for Oziana and other International Wizard of Oz Club publications, died in 1993. He was also a puppeteer and a clown called Billy Bumble. This story is dedicated to him, and is sort of a fictionalized version of his childhood. In this tale, a boy named Billy Harris is friends with an old woman named Mary Jane, who has a garden modeled on Oz. When Billy needs to perform in a talent show at his school, Mary Jane suggests a puppet show using Oz characters. She remembers an untold story about a silent garden with a dragon, and it’s later revealed that this was an adventure she actually experienced in her childhood. There isn’t that much detail on the garden story, but we know that the birds didn’t sing and the flowers gave no scent, and Mary Jane accompanied the Scarecrow, the Patchwork Girl, the Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, and a clown named Bumble in an encounter with the dragon Cyrus the Silent. When Billy performs his show, the puppets come to life through the power of an enchanted Ozmite pin that Mary Jane had. The woman and her garden are brought to Oz, and the puppet Bumble stays to teach Billy clowning. Eric Shanower did the illustrations for this one, including an amusing take on the dragon puppet.

When Billy and Mary Jane are trying to choose an Oz story involving a clown, they briefly consider Cowardly Lion, not a favorite of too many Oz fans. I guess if Bumble lived in Oz, he would presumably have known Notta Bit More. Phil Lewin’s Witch Queen also has Clakku, a clown the Wizard of Oz knew from his time in the circus, coming to live in Oz. I wonder if any of them ever visited the Valley of Clowns in Merryland. Marcus Mebes would later reference this story and the character of Bumble in his tribute to another departed Oz fan, Chris Dulabone.

“Nine Tiny Piglets,” by Kimberly Doyle – This short tale ties together the two different origin stories for the Piglets mentioned in the original books. Dorothy and the Wizard has the Wizard say they’re from the Island of Teenty-Weent, while in Tin Woodman their parents are living in Oz and say they entrusted the Piglets’ education to the Wizard. Here, it’s explained that the Piglets and their parents used to live on Teenty-Weent, but a sailor brought the children to the United States and gave them to the Wizard. After they came to live in Oz, Ozma used the Magic Belt to bring the elder Swynes there as well. The Piglets’ names are here given as Porkella, Sausagina, Bologna, Sal Amy, Weinerina, Hamilton, Lincoln, Francis, and Roger. It seems doubtful that the Swynes would name their kids after products made from dead pigs, unless they had a really dark sense of humor. Lincoln is the one who becomes Ozma’s pet, to allow for a joke about Lincoln being assassinated. An interesting reference has the sailor who brings the Piglets to California being friends with Cap’n Bill.

“Ghosts in Oz,” by Marie Richardson – I remember reading this when Marie contributed it to the Story Circle. I was Facebook friends with her for a while, but she seems to have disappeared from the Internet. Anyway, Ozma and her friends meet with a ghost named Simon T. Inphinium, who gained that form because he was dying at the time of Lurline‘s enchantment. He’s a pleasant enough fellow who spends a lot of his time reading, but he has a problem. Several non-local ghosts have shown up near his home, and they’ve been annoying him. Ozma agrees to house these ghosts in her palace, letting them live in dusty rooms that hadn’t been used in a long time. This part of the story reminds me of Dennis Anfuso’s Winged Monkeys and Mark Haas’s Leprechauns (both published after this) in that it has a bunch of rowdy beings trying to live (as much as ghosts can be said to live) in the palace. The Wizard finds out that the ghosts are coming from the United States, where they’d been busted. The movie referenced herein had the ghosts stored inside the containment unit, but it isn’t necessarily a crossover in this respect. The Cowardly Lion does use the line “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” When the Wizard makes a machine to send the ghosts back to America, they end up in Narnia instead. Wait, didn’t C.S. Lewis say it was destroyed (the physical version, at least; the spiritual one from The Last Battle is a different thing) in 1949? Well, who knows how these things work when it comes to ghosts and fairylands? There are several puns of the children’s jokebook variety, with the visiting spirits eating scream of asparaghost soup and playing Hyde and Shriek. I notice that this story gives the palace a female cook, while many others have man in that position, although I guess she isn’t necessarily the head chef. Benjamin Fang illustrated this one.

Following this is a quiz by editor Robin Olderman where the answers spell out a phrase from an Oz book, although the answer is printed right under the questions, and I have to wonder whether that was intentional. Then we get to the two winners of the contest to finish Eric’s “The Silver Jug.” The first is by Margaret Berg, and has Amanda carelessly place the jug where the wax seal melts, releasing some musical plants. Her fellow handmaidens have to coax these plants into the garden. Margaret writes with a bit of John R. Neill’s cartoonishness, with Amanda hovering in the air when she frantically flaps a feather duster, and girls able to remove the feathers because they had been buttering muffins. The story identifies Glinda’s personal maid as Jellia Jamb‘s sister Cherri Jelli, and identifies some “old Oz melodies” the plants play as “Blue Bells of Munchkin,” “Red Sails in Quadling,” and “Fanfare for the Common Ozian.” It ends with Amanda being transferred to the Tin Woodman’s castle to serve as his housekeeper. Margaret wrote many contributions to the Story Circle, including a few telling subsequent adventures of Amanda and her romance with a young tinsmith. One of them states that Amanda is originally from a valley of grape growers and winemakers in the Gillikin Country.

The second ending is by Fred Otto, and in his version, the jug is full of alphabet letters that appear in the Great Book of Records when it’s opened. Amanda and her friend Maxine have to figure out a way to arrange the letters to get them all back inside. Amanda is successful in this one.

I figured I should also read Eric’s own ending, as found in The Salt Sorcerer of Oz and Other Stories. The jug turns out to contain some tiny dragons that fly across the desert.

Following them in Glinda’s stork-drawn chariot, Amanda meets Louise, a larger dragon made of gold, and a nasty witch named Winda who wants to force the silversmith Ymar into marrying her.

Ymar is the one who made the jug, and he and Louise decide to live with Amanda in her old home. A reformed evil magician who used to enslave dragons is also involved. I have to suspect that, if this had been contributed to the contest, it might well have been deemed too long and to deviate too much from the theme of Amanda learning responsibility. It’s rather complicated, and it kind of makes Glinda seem irresponsible herself, as she herself isn’t sure what’s in the jug when she gives it to Amanda.

Next time, the Piglets are back, Trot faces a minor character from Purple Prince, and dolls cause disenchantments.

Posted in Art, Authors, C.S. Lewis, Characters, Chris Dulabone, Chronicles of Narnia, Dennis Anfuso, Eric Shanower, Fred Otto, Humor, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Marcus Mebes, Monsters, Music, Oz, Oz Authors, Phil Lewin, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mythical, Miraculous, and Medieval

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste – I’d been interested in reading this since I found out what Jumbies were, which is basically evil spirits in Caribbean folklore. In this book, Corinne La Mer lives on an island with her widower father and grows very good oranges. She doesn’t believe in Jumbies, but she ends up meeting one named Severine, who subsequently tries to put her dad in thrall. This is extra disturbing when it turns out she’s also Corinne’s mom’s sister. Baptiste has said the book is partially based on the Haitian fairy tale “The Magic Orange Tree,” in which a tree that grows out of a girl’s mother’s grave saves her life. That, in turn, reminds me of the Grimms’ version of “Cinderella.” I feel that the story took a while to get anywhere, and while I liked elements of it, it didn’t really stick with me.

The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz – My friend Amy recommended this book to me years ago, and I only just now got around to reading it. I remembered it because I saw a notice online that there’s a sequel now. Set in the Middle Ages, it has a Canterbury Tales style (although I wasn’t able to get all that far in the actual Canterbury Tales; maybe I should try again), with several people who meet up at an inn near Paris telling stories of three children and a dog, all with extraordinary powers. There’s a girl named Jeanne who can predict the future, the incredibly strong acolyte William, and the Jewish boy Jacob who can heal wounds. The kids make it their mission to prevent the King of France from burning a bunch of copies of the Talmud. They’re accompanied by a monk whom they initially find terrifying, but come to realize he’s actually quite reasonable, and has a secret identity. Some of the characters are actual historical figures, and others loosely based on them. An encounter with a flatulent dragon is based on the story of St. Martha and the Tarasque. The setting is thoroughly researched, but the language and dialogue are pretty modern. It also deals with the prejudices of the time, particularly antisemitism, but William’s instructor has a lot of other ones as well.

Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality, by Roshani Chokshi – In the fifth and final book of what was originally supposed to be a series of four, the reincarnated Pandavas have lost their celestial weapons, and need to find a way to prevent the Sleeper, Aru’s father, from obtaining eternal life and causing the apocalypse. It doesn’t help that a lot of mythological beings are pretty much resigned to the end of the world. Accompanied by the Naga Prince Rudy, they meet with the Bear King Jambavan and the poisonous Vishakanyas, and have to participate in a talent show with musical abilities granted to them by Aiden’s apsara grandmother Menaka and the horse-headed gandharva Tumburu. And Aru’s sister Kara, who has betrayed the others and taken the Sleeper’s side, is questioning whether she’s done the right thing. This book has the same engaging family dynamic between the Pandavas and abundance of pop culture references as its predecessors, and I appreciated Aru’s decision of what to do with the titular nectar. There are also a few references to the mythology of other cultures, including the Mayan Ixtab.

Posted in Animals, Authors, Book Reviews, Carribean, Catholicism, Christianity, Fairy Tales, France, Hinduism, History, Humor, Judaism, Magic, Mayan, Middle Ages, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Prejudice, Relationships, Religion, Rick Riordan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pound of Man’s Tin

I didn’t get a chance to write about the 1993 Oziana last week, so I’m doing that now. I quite like the cover this time, Bill Eubank’s version of Mount Rushmore with the big four characters, drawn in MGM style. I just have to wonder what we can call it. “Mount Ozmore” seems the most obvious, but also kind of stupid. Mount Speedmore? No, that would presumably include Speedy and Notta Bit More.

“The Merchant of Oz,” by Chuck Sabatos – The author of “There’s No Place Like Oz” returns with a sort of retelling The Merchant of Venice that also tries to tie up some of the loose ends in the early Oz books. It’s set after Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. I read the story before I’d read the play, and it was impressive to me when I finally did read Venice how many plot elements Sabatos managed to work in while still remaining faithful to the series. I’ve written before about Boldkey, the titular merchant. The Oz version fortunately lacks the antisemitic portrayal of Shylock, but the character is still portrayed as coming from a different cultural background than his neighbors, as he maintains a blue house within the Emerald City.

Jack Pumpkinhead takes out a loan from Boldkey in order to establish his pumpkin patch, and the Tin Woodman agrees to a pound of his tin as collateral. It turns out that Boldkey is trying to get revenge on Nick for what he considered an earlier slight. The three caskets are here made by the Wizard of Oz and used to decide who will accompany Ozma on her visit to Queen Zixi of Ix. And the equivalent of Shylock’s daughter Jessica is Margolotte, who elopes with Dr. Pipt.

I see the Pipts as a couple who have been together as a long time, but I guess there’s no actual contradiction. Peter Schulenburg wrote his own versions of how Nick and Jack’s homes came to be, which are somewhat at odds with the ones in this tale. We also find out just how Ozma decided to ban money, which seems to be the case by the time of Road. The illustrations are by Chris Sterling, and the opening one shows a stack of Ozzy versions of Shakespeare’s plays.

I’m kind of disappointed that he just went with “Much Ado About Oz” instead of referencing the earlier Oziana story “Much Ado About Kiki Aru.”

“The Silver Jug,” by Eric Shanower – This is presented as an unfinished story, with a contest allowing readers to write their own endings. I remember writing one of my own, although it was rushed, and I’m not even sure I got it in the mail on time. What’s here involves Amanda, an enthusiastic but rather careless handmaiden at Glinda’s palace. After several mishaps, the Sorceress gives her a test in the form of a jug, telling her she can choose to open it or not, but either way she has to return it as she received it. It’s up to the contestants whether she opens the jug, what’s inside, and whether Amanda passes the test. At least it was at the time, but Eric later wrote his own official ending, which appears in the collection The Salt Sorcerer of Oz and Other Stories. I haven’t read it in a while, but I remember it going off in a very different direction than I would have expected from this set-up. The two winning entries are published in the next issue, but I’ll probably reread and comment on the official one as well when I get to that.

“Jubulut,” by Onyx Madden – According to the introduction, this is an excerpt from a book Onyx Madden (AKA Jim Nitch) was working on, with Robin Olderman as the editor. I’m really curious as to whether the manuscript is still around somewhere, as it was never published, and both Jim and Robin have since passed away. According to the brief summary at the beginning of this chapter, the unicorn Nicker and Mr. Wainwright, both introduced in Mysterious Chronicles, play a part in this story as well. By the way, the latter character’s name is given as “Dcim Wainwright” in Chronicles and “DCIM Wainwright” here. Is that initials, or a difficult to pronounce first name? An American girl also named Robin has ascended into the clouds using Mr. Tinker‘s ladder in an attempt to ride a cloud across the Deadly Desert to Ev. She meets up with Polychrome‘s less flighty sister Tracey, explores the dwellings of the sky fairies, and visits the titular character who’s a Cloud Tender, a man who heals ailing clouds. I have to wonder when this tale was supposed to take place. The fact that Jubulut refers to the Nome King as Roquat suggests it’s before Emerald City, but that would make it unlikely that Robin could have read about Polychrome. Maybe Jubulut didn’t know about the King’s name change, but there’s really no way to know without reading the rest of the book.

Aside from a picture of the Cloud Tender himself that I think Robin might have drawn, the illustrations, including the one on the back cover, are John R. Neill’s from Sky Island.

As sort of an update to my 1992 Oziana entry, I heard at OzCon that Everett Avila, author of “The Tale of the Pink Goat,” died in 2020. On a more pleasant note, the next Oziana review will include a story about a fictionalized version of Bill Eubank, another look at the Nine Tiny Piglets, and a ghost story, as well as the winning contest entries.

Posted in Art, Authors, Characters, Eric Shanower, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Names, Onyx Madden/Jim Nitch, Oz, Oz Authors, Plays, William Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Heffalumps and Woozies

After two years when it just wasn’t possible, we finally had an in-person OzCon International this year. It was in Pomona, California again, and it was one day and some change, so I initially thought it wouldn’t make sense to go.

Then Beth suggested we could do other things in the area, so that’s what we ended up doing.

It was cool to see people I hadn’t seen in two years, except over Zoom in some cases. It started with a dinner and the announcement of the Winkie Award on Friday evening, while the official programming began on Saturday morning.

Along with our tote bags, we also each received a copy of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s A Day in Oz and a gift from Freddy Fogarty’s collection. We ended up with a soundtrack record of The Wiz and a little book of celebrities, both in some Asian language. There were some pictures from The Wizard of Oz in the book, along with some unrelated movies.

It was the hundredth anniversary of Thompson’s Kabumpo, which was reflected in the bags and decorations, but only came up a little in the main programming.

A major theme was the animals of Oz, and some presentations were based on that.

The first presentation on Saturday was by Dina Massachi, who talked about Toto, starting it off with how some people seem to really hate Dorothy’s canine companion. Salman Rushdie famously called him “that little yapping hairpiece of a creature, that meddlesome rug!” That is not, however, why the Ayatollah declared a fatwa on him. But anyway, Dina described how, in Wizard, Toto is often the emotional center of the book, the one who reacts to things and gives an indication as to whether the experience will be a positive one. The MGM movie downplays the character somewhat, although he does reveal the humbug Wizard on his own volition rather than because he was scared by the Cowardly Lion, a plot point in an Oziana story I reread recently. I’ve never known that Toto was particularly unpopular, and I say this as someone who was kind of afraid of dogs at the time I first watched the movie and read the book. Dina mentioned someone proposing a sort of overarching idea on L. Frank Baum’s part when it’s revealed in Tik-Tok that Toto could actually talk all along, but it seems pretty obvious that he just made it up as he went along. I was thinking recently about how Emerald City has the dog eating some sentient bread products in Bunbury, which becomes more disturbing if taken in the light of his being sentient.

Next came Freddy, showing the slides he’d collected of the making of Return to Oz.

Convention chair Colin Ayres did the presentation after that, presenting some letters from Thompson in which she mentioned some of the books she was working on at different points in her career.

Then, after lunch, Glenn Roberson and Ashley Chase showed their unfinished film Dorothy, retelling the story of Wizard in a post-apocalyptic world where scientists used brain chips to control women for a breeding program.

Colin led a panel discussion of Judy Garland with Ashley and Eric Gjovaag, then Sam Milazzo read “The Glass Dog” from Baum’s American Fairy Tales.

After that, J.L. Bell led a panel on animals in Oz with Steve Cox, Atticus Gannaway, and Dina.

I was on a similar panel at the last in-person convention, but there were some different points brought up this time, and more focus on the MGM film. I’ve written before about how complicated the status of animals in Oz is, with animals usually being just as intelligent as humans and able to speak their language, yet still driven by their natures. It seems to be a general theme that animals are accepted into human society if they behave themselves according to the people’s rules, but these rules aren’t necessarily enforced on all Ozian animals. And even the ones who do One thing I thought of was how Billina stays in Oz because of how tasty the bugs were, yet later in Patchwork Girl, the Tin Woodman absolutely refuses to let anyone hurt a yellow butterfly.

Of course, Nick is pretty extreme about such things even by Ozian standards, and even he doesn’t have a problem with killing animals who are acting hostile.

And Billina actually addresses human hypocrisy on meat eating with Dorothy in Ozma, although it’s not like Baum offers a solution. With dinner, there was a cucumber-based drink called Pompadore Punch, although I’m not sure what the connection is between cucumbers and Prince Pompadore.

They also had pink lemonade, which is specifically mentioned in Kabumpo, although I doubt the hotel staff knew that.

The evening program began with Nate Barlow discussing the Woozy, one of my favorite Oz characters. There was even a smoking Woozy head to accompany it.

Nate talked about how the Woozy was used to promote the silent film of Patchwork Girl, yet he isn’t even in the movie that much. I believe he does reappear in an animal scene in another Oz Film Manufacturing Company product, although he doesn’t breathe any fire in that one.

Eric Shanower donned a Tik-Tok hat to read an excerpt from the book he’s writing
about the stage musical The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. And it ended with a quiz on the books, hosted by co-chair Erica Olivera. I believe there was karaoke after that, but we were really tired by that point. Normally I have more adrenaline during OzCon, but my sleeping schedule had been weird for the past few days. I did end up buying some stuff from Cindy Ragni: paperback copies of The Master Key and Who’s Who in Oz, a Shanower drawing of Polychrome, and an Easter postcard by John R. Neill.

Some convention attendees visited the Academy Museum and L. Frank Baum’s grave on Sunday, and while I didn’t go with the group, I did do that second thing.

We had planned to meet our friend Stephanie, who lives in the area, and we went to Forest Lawn in Glendale together. I have to wonder if it was a convention attendee who left a Hot Wheels car on the tombstone. There were smaller markers for Baum’s relatives, and for some reason his son Kenneth was buried on the opposite side from the other three. We had been talking about Liberace, and Beth noticed that he was also buried at Forest Lawn, although it was a different part.

So we saw that as well, and I happened to notice that Naya Rivera’s remains were interred in a wall not far from that.

We also drove by the place in Hollywood where Baum’s house, Ozcot, used to stand; but it was destroyed in the 1950s, and we weren’t sure where the exact site was. We’d met Stephanie’s dog Chelsea before, but she was less nervous this time, and really took a liking to Beth.

The next day began our adventures at Disneyland, which will have to wait for another post, or more likely a series of them.

Posted in Animals, Art, Atticus Gannaway, Celebrities, Characters, Eric Shanower, Food, Jack Snow, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Plays, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Purple Horse, Pink Goat, Blue Woozy

Scan by Jared Davis
The 1992 Oziana gives us a rather striking cover illustration, a picture by Eric Shanower of the Wicked Witch of the East as she realizes she’s about to be crushed by a house.

“A Christmas Tree for Dorothy,” by Jane Albright – The basic idea for this one bears some resemblance to W.W. Denslow’s story “Dorothy’s Christmas Tree,” although it plays out differently and incorporates elements from a few different Oz books. When Dorothy is nostalgic for the way she celebrated Christmas back in Kansas, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman decide to give her a Christmas tree, and find one just outside her window that would work perfectly. When they decide they want to decorate it with stars, the Scarecrow gets the idea to enlist the help of High Boy from The Giant Horse of Oz to pick them from the sky, something that’s presumably only possible in fairyland, so don’t try it at home.

The Sandman, whom they recognize from Kabumpo, runs into them and causes the stars to spill, but he also manages to make things right again with the Magic Mistake Bag the Wizard of Oz made for him. Santa Claus shows up in the Emerald City to help them decorate, even though it’s not actually Christmas. It’s said that his last visit was during the party in Road, but Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote several poems about Christmas, complete with trees and Santa, being celebrated in Oz. Perhaps they took place after the events of this story. Eric’s illustrations for this one make use of stippling and a lot of stars.

“The Tail of the Pink Goat,” by Everett Avila – In Purple Prince, Kabumpo resolves to tell a story about a pink goat to Princess Pajonia, but he doesn’t get to do so. This piece doesn’t exactly tell it either, but rather illustrates and examines it, crediting the original to a man who wove it into the pajamas of an ancient Blue Emperor. This title is used in both Purple Prince and Silver Princess as that of the guy who gave Kabumpo to King Pompus, and Henry Blossom’s Blue Emperor expanded on this idea. In this story, the Blue Empire is said to have been centered in what is now the Kingdom of Dreams, while the Emperor in Blossom’s book was the ruler of Oz and Ozma’s grandfather. But then, it does also say that Kabumpo was originally “from the Jurassic forest on the other side of the Kingdom of Rinkitink,” so maybe there is some connection to the lands to the west of Oz, or the territory of the Blue Empire changed over time. Anyway, the tale is about a pink goat with a long ropy tail, who was ostracized by his fellows, but became a pet of an emperor who helped him to rescue a princess with his tail. The pictures for this one are provided by eight different artists: Shaune Anderson, Nicole Bent, Ricky Blount, Daniel Han, Cindy Jen, Joe McSweeney, Deepa Mehta, and Brent Peddy.

Before the next story, a comic by Bill Eubank shows a shaggy dog reading Shaggy Man.

“The Woozy’s Tale,” by Gili Bar-Hillel – This is the second Oziana story to provide an origin story for the Woozy, after March Laumer’s strange take on this subject. This one provides an explanation for his appetite for bees, the three hairs on his tail, and his hatred for the phrase “krizzle-kroo.” Krizzle Kroo is a nasty wizard who was an ally of the Wicked Witches, but after a falling out, he sent his bees to torment the Witch of the East, so she brought the Woozy to life to devour them. He also used to command wolves and crows, but Gayelette made them subservient to her whistle, which was then stolen by the Witch of the West. The Ozites defeat the wizard and trap him in a beehive, and Dorothy manages to restore the Munchkin family the Woozy used to live with. As is my wont, I’ve done my best to tie this story in with others that provide origins for the square beast. David Maxine illustrated this one, mostly in silhouettes.

“The Journey” and an untitled story, by Deborah Holden – Two very short and rather enigmatic tales, the first about L. Frank Baum coming to live in the Emerald City after his death, and the second about Lurline being pregnant with Ozma. This one also suggests Lurline was, at least for a time, married to Pastoria. After these comes a quiz by Robin Olderman and Fred Meyer about tails in the series, which fits with the two tales about tails in this issue. Finally, there’s an illustration of Professor Nowitall teaching on the back cover. I don’t see a credit for this picture, but it is initialed “SPM.” EDIT: It’s by Shawn Maldonado.

Next time, we’ll look at a Shakespeare parody of sorts, an unfinished story, and a chapter of a novel that I don’t think ever saw the light of day. When next time will be, I don’t know, as I’ll be pretty busy in the coming week.

Posted in Animals, Art, Characters, Christmas, Comics, Eric Shanower, Holidays, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, March Laumer, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coming Out for Air

Luca – I feel like Pixar movies used to be more distinct from Disney animated features, and now it’s difficult to tell the difference. That both use computer animation for pretty much everything now doesn’t help. In this one, which is a Pixar release, Luca is a boy who lives not on the second floor, but under the sea near the Italian Riviera, with his family of fish-people, and herds goatfish. It’s kind of a coincidence that I watched this when I’d been writing a lot about fish-people and water spirits recently, since it was the next on the list of Disney/Pixar features to watch; but that might have contributed to why I thought of watching it when we hadn’t seen one of these movies in a while. For some reason that’s never explained, these people take human forms if they go to the surface, although they’ll regain their natural features when they get wet.

Luca has a fascination with the surface and has started collecting things that fell off boats, a lot like Ariel, but without the romantic overtones. Except even that might not be entirely true, as there were some plans for same-sex romance, but the writers chickened (of the sea) out. He meets an older boy named Alberto, who’s very reckless, implied to be at least partially the result of his father abandoning him, and they spend a lot of time on the land together. The two of them visit a town where they befriend a girl named Giulia, an awkward tomboy intent on winning the village triathlon.

They use their knowledge of the sea to help her father, a fisherman; although they also fear him because he (and the whole town, to some extent) is obsessed with killing sea monsters, in which category Luca and Alberto technically qualify. Luca tries to elude his parents, who are searching for him; and the kids also have to deal with the local bully, who keeps winning the triathlon even though he’s too old and constantly cheats. They really need to enforce the rules a little more strictly, but I guess the restaurant that sponsors the event doesn’t care that much as long as they get the publicity. I thought it was pretty good, but seemed a bit lacking in content, like they could have done a little more with the premise. I did like the designs on the fish-people, and how their human forms adapted their fishy features. Luca’s father’s mustache was particularly amusing.

I looked at the voice cast but didn’t recognize most of the actors, aside from Maya Rudolph who voiced Luca’s mom, and Sacha Baron Cohen who had a brief but memorable part as Luca’s crazy uncle who lives at the bottom of the sea and resembles an anglerfish.

Our next one of these to watch when we get around to it is Encanto, which I understand has a character named Bruno, the same name Alberto uses for his self-doubt. Someone must really like that name.

Posted in Animals, Cartoons, Monsters, Names, Relationships, Revisiting Disney, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

She’s Come Undine

I keep forgetting to write something about the novella Undine, by German author Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, which I read on Gutenberg in a translation geared toward children. I’ve become somewhat fascinated with the influence of Paracelsus‘ concept of elementals on popular culture, and this was directly based on his ideas. An undine, from the Latin word for “wave,” is a water elemental, a type that appears in a lot of different mythology and folklore.

I’m not sure where he got the idea, but Paracelsus had said elementals didn’t naturally have souls, but could gain them by marrying mortals. This seems like part of the way nature spirits were incorporated into a Christian belief system, that they had magical powers and lived a lot longer than humans, but did not have immortal souls. It’s sort of like legends where supernatural creatures are driven off by a cross, which always seemed hokey to me. At least that makes a little more sense with vampires, with the Catholic associations of drinking blood. Anyway, the Undine of the story is a water nymph who is raised by a fisherman and his wife, and falls in love with a visiting knight named Huldbrand. The two of them marry, and she warns him that there would be dire consequences if he were unfaithful to her. Unfortunately, he had a previous lover, Bertalda, the daughter of a duke. While the three of them are friendly for a while, Bertalda later convinces Huldbrand that Undine is in league with her uncle, the nasty water spirit Kuhleborn.

The sprite returns to the water of the Danube, and after Huldbrand and Bertalda are married (dude doesn’t waste any time, apparently), she shows up to kill him for his unfaithfulness.

Bertalda also turns out to be the biological daughter of Undine’s foster parents, taken away in a changeling sort of situation. The story had a few operatic adaptations, and inspired Hans Christian Andersen‘s “The Little Mermaid.” He gave it a bit of a twist, however, as the mermaid THINKS marrying a mortal man will give her a soul, but she turns out to have one anyway (or at least the potential for one) after her body dissolves into sea foam.

This probably inspired the bit in the original Final Fantasy about the mermaids in the Sunken Shrine being afraid they’ll turn into foam if the power of the Water Crystal isn’t restored.

And while I’m on the subject, some of the elemental spirits in the Mana series are named after Paracelsus’ elementals, and this includes Undine, who takes the form of a mermaid.

I’ve also mentioned before that the They Might Be Giants song “Ondine” (essentially the French version of the word) seems to be about a woman killing her unfaithful lover, which could link it to the story, although John Flansburgh appears not to have done that on purpose.

When dealing with mythical creatures, I often have an image of a particular sort in my mind, but legends are rarely that consistent. I imagine a water spirit or nymph as having a watery form, while merfolk are flesh; but that’s obviously not how everyone saw it. I am somewhat curious about how mermaids came to be so closely associated with Sirens, which were described in Greek sources as having the bodies of birds, not fish.

Mermaids causing people to jump into the sea and drown is a pretty common trope that more closely matches the mythology of Sirens.

Cap’n Bill references these tales in L. Frank Baum’s The Sea Fairies, but Trot finds a flaw in them, and it turns out that mermaids are actually quite benevolent.

This fits with Baum’s general tendency in his fantasy for immortals to be mostly good, if sometimes aloof.

He also mentions the Queen of the Water Sprites, “whose beautiful form was as clear as crystal but continually dripped water on the bank of moss where she sat,” as being part of the Council of the Immortals in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

There are other mythical beings who like to drown people, including Kelpies and Blue Men of the Minch. It must be a pretty boring life if that’s what they consider fun. In Germanic folklore, there’s the Nixie, or sometimes just Nix, a shape-shifting water spirit that usually takes an attractive human form, and is often but not always malevolent.

A related Scandinavian being, the Nokk, is often specified to be male and to play the violin really well, sometimes luring women to their deaths, although they were also known to marry mortals. The Fossegrim, or Stromkarlen in Swedish, is a variant on this legend, but he’s willing to teach his fiddling skills to anyone who gives him the proper gifts.

I guess he sometimes plays the harp as well.
He’s also associated with mills. One of the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm involves a Nixie who lives in a millpond, and makes a deal with the miller to make him prosperous in exchange for his son, although of course that isn’t how the Nixie phrases it.

Posted in Art, Book Reviews, Catholicism, Celtic, Characters, Christianity, Fairy Tales, Final Fantasy, German, Greek Mythology, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Mana/Seiken Densetsu, Monsters, Music, Mythology, Norse, Oz, Oz Authors, Relationships, Religion, They Might Be Giants, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We’re Bobbing Along in Our Barrel

Wonderfalls is one of several shows that Fox picked up and then made every effort to kill, not always airing it in the same time slot and such. I never really understood this, but who knows what was going on behind the scenes? They only ever aired four episodes back in 2004, but a DVD release had the entire thirteen that they made. There were plans for later seasons, but there is a resolution, so it’s not like it just leaves you hanging. I’m pretty sure I was first aware of it because Andy Partridge wrote and performed the theme song. I know Beth watched it first and then got me to do so as well; she really liked the dialogue. She bought the DVD when it came out, but didn’t want to watch the whole thing right away, and I guess it kind of just slipped our minds for almost twenty years. The show focuses on Jaye Tyler, played by Caroline Dhavernas, who is in her early twenties with a philosophy degree from Brown University, and works at a souvenir store in Niagara Falls and lives in a trailer park. She’s purposely trying to live a low-stress life (although I, personally, always found retail pretty stressful) and separate herself as much as possible from a family of overachievers.

And yet she still got into Brown. I assume it’s because at least one of her parents went there.
That she’s the odd one out is made clear by the fact that the names of her parents and siblings all rhyme, while hers doesn’t.

Anyway, animal figurines and other inanimate objects with faces start talking to her, giving her cryptic instructions, and annoying her unless she makes an effort to follow them. When she does, it generally works out for the best, even though it frequently gets her into trouble along the way. So there’s a fatalistic theme, and it’s never really explained why only Jaye can hear these objects, although the fact that they give her information she wouldn’t otherwise know suggests that it’s not just in her head.

The talking objects also affect her budding relationship with Eric, a guy who stayed in Niagara Falls after his wife cheated on him during their honeymoon. It’s a well-written and entertaining show. Even though the show thrives on unlikely coincidence, I did find it weird that it seems like everyone Jaye knows only ever eats at one restaurant. It makes sense that Jaye is a regular there, as both her best friend Mahandra and her new flame work there, but less so that her family never seems to eat anywhere else.

Watching the show now, we noticed a few elements that probably wouldn’t fly today, like casual usage of the words “tranny” and “retarded.” It’s also interesting in retrospect that there’s an episode about Jaye being representative of Generation Y, a term that for some reason was replaced with “Millennial.” But then they call the next one Generation Z, so consistency isn’t the strong point of whoever comes up with these names. Is it Microsoft, perhaps? And they changed the typical cutoff dates, so that Jaye, who graduated high school in 1998 (the same year as Beth), would probably now be at the tail end of Gen X. I think the only thing I’ve seen Dhavernas in since this show was Hannibal, which also had a largely Canadian cast, as well as the same creator. I don’t know which inanimate object told her to have sex with Hannibal Lecter. Tracie Thoms, who plays Mahandra, was the only person I kind of liked in the movie version of Rent (which was, I understand, popular with Gen Y). And Lee Pace, who was Jaye’s brother Aaron, went on to be Ronan the Accuser.

Posted in Health, Magic, Music, Names, Relationships, Television, XTC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dark and Shuttered

This week, we’re taking a look at the 1991 Oziana. Well, what else did you expect after the 1990 issue? The cover by Chris Sterling shows the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman putting on a puppet show, with each one controlling a puppet of the other, a pretty clever touch. Editor Robin Olderman ends her introduction with a bit of poetry in the style of Ruth Plumly Thompson.

“Mission Impozible: Revenge of the Emerald Grasshopper,” by Christopher Wayne Buckley – I really like the title, even if it doesn’t have that much to do with the story itself. The emerald grasshopper is, of course, the ornament into which the Nome King transformed Ozma in Ozma of Oz. The tale has Ruggedo panicking because he fears his kingdom is being invaded, and while it turns out Ozma and several of her friends are there, it’s just to throw the Nome King a surprise birthday party in hopes that it will improve relations between their countries. There’s a lot of build-up to this rather benign ending, making it all the more amusing. This presumably takes place after Ruggedo’s memory has been at least mostly restored after drinking from the Water of Oblivion in Emerald City, but before he’s removed from his throne in Tik-Tok. If so, presumably the friendly relations didn’t really last. Charles Martensen illustrates this, and while his Ruggedo is more like a lawn gnome than more traditional depictions of him, the pictures are quite intricate, with a lot of shading.

Buckley also contributed three haikus, one about the magic word from Magic, a second about watching clouds in Ev, and the last about the Great Book of Records. The final haiku is on the back cover, accompanied by an illustration by John R. Neill from Kabumpo of Glinda and the Soldier with Green Whiskers reading said book. The writer was also responsible for another story with an entertaining title, Beach Blanket BabylOz.

“Fairness,” by Earl C. Abbe – This is an excerpt from a longer book, Timmy and the Shutter Faces in Oz, which I remember Abbe discussing a bit at a Munchkin Convention in the early nineties. I haven’t read the whole thing, but the manuscript does still exist. What’s here focuses on Herchell Blind, a greedy, self-centered Oz fan who is only interested in his book collection, perhaps a riff on some actual people. It does appear that the International Wizard of Oz Club started mostly as a book collecting group. By the time I joined, there was more focus on research, analysis, and trivia, although the collection aspect hasn’t gone away. I do collect books, but mostly for their contents rather than a desire for the rare and valuable. Anyway, Herchell dies in a car crash, and suffers an ironic punishment of sorts, going to Oz only to be stuck in Shutter Town from Giant Horse, where everyone wears shutters on their faces to block out most of what’s going on. That is, until he helps a little girl who wanders there by accident to escape, after which they meet Johnny Dooit. He tells them that he’d met L. Frank Baum after he died, and “he didn’t say Oz was heaven or hell, just a nice place to visit before going somewhere better.” I’m pretty sure Baum believed in reincarnation, at least at some point in his life. But yeah, there’s a fair amount here on the notion of Oz as a potential afterlife. It’s meta-referential as well, as it starts with Herchell being determined to buy a copy of a book with the same title as Abbe’s, which was written by Jack Snow but went out of print quickly. This is all the weirder because Thompson created Shutter Town, and Snow never used any of her characters or concepts in his work (not counting Who’s Who, in which he accidentally placed Shutter Town in the Winkie Country instead of the Munchkin). The carnival from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes also shows up here.

“A Cozy Castle in Oz,” by Frederick E. Otto – This story, with its very Thompsonian title, introduces the small Duchy of Grapelandia, located on Big Enough Mountain, where the giant Loxo made his home in Speedy. When Woot the Wanderer visits there, he befriends the young Princess Prunella and her dog Comfort. Woot investigates a forbidden room, and finds that Prunella’s jealous grandmother, the Duchess, turned her mother into a hawk. When Prunella’s father, the Duke, finds out what happened, he allows his mother to save face. It’s weird that he wouldn’t want to call her out for enchanting his wife, but people can be like that with their relatives. Otto wrote a follow-up to this, “The Forbidden Cave of Grapelandia,” exploring a mysterious place briefly mentioned in this tale. It wasn’t published until after he had died, however. We’ll get to it eventually.

Next time, there’s another Christmas tale, plus stories about a pink goat and the Woozy.

Posted in Animals, Art, Characters, Families, Fred Otto, Humor, Jack Snow, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Poetry, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment