Love in Reverse

We all know about Cupid, especially at this time of year. His name means “desire,” and his Greek counterpart, Eros, is where we get the word “erotic.” Less familiar is his brother Anteros, intended as a companion for his lonely brother.

Picture by Kitsune64
As his name indicates, he’s sort of the opposite of Eros, which suggests that he represents hatred. Not really, though. The love that Eros stands for and inspires involves a loss of control and is often unrequited. He can be quite hostile, making it not surprising that he was sometimes viewed as the son of Ares. He sometimes makes people fall in love as a form of punishment, as he did with Apollo and Daphne. The Greeks, as you may know, had several different terms for love, four according to Wikipedia and six according to this magazine article. These include philia (brotherly love) and agape (selfless love for everybody, a term that is very popular among Christians). Anteros doesn’t symbolize anti-love so much as counter-love, or love returned. This means he’s a supporter of the mutual instead of the one-sided.

That doesn’t mean he can’t also be capricious at times, but it’s generally on a lover’s behalf. The most famous story about him appears to be that of Timagoras and Meles. The former was a foreigner in Athens who fell in love with the citizen Meles. Meles, not returning his love, sarcastically told Timagoras to jump off a rock. He did, and Meles was wracked with such guilt that he jumped off the rock as well. Anteros is said to have inspired this act on Meles’ part, and resident aliens in Athens dedicated an altar to him in honor of it. I’m not sure whether the moral is to always return love or just to let unrequited lovers down gently. There’s a statue of Anteros in Piccadilly Circus in London, a memorial of the Earl of Shaftesbury’s selfless love for the poor. It’s often mistakenly thought to be Eros himself, but you’ll notice he has butterfly wings instead of bird-like ones, perhaps the main physical difference between the two.

I think Anteros also tends to have longer hair, and sometimes carries a golden club in addition to the bow and arrows. Anteros’ arrows are said to be of lead, although Eros sometimes has lead arrows as well.

Eros and Anteros were both part of a band of winged deities known as the Erotes, who are part of Aphrodite‘s retinue.

Seven others have specific identities: Hedylogos, god of flattery; Hermaphroditos, patron of hermaphrodites and effeminate men; Himeros, who caused unrequited sexual desire; Hymenaios, deity of marriage and weddings; and Pothos, who symbolizes yearning. Himeros and Pothos are both brothers of Eros and Anteros, although Pothos at least is sometimes seen as an aspect of Eros.

There’s apparently no extant literature about Hedylogos, but he’s depicted on pottery.

Hymenaios was generally thought to be the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus, which made him the full brother of Priapus, the god with a permanent erection. He was also sometimes said to be the offspring of Apollo and one of the Muses, or a mortal man in Athens who disguised himself as a woman in order to infiltrate one of the Eleusinian Mysteries. All of the participants were captured by pirates, but managed to overthrow them and return to Athens. He was later killed by a nymph. Anyway, this Valentine’s Day season, remember that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.

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Wight Supremacy

Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips – This book involves the Greek gods living in a single house in London with diminished powers. Sound familiar? Okay, I don’t know that I’ve read anything with that specific scenario, but I’ve come across those basic elements quite often. It was still fun, though, and showcases the personalities of the deities pretty well, basically making them a dysfunctional family. When Apollo pisses off Aphrodite, who is now working as a phone sex operator, she has Eros make him fall in love with Alice, a random woman in the audience for his television pilot as a psychic. Unfortunately, it turns out that she has a crush on her friend Neil who also has feelings for her, and Apollo’s awkward attempts to woo her just increase the tension. So does the fact that Artemis hires her as the gods’ cleaning lady. Artemis is working as a dog walker, Dionysus owns a nightclub, Eros has become fascinated by Christianity, and Zeus is confined to the attic. When things go badly with Alice, Apollo tricks Zeus into killing her, and Neil has to accompany Artemis to the Underworld to get her back. Charon drives a Tube train instead of a ferry, a similar arrangement to that in Tom Holt’s Ye Gods. There’s a film version of this that has some famous actors, but was screened only once to bad reviews.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, and Library of Souls, by Ransom Riggs – I checked the first book out from the library on a recommendation from a friend, and I liked it enough to read the two sequels. The idea behind the books is quite interesting, with the author basing characters and situations on old photographs that he found. Most of them use trick photography or are otherwise bizarre, so what results is a fantasy story about people with supernatural powers who live in hiding. There are some clear similarities to the X-Men, although the feel is more dark and Gothic. In addition to their powers, the peculiar children live in time loops that keep them from aging or being affected by events in the outside world, created by mentors who can turn into birds. Alma Peregrine, a strict but loving matron, maintains such a loop in Wales, which ends and resets right when a World War II bomb hits the place. After the death of his grandfather, a boy from Florida named Jacob Portman goes there to find his grandfather’s old friends. He is drawn into an adventure involving ghostly beings known as hollowgasts and wights, former peculiar people who turned into these monsters due to a failed attempt to become immortal, and who now hunt peculiar souls. I found it interesting that Jeffrey Dahmer is said to have been a wight. He even becomes involved with his grandfather’s old girlfriend, but at least he admits it’s weird. The second book has Jacob and the peculiar children leaving their loop and searching both the past and present to try to restore Miss Peregrine to human form, encountering gypsies, a talking dog, and their mentor’s evil brother. Finally, in Library of Souls, Miss Peregrine’s brother finds a way to access a collection of souls in an ancient city. Her other brother is also introduced here, as is a boatman named Sharon who’s clearly based on the mythological Charon. To add to the general creepiness, there’s a village inhabited by people who are addicted to a drink made of peculiar souls. I haven’t seen the movie, and I’m not sure if I should. Any opinions on the matter?

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Insect Aside

L. Frank Baum is never entirely clear on whether ALL animals in Oz can talk, or whether animals eat each other there. For instance, are insects there sentient? Well, the Wogglebug is, but that’s after he’s been Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated. But then, he presumably had to understand what Professor Nowitall was saying in order to receive his education at all. It’s generally a bit vague with the normal-sized bugs. As I’ve mentioned before, Billina eats insects, and decides to remain in Oz because she thinks the bugs and ants there are “the finest flavored in the world.” Earlier in Ozma of Oz, Dorothy scolds the hen for eating living bugs, and she asks how that’s different from humans eating dead animals. The Tin Woodman, who cries profusely when he steps on a beetle and refuses to let anyone take a wing from a butterfly, doesn’t seem to have a problem with Billina’s diet, but she is eating them for sustenance rather than to be cruel. He also doesn’t take issue with indirectly killing a swarm of forty killer bees, but they are set on destroying his companions.

Interestingly, while the Wicked Witch of the West converses with the leaders of her wolves and crows, she merely commands the bees. The Woozy is locked up for eating bees, but at least according to him this is because the Munchkin farmers keep them for honey, not because of the feelings of the bees themselves. Lost Princess mentions that the Woozy’s favorite food is honey, so maybe he changed his diet to something with bee flavor rather than actual living bees. Cap’n Bill can talk when Blinkie turns him into a grasshopper, but the rules for the transformed seem a little different than usual, as evidenced by Bilbil talking even in countries where goats normally don’t.

In Magic, the Wizard of Oz transforms Trot and Cap’n Bill into bees so they can escape the Magic Isle (I hadn’t really thought before about that’s the second time the Cap’n has been turned into a bug), and he and Dorothy worry that the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger have eaten them. When it turns out they ate two random bees instead, nobody seems to care. There are talking bees in Rachel Cosgrove Payes’ Wicked Witch, and they’re pretty hostile.

I’ve also written about talking ants in some non-canonical Oz books. We know from Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Yankee that there are anteaters in Oz, the one we meet described as eating “a whole colony of red ants.”

Snufferbux, the bear introduced in Ojo, also eats ants. In Melody Grandy’s Disenchanted Princess, Zim observes, “Some insects in Oz can talk, but few can write.” A praying mantis in his garden can talk, but whether the smaller ones it eats do isn’t clear. In fact, he’s specifically there to eliminate threats to the plants.

I was trying to think of occasions when insects played a significant role in the Oz books, or at least were mentioned, and I can’t think of many, Professor Wogglebug notwithstanding. In Emerald City, the Wizard indicates that flies in Oz “understand what we say to them, and behave very nicely.” Nick Chopper then talks about very large mosquitoes “which sing as beautifully as song birds,” which are “well fed and taken care of.” Peter Schulenburg expands upon this idea in Tin Castle, where it’s explained that Ozian mosquitoes eat a plant called bloodroot, which causes them to grow up to three and a half feet long.

While not part of Oz proper, Fire Island in Grampa has fire flies. In the same book, Toto chases a baconfly in the Winkie Country. Lucky Bucky has a band of Thunderbugs, described as being about a foot high with brown wings, glowing breasts, short black legs, and red-hot toes. They can produce fire when they’re angry, and are particularly fond of pie, which they claim to be able to smell miles away.

Interestingly, there’s a British edition of this book that refers to them as Thunderbeetles instead. There are also the giant grasshoppers and crickets of the Game River. The McGraws’ Forbidden Fountain mentions goldbugs, hurlyburlybees, glitterbugs, mulberrybugs, what-gnats, and borderwasps. It also introduces the Monarch of Butterflies, who can talk, and guards the maze in Ozma’s palace gardens. In Jack and Larry Breton’s Ork, a man known as the Wisp, from the Ive Mountains to the east of Oz, trains his bees and wasps to torment others. The wasps also pull his airborne chariot. He traded his bees to the Wicked Witch of the West in exchange for magic charms that didn’t work in his homeland. Gili Bar-Hillel’s short story “The Woozy’s Tale” has the wizard Krizzle Kroo claim credit for this same thing, although in his case he says Gayelette forced his bees to answer to her silver whistle, which the Wicked Witch took and then lied about. The wizard did keep his Queen Bee, however, and was able to breed a new swarm. There’s a regular-sized wogglebug named Wally in Bucketheads.

And in The Woggle-Bug Book, the Highly Magnified insect identifies his father as “a famous Bug-Wizard in his day.” The Weasel King says that he recognizes the bug as a Sullivanthauros, although he had previously believed them to be extinct. Whether there’s any joke to that name, I couldn’t say.

And I feel like I should also mention the Jitterbug, an insect from a deleted scene in the MGM film. It causes its victims to dance until they get tired out, although how that would affect the tireless Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, I don’t know.

Posted in Characters, Chris Dulabone, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Odd Quartet

Hail, Caesar! – I’m actually not sure what the point of this movie was supposed to be. It’s basically a collection of semi-related vignettes about a Hollywood studio, all of which are resolved pretty quickly. Is there a message other than that the movie industry is crazy? That said, it was funny and had some good performances, so it was still worth watching.

Into the WoodsI watched the filmed stage version of this a few years ago, and while it was interesting to see some famous actors in the roles, I think I liked that one better overall. I indicated before that I found the second act slow, so I guess it makes sense that the film version speeds it up considerably, but it also cut out the parts I did remember. The idea of sacrificing the narrator to the giantess, indicating that the characters no longer had a script to follow, was really clever. It’s not in the movie version at all, and in fact that narration in the first act is provided by the Baker. They also glossed over how the princes prefer the pursuit of women to actually having them; there was some of that with Cinderella’s Prince, but the song where they’re planning on going after Snow White and Sleeping Beauty instead was cut. While the budget was obviously higher than for the stage show, it was still pretty low for a movie produced by a major studio.

We got an actual cow this time, but the wolf’s costume is still weird.

The Odd Couple – I never really watched the television show, but Beth was a fan of it, particularly of Tony Randall as Felix Unger. The movie, based on the original stage play by Neil Simon, stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the latter of whom had previously played the role on Broadway. I’m sure you already know the premise, and it’s pretty funny, a lot of the humor being quip-based. One odd bit of trivia from my life is that my English teacher in my junior year of high school didn’t care for Simon, but I never knew why.

The Warriors – Our friend Tavie had been wanting us to watch this, presumably because of Beth’s fondness for just about anything with old, gritty New York City. The 1979 film is about a gang from Coney Island attending a meeting in the Bronx and being framed for shooting the speaker. They then have to get back home, which means crossing the territories of several other gangs, often with somewhat bizarre themes. What’s interesting is that The Simpsons did a rather direct parody of this movie a few years back with the episode “The Winter of His Content.” At the time, I didn’t know what it was spoofing, although it was pretty obvious there was a spoof involved. In order to further the reference, Springfield had a functioning subway system, when it was defunct in “Postcards from the Wedge.” A wizard must have done it.

Posted in Fairy Tales, Humor, Plays, Television, The Simpsons, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Turtle Whirl

I was looking for information on the Black Tortoise of Winter who played a significant role in Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver, and it turns out that he’s pretty closely tied to a god called Xuanwu, a prominent deity in Taoism. In fact, the tortoise even shares the god’s name. I’ll get a little more into the association later, but for now I’ll give some basic information on Xuanwu. Although he has several functions, he seems to be most importantly regarded as a war god, and a patron of martial arts. His name even means “dark warrior,” although during the Song Dynasty, a taboo on the word xuan (I think it was part of the imperial ancestral name) led to him also being known as Zhenwu, or “true warrior.” He’s linked to the element of water and the direction north, which could be why he’s sometimes associated with winter as well. And since north is the direction from which the Mongols and other invaders would attack China, he was regarded as the one who protected the nation from them. That said, he remained popular even when the Mongols took over. One significant patron of his from after the Yuan Dynasty was the Yongle Emperor Xu Di, who attributed a victory to Xuanwu, and hence built temples in his honor.

He’s sometimes regarded as being in charge of thunder and lightning as well.

Xuanwu’s back story indicates that he was originally human, but managed to achieve immortality through study of the Tao. It seems that the earlier accounts make him a prince in the time of the Yellow Emperor, while the Manchu Dynasty later popularized the idea that he was a butcher who became upset over how many animals he was killing. He lived in the Wudang Mountains in Hubei for forty-two years, eventually becoming an immortal. The mountains are now famous as the site of a Taoist monastery where a certain style of martial arts is practiced, a rival to the nearby Buddhist Shaolin monastery.

There are several different versions of the butcher story, but a common element in them is that he pulled out his stomach and intestines in order to become a god, the idea being that that he could not join the immortals until he removed his human parts. The version given by Wikipedia tells that he was washing the clothes of the disguised Guanyin, goddess of compassion, and she told him he needed to wash his internal organs as well. His stomach became a turtle and his intestines a snake, both of which were demonic and went on a rampage of terror.

Xuanwu managed to subdue and tame them, hence overcoming his own demons (they were, after all, directly from his body), and they became his faithful followers and generals. Sometimes he’s shown stepping on them, though.

One of Xuanwu’s main symbols is a snake entwined around a tortoise.

As tortoises live a long time, the symbol represented longevity as well as water and winter. The Black Tortoise is one of the four main animals identified as constellations by the Chinese, along with the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, and the Vermilion Bird.

Also, two mountains on opposite sides of a river in Hubei are known as Tortoise and Snake. Also frequently appearing in depictions of Xuanwu is a sword that he holds very tightly, the legend being that he borrowed it from Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals, in order to kill a demon, and refused to give it back. Since it has the magical property of always returning to its master, Xuanwu won’t let it go.

Xuanwu and his generals appear in Journey to the West, and I understand there’s also a series by Kylie Chan in which Xuanwu is kicked out of Heaven and lives as a businessman in Hong Kong. Is anyone reading this familiar with these books?

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Trump and Consequences

I was thinking today how weird it is that many people, including me, have complained both about Donald Trump keeping his campaign promises AND his frequent lies. So he’s damned no matter what he does? Well, sort of, but I think it does make sense. Part of it is just that Trump is always contradicting himself; I believe it was John Oliver who said that, in a logic puzzle, he’d be both the guy who always tells the truth AND the one who always lies. Really, though, I think there’s a general narrative he has that IS largely consistent, if also chaotic. He might lie a lot, but it seems that he’s not very good at it. When someone makes totally clear that he’s in favor of lower corporate taxes, cutting health care, and silencing the news media, can you really buy that he’d be a champion of the working class?

One point he made during the campaign that actually could have been valid was that, as someone who took advantage of government corruption, he’d have some idea how to fight it. It’s like former criminals joining with law enforcement to catch other criminals of the same sort. I get the impression most of these people are at least somewhat remorseful about what they did, though, and I never got that vibe from Trump.

Other lies Trump and his team have told are not only obviously untrue but also rather pointless; does it really matter in the end how many people attended his inauguration? And there are some statements he’s made that are basically self-contradictory. Not only is Trump saying that no one respects women more than he does laughably false, but bragging about how much you respect someone is pretty contrary to the very notion of respect. Or “I have a good relationship with the blacks.” And yet you still call them “the blacks”? Even if there weren’t plenty of other examples of blatant racism from Trump, insisting you love an entire race indicates you don’t really care about them as individuals. I hear that about Jews as well, with people making antisemitic comments and then saying, “I love the Jews!” I’m not sure if Trump has said this, but he has made remarks about trusting Jews with his money, essentially trying to make a stereotype sound positive. To me, it just sounds like, “They’re money-grubbing bastards, but I can use that!” That Trump is greedy, egotistical, misogynistic, and a user of others isn’t based on a secret psychological profile, but the image he’s purposely crafted over the years, and has likely bragged about. So why would anyone be surprised that he’s pursuing an agenda that matches what he’s clearly supported? Admittedly, I thought it might take him a little longer, but I’m hardly shocked. But just today, I saw a link to this collection of people who voted for Trump and are now angry that he’s doing exactly what he promised.

Part of it just seems to be the usual belief that it’s okay to screw people over as long as those people aren’t you or anyone you consider part of your group. I tweeted today about how little sense it makes to have a knee-jerk reaction against socialism, then vote for someone who says he’s going to bring back jobs. How would that even be possible without government interference in business? But again, I think it boils down to being okay with socialist policies when they help YOU, but not when it helps those you consider unworthy. Still, even with this in mind, I’d have to think anyone who thought Trump would help anyone other than himself or people he owes favors must be at least somewhat delusional.

To me, Trump really sounds like a snake oil salesman, untrustworthy by his very manner. But a lot of people actually BELIEVE scammers like this, especially if they propose conspiracy theories that match theirs. The border wall he says he wants to build would be a pointless, wasteful symbol that wouldn’t keep out anyone who’s actually determined, but a lot of Americans were convinced it would work before Trump claimed the idea as his own. I remember when he claimed during the primaries that he’d gotten the Republicans talking about immigration, when he actually had pretty much the same view as most of the other candidates. And a lot of people already feel they can’t trust the media, so going along with this works out well for Trump, who already had a vendetta against the news for telling the truth about him (and, really, in a much milder way than he deserves). Not that you SHOULD totally trust the media (they make mistakes sometimes, and usually have to kowtow to their sponsors), but for some reason people who believe they can’t trust one source at all also implicitly believe some other source. Practically every biologist on Earth is part of some conspiracy to promote evolution, but your church’s interpretation of a book from the Iron Age is the total, absolute truth, and you’ll go to Hell if you doubt it. Network news has a left-wing bias and can’t be trusted, but everything you hear on Fox News is absolutely accurate. I’m not sure why it seems to work this way. It’s like everyone has a certain amount of trust they have to dole out, so if you don’t want to evaluate each source individually, you have to give ALL of it to one and none of it to others. I do have to wonder if those tweets represent a significant portion of the population, not that it matters much if the government is going to continue giving him carte blanche to do whatever he wants.

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Coping with Totalitarianism

The Table of Less Valued Knights, by Marie Phillips – There have been many parodies of the King Arthur mythos, but this one covers some ground that I hadn’t seen before. It introduces another table at Camelot for the knights who aren’t good enough for the Round Table, or are in disgrace for some reason. Sir Humphrey du Val is one of the latter, but he sets out on a quest anyway, accompanied by his small giant squire who rides an elephant. He eventually crosses paths with Martha of Tuft, who has become queen after the death of her father, but unfortunately received an oafish husband along with the position. She runs off to find her lost brother, and is disguised as a man by a fill-in Lady of the Lake. Her husband Prince Edwin receives some development as well, going from just a lout to a more truly evil character, and delving into how he was constantly bullied by his even nastier older brother. There are a lot of jokes on the genre, some quite clever and others more or less old hat, but the plot is also pretty complex and the characters interesting.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood – My friend Tavie recommended this, and it seems pretty timely these days. I saw a few pictures of signs from the Women’s March specifically referencing it. But then, stories like these are probably always going to be relevant, unfortunately. It’s a dystopian novel about a future America (well, since it was written in 1985, the time it’s likely set in has actually already passed, but still) that’s been turned into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. Women have pretty much no rights at all, and are just used for breeding. The narrative is in first person by a woman working as a handmaid, which means she’s kept in a powerful man’s household for him to impregnate, with the name referencing the Biblical stories of Abraham and Jacob having children with handmaids. The protagonist occasionally flashes back to earlier days, when she was married to a man who’d been divorced, which had become illegal under the new laws. Her fate is never actually explained, but there is an epilogue taking place in the farther future, with academics trying to understand the historical content of the story. It’s satirical, but based on ideas that are all too real. While such things ebb and flow, our current president and his administration seem determined to roll back the individual rights of American citizens, women and minorities even more so than the rest. There was a lot of this sort of thing going on in the Reagan years as well, but I don’t think Ronnie ever bragged about sexual harassment.

Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin – These two follow up on Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (despite actually taking place before it), all three being based on classical Chinese mythology, with children as the main protagonists. The plot is frequently put on hold for a relevant story, and the illustrations are very appealing. The main character in Starry River is Rendi, the son of a cruel magistrate who’s run away to the Village of Clear Sky, where the Moon has disappeared from the sky. It’s bookended with the tale of how the village leader convinced a spirit to move the mountain that had originally been there, which turns out to be not entirely true. The village residents are all involved, and many have back stories that connect to the mythology, as well as more mundane problems that are settled over the course of the book. When the Sea is about an emperor who craves immortality, and goes to horrific lengths to achieve it. He kidnaps an old storyteller, and her granddaughter Pinmei sets out to find a magic stone to exchange for her, accompanied by a mysterious boy named Yishan. With some assistance from the Sea King, they find that the emperor has stolen an iron rod that makes him invincible, and captured the Black Tortoise of Winter. He’s commissioned a wall around the country to keep the Tortoise from escaping. He eventually does achieve immortality, but not in the way he expects. Both of these books have a lot of characters who pop in and out of the story, and based on what I’ve seen on Goodreads, I’m not alone in sometimes forgetting who they are. That’s a minor gripe, though; these books are definitely worth reading.

Posted in Art, Arthurian Legend, Book Reviews, British, Chinese, Christianity, Current Events, Feminism, Fundamentalism, Humor, Mythology, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment