Taliesin’s Tale

I don’t think I’ve said that much about the legendary bard Taliesin, although I’ve come across him when researching other British mythology. I tend to subconsciously associate him with Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, I guess because they’re also bards from the British Isles with names starting with T, but I don’t think there’s any direct connection beyond that. I’ve read the Book of Taliesin, a collection of poems attributed to this man, and it seems that the general consensus is that they were written in the sixth century. Well, at least some are; others might well have been written by later authors who thought of themselves as working in Taliesin’s tradition. Several of them praise King Urien of Rheged, a kingdom consisting of parts of northern England and southern Scotland. There are accounts of different battles, songs about characters and situations from the Bible, and some more legendary tales.

One of the latter is the Cad Goddeu, or Battle of the Trees, which tells about enchanted trees serving as an army to the magician Gwydion.

Picture by Mark Wigan
Much of it is a list of types of trees and how they each contribute to the fight, and I’ve seen attempts to link this with the Ogham alphabet. While the reason for the battle isn’t mentioned by Taliesin, it’s elsewhere said to have started when Gwydion’s brother Amaetheon stole a deer and a puppy from Arawn, Lord of Annwn, the Celtic world of the dead. The magician enchants a bunch of trees to fight Arawn’s forces, and also successfully guesses the name of Bran, one of the Lord of Annwn’s most powerful troops.

While Taliesin might well have been a real person, he seems to have been mythologized pretty early on, and he’s even sometimes considered a god of sorts. A well-known account of his life holds that he was born twice, first as Gwion Bach ap Gwreang, who was a servant for the enchantress Cerridwen.

She was married to a giant, and they had two children, a beautiful daughter named Crearwy and a hideously ugly son called Morfran. While Cerridwen was unable to make Morfran attractive, she did try to make it up to him by brewing a potion to grant him wisdom and poetic inspiration. She had Gwion stir the potion for her, but he spilled a few drops on his thumb, which burned him. When he put his thumb in his mouth, he became a great poet, also gaining prophetic and magical abilities. There’s a clear similarity to the story of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Wisdom. Cerridwen was angry at him for drinking the potion, despite it being an accident, so he changed himself into various forms to try and escape her wrath. When he finally turned into a grain of wheat, Cerridwen ate it, but that caused her to become pregnant with Gwion in baby form. She placed him in a leather bag and threw it in the water, the bag then being caught by the incredibly unlucky Welsh Prince Elffin ap Gwyddno, who was trying to catch some fish.

I guess sometimes it was a boat instead of a bag. There are always variations.
He also had a large estate that was destroyed by flood. Elffin named the boy Taliesin, meaning “radiant brow,” and despite being a baby he was already composing verses. After that, Elffin became a careless braggart, and his son had to repeatedly bail him out. The name Elffin might mean “bright cliff” or “bright rock.” I don’t think it’s directly related to elves, but there’s probably an etymological connection.

The bard served at several royal courts, including that of King Arthur. This makes a certain amount of sense, as Geoffrey of Monmouth placed Arthur’s reign in the sixth century. But he’s also sometimes said to have worked for Bran the Blessed, who is said in at least some sources to have lived before the Roman conquest of Britain, centuries before Arthur. But then, part of the Cad Goddeu has the author mentioning that he’s taken many forms and witnessed many different historical events. Taliesin appears in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain as the bard who gave Fflewddur Fflam his magical harp that breaks when he tells a lie.

Taliesin is sometimes associated with Merlin, as they’re both magicians and prophets who served King Arthur. The Welsh character Myrddin was a bard, but this aspect of his character doesn’t seem to have lasted. Of course, bards having magical powers is pretty common in mythology; the Finnish Vainamoinen and Greek Orpheus both come to mind. And I know bards who work magic are standard in fantasy role-playing games.

Posted in Arthurian Legend, British, Celtic, Etymology, Finnish, Greek Mythology, History, Magic, Music, Mythology, Names, Poetry, Uncategorized, Welsh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Something for the Ruler with Everything

The 1998 Oziana has even less original art than the last issue. Aside from the front cover by Ron Zhang, showing an MGM-inspired Wicked Witch of the West menacing the familiar four (five, including Toto) and a picture of Ozma wearing a headband by Bryan Hollingsworth, it’s all either repurposed John R. Neill or Robin Olderman’s own drawings, or sometimes a combination of the two.

The back cover is an advertisement for the next issue, showing the Scarecrow receiving it in his mailbox.

Regardless, it has some great stories, mostly having fun with familiar characters.

“The Gauds of Oz, by David Hulan – This is a follow-up of sorts to “A Princess of Oz,” as it again features the Wizard’s transportation pills and the helpful woodchuck, but it mostly deals with different characters, and covers a lot of territory for a short story. It starts with the Yellow Knight patrolling the border between Corumbia and Samandra, and finding a cave full of glowing gems called firestones, which are rare even in Oz. Seeking to find a jeweler who can set them, he travels to the Emerald City and hears from the Glass Cat about Joyero, known as the greatest jeweler in Oz. He’s the one who made the Golden Cap for Gayelette and Quelala‘s wedding, and later traded back, then gave the Cap to the Wicked Witch of the West in exchange for the only previously known firestone. Upon learning there are more, he locks up the Knight. He is able to escape and get help from the Wizard of Oz and Lonesome Duck to overcome Joyero’s magical defenses, and finally manages to negotiate with the jeweler. The idea of the four knights who were enchanted in Corabia while courting the Princess and disenchanted during Yellow Knight taking up service to the King of Corumbia makes sense. The titles of this and its predecessor were based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first two Barsoom books, and I remember his mentioning he wanted to write one called “Jellia Jamb, Maid of Oz,” although Dave Hardenbrook ended up using that title instead. I understand there’s a comic called Warlord of Oz, which also might work as a title for a manuscript I’ve written. I’ve only read the first three Barsoom books, but looking at later titles, there are a lot of synthetic men in Oz, and maybe Carter Green is enough of a reference to John Carter.

“The Shortest Book of Oz” and “Ozma’s Swap Party,” by Jno. R. Bell – These brief tales were originally written for the Ozzy Digest. The first is a parody, although I guess there’s no reason it couldn’t have actually happened within the Oz universe. Based, if I remember correctly, on some talk about how much shorter Oz stories would be if Ozma used her magic to its full potential, it has a boy being transported to Oz, immediately rescued by Ozma with the Magic Belt, and then sent home. The second story addresses how difficult it must be to keep finding birthday presents for Ozma, with her references the events of The Magic of Oz, as well as a presumably unwritten adventure where Sir Hokus goes to a place called Fremmely to gather dragons’ teeth. He wasn’t planning to give Ozma Spartoi, was he? But anyway, the Ruler instead suggests everyone bringing a small gift and swapping with each other. John does a good job of capturing the characters, especially Scraps, who is vocally annoyed at ending up with metal polish. Many of the participants end up with the same things they brought, but they all have fun. These stories are followed by a logic puzzle by Mike Turniansky, whom I remember as a frequent Digest contributor. I thought I’d remembered hearing that he’d died, but I might have him mixed up with someone else. The puzzle is based on the respective ages of Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot, based on brief references in Lost Princess and Giant Horse.

“The Grabbit Rabbit of Oz,” by Robin Olderman – The editor wrote this one, which returns to Bunnybury and has the King learn another lesson besides the one from Emerald City. This time, the bullying Peter the Grabbit Rabbit has stolen the throne, with help from a magical carrot necklace. Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion have to help him stand up to the usurper and start doing things himself instead of always relying on his subjects, which he does with help from some magic Glinda had given him. There are a lot of references back to the original visit to Bunnybury.

“Kabumpo Finds a Frond,” by Atticus Gannaway – I think this might have been Atticus’ first Oziana contribution, although he’d previously written a few Oz books. It deals with the royal palm tree from Land, for which the penalty for removing leaves was to be killed seven times and then imprisoned for life. When the Tin Woodman tells a visiting Kabumpo about this, the elephant avoids the tree, but resolves to talk to Ozma about the excessive law. When he accidentally knocks off a frond in a confrontation with the Patchwork Girl, they find it bears a warning about Ozma vanishing. Much to Kabumpo’s annoyance, he and Scraps have to team up to prevent this from happening, only to find out in the end there was really no danger. It’s an interesting explanation for a mysterious statement from an early Oz book. In terms of continuity, I’m not sure how well it fits with Dennis Anfuso’s take on the palm tree in Astonishing Tale of the Gump, but maybe there’s a way to fit them together.

The issue ends with some anagrams, and it looks like I never solved them.

Next time, Oziana goes to the dogs. Well, one dog, anyway.

Posted in Animals, Art, Atticus Gannaway, Characters, Comics, Dennis Anfuso, Games, Greek Mythology, Humor, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The World First Spoke to Me in Sensurround

We haven’t really been watching a lot of movies recently, aside from the two Elvis ones. I can’t even remember how long ago it was we saw the first two on here; they’ve been sitting in a draft for a while. But anyway, here we go. SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Paper – This was directed by Ron Howard and has some pretty famous people in its cast, but it didn’t really grab me. Michael Keaton plays an editor at a New York City newspaper who has a pregnant wife played by Marissa Tomei, and puts his work before his home life. He’s considering switching to another paper, but instead steals information from them at his interview. There’s a significant story about some businessmen being murdered in Williamsburg, and two Black teenagers are blamed for it, something still unfortunately relevant today. Keaton tries to make a last-minute change to the banner headline, but his boss, played by Glenn Close, initially tries to prevent him. And a columnist played by Randy Quaid gets into a fight with a traffic official who’s Jason Alexander with a mustache. Eventually, Close relents, the teenagers are exonerated, and Tomei has the baby.

Rollercoaster – I think Beth mostly just wanted to see this movie because Sparks was in it. Not all that much, but they do play both “Fill ‘Er Up” and “Big Boy” during a pivotal scene.

She pointed out that you can hear the latter in the background for longer than the actual song goes on. The plot involves a terrorist who blows up rides at two different amusement parks, and threatens to do so again unless he’s paid an excessive ransom. George Segal plays a safety inspector who comes into conflict with the villain, and while the antagonist outsmarts him at Kings Dominion, he manages to figure out that he’s going to strike at Magic Mountain in California next, and finally manages to corner him. I’ve been to Kings Dominion before, and I rode the Rebel Yell, the coaster shown in the movie, although it wasn’t racing trains at the time. They changed the name in 2018 to Racer 75, as Confederate references weren’t as cool by that point. I would have thought that would have been the case back in 1865. I also remember the singing frog at the Skyway station, so that was nostalgic for me.

I haven’t been to either of the other actual parks featured, but the Rocket at Ocean View in Norfolk, Virginia is real, and the Revolution was a new ride at Magic Mountain at the time. If you like ride footage, and I do, there’s a lot of it here. And a safety inspector as the hero is an interesting idea. This was one of only five movies to be shown in Sensurround, a vibrating speaker system that They Might Be Giants have a song about.

Earth Girls Are Easy – A very eighties movie that neither of us had seen before, it features Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, and Damon Wayans as three hairy, colorful aliens who land their ship in a pool in the San Fernando Valley. Geena Davis plays a manicurist who’s engaged to a doctor, only to find out he’s been cheating on her, so she throws him out of the house. She meets the aliens, who are inexplicably attracted to human women despite seeing them as bald, and takes them to the owner of the salon where she works, played by Julie Brown, who co-wrote the screenplay. She somehow gives them makeovers that make them look human, so the actors can just play themselves without the suits for the rest of the movie. The aliens get into some wacky hijinks, and Davis quickly falls in love with Goldblum, whom she was actually married to at the time. It’s quite cheesy and campy, but entertaining.

Stepfather – This low-budget horror film from 1987 is about a guy who murders his family, then goes to marry a widow with a daughter. The daughter is very suspicious of him, and catches him going into fits in the basement; but the mother doesn’t believe there’s anything strange about her husband until he screams at the daughter for coming home with a boy. This triggers him to try to kill them and endear himself to a new widow, also changing his appearance and getting a new job. He’s a realtor for most of the movie, then interviews to be an insurance agent. I’d think someone with rage problems and a secret identity might want to avoid jobs where he has to sell stuff to people all the time, but I think he’s supposed to be one of those charming psychopaths. It’s just hard for the audience to see him that way when we know from the very beginning that he’s a murderer, or at least that’s how I felt.

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It’s a Celtic Thing

I recently finished reading the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythological prose, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest in the nineteenth century. I understand there have been better English translations since then, but this is what I could easily find online, and it was the standard for over a century. It’s not clear that all these stories were originally grouped together, but they were all written in Welsh and have some similar themes. The book starts with the Four Branches, which are followed by some other tales that are less strictly mythological. Several of these later ones deal with King Arthur, and seem to predate the more familiar stories of his court. There’s a version of the story of Sir Perceval (here called Peredur), the Fisher King, and the Holy Grail, except there’s no grail in it.

“Did anyone order the head cheese?”
Arthur has a magic fidchell set in some of these stories.

Another part of the collection is a Welsh legend that developed about the fourth century Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus, who is elsewhere associated with Arthur. If you’ve read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, or seen the not-so-great Disney adaptation, you’d recognize some of the names and ideas from the Mabinogion, although their characterizations are often different. Gwydion, son of Don, is a righteous warrior in Alexander’s books, but more of an amoral trickster magician in the source.

The cauldron that resurrects the dead, the Pair Dadeni, is portrayed pretty accurately, though, down to a living person having to sacrifice himself to destroy it.

Prydain is the old Welsh name for the island of Britain.

One story in the Mabinogion that I found particularly interesting was that of Math, son of Mathonwy, which I already touched upon in my post about Arianrhod. She’s actually Gwydion’s sister, and various sources include Affalach, ruler of Avalon, and Cassivellaunus, who led an alliance of British tribes against Julius Caesar’s invasion. Whether that hints at the time period is unclear, as folklore like this tends to be loose in that respect, and several of these characters are likely either gods or adjacent to them. Another brother, Gilfathwy, is the one who rapes Math’s original footbearer Goewin, Gwydion manufacturing a war to get Math out of the castle so he can do this. Then he suggests his sister as Goewin’s replacement. Something about this doesn’t add up. (You know, because the king’s name is Math?) 

One of Arianrhod’s sons, Dylan, decided to live under the sea after being baptized. The other, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, started life as an amorphous blob, but grew into an adult human form very quickly. Gwydion raised him, and had to trick his sister in order to overcome the curses she placed on her son. The last of these was that he wouldn’t ever marry a human woman, so Gwydion teams up with Math to make a woman of flowers, specifically oak, broom, and meadowsweet.

This woman, Blodeuwedd, or “flower face,” marries Lleu, but it’s apparently not a happy marriage, as she has an affair with a guy named Gronw Pebr, and the two conspire to kill Lleu so they can stay together.

Maybe she’s part rose, as she turns out to have hidden thorns. Then again, maybe it’s not entirely fair to bring someone to life for the sole purpose of marrying your nephew. Did she have any say in the matter?

Presumably due to his magical birth and all that, he Lleu can only be killed in a very specific way, so, taking a page from Delilah‘s playbook, Blodeuwedd tricks her husband into revealing the way. He has to have one foot on a goat and one on a cauldron, and the weapon used against him has to be a spear forged for over a year, thrown when people are attending mass. How Lleu even knows this, I couldn’t say. It’s not a situation he’d be likely to stumble into accidentally. Instead of dying immediately, however, Lleu turns into an eagle, and Gwydion is able to change him back.

Lleu kills Gronw in revenge, and Gwydion turns Blodeuwedd into an owl, which was apparently a Welsh pun.

I have to wonder if Ruth Plumly Thompson was influenced by the tale of Blodeuwedd in creating her own woman made out of flowers, Urtha, although she’s sweet and loving rather than duplicitous.

I’ve also been thinking of linking the cauldron and the grail to Cayke the Cookie Cook’s Magic Dishpan, but that one is much more tenuous.

Posted in Animals, Arthurian Legend, Board Games, British, Celtic, Characters, Christianity, Games, History, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Magic Items, Mythology, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Relationships, Religion, Roman Empire, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Welsh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rustles and Flutters

It’s that time again, and here’s the 1997 Oziana. The cover shows an Oz shield that was made to be colored in, but I never did. Original illustrations are sparse this time, and many of them just repurposed John R. Neill pictures from the original Oz books. Editor Robin Olderman mentions that it was difficult to get artists, but then says, “we’ll have to go back to the format used by Oziana many years ago.” I don’t know what she’s talking about there, as while there were reused illustrations in earlier issues, it was never the norm.

“The Forbidden Cave of Grapelandia,” by Frederick E. Otto – This one is a direct follow-up to another Oziana story of Otto’s, “A Cozy Castle in Oz.” It mentioned a cave that Princess Prunella was forbidden to explore. This time, she finally does, along with her mother Myrna and dog Comfort. They get separated in the tunnels inside Big Enough Mountain, and Myrna and Comfort are captured by dragons who want to bring them to the Ruby Imps. The Imps are from Frank Joslyn Baum’s The Laughing Dragon of Oz, and it’s explained here that they left their home after the North Wind attacked, and the Duchess, Prunella’s grandmother, allowed them to stay in the caverns in exchange for teaching her some transformation magic. Once again, the Duke decides not to tell his mother what they found out. This one has original art by Melody Grandy, but several of them were themselves later repurposed for Melody’s own Zim Greenleaf, in a part that also has a young princess, her mother, and a sheepdog meeting dragons in a cave.

Following this story is a humorous piece written by Dave Hardenbrook, a parody of typical spam messages of the time, accompanied by a picture of several Oz characters using a PC, including the Wogglebug using a stethoscope on it for some reason.
I remember Dave’s depiction of Glinda was based on Enya, and hence had short hair. Then there’s a word find by Robin that has characters’ names starting with A, B, and C overlapping with the places they’re from.

“The Heart of the Matter,” by Theresa Hogue – I don’t know the author of this one, but I do remember she was profiled in the first issue of The Oz Gazette I ever received back when I first joined the International Wizard of Oz Club. In this tale, the Wizard of Oz has found a way to turn the Tin Woodman back to his old flesh-and-blood self. The Wizard is very excited about it and tries to rush into it, while Nick Chopper is more reluctant. He eventually decides to keep his tin form, disappointing the Wizard, who’s kind of pushy here. Interestingly, Karyl Carlson’s “Dollmaker” from a few years earlier has Nick temporarily being disenchanted into his old meat body and not caring for it much. I guess I never really thought that the issue was that he couldn’t be changed into flesh, but that he didn’t particularly want to be. It’s never been made explicit, though. In Forever, Melody has Nick being given the ability to turn from flesh to tin at will, which is a nice compromise, and which Marcus Mebes utilizes in the second part of Haunted Castle. Still, I can’t really imagine writing him as anything other than tin.

“A Generic Oz Story,” by Tyler Jones – This story parodies the recurring elements in a lot of Oz tales, especially fan-written ones, although most of them have antecedents in the original books, especially the Ruth Plumly Thompson ones: a villain trying to conquer Oz, the protagonists running into several different strange and hostile communities, and magical items that grant wishes. I’ve written before about how wishing magic tends to be kind of lazy, but it still gets used a lot in Oz adventures. It’s very silly, but it does make some valid points about overused ideas. The story was later incorporated into March Laumer’s Beenie, where the hero purposely tries not to follow the usual patterns for Oz adventures. This is followed by some unfinished Percy Vere verses by Robin, which are quite reminiscent of Thompson’s general style for the Forgetful Poet. Then there’s a list of Oz-related computer viruses thought up by various contributors to the Ozzy Digest, an email digest that I was pretty active on back when it was around. As such, this was actually my first time in Oziana, with my first original story not appearing until about a decade later. Also represented are Gili Bar-Hillel, Melody, Dave, Jeremy Steadman, Danny Wall, and John N. White. This sort of thing was also representative of the Internet at the time, when fake virus warnings were quite common. I don’t know that they’re as much of a thing these days.

“The Braided Man of Oz,” by Eleanor Kennedy – The title had already been used for a short book by R.K. Lionel, but this is a different story about the same character, who first showed up in Dorothy and the Wizard. When Ugu the Shoemaker casts a spell to make the denizens of the Emerald City unable to hear, the Braided Man’s rustles and flutters cause Button-Bright to laugh at the Patchwork Girl, the only way to break the enchantment. The story takes place before Lost Princess, so no one finds out who was responsible for the magic. The Braided Man is given a medal and a new workshop in the city. I’m pretty sure there are stories that take place later where he’s back in Pyramid Mountain, but it’s possible he commuted between the two with help from Ozma or the Wizard. By the way, the majority of this tale takes place on Ozma’s birthday, which was last Sunday, so it’s coincidentally appropriate. The illustrations for this one are repurposed Neill, and they include a picture of Prince Pompadore, who isn’t mentioned in the story. I suspect it’s just used because there’s a mention of somersaults in the text, but Ozma wouldn’t have known Pompa at this point.

Next time, the Yellow Knight finds some rare gems, Bunnybury is conquered, and Scraps and Kabumpo learn the secret of the royal palm tree (well, one of them, anyway).

Posted in Animals, Art, Characters, Families, Fred Otto, Games, Humor, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, March Laumer, Marcus Mebes, Melody Grandy, Monsters, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Poetry, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Domain of the King

You may remember that Beth and I were watching all the Elvis movies in order, and I’d been writing about them in groups of three. But then it was a few months between seeing the seventh and eighth, and we just saw the 2022 Elvis film at the theater yesterday, so this is a post that’s been a long time in the making.

Wild in the Country – I’m pretty sure Elvis has gotten into a fist fight in every movie so far, and this one starts with it. He goes to prison, and when he’s up for parole, his uncle agrees to take him in and let him work at his drugstore, where he sells snake oil. He’s also required to see a social worker, and she really does help him, but he develops feelings for her that she can’t reciprocate. (Who does he think he is, Tony Soprano?) A neighbor woman and his cousin (it’s the South, I guess) are also interested in him, but he surprisingly doesn’t end up with any of them. Instead, after the social worker sees his writing, she pushes for him to go to college, which he does in the end. It’s a rather positive message of redemption and the importance of social work and education, even if there are a lot of disturbing turns along the way, including his being falsely accused of murder by the social worker’s ex-boyfriend. I knew I recognized the name of Tuesday Weld, who plays the cousin. This is the only thing I’ve seen her in, but there’s a band called The Real Tuesday Weld who worked with the Puppini Sisters a few times, so I think that’s why. She was in a lot of stuff, and dated Elvis for a little while, as well as some other famous people.

Blue Hawaii – Beth’s mom has talked about how she almost got thrown out of this movie because her friend was talking too much. My dad said he didn’t like it at all. Elvis plays Chad Gates, the son of a pineapple company manager, who has just been discharged from the Army and just wants to hang out with his girlfriend and his native Hawaiian friends (whom his family keeps calling “beach boys”), while his parents want him to join the family business. Angela Lansbury, who was only ten years older than Elvis, plays his mother with a Southern (American) accent. Chad’s girlfriend gets him a job she thinks he’s better suited for, a tour guide at the travel agency she works for. He shows around a young teacher and her teenage girl students, one of whom is sulky the whole time and then tries to hit on him. Chad is apparently more conscientious about such things than the actual Elvis, and rebuffs her advances. But he also spanks her, which is pretty inappropriate, I would think. And yes, there’s a fistfight in this one as well. Maybe it was in the contract. The soundtrack includes the title song and “Rock-A-Hula Baby,” as well as a song about how Chad’s friend eats a lot of food. Pretty sure that last one was never a hit. But most interestingly, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is performed without a band or anything, just Elvis singing along with a music box he gives his girlfriend’s grandmother. The ending has Chad’s girlfriend starting her own travel agency, and him giving tours to representatives from his dad’s company, essentially making everyone happy. Of course, most new businesses fail in their first year, don’t they?

Elvis – This one is a movie about Elvis rather than starring him. Austin Butler plays the King of Rock and Roll, and I believe he sings the songs earlier on in the movie, although later ones use recordings of the actual Elvis. Tom Hanks plays a rather over-the-top Colonel Tom Parker, made up to look fat and with a pronounced Dutch accent. Since in both real life and the movie, Parker was trying to hide the fact that he was from the Netherlands, the accent doesn’t make a lot of sense. Elvis never found out about his background or fired him on stage, either. It appears that the Colonel was generally able to pass as being from West Virginia until a few years after Elvis died. Parker narrates the film, but he’s unreliable and not presented at all sympathetically. A good deal was made of his past as a carnival promoter, with scenes where he talks with Elvis on a Ferris wheel and in a house of mirrors. I noticed that, perhaps in response to how the King is said to have appropriated Black culture, the movie makes a point of showing him having Black friends and the blessings of artists to sing that style of music. This might well have been accurate, but I still think it was a conscious choice to focus on it. I also noticed that they seemed to have avoided directly mentioning that Priscilla was fourteen when she and Elvis started dating. Parker’s narration did say she was a teenager, and Elvis later confirms their ten-year age difference, but it’s downplayed. There was a lot of use of stylized text when introducing new scenes, as well as rapidly switching back and forth between different footage, like alternating between adult Elvis performing and him as a boy. There was one bit that I guess was supposed to be in Parker’s mind, where after learning that Elvis wanted to record gospel music, he imagined that followed by Presley doing a number set in a whorehouse. Aren’t those two pretty much opposites? Of course, the link between purity culture and racism was addressed in the film, and it’s still very much the case. Overall, I liked it, and found it pretty emotional, especially towards the end.

The theater was giving away a promotional comic for League of Super-Pets, so I took one, and it was pretty cute. Maybe I’ll actually need to watch that movie sometime. There were a lot of previews before the film started, including one for Don’t Worry Darling. Is Florence Pugh typecast as being in movies about cults, or is that just my limited knowledge of what she’s worked on?

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Women and Demons

Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, by Natalie Haynes – I believe I first saw this book mentioned in a list of online recommendations, but it was also discussed on the Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby! podcast. It focuses on ten women (well, a group of women in one case): Pandora, Jocasta, Helen, Medusa, the Amazons, Clytemnestra, Eurydice, Phaedra, Medea, and Penelope, many of whom are often maligned in retellings and interpretations of the myths. The title refers to how, while the phrase “Pandora’s Box” is common in English, it was originally a jar, and only became a box due to Erasmus’ Latin translation of Hesiod in the sixteenth century. While perhaps it doesn’t make that much difference to the meaning, the jars Hesiod referred to were large and fragile, not something you could hold in your hand. Pandora’s story has also gotten combined with the Biblical Eve, and while there’s definitely some misogyny in Hesiod’s story, it also seems like Pandora was more a tool of Zeus than someone who did something bad on her own. I had forgotten that Pandora had the jar with her when the gods sent her to Epimetheus, and he fully intended to punish the Titan for his and his brother Prometheus‘ role in benefiting humanity at the expense of the Olympians. I don’t think who opened the jar was that important to Zeus as long as it happened. It’s also mentioned that there are surviving positive portrayals of Pandora as the mother of humanity. I found it interesting that, in Aesop’s version of the story about the jar of evil, it’s a man who opens it, as that’s also the case with the tale Banon tells in Final Fantasy VI.

Medusa’s monstrous form was, in some interpretations (Ovid’s was the most detailed, but it was mentioned as early as Hesiod), a punishment by Athena for being raped by Poseidon, presumably because the goddess couldn’t punish him. And even in that form, she just hung around with her sisters on a faraway island, not purposely causing trouble for anyone. And Medea, while she definitely did some terrible things, she was also put into an impossible situation due to her love for the double-crossing Jason, which might not have even been voluntary. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but those were some of the aspects I found the most interesting. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in mythology.

Force of Fire, by Sayantani DasGupta – This is a prequel of sorts to the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series, focusing on the Demon Queen Pinki, who here is a young rakkhosh with trouble controlling her fire breath. She makes a deal with Sesha, the attractive son of the serpent Governor General, but finds that he’s not exactly true to his word. Pinki becomes part of the resistance against the snake overlords who rule the Kingdom Beyond at this point, and brings an army of ghosts to rescue her fellow rakkhosh from an underwater fortress. Kiranmala’s mother, the Moon Maiden Chandni, plays a role, as does Tuntuni’s father, who’s just as prone to terrible jokes as his son. Ai-Ma, Pinki’s dotty and doting mother, also appears. The author intended the fight against the occupying serpents to parallel the fight for Indian independence, and there are references to their trying to erase the demons’ language, particularly their rhyming speech.

Razzmatazz, by Christopher Moore – This is the sequel to Noir, not one of my favorites among Moore’s books, but an entertaining read nonetheless. I felt much the same about this one, although the incorporation of elemental dragons is interesting. It’s set in 1947 San Francisco, and Sammy Tiffin finds himself having to help find the Rain Dragon for Eddie Shu’s Uncle Ho, and his past in China and immigration to California is discussed in flashbacks. Sammy’s girlfriend Stilton, meanwhile, finds herself playing detective to try to figure out who’s been murdering drag kings. The alien from Noir reappears as well, and has some people build him a mechanical dragon so he can get his spaceship back. There’s a little of everything, and as is typical for Moore, a combination of well-researched references and lowbrow jokes.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Chinese, Christopher Moore, Feminism, Final Fantasy, Focus on the Foes, Gender, Greek Mythology, History, Humor, India, Language, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Relationships, Religion, Roman, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Need for Speedy

The 1996 Oziana is unusual in that it contains only one story, Umbrella Island in Oz, by Ruth Waara. As such, it’s kind of weird that the cover picture has nothing to do with it, instead being a Dick Martin drawing of Pigasus, accompanied by a verse from The Wishing Horse of Oz. It’s a nice picture, very much in the same style as the ones in the collections of his art that the International Wizard of Oz Club published. I remember putting a photocopy of it on my dorm room door back in college, and I got at least one nice comment on it. Pigasus does play a significant role in Waara’s unpublished sequel, The Magic Cryptogram of Oz.

The tale is a follow-up to Speedy, following up on the ending where Ruth Plumly Thompson tells us that she thinks the title character will someday return to Umbrella Island. It starts with a carnival in Michigan, where crooked game operator Ivan Montebank escapes from the police up the rope ladder to the flying island, and manages to convince most of the Umbrellians that he’s the newly elected King of the United States. In addition to his general trickiness, he also steals some Agree Filtre from Waddy to keep the people in line. Johnny Concel, who was at the same carnival, chases his sister Lynn’s pet chameleon Pickle up the same ladder, where they’re locked up. Speedy finds out about the encounter, and gets Dorothy to transport him to Oz. When they come to Umbrella Island, however, Dorothy has lost the Magic Belt, and they’re locked up as well. Pickle, who can turn the color of anything he touches while in a fairyland, plays a significant role in thwarting Ivan’s schemes.

In his usual manner, Terrybubble considers Pickle to be his cousin, and they become fast friends.

Ken Cope, identified as a former Disney animator in the introduction, draws the characters much as John R. Neill did, but somewhat more exaggerated.

Incidentally, the issue was originally published with a missing page, but people who bought it received an addendum.

I managed to find the story as Waara originally wrote it, and while it’s largely the same, Robin Olderman did streamline it a bit, mostly by cutting out a subplot where Speedy and Johnny are captured and enslaved by witches led by Cinderbutton, a character briefly mentioned in Pirates. Lynn also accompanies Johnny on the adventure, and Ivan is stopped in a different way. The published version also adds references to Skylab, the Watergate scandal, and the MGM movie being on television, suggesting a later date for it. I don’t think that fits too well with Gureeda being eighteen. It’s possible that the Umbrellians age slowly, but in that case, wouldn’t Speedy be quite a bit older than her when they developed feelings for each other as peers? Even in the original, Johnny and Lynn’s mom says she read Speedy as a little girl. According to Joe Bongiorno, Johnny and Lynn are based on and named after Waara’s grandchildren. There’s no mention in the original of King Sizzeroo abdicating, but when I wrote something about Speedy and Gureeda, I followed up on the ending of the Oziana version with her being Queen and Speedy her consort.

Next time, we return to Grapelandia, the Tin Woodman makes an important decision, the Braided Man becomes a hero, and Oz gets computer viruses and spam.

Posted in Animals, Art, Characters, Dick Martin, John R. Neill, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Relationships, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Technology, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Don’t Think It’s Good to Work Too Hard

I’ve gotten into the habit of writing about a video game when I start playing it, then again when I finish, assuming I ever do. I do tend to post occasional updates to Twitter, however, thanks to the screen capture function on the Switch. Such is the case with EarthBound, and in my first post about it, I had just started playing as Jeff. Now, I’ve beaten Giygas, the unfathomable evil being who was described by an ally as an “all-mighty idiot.”

I mentioned before that the final party member was the unfortunately named Poo, the Prince of Dalaam, the game world’s version of India.

Maybe I leveled up more than the game intended, but I found that, whenever I recruited a new ally, they were way behind in their statistics, and hence tended to die a lot. When Poo joins, he can’t even equip anything you’ve already found. You do find some equipment for him later on, but I never got the Sword of Kings, the only weapon he can equip, which is only available in one dungeon. Fortunately, he’s pretty strong even just using his hands, and tended to do more damage and lose fewer hit points than Paula and Jeff after I’d leveled him up a bit. I’ve found that, in RPGs, while weapons come with a lot of different statistics, you’re usually pretty safe just going by offensive power. This is less so in EarthBound, as weapons like yo-yos and slingshots have high attack but low accuracy. And when you equip them, it doesn’t actually show this lack of accuracy, so unless you routinely check stats, you have to see in battle that they miss a lot. Most baseball bats are accurate, but not the Casey Bat, I guess because Casey struck out. This didn’t matter quite so much when there were three party members, but that’s what I had equipped during the section inside Ness’s mind, when he’s the only controllable one. You could perhaps say there is no joy in Magicant. It’s fortunate you can find a more accurate bat there. I also found a few parts of the game difficult to figure out without a walkthrough. Getting into Master Belch’s fortress requires standing in a waterfall for three minutes, and you can’t beat him at all unless you use the Fly Honey.

I believe it’s also necessary to use a particular command multiple times against Gigyas, and it’s one that I didn’t use much otherwise, as its results tended not to be too helpful. I also found out late in the game that I had forgotten to visit the second sanctuary location. There are also some aspects that are creative but needlessly complicated, like how many different healing items there are when the majority of them only restore a negligible amount of health. I ended up making it through all right, although I didn’t explore the world all that much after beating the boss.

Not only does the game let you explore places loosely based on the real world, but also some pretty strange ones, including a mine inhabited by four giant moles who all claim to be the third strongest, a town of friendly aliens who speak in a weird font, a pyramid, a country of monkeys in a cave, and an underground world where dinosaurs live.

For the last battle, they go back in time and have their spirits transferred into robots, which fortunately have all the same skills and stats. It’s also interesting that this game, like Chrono Cross, has a Gaea’s Navel and a Sea of Eden.

There are a few different battle themes, including an unusually jaunty one and a bleepy tune for robot enemies.
A constant presence throughout the game is Pokey Minch, a kid who lives next door to Ness and seems to want to be his friend, but finds terrible ways to express it.

Children are like that sometimes, but I don’t think most of them go from a bit of a cowardly bully to a henchman of multiple villains, ending with Giygas itself. While he brings his father Aloysius with him to Fourside when he gets a job working for Geldegarde Monotoli, he escapes in a helicopter without him when things go awry. Pokey’s mother Lardna goes out shopping with no knowledge of where her husband and son went, leaving her other son Picky home alone. At the end of the game, Aloysius is still in Fourside hanging out at a bar, while Lardna appears to be having an affair with a guy called Mr. Prettyman.

Pokey escapes through time and sends a letter to Ness saying they’ll meet again, and I understand he does reappear in Mother 3, but I don’t think Ness does. It seems that Pokey’s name was meant to be Porky, but the translators didn’t realize this. I’d say they changed it to avoid the association with his weight (and really, the fat kid being a bully is a bit overused), but if that were the case, they probably wouldn’t have kept Lardna as his mom’s name. Mother 3 has him use pigs as a symbol, making Porky more appropriate, although it doesn’t go as well with Picky. But that kind of thing happens a lot. Giygas’ name is Gyiyg in Japanese, and Giegue in the English version of EarthBound Beginnings.

I suspect the original translation meant to tie it to “Gigas,” a word of the same Greek derivation as “giant” that’s sometimes used in fantasy.

Giygas itself rather disturbingly switches between attacking, crying out for help, and announcing it’s happy. I do find it weird that the game ships Ness and Paula even though they’re still kids.

Of course, in this world, kids can buy a house (albeit from a pretty shady guy), purchase bombs, build complicated machines, and beat up cops with no legal repercussions. Whether intentional or not, there’s kind of a theme that the authorities are largely useless.

Ness’s parents don’t seem to mind too much that he’s traveling the world and fighting monsters on his own. His father never even shows up in person, instead only communicating by telephone, unless he’s secretly working in the palace of Dalaam.

What am I going to play now? Well, I’ve started on Cosmic Star Heroine, and I’ve been playing The Sims 4 again as well. I installed a new expansion pack since the last time I played the latter, and while it adds some new actions and feelings for the characters, it seems to make the Sims’ wants way more limited. Mostly they just want to listen to music, and it’s boring to do that over and over. I haven’t yet looked into EarthBound Beginnings. I should probably play it someday, but for now I want to do something a little different. Live a Live also looks interesting.

Posted in Chrono Trigger, Dreams, Etymology, Families, Greek Mythology, Humor, Monsters, Music, Mythology, Names, Relationships, Sims, Technology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eleven, Twelve, Pig and Delve

The first noticeable thing about the 1995 Oziana is that the cover has a picture by the late Rob Roy MacVeigh of the main characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There’s also inside cover art by editor Robin Olderman, showing her dreaming of the Yellow Brick Road and Emerald City while preparing the issue.

It’s also noticeable that the font used throughout is larger than usual, which is kind of annoying to read, although maybe I’ll be glad of it if my close-up vision deteriorates.

“Pigmentation,” by Gili Bar-Hillel – This is the second issue in a row with a story about the Nine Tiny Piglets, or in this case mostly one particular piglet, Percival. The only others given names in this story are Ozma’s pet Peggy and another called Peter, who’s briefly mentioned at the end. Anyway, Percival is tired of being one of a largely interchangeable group, constantly being praised or blamed for things his siblings do. When he runs into his old enemy (frenemy?) Eureka, she teaches him how to manipulate the light to change his color. It’s not explained exactly how he does this, but it’s probably better left unexplained. It’s a fun tale that gives some personality to a character who was never distinguished from the others in the original books. It has a clever title, too. Eric Shanower illustrated this one, and Gili pointed out before that her other Oziana story, “The Woozy’s Tale,” was illustrated by his partner David Maxine.

“A Princess of Oz,” by David Hulan – David’s stories tend to be carefully planned out and full of explanations of things. Granted, sometimes the explanation is just “magic,” but it addresses such issues as how a lamp that had been unused for years still works just fine. The Wizard of Oz has invented transportation pills that can send the swallower anywhere in the land, which seems a little too easy, but it’s hardly the only case of instant transportation that’s never really used to its full advantage. Trot finds that her close friends are all away visiting other parts of the country, so she decides to explore the cave under the palace and the tunnels that Ruggedo and Wag dug while hiding out there. She runs into Queen Delva and her subjects, the Delves, silver-obsessed people who made a brief appearance in Purple Prince. They plan to make the Emerald City collapse and gather as much silver as they can, and force Trot into helping them mine. With some help from a friendly woodchuck, she manages to escape. Ozma transports the Delves to the Nome Kingdom, and makes Trot a Princess of Oz. Ruth Plumly Thompson casually refers to Trot and Betsy Bobbin as princesses in her later Oz books, but how they got that title isn’t entirely clear. James Vincent III was the illustrator on this one.

It’s followed by a game that’s part word find and part identifying which character was transformed into what. It looks like I didn’t quite finish with it.

“The Dollmaker of Oz,” by Karyl Carlson – Karyl, who also co-wrote Queen Ann in Oz, actually makes dolls of Oz characters. I don’t have any of them myself, but I’ve seen some of them, and they’re very impressive.

Her doll-making hobby features into the story, with Glinda visiting to inform her that her dolls have disenchanted the actual inhabitants of Oz, with the Patchwork Girl, the Scarecrow, and Jack Pumpkinhead made lifeless, and Nick Chopper turned back to his human form. It’s all due to a ring that Karyl bought in a thrift shop, which Glinda claims is related to the Magic Belt. Maybe its jewels were also made by Bel-Sor-t from K. Kline’s Kaliko. Anyway, she has to unmake the dolls in reverse, and everything turns out all right in the end. Destré Xan Childs drew the pictures for this one.

Next time, Speedy finally makes his long-awaited return to Umbrella Island.

Posted in Animals, Art, Characters, Dreams, Eric Shanower, Games, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments