The Best of Inventions

If you’ve read the Oz books, you might remember Smith and Tinker as the creators of Tik-Tok, as well as the Giant with the Hammer and, as per Rachel Cosgrove Payes, the Hundred-Year Alarm Clock.

I’ve written about them before myself. They never actually appear in the main series, and I don’t think most of the authors even mention their names. Ruth Plumly Thompson occasionally refers to them as “a firm of magicians,” while I don’t think L. Frank Baum ever indicated that they practiced magic. Then again, Dorothy suspects at the end of Ozma of Oz that Tik-Tok’s machinery probably wouldn’t work outside a fairyland, and some of the inventors’ deeds sound rather magical; but whether they actually work magic or just utilize the magic inherent in fairyland isn’t clear. Many magicians in the Oz series are inventors anyway. James Howe’s Mister Tinker in Oz finally brings in one of these men as a character, and he’s given the name Ezra P. Tinker. Rejano Edison Smith turns out to still be alive as well, as seen in Jim Vander Noot’s short story “Button-Bright and the Knit-Wits of Oz.” They both settle in the Emerald City at the end of their respective stories, Tinker as First and Only Royal and Official Inventor of Oz and Smith as Royal Painter of Oz, but since they’re absent at other times when they might be useful and are never shown meeting again, it’s likely they come and go.

Physically, Ezra Tinker is very tall and moves jerkily, while Rejano is “a bald, red-faced little man.”

Other works reveal more details about the life and work of these two. When the American military stumbles upon the Ozian landmass in Timothy Perper and Martha Cornog’s “A Side View of the Nonestic Islands,” a paranormal researcher named John Smith learns about it and remembers ” a family tale about a nineteenth century Smith, an ancestor of some sort, an artist and inventor who had gone to the South Seas to open a machine shop.” The connection is spelled out later in the story. According to “Glinda and the Red Jinn,” Smith and Tinker were the first ones to teach magic to Jinnicky. Since he claims to have been practicing magic for 200 years in Yankee, this means the inventors might have been active as early as the eighteenth century. This also suggests Smith’s middle name was not a direct reference to Thomas Edison in-universe. Still, since he has the last name of another famous inventor for a middle name, I’ve decided that Tinker’s is Pascal. “Knit-Wits” has Smith mention that he visited the Emerald City during the Wizard’s reign, which would be nice to tie into his giving the Hundred-Year Alarm Clock to Singra in a trade, but Singra was likely enchanted before the Wizard’s arrival. Mysterious Chronicles introduces Dcim Wainwright, a former apprentice of Smith and Tinker who used the prototype version of the ladder Mr. Tinker used to reach the Moon to ride a cloud to Oz.

The ladder also appears in Onyx Madden’s sequel that I’m not sure was ever completed.

Picture by Shawn Maldonado
In Mister Tinker, Ezra uses several inventions. The Speckoscope is a sort of telescope that can shrink people, Julius QuickScissors a pair of fast-acting automatic scissors, Wishful Fixing Lotion a solution that can fix anything if accompanied by a wish, and his compass-watch a device that gives directions and other advice and can apparently even turn back time. Button-Bright finds Mr. Smith operating a color-mixing machine, and later planning to build an automated version. In Phil Lewin’s Witch Queen, Dorothy and her companions run into a Stumbling Block in a Quadling field, with a plate on it indicating that it was built by Smith and Tinker to deter evil witches. The Nome Wizard Potaroo also has Stumbling Blocks. And in the longer version of Frank Joslyn Baum’s Rosine and the Laughing Dragon, Jack and Quackie use a freezer identified as Smith and Tinker’s Frost ‘n Freeze to make an ice bridge across the Milkshake River. Wooglet mentions that Rejano Smith’s more practical but less imaginative grandson has restarted the old business in Ev, and one of his inventions is a sort of diving suit that provides fresh air, regulates temperature, and adjusts to increasing water pressure. According to Thorns and Private Files, the company also makes photocopiers. I’m sure there’s a lot more still to discover about the enigmatic inventors and their firm, and whether they might have been involved in the construction of any more of the robots or cyborgs in fairyland.

Posted in Characters, Chris Dulabone, Hugh Pendexter, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Melody Grandy, Onyx Madden/Jim Nitch, Oz, Oz Authors, Phil Lewin, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Please Don’t Feed the Ghosts

Hungry ghosts are a Buddhist concept, but they’ve spread into other East Asian religious traditions as well. The Sanskrit term for this kind of spirit is preta, which basically means “departed.” The Chinese name for them, èguǐ, means “hungry ghost,” the term that’s often used in other translations as well. These are essentially the souls of people who committed some sort of evil deeds while alive, and are punished with an insatiable hunger in the afterlife. Many legends of hungry ghosts involve someone refusing to share food. In Chinese mythology, it could also be a result of lack of ancestor veneration. So what do ghosts eat? Well, according to children’s jokebooks, such things as spookghetti and boo-berry muffins.

Sugary cereal might also be acceptable.
The hungry ghosts, however, have a variety of appetites. While some just seek regular food and/or water, others eat human flesh or blood, or even excrement.

Hungry ghosts are typically depicted with bloated bellies, tiny mouths, and very thin necks; but this appears to be more of a symbolic thing than anything else.

For some, any food they try to eat bursts into flames or rots.

They’ve been used metaphorically to describe addiction. Buddhist cosmology gives the hungry ghosts their own realm, one of the six for various states of being.

While said to inhabit a hell, they’re frequently said to wander through the world of the living as well, seeking their food of choice.

Source: Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen
In the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, there’s a Hungry Ghost Festival that shares some similiarties with Halloween, in that it’s when the dead mingle with the living, and have to be either appeased or scared away. Food is left out for them, and live entertainments leave the front row empty for the ghosts. Fourteen days after the festival, people place lotus-shaped lanterns on paper boats to guide the ghosts back to the underworld.

The Japanese word for a hungry ghost is gaki, while jikininki are specifically ghosts who eat human corpses.

There’s also an association with the Japanese gods of hunger, or hidarugami. These beings are traditionally Japanese rather than an import from Chinese mythology, but they tend to get mixed together due to the hunger theme.

They’re also spirits of the dead, specifically those who starved to death in the mountains and hence were not properly honored by the living. They possess people and cause extreme starvation, although they can be warded off with only a tiny amount of food. As such, travelers in the mountains of Japan are warned to take a few riceballs with them in case of emergency, probably a good idea even if there aren’t any malicious ghosts out there. Some sites also mention the similarity between hungry ghosts and the fate of the Nephilim or Grigori in the Book of Enoch. These were the offspring of human women with angels known as Watchers, as described in Genesis. God turned them into disembodied spirits who were constantly hungry and thirsty, but had no mouths. Although not quite the same, there’s a thematic link to Tantalus‘ fate in Tartarus as well. And to get into more recent lore, Slimer from Ghostbusters and the ghosts from Pac-Man (and, for that matter, Pac-Man himself; maybe he’s also a ghost?) seem to operate on much the same lines.

Posted in Buddhism, Chinese, Greek Mythology, Halloween, Holidays, Japanese, Judaism, Monsters, Mythology, Pac-Man, Religion, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rose Marie, Come to See

Wait for Your Laugh – Beth knew Rose Marie from her appearances on The Monkees (she played two different characters in different episodes) and regular role on Hollywood Squares, and had recently read her book.

Her documentary premiered this week, and we went to see it at the Landmark on 57th Street. Rose Marie is ninety-four, and has been in show business since she was three, starting out as a singer under the name Baby Rose Marie, a novelty because her voice didn’t sound like that of a child.

At the time, her father, who had been a mob enforcer and had another family, took all of the money she earned. She continued her act in adulthood, then got into acting, playing a regular role on The Dick Van Dyke Show. She’s worked as much as she could since then as well, doing live shows, guest spots on television, and voice acting.

Her most recent credit is for the computer-animated Garfield series in 2013. She’s been largely typecast as a nasty old lady for a long time, though. The documentary was quite respectful, with a lot of reminiscing from Rose Marie herself, as well as narration from Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall and appearances from Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, and Tim Conway. Along with the interviews were a combination of actual old footage and reenactments of events from her life. There’s also significant focus on her marriage to Bobby Guy, a trumpet player who worked for Bing Crosby among others, who proposed to her after knowing her for only a week and unfortunately died in 1964. There were also accounts of how she knew a lot of mobsters, including Al Capone, which I guess makes sense as they owned a lot of the nightclubs where she worked and because her dad had some connections, but they were apparently always very nice to and protective of her. She played a crime boss on one of her Monkees appearances; I guess she might have been drawing from experience.

And she discussed how she was sexually harassed by the producer of Top Banana, a 1954 film based on a Broadway musical she had been in with Phil Silvers. She stood up to him, but that resulted in all of her songs being cut from the movie. There was a question-and-answer session after the film with Marshall, Rose Marie’s daughter Georgiana (also known by her nickname Noopy), and writer and producer Christina Wise.

Beth met Peter Marshall after the session, and I took a few pictures.

Posted in Celebrities, Music, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Something to Crow About

I probably should start making a list of topics I’ve covered before. There are some broad topics I frequently return to, but when I end up with things like two separate but similar posts about the Egyptian scorpion goddess Serqet, it’s a little embarrassing. Google doesn’t always find them either. An Oz-themed Halloween story I recently wrote has some giant crows in it, and I thought I might not have done a post about crows in Oz before, but it turns out I did seven years ago. There were a few things I left out, however, in some cases because I hadn’t read some relevant material, so maybe it’s worth revisiting. One significant source is Jeff Rester’s “Cryptic Conversations in a Cornfield” from the 2011 issue of Oziana. It calls the crow who advises the Scarecrow to seek brains Solomon, while she was Kaggi-Karr (Russian onomatopoeia for a crow’s call) in the Magic Land books and he was Kuskar in The Mysterious Chronicles of Oz. It also mentions a bandit named Jim Crow, a reference to one of Baum’s Twinkle Tales, although that takes place in the United States rather than Oz.

“Jim Crow” is a racist term, but I don’t think there were any racial connotations in the Baum story; it’s possible that Jim was also kind of the default name for crows at the time, like Polly for parrots and Jenny for wrens. The Dorothy Haas easy-reader book Dorothy and Old King Crow has a crow with a crown, maybe but maybe not the same as the King Crow from the Little Wizard Story “The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman,” enchant the Scarecrow. In “Cryptic Conversations,” Solomon refers to Old King Crow as self-appointed. In general, the straw man gets along all right with crows. The Little Wizard Story flat-out states, “He knew the crows well, however, and they had usually been friendly to him because he had never deceived them into thinking he was a meat man—the sort of man they really feared.”

His mansion has a figure of himself on top of it with ebony crows with ruby eyes perched on his head and arms, and the illustration in Emerald City has several other crow statues surrounding it, possibly a symbol of his friendship with those he was created to scare.

In the film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, he dances with a giant crow.

Other crows show up in the books but don’t interact with the Scarecrow, including the oversize croquet-playing crows of Gameland in Lucky Bucky; and Cornelius, the Royal Watch Crow of Septentria in Ozmapolitan who tries to sabotage Tim’s attempts to prove himself useful.

Margaret Berg’s stories have crows forming a message service called Crowegram Limited, and one of her recurring characters is a yellow-necked crow named Pone. I believe he’s identified at one point as the leader of the crows in the Winkie Country, but it doesn’t seem like these designations are necessarily all that official.

Corvids are also popular forms for magical transformations.

I had previously mentioned Kiki Aru turning himself into a magpie in order to steal money, but not the Wicked Wizard of Mo becoming a crow to steal Princess Truella’s toe for a spell.

In Grampa the titular character smokes some magic tobacco that turns “a company of captives” into crows for one hour with each puff. Grampa and his companions use the transformation to fly back to Oz from a floating iceberg in the Nonestic Ocean, the soldier becoming a crow with a game leg and Bill the Weather-Cock a cock’s crow, which means he’s invisible.

While Grampa takes the tobacco from the robber chief Vaga, it’s not clear where he got it. He might have stolen it from the wizard Gorba as he did the cure-all medicine and golden key, but it’s not specifically stated. It does appear to be the case that someone, whether Vaga, Gorba, or somebody else, was smoking it in the bandits’ forest, as it’s full of crows. And in Purple Prince, Ozma transforms Faleero into a raven.

Posted in Animals, Characters, Dick Martin, Jeff Rester, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Names, Onyx Madden/Jim Nitch, Oz, Oz Authors, Prejudice, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One of Us, Gooble Gobble

I want to get in the rest of these horror movie reviews before Halloween, and I’m busy tomorrow and the next day, so here you go. All four of these contain spoilers; I tried not to give away too much, but I might have anyway, so proceed with caution.

Fear – Reese Witherspoon plays a teenager who starts dating Marky Mark, who later turns out to be really possessive and abusive, and sends out his gang to break into her house and kill her family. And for some reason he suddenly become pretty much unstoppable towards the end, even after being repeatedly injured. Beth said this felt like a higher-budget Lifetime movie, and I can see that.

Freaks – I figured I should see this 1932 film because it’s pretty famous and referenced frequently. When it was first released, audiences hated it, and they ended up cutting out almost half an hour of material. Most of this is considered lost, although the DVD did include a few different endings, and discussed one for which there wasn’t footage. I feel that the movie has kind of a weirdly mixed attitude, veering between presenting the stars as just people and as curiosities. The sideshow performers are presented as largely sympathetic characters who are frequently dehumanized, yet the advertising gave a “Lookit them wacky people!” vibe, and as a group they’re presented as bizarrely cruel in their vengeance. I would imagine the things I found uncomfortable about it were different from what people in the early thirties did. The plot meanders quite a bit, but the main story involves Hans, a man with dwarfism, falling in love with the trapeze artist Cleopatra, and when she learns he’s inherited a lot of money, she schemes with the strong man Hercules to marry and then poison Hans. When the other circus freaks learn of the plot, they chase down Cleopatra and somehow manage to give her a duck’s body. There was originally another part of the scene that indicated they’d castrated Hercules. One thing I found disturbing about the casting is that the story started with Hans engaged to another little person, Freida, who was played by his real-life sister Daisy.

Trilogy of Terror – Made for television in 1975, it’s made up of three different stories (hence the title), all starring Karen Black as different characters. In “Julie,” she plays a professor whose student is obsessed with her, and does gross, perverted things to her without her consent; but then there’s a weird twist. The guy who played the student was her husband at the time, although the marriage didn’t last long after that. “Millicent and Therese” is about two sisters living in the same house, one of whom can’t stand the other and decides to kill her with black magic. The twist here isn’t too difficult to guess. The third, “Amelia,” was probably my favorite. It’s part of the killer doll genre, with Black buying a Zuni doll for her boyfriend that ends up coming to life and chasing her around, making weird noises all the while. Yeah, it was pretty corny, but still rather disturbing. It was one of Black’s first forays into B horror, which later became kind of her main thing. She also became a Scientologist when she married her last husband. I found it interesting that her first husband’s name was Black, and her sister’s was Brown.

Jigsaw – We saw this one at the theater. It’s the eighth Saw film, released seven years after the one billed as The Final Chapter. That kind of thing is never all that binding; the fourth Friday the 13th had the same subtitle, and they made six others after that, and that’s not counting Freddy vs. Jason or the remake. Anyway, the Saw franchise started out as a far-fetched but fairly straightforward account of an old man putting people into death traps as punishment for what he deems immoral or a waste of life, and then grew increasingly more convoluted. John Cramer dies in the third movie, but they still wanted him in the later ones, so they combine flashbacks with the doings of his followers, who become more numerous with each new film. I really couldn’t tell you what happened in most of them. This time, the typical death traps are interspersed with sequences of the police and doctors finding the victims’ bodies, along with evidence suggesting Cramer somehow survived. As absurd as the series is, though, it isn’t supernatural, so there’s a trick to it. Without giving too much away, I’ll say I found the explanation rather cheap, based around tricking the audience without the characters’ motivations making much sense. If you liked the other ones, you’ll probably like this one too. If you didn’t, there’s not a whole lot new.

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The Beliefs Are Falling

I’ve written before about anti-science conspiracy theories before, and I touched on their connection to religion, but it still sometimes confuses me. I mean, Alex Jones apparently considers himself a Christian. I missed the parts of the Bible about goblins and gay frogs, unless the latter are the unclean spirits from Revelation. And the latest version of the Nibiru prediction, where some mysteriously undetectable planet is supposed to collide with the Earth (it started in 1995, but comes back every few years after it keeps failing to happen) was made by a self-proclaimed Christian numerologist.

Is there any reason for Christians to deny global warming, except for the strange marriage between Republicanism and fundamentalist Christianity? How many Bible stories are there about people screwing themselves over despite repeated warnings? Seems like that’s what happening with climate change. Conspiracy theories are weird anyway, because they seem to be appealing for contradictory reasons. They’re often based on paranoia, but they’re also fun. The details within them can be very complicated, but the idea that a few people are causing all your problems is appealing in its simplicity. And while conspiracy theorists think they’re smarter than the so-called experts, they also often tend to believe obviously untrustworthy people without question. Sure, scientists are wrong sometimes, and can even be intentionally misleading for whatever reason. But isn’t it usually other scientists who call out these errors, not radio hosts in tin foil hats? Creationists who point out the initial success of the Piltdown Man hoax apparently don’t want to acknowledge that it was eventually debunked by scientists. People still like to cling to the idea that vaccines cause autism, which was started by a gastroenterologist but soon found false by other medical researchers. Also, there are real conspiracies; they just generally aren’t as bizarrely interesting as the made-up ones. Russian influence on our elections? Sure, it looks like it definitely happened, but where are the lizard people, UFOs, and fairies? Well, okay, I guess there is that one elf from Harry Potter.

And some attempted conspiracies unravel because of weak links, or are just really obvious from the get-go. (What is a get-go, anyway?)

It’s tempting to say that strong belief in one thing without evidence makes it easier to believe in other things, but I don’t know that this is always the case. After all, a lot of modern religion involves dismissing similar religions as untrue, and there are some prominent atheists who believe other ideas without evidence behind them. You could sort of say religion IS a conspiracy theory, as it purports the existence of one or more intelligent beings who control the world.

It’s supposed to be a beneficial conspiracy, but maybe not so much for those who make God mad through no fault of their own. If belief is what’s important to a deity, it’s not like people can just force themselves to believe things. In the New Testament, Paul refers several times to principalities, powers, and authorities run by evil spirits and controlled by Satan.

The secret rulers of the world are demons rather than the Illuminati or whatever, but then it’s not uncommon for people to claim the Illuminati were/are Devil worshippers. Even today, people talk of Satan controlling anything they don’t like, which makes it sound like Lucifer is stretching himself too thin over things that aren’t that important. I guess he gets bored easily.

So I think there is a connection there, but it’s by no means inevitable. I have to suspect a lot of it doesn’t have to do with religious belief so much as it does not trusting people. And I get that, but why then believe those who spew hatred and nonsense? Even if the government really is withholding a cure for cancer, how would Kevin Trudeau know it? How do you know he isn’t PART of the They? I guess you can’t go through life without trusting somebody.

Posted in Christianity, Climate, Conspiracy Theories, Current Events, Evolution, Fundamentalism, Global Warming, Medicine, Religion, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Knowing the Scorpions

With Halloween coming up and Scorpio being the reigning sign in the zodiac, I thought I might say a bit about scorpion people. Part of Mesopotamian mythology, there isn’t a whole lot of information about them, but they did appear in both the Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh. There are two terms for them, aqrabuamelu and girtablilu. They were created by the primordial deity Tiamat to aid her in the war against the noisy younger gods, along with snakes, dragons, storm demons, human-headed lions, fish-people, and bull-people.

Marduk managed to tame some of these monsters, making them protectors instead of predators of humanity. The scorpion people now work for the solar deity Shamash. Two of them, a man and woman, guard the gates of the underworld and letting the Sun out every morning and back in at night.

They apparently spend nighttime torturing the dead. Gilgamesh encountered them on his quest for immortality at the mountains of Mashu, which he reached after traversing the cedar forests of Lebanon. This is a little geographically bizarre, as that would place it northwest of his native Uruk, yet the place he was trying to reach was Dilmun, a paradisiacal land associated with the Persian Gulf and the sunrise. Anyway, the scorpion people were terrifying to look at, but actually pretty friendly to Gilgamesh, warning him of the dangers that lay ahead. Taking the Road of the Sun, a long tunnel through the mountains that Shamash took every night, the hero would have only twelve hours to navigate through total darkness to the other side, or else he’d be burned up by the returning Sun. They did eventually decide to let him try, as he was a demigod with powers beyond those of most mortals. And as you may know, he made it through, but failed to achieve immortality. The Epic describes these monstrous guardians as being so large in stature that their feet were rooted in the underworld and their heads in the heavens. They were said to be able to kill with a glance, and as if that and the stingers weren’t bad enough, they were also expert archers. Depictions tend to show them as similar to centaurs, with human heads and torsos on top of scorpion bodies.

Scorpions and part-scorpion beings appear to have been fairly commonly used as symbols of protection, probably because you’d rather have such a disturbing animal on your side rather than against you.

The Wikipedia article links them specifically with the minor Aztec gods known as Tzitzimime, but while I’ve seen a few other mentions of such beings with scorpion features, they don’t seem to have been especially associated with that particular sort of animal. There are some deities in various pantheons affiliated with scorpions, including the Egyptian Serqet.

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