The Shapelessness of Things to Come

I haven’t been doing too many mythology posts recently, but here’s a short one. The Brollachan is an amorphous monster from Scottish mythology. While it has no regular shape, it does have visible red eyes and a mouth. It is only capable of saying two words, “myself” and “yourself.”

By Rachael Mayo
It can be between two feet and two meters in diameter, and is capable of possessing living things of about the same size. When it does, the victim will appear darker with glowing red eyes, and will often convulse. It will soon wither and die, after which the Brollachan will have to abandon it and take another host. Brollachans tend to live in uninhabited areas, particularly bogs, but are still susceptible to the cold. Hence, they will sometimes wander into homes in order to become warm. A story I found online concerns a Brollachan entering a mill where a boy is sleeping and lying by the fire. The boy throws peat onto the fire, and the resulting flames burn the Brollachan. Its screams brought the creature’s mother, but its limited vocabulary meant him was unable to tell her who had burned it. There are some shades of Grendel there; mothers of monsters tend to be rather overprotective. Just look at Ed Gein. Anyway, the mother is identified as a Fuath, pronounced like “vough,” and meaning “hate.” The term refers to several different kinds of malevolent water spirits.

Picture by SystemCat/Erin
Their forms varied, but at least some of them had yellow manes down their backs, webbed feet, spiked tails, and no noses. They usually dress in green.

The Brollachan was sometimes considered to be a younger form of a Fuath, basically a larval stage. The Fuath could also breed with humans, and their offspring tend to have webbed toes. Like many fairy creatures, Fuath are said to be terrified of iron, and also fear sunlight and crossing streams.

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Song of Edmon, by Adam Burch – I was able to get the Kindle version of this book for free, and found it worth reading. The first novel by Burch, who’s otherwise a classically trained but not particularly well-known actor, it takes place in a future where humans have settled on other planets. The planet where this one is set has an orbit that leaves one part of it always in day and the other in night, and the society of the latter is reminiscent of ancient Rome with some other influences mixed in. The way to achieve fame and glory is by winning in combat. The story is told in the first person by Edmon, son of a king on the dark side and a Daysider woman. He favors a life of music over one of battle, but is repeatedly forced by his father to follow tradition. Edmon lives a tragic life, with friends becoming foes and seeming victories ultimately being to no avail. The world created here is an interesting one with a lot of gaps remaining, and the tale has elements of fantasy and political intrigue as well as science fiction. Several reviewers have mentioned how there aren’t really any strong female characters, and the space gypsy is a stereotype in many ways, so it’s certainly not perfect. It held my interest throughout, though.

The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code, by Robert Rankin – Pretty typical Rankin, full of running gags, conspiracy theories, pop culture references, local colo(u)r, the impending end of the world, and absurd plots. The protagonist this time is Jonny Hooker, a paranoid guitarist who can’t get his childhood imaginary friend out of his head, who gets wrapped up in mystery involving blues musician Robert Johnson and the Air Loom. There are several myths surrounding Johnson, one of the first known famous musicians to have died at the age of twenty-seven, and under mysterious circumstances at that; and who was said to have sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in exchange for his talent. According to this book, he made a thirtieth recording in London, called “Apocalypse Blues,” which contained the sound of the Devil’s laughter. Also mixed in is James Tilly Matthews, widely considered to have been a paranoid schizophrenic. He spoke of a mystical machine called the Air Loom (you have to love conspirators who incorporate puns) that could be used to cause pain or to influence the minds of heads of state. Several references to Matthews’ ramblings are scattered throughout the novel, and the man in charge of the Air Loom is Rankin’s recurring villain Count Otto Black. There’s also quite a bit on the Devil’s Interval, with mentions of how it’s used quite frequently in “The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy,” and also appears in the opening theme for The Simpsons. The book has a reference to my favorite band, They Might Be Giants, as well, although not a very positive one; I understand that Rankin’s wife is a fan but he isn’t so keen on them. There’s a soundtrack for the album, with songs performed by Rankin, his wife, and other musicians.

Wizards at War, by Diane Duane – While looking for things to read recently, I remembered I’d never finished the Young Wizards series. The penultimate book brings together elements from all of the previous ones in sort of a grand battle for the universe. Ronan, the Irish boy who carries the Archangel Michael inside him; and the alien wizards from Wizard’s Holiday play significant roles, as does Kit’s dog Ponch. The Lone Power (the series’ name for the Devil, who is the creator of entropy) is speeding up the expansion of the universe, causing serious effects all over. There’s also news of the birth of the Hesper, basically the good version of the Lone Power. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s nice to see old characters again.

Posted in Book Reviews, Conspiracy Theories, Humor, Magic, Music, Robert Rankin, Urban Legends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Woozy Memories

The origins of the Woozy are never addressed in the canonical Oz series, but there are a few apocryphal stories that propose different explanations. March Laumer gave his story in “The Woozy’s Tricky Beginning,” in which he’s the result of the union of a bear and a beehive. We’re spared the details of exactly how this happened, but they’re the work of a pixie who wanted a literal answer to a riddle, and it’s strongly suggested that the bear is Winnie-the-Pooh.

Picture by Ben Wood
As with most of Laumer’s Oz writing, it’s certainly creative, but I don’t consider it accurate when writing my own stories (although I have referenced it occasionally). After that comes Gili Bar-Hillel’s “The Woozy’s Tale,” in which we’re told that he was made of leather by a Munchkin bootmaker and brought to life by the Wicked Witch of the East to eat the bees sent to harass her by a former ally, a wizard named Krizzle Kroo. He also transformed the bootmaker and his wife and child into the three hairs on the Woozy’s tail.

By David Maxine
Kim McFarland’s A Refugee in Oz credits his creation to the Madou, people who live in an oasis on the Deadly Desert.

They make him to eat the bugs that are destroying their crops, but he likes bees the most, and the Madou don’t want him eating them.

By Bill White
They use a spell containing the spoken part “krizzle-kroo” to take away his motion when he tries to eat bees, but eventually decide to send him away and erase his memory. The most recent account I’ve read is Edmund Zebrowski’s from The Emerald City Mirror, called “A Trip Down Memory Lane or How the Woozy Came to Oz,” in which an old man tells the story of how Mombi wanted the three hairs from the Woozy’s tail for a spell, but since she didn’t want to go to the Land of Wooz herself, instead transported a farmer there to capture the animal. The spell she used also included the words “krizzle-kroo,” and was ultimately ineffective. The Woozy escaped, but Mombi erased his memory. L. Frank Baum himself wrote that the Woozy was “not brought to life by any magical means,” which seems to contradict the first three stories.

By Darrell Spradlyn
He was, however, saying this in the context of telling John R. Neill not to draw the creature to look too wooden, so maybe his point was that he wasn’t non-living matter magically animated like the Patchwork Girl or the Glass Cat, rather than that there wasn’t any magic involved in his creation at all. I find the idea that he was made out of leather unlikely, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t live with a bootmaker and have an enemy named Krizzle Kroo, who might have been named after the spell (or had the spell named after him). To combine as many of these as possible, we could say the Madou sent him to a place called Wooz, after which he took his name. He was then captured by Mombi, who wanted the hairs for the magic formula she sets out to make in the back story of Fred Otto’s “Mombi’s Pink Polkadot Vest.” It’s the same one Dr. Pipt sends Ojo to find the ingredients for in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, but it can apparently give life as well as restore motion. The problem here is that, if the Woozy’s three hairs were the enchanted Munchkins, he presumably wouldn’t have had them prior to his encounter with Krizzle Kroo.

I guess Mombi could have imprisoned him after this, since the Woozy was made to forget about his experience with her, but it would make less sense for him to be outside Oz at that point. We don’t know how old the magic recipe that includes three hairs from a Woozy’s tail is, or who came up with it.

Posted in Animals, Characters, Fred Otto, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, March Laumer, Oz, Oz Authors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Good and Eva

I’m way behind on my book reviews, but I want to space them out a bit. That might mean I’ll finish another book or two before writing them all, but that’s the way these things go sometimes. I’d earlier read and reviewed Eva Ibbotson’s The Abominables and The Ogre of Oglefort, and liked them enough to check out some more of her children’s fantasy. As I wrote before, her style is reminiscent of Roald Dahl, but not as sadistic, although she does employ dark humor. Here are my thoughts on three more of her books:

Which Witch? – This is the story of an evil wizard who, believing he’s prophesied to have a son to follow in his footsteps, has a contest to determine which of the local witches will marry him. They all perform feats of black magic, most of which go awry in humorous ways. One witch who truly loves the wizard, the young Belladonna, enters the competition but is only able to work white magic. That is, until she finds a worm for a familiar and the assistance of an orphan boy, and she determines to raise the wizard’s ghost friend. The story has an interesting and amusing take on dark magic, in that many of the characters consider themselves evil but aren’t really particularly mean; it’s just kind of what they do. The wizard Arriman shows a talent for evil wizardry, so his parents encourage him. And his friend is the ghost of a man who murdered wives, but isn’t really a villain either. Only one of the witches is truly wicked.

The Secret of Platform 13 – Published three years before the first Harry Potter book, it shares the concept of a platform in Kings Cross Station being an access point for a magical place. In this case, however, it’s a floating island inhabited by fairies and other mythical beings, identified as Avalon but not usually called that. There’s also a bit of a twist in that it’s a human who kidnaps a magical child, specifically the prince of the island. When the portal between worlds (called a gump, not to be confused with the animal from the Oz series) reopens, a team made up of a wizard, a vegetable fairy, a giant, and a young hag who isn’t suitably ugly journey to England to recover him. He turns out to be a spoiled brat, and they do what they can to convince him to return. I totally saw the surprise ending coming, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

Not Just a Witch – Two witches who were best friends growing up have a falling out and long to see each other again, but are each afraid that the other is still angry. So instead, they concentrate on their work of transforming nasty people in order to make the world a better place. As with the dark wizard and witches in Which Witch?, there’s a bit of gray morality at work here. One turns people into animals, and the other to stone. They’re also both taken in by a furrier who feigns romance with them in a scheme to make money by selling animal skins and stone statues. There’s also a neglected child helping out the animal witch, because there generally is in these stories. I have to say I was rooting for the witches to rekindle their friendship, which they eventually do.

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Magical Buildup

I’ve occasionally seen the question as to whether it was morally questionable for Dorothy to take the Magic Belt from the Nome King. I think she really didn’t have much choice, as he was determined to keep Ozma and her companions as prisoners. After that, she gave it to Ozma to keep in the Emerald City, and it gave her a lot of power. In the next few books, she mostly just uses the Belt for quick transportation. In The Emerald City of Oz, she uses it to put dust in the Nome King’s tunnel, and apparently to close it up again (although Jack Snow’s The Shaggy Man of Oz places some doubt on that).

It’s also largely why Roquat wants to invade Oz, in order to regain what he sees as his property.

Perhaps this particular episode would have worked out better if Dorothy and Ozma had destroyed the Belt instead. As it is, though, it’s one of the many magical items the Ozian royal government gains over time. Ozma also introduced the Magic Picture, which allows her to see anyone or anything she wants to. Throughout the L. Frank Baum books, she and her loyal followers also gain access to a book that records everything that happens in the world, water that wipes memories, a magnet that makes everyone love the bearer, and a magic word that can easily work transformations. Ruth Plumly Thompson adds a fan that can blow away invaders, a box that answers questions, a stone that removes speech for five years, a bag that can grab enemies, pills that grant wishes, necklaces that can also grant wishes, a stick that can freeze enemies in place, and a hammer that can summon a powerful elf.

As far as we can tell, she doesn’t use most of these items very often, at least not in the main series. Thompson does show Ozma using the Belt quite often, much more than Baum ever did. And the wishing pills made by the Wizard of Oz are in frequent use, but against mostly just for transportation. I guess that, when you have the Belt, many of these other things are largely superfluous. Still, I can see occasions when some of them might help, particularly that magic word from Magic. Sean Patrick Duffley’s short story “Much Ado About Kiki Aru” shows that it becomes ineffective not long after the events of that book, although it’s used again in other fan-written works. For many of these tools, Ozma’s main goal might be to keep them out of the wrong hands instead of intending to use them. I mentioned last week, however, that Ozma had Dr. Pipt‘s kettles and book of magic recipes destroyed instead of keeping them, even though she admitted earlier that his Powder of Life could potentially be put to good use. It’s never totally clear what she does with the things she takes from Ugu‘s castle that she doesn’t know to have been stolen (she and companions pack them up, but I don’t think they’re mentioned after that) or with Mrs. Yoop’s apron, which has the useful power of opening doors. Confiscating magic from those who use it illegally seems to be the Ruler’s usual course of action, although a lot of tools she obtains are either simply found somewhere or willingly given to her. I did find it interesting that, in Handy Mandy, “though she knew neither the extent nor the nature of the wizard [Wutz]’s other thefts she casued to be restored to their rightful owners all the magic appliances in the Silver King’s den,” with apparently no thought that some of them might also have been illegal practitioners. And there’s no indication in Pirates that she contacts Kadj or Cinderbutton, presumably the rightful owners of the Standing Stick and Hardy-Hood. It seems like stockpiling all of this magic helps Oz to become a fairy world power. The Nome King dismisses Ozma as a potential threat in Ozma, but later books show both him and his successor Kaliko being terrified of her. And Ozma doesn’t need to actually use these items in order to remain a threat. Of course, Ozma is usually gentle and loving (although it depends on the writer, and sometimes even the particular book), and likely doesn’t want to be seen as threatening. But considering how often Oz gets invaded, and how lax their security tends to be, it’s probably useful that the government has easy access to so much powerful magic. It’s like Ozma’s version of a military buildup, as her actual military is mostly just for show.

Posted in L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Save Your Drama for the Yamas

Yama Yama Land: Where Everything Is Different, by Grace Duffie Boylan, illustrated by Edgar Keller – There were several books released in the early twentieth century that were largely imitative of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, both in story and in appearance. I’d read a few of them online before: Eva Katherine Gibson’s Zauberlinda, the Wise Witch, Paul Clarendon West and W.W. Denslow’s The Pearl and the Pumpkin, and Curtis Dunham’s The Golden Goblin. One that I couldn’t find online was this one, by an author who knew L. Frank Baum, Denslow, and Gibson; and published, like the Oz books, by Reilly & Britton. I did, however, eventually find a physical copy on Amazon Marketplace that wasn’t all that expensive. It’s the story of a little girl named Sylvie who visits a magical and whimsical subterranean land.

In a series of strange episodes, she meets a mechanic named Bibbo who can fix anything, giant frogs who sing badly, people who constantly stare at each other, giants who dwell in volcanoes, rebelling totem poles, a valley overrun with porcupines, and houses that move themselves.

She loses her memory of who she is, and becomes a princess of both Tall Timber Land and the Yamas. The plot is pretty loose and episodic, but there is a bit of an overarching story both in terms of Sylvie finding her way home and the Yamas gaining their independence.

There are some obvious comparisons to be made to Baum and Oz. Sylvie ends up in an underground fairyland after being caught in a California earthquake, much like Dorothy in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, which had been published in the previous year. Lost things can be found in this land, an idea also used in Dot and Tot of Merryland. And the idea of living creatures tending volcanoes was later employed by Ruth Plumly Thompson in Grampa in Oz. There are some other significant influences on the book as well. The title comes from the popular song “The Yama Yama Man,” a comic number about a bogeyman, written by Karl Hoschna and Collin Davis for the 1908 musical The Three Twins.

It became the signature number of Bessie McCoy, who sang it while performing an elaborate dance in a clown suit.

Recording artist Ada Jones, who also sang on recordings of songs made famous by the stage play of The Wizard of Oz, had a hit with it as well.

The descriptions and pictures of the Yamas in the book are heavily inspired by McCoy’s costume, if a little more alien with their triangular eyes and noses. The song title was apparently just intended as a bit of nonsense that rhymed with “pajama,” but Yama is also a death god in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, so I guess the name is appropriate for a spooky character. If Boylan was aware of this, that could be why the story is set underground. The book also belongs to the hollow Earth genre that was popular at the time, complete with references to an entrance to the underground world at the North Pole and extinct animals still living there. The illustrations include a lot of color, much of it laid out like in Wizard, with different colors representing different locations and incidents.

Posted in Book Reviews, Buddhism, Fairy Tales, Hinduism, L. Frank Baum, Music, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Religion, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

If Gasoline Is Their Food, Then Why Do They Have Teeth?

This weekend, we watched two very different movies, which happened to be the ones we had out from Netflix.

Sophie’s Choice – Beth has looked for recommendations on movies that are total downers. I’m generally more into fiction that’s more enjoyable than real life, but not exclusively. This film is about a Southern writer who moves into a boarding house in Brooklyn, right below a Polish immigrant named Sophie and her partner Nathan. Sophie was in a concentration camp, and her father, husband, and children were all killed. I got the impression that this was supposed to take place some time after World War II, but it was later established that Harry Truman was still President. Sophie gradually tells the writer, Stingo, things that she’d never even told Nathan, that her father was a Nazi sympathizer, and that she was forced to choose one of her children to live or else both of them would be killed. (Knowing what we know about Nazis, it’s not surprising that both were eventually killed, which hardly makes things better.) Nathan is a highly unpredictable character, sometimes very friendly and cheerful, but other times angry and abusive. It turns out he’s actually a paranoid schizophrenic, lying about his work as a biologist. I can’t say there’s anything positive or uplifting about this movie, but it’s very well-made. I’m a little unsure about the guy who’s smart, quirky, and mentally ill being named Nathan, though, since that seems like how people might see me. Hopefully I’m not as mean or delusional as the character is, though. Also, Beth’s cousin has kids named Nathan and Sophie, but I don’t think she’s seen this film.

Cars – I told you the movies were very different, didn’t I? As far as Pixar films go, this one was hardly the tearjerker that many of them are. Sentimental, sure, but not tragic. I wasn’t expecting to like it, and while it was probably better than I thought it would be, it’s not a favorite. I had some trouble suspending my disbelief, not just because it had living cars, but because apparently every animal in this world was a vehicle. There must have been organic animals at one point, since there’s a dinosaur on a gas station logo. Did they all die millions of years ago, or is this a post-apocalyptic version of our world? I think the Unified Pixar Theory placed it in the future after humanity had abandoned the planet. I can buy cars finding a way to build buildings, but some elements of the buildings shown looked way too intricate to have been made without hands. And why are there fields of crops? For ethanol fuels? It was certainly a creative concept, with the vehicles having appropriate personalities and voices, and even the clouds and landscape taking on relevant features.

The tractors acting like cows was amusing, although I have to wonder why anyone would keep cows when milk apparently doesn’t exist.

I also wasn’t so keen on the look of the windshield eyes, which contorted into some bizarre positions. The plot involves rookie racecar Lightning McQueen, who starts out as kind of a jerk, but becomes nicer during the course of the film. When he gets lost on the highway, he ends up running into a town called Radiator Springs on old Route 66, ruining their road on the way in, and being sentenced to stay there and fix it. It apparently draws heavy influence from the Michael J. Fox movie Doc Hollywood, but I can’t say I’ve seen that one. The sentimental/social commentary aspect to this one is about how interstate highways ruined business in small towns. This is never actually resolved; Radiator Springs is rejuvenated due to its association with McQueen, but there might be plenty of other towns that suffered the same fate and weren’t carelessly driven into by lost celebrities.

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