Blog hiatus

If you didn’t notice already, I’m on hiatus. I hope to return in late March.

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It’s Music You Can To Read To

I don’t love listening to music as much as I love reading books, but fortunately, sometimes I can do both at the same time. Music with vocals is too distracting, but anything else is a great companion to a good book. Listed below are some of my favorite tried-and-true music reading buddies, with some recommendations for what to read while I’m at it. I’m not a musical expert in any way (this will be very clear after reading this post), so I chose these based on 1. my level of enjoyment while listening and 2. its ability to float in the background without demanding center stage.

Sherlock Holmes Score by Hans Zimmer

I’m a big fan of anything Hans Zimmer does, but this score is the one of his that I go back to the most. It’s dramatic, it’s playful, it’s zany. I like all of the strings, including the weird ones like the cimbalom.

Pair it with: a comedy adventure, e.g. The Last Knight by Hilari Bell

Frozen Score by Christophe Beck

Hear me out! If you’re sick of “Let It Go” or don’t care for “Love Is An Open Door”, the singalong songs only comprise the first ten tracks of the thirty-two total on this score. The instrumental tracks are really fun, soothing and adventurous by turns. There are also some nice choral bits. I like the way you feel like you’re being swept away on a fun adventure with only the occasional monster.

Pair it with: A graphic novel or three, e.g. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Piano Collections: Final Fantasy X by Nobuo Uematsu

I’m not a gamer but I adore video game soundtracks, and I love piano covers of video game soundtracks even more. It has a big range of emotions but a really melancholy undertone throughout. The variety and complexity lets me listen to it over and over without getting bored.

Pair it with: a volume of poetry, e.g. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe

The Crown Season 1 Score by Rupert Gregson-Williams

This is a really sad and melodramatic score to match the show. I like the swoops and dives. I like how it makes me feel feelings even without anything to associate the music with. This is especially good background music, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s more subtle, without a lot of booms and bangs.

Pair it with: a tearjerker and/or historical fiction, e.g. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

Black Panther Score by Ludwig Göransson

 

This is a new favorite of mine, as you might guess. I love the mix of western and eastern instruments, and the mix of older tribal music with futuristic dubstep nonsense. It has a huge range of emotions too, making me feel the sorrow and joy and foreboding and fear. Plus it’s just plain fun.

Pair it with: An epic scifi or fantasy, e.g. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Let me know about your favorite reading music in the comments!

The Legends of Luke Skywalker and The Myths We Cling To

36295579.jpgI finished reading The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu. Firstly, I loved it as a Luke story. It did a great job of presenting Luke from different angles and perspectives, while still keeping him a coherent character. Secondly, I loved it as a collection. The stories ranged from survival tales to tall tales to hero’s journey tales, and all of them were entertaining. Thirdly, that last category, “Hero’s Journey,” made me pause and think about the collection again. It turns out this book, consciously or not (but I’m assuming consciously), systematically goes through some major ways that we approach or study myths. It provides six different stories that each represent one kind of myth structure or category, but inside of the fictional world of Star Wars rather than dealing with our own myths. In so doing, it says a lot about how we tell stories to make sense of our lives and experiences.

Mild spoilers for the book below – I’m going to describe the overall premise of each story, but no details on what happens or how it ends.

Urban Legends

I know I’m not the first to raise questions about this implausible vulnerability, and I’ve heard the theory that maybe it was the result of deliberate sabotage. But if you believe the ragtag Rebel Alliance was capable of infiltrating the highest echelons of the disciplined Imperial military research labs, I’ve got a few choice plots of beachfront property I’d like to sell you on Tatooine.
The first story, called “The Myth Buster,” is set in a bar where the point-of-view character is listening to a bar-fly explain the “true” story of Luke Skywalker. Redy (the bar-fly) explains that what we thought we knew about Luke is nothing but one conspiracy after another, and nothing but propaganda to make the Rebellion look good.
This story reminds me a lot of urban legends, of which conspiracy theories are a sub-genre. Urban legends are those stories that everyone has heard but sometimes don’t know aren’t true. Some are scary, like Bloody Mary or the Killer in The Backseat. Others are Advice Stories like, if you leave a tooth over night in Coca-Cola it will dissolve (it won’t) so don’t drink Coca-Cola. Others are “this happened to a friend of a friend” like the Microwaved Pet story.

In this Luke story, we hear all kinds of twisted versions of Luke’s adventures in the movies, based around the idea that he was actually a guy named Clodplodder and was part of an intergalactic gang. They’re the kind of sensationalist facts and stories that you just know will be repeated by everyone who hears it, because it makes them feel like they know “the truth of the matter.” They won’t be fooled by nonsense legends of a Jedi Knight saving the galaxy.

Personal Mythology

He leapt from rebel star cruiser to rebel star cruiser, his flaming sword at the ready. A Star Destroyer focused all its cannons on him, and carelessly, he deflected the shots with graceful swings. He launched himself from a cruiser, tucked his legs under him, and tumbled through space, shooting bolts of energy from his sword in every direction. Star Destroyer after Star Destroyer disintegrated under this unnatural assault.

The second story is called “The Starship Graveyard” and (is one of my favorites and also) features an unnamed male Imperial officer whose ship goes down during the Battle of Jakku (a battle which occurs in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens). However, the person telling the story, Tyra, accidentally gives enough hints that we realize she is probably giving a cover story for her grandmother, the real protagonist of the story.  The Imperial officer is rescued by a guy who may or may not be Luke but who definitely claims to be Luke by the end but IS HE LYING AND JUST TAKING ADVANTAGE OF LUKE’S FAME, we don’t know????

What I’m calling “Personal Mythology” are those stories that we tell about ourselves, stories of our experiences that were very formative at the time, and that we’ve told so many times that they’ve grown in the telling, and so as we keep telling them their significance to our lives grows.

This story about the point-of-view character’s experience with Luke has grown in his or her mind so much that Luke almost seems like a hallucination or a god. This person that won the Battle of Jakku (according to the narrator), saved them from dying in the desert, and helped the scavengers escape a lake of boiling glass. Luke’s significance to this one character is enormous, and in their mind he’s become a sort of all-powerful legendary figure.

Hero’s Journey

“We take turns to uplift each other.”

The third story is called “Fishing in the Deluge.” It’s set on an oceanic planet and inhabited by people who allow “The Tide” to decide their lives and life around them. It’s told from the perspective of a local girl, Ava, but Luke visits the planet on a quest to find out more about the Jedi and Force-users. In order for him to be taught by them, however, Luke has to pass their coming-of-age test that allows young locals to learn how to feel the Tide (aka the Force).

The characters’s attitude toward the coming-of-age trial is evocative of “The Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey was codified by Joseph Campbell, and made even more famous by George Lucas who used it as a template for the original Star Wars movie. The Hero’s Journey is a basic structure full of common elements shared among most myths; for example, each hero experiences a “call to adventure” early on. If the hero makes it through their whole journey they become “master of two worlds”: both the one they came from and the one they have mastered during their journey, often divided into a physical and a spiritual world.

If Luke makes it through the quest (or hero’s journey, or coming of age ritual) that the local elder sets him, he will be able to master both the Force and the Tide. However, through the trial, Luke learns it’s not so much about mastering something as yielding to a bigger plan. And Ava, the other protagonist, learns a few things from Luke as well. It’s all about balance between two schools of thought and between two individuals, rather than a character successfully navigating a challenge.

Cultural Myths

There was no fear or terror in his face, only determination. How was that possible? Was he droid or man?

The fourth story in the collection is called “I, Droid,” and features a droid protagonist and many many droid slaves working in a deadly mine. Their experience with Luke Skywalker changes them in their hardware and in their software if you know what I’m saying.

Any myth is cultural, obviously, but what I mean specifically is a myth that defines or influences a culture once it is introduced and learned. It’s implied that Luke has become a legendary figure to any of the droids who met him at this point, and they will tell each other their story about him, and retell it as many times as they have to, until all droids have heard about how great Luke is and what a good droid friend he is. True or not, that’s the story that they’re spreading through their culture.

I’d like to see a follow-up that explores the problematic consequences of this story, where Luke has become a ludicrous figure of myth and any droid who comes across his path treats him like a demigod.

Rationalizing Myths

At least he can follow directions, I thought. Then I realized that this wouldn’t be so bad. I could still make it work. Instead of fighting against his instincts, I had to work with them. If I could manage the vapid Salacious Crumb, surely I could do the same with the overeager Luke.

The fifth story is titled “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote.” Lugubrious Mote is…well, a mote. A tiny space-flea from Kowak, which is the same planet as Jabba’s alien monkey jester in Return of the Jedi, for those following along at home. This story goes in a similar vein as the first story, except instead of Luke being a conman, Mote’s version of him is a little stupid and a lot gullible. Lugubrious Mote explains that the only reason Luke survived Jabba’s palace and barge is because of the tiny flea in his hair. Hm.

Rationalizing myths is a popular trend. We like to investigate myths and explore their origins, and what possible explanations could be behind them, whether the myth is a metaphor for why the sun and moon have the courses they do, whether the myth is a conflated retelling of a much more grounded-in-reality event, etc. Explaining away myths with reason kind of misses the point of myths, which is to put into words something we didn’t have words for before.
This narrator comes across as the most unreliable. Sure, everything Lugubrious says sounds plausible, but Luke’s dialogue, and to a certain extent his actions, don’t make much sense with what we’ve seen of Luke elsewhere. So we have to agree to dismantle Luke’s entire character,  or distrust Lugubrious. If Lugubrious is lying, his intention is most likely to replace Luke’s myth with his own personal myth, the legend of Lugubrious Mote.

History Turning Into Myth

Real magic is always knowledge. The galaxy is knowable, and that’s what makes it wondrous.

The sixth story is called “Big Inside” and features an archaeologist narrator who is hitchhiking her way to her scientific studies. Luke responds to her beacon, and the two of them find something interesting in space and wind up on an asteroid. Bad Things Ensue (it’s hard to talk about this one very much without spoilers).  The scientist is very keen to disregard anything about the Force, whereas Luke believes that science and the Force must go hand-in-hand considering the Force surrounds all living things, etc etc. The contrast was fun to read.

This story illustrates how, if enough time passes after an event, the event and the people living it become a legend. Or, if enough time passes without anyone experiencing a place, the place itself becomes legendary and unreal.

Luke and the archaeologist’s experiences in this story are, to anyone who hasn’t experienced them, completely insane. It’s the kind of thing that myths and hallucinations are made of. At the end of the story, they both admit that no one will ever believe them, but she’s going to have to try if she wants to publish any of her research.  In spite of the clash between her scientific pragmatism and Luke’s idealistic mysticism, the protagonist concludes, “I understood enough.”

A Long Time Ago

There’s a running theme in this collection that everyone wants to be the Luke of their own story, or their own personal myth. As they tell stories, they’re mythologizing him and in a way mythologizing themselves.  The point-of-view characters are making sense of Luke as a legendary figure, in whatever way they need to. They’re also making sense of their own lives, whether they’re an imperial-turned-scavenger, an archaeologist learning new things about how nature works, or a  child learning about how big the galaxy really is. Just like with myths in the real world, the characters in a galaxy far far away need myths to reason their way to the truth.

The Turn of the Screw: Governessing Is A Rough Gig

This post contains possible spoilers for chapters 1-18 of The Turn of the Screw.

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An illustration by William Blake for Mary Wollstonecraft’s book Original Stories From Real Life. Source 

As we’ve seen in recent chapters, TG is in a difficult spot. She has a responsibility to the children and the house, but it’s a fine line to walk between taking care of crazy problems without bothering the employer and trying to do too much herself. The children, specifically Miles, pressure her to get their uncle involved, but her employer has certain rules in place that limit her choices. Even if she wasn’t dealing with ghosts, TG would have a difficult job pleasing both the ones she’s responsible for and the one she’s responsible to. She doesn’t have to negotiate with or placate adult family members, true, but she also has no one to back her up (Mrs. Grose, I think we can agree, is almost no help in a crisis).

Governesses in 19th c. England were in a difficult place, economically and socially. Kathryn Hughes, who has also written a book on the subject, sums up their position very well:

Life was full of social and emotional tensions for the governess since she didn’t quite fit anywhere. She was a surrogate mother who had no children of her own, a family member who was sometimes mistaken for a servant. Was she socially equal or inferior to her employers? If the family had only recently stepped up the social scale, perhaps she’d consider herself superior. She was rarely invited to sit down to dinner with her employers, even if they were kind. The servants disliked the governess because they were expected to be deferential towards her, despite the fact that she had to go out to work, just like them.

If you’d like a nice overview of the 19th century governess’ job, read Hughes’ online article: The Figure of the Governess .

Literature of this time period often employs governesses to illustrate the emotional and filial difficulties in the well-to-do household. In addition, the governess makes a good protagonist because she can fit in with the upper class but she’s generally from the middle class, and exists in a socially liminal space. Jane Eyre was published in in 1847, and The Turn of the Screw in 1898, but there are many more lesser-known novels that feature a governess character or protagonist.  Victorian Web (my favorite online resource for Victorian lit) has a good summary on the novels of the 19th century that feature governesses:

The governess novel must be connected with the nineteenth-century anxiety concerning middle-class female employment in general, and governess work in particular. The situation of governesses generated a debate which was especially active from the 1840s until the end of the century. A large number of manuals for governesses and their employers were also published all through the nineteenth century. The governess debate focused on terms of employment, salaries, and on the socially intermediate position of the governess. In the novels, this intermediate position functions both as a device of bringing the governess’s plight in focus, and to furnish the writer with a framework for female development.

Governesses, like modern-day babysitters or nannies, had a lot to deal with. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the creepy 19th century governess stories with pop culture slashers featuring babysitters. Orrrrr maybe that’s just me.

What would a conversation between Jane Eyre and our governess look like?

The Jungle Books: Something in Common

Rudyard Kipling’s original order of stories in The Jungle Books may seem random at first look. Mowgli stories are interspersed with stories about seals, other little boys, and mystics. Suspenseful plot-driven stories are next to dialogue-heavy stories. Kipling re-ordered the stories after they were first published, and divided them into a volume of Mowgli stories and non-Mowgli stories.

As you’ve been reading, have you been noticing similarities between stories that first appear very different from each other? Which stories could be connected or lumped together? Which stories seem similar in plot, character, theme, or tone?

For one thing, I realized I had been sorting them by protagonist. So obviously the Mowgli stories would go together: “Mowgli’s Brothers,” ‘Kaa’s Hunting,” “Tiger! Tiger!,” “How Fear Came,” “Letting in The Jungle,” “The King’s Ankus,” “The Red Dog”, and “Spring Running.” Then the stories with animal protagonists: “The White Seal,” “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” “Her Majesty’s Servants,” “The Undertakers” Then the three with human protagonists who aren’t Mowgli: “Toomai of the Elephants,” “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat,” “Quiquern”

But you can sort them in many other ways.

“The White Seal” and “Quiqern” stand out as stories set in super cold, northern places.

“Her Majesty’s Servants” and “The Undertakers” are entirely about animals talking to each other about human affairs and how it affects them.

Some stories feature clear-cut villains such as Shere Khan the tiger, the monkey people, Nag the cobra.

“How Fear Came” stands out as an attempt to give the jungle some mythology, or at least history. “The King’s Ankus” is perhaps in the same vein.

Some stories are about the struggle to survive, such as “Quiquern.”

“Mowgli’s Brothers,” “The White Seal,” “Quiqern,” and “Toomai of the Elephants” are conventional coming-of-age stories, whereas “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” is a very unconventional coming-of-age.

“Tiger! Tiger!,” “Letting In The Jungle,” and “Toomai of the Elephants” revolve around the tension between village and jungle, and between humans and animals.

What similarities did I miss? How would you sort them?

Bout of Books 20 Day 7

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Reading time: I completely failed at keeping track! But I think it was quite a bit.

Books I read in: The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente, Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, Beowulf Translation and Commentary by JRR Tolkien, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, The Bible (NIV)…..

Books finished: 2! I read the entirety of The Refrigerator Monologues, which is an amazing collection of stories from the POVs of “fridged” women in superhero stories. I also finished Beowulf, which was also very good.

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Overall, I finished 5 books during Bout of Books this past week! I had a great time, both reading and hanging out with all of the other readers around here.

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Myth Monday: Eclipse Edition

As you may have noticed, we experienced an eclipse today. I live pretty close to the zone of totality, so I had a nice view of it.

Throughout the ages and throughout the whole world, people have been telling stories to explain eclipses. Humans really, really like telling stories to make sense of their lives, and especially of crazy things that happen to them,  like THE SUN GOING OUT and stuff like that.

So below is a quick list of some of the stories from different cultures/countries. Follow the links or do some research to find out more – there are way too many for one blog post!

  • There are many Native American legends, but one that I found in several places was about a boy who gets really mad at the sun for burning him, and so he gets the strongest cord he can find and uses it to trap and choke the sun. Many creatures try to rescue the sun but only the mouse is able to chew through the cord and save it. Here’s one version of it from the Menomini. All of the versions have the mouse as the hero. Other legends blame black squirrels for eclipses, but I couldn’t find a story about it.
  • Hindu mythology features a demon named Rahu, who tries to destroy the sun and moon. He is decapitated by the gods and then, depending on the version, his severed head chases after the sun and tries to eat it. I mean, you have to admire his persistence. Sometimes he manages to bite the sun, and that causes eclipses.
  • The Korean Bul-Gae, or fire dogs (awesome, right??), are also very interested in devouring the sun. They are servants of the king of the Dark World, who wants the sun and moon’s light for himself. They try to eat the sun and moon so that they can bring it to their master, but are burned or frozen by turns. Their attempts cause eclipses.
  • Norse Mythology has its own version of Bul-Gae: wolves named Skoll and Hati. These wolves fly through the sky after the sun and moon, and it is prophesied that during Ragnarok, Skoll and Hati will capture the sun and moon at last, creating an eclipse as the world ends. There’s a really good write-up on them here.
  • Last but not least, there is the myth of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess. She is enmeshed in a struggle against her brother, Susano. Their rivalry escalates until they’re spawning gods and goddesses left and right, and throwing dead horses, and all kinds of similar nonsense. Eventually, Amaterasu decides she has had enough and hides herself in a cave. This causes an eclipse, which makes everyone is very upset and they decided to team up to trick her into exiting the cave.

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Amaterasu emerging from the cave. Source
I’m surprised that there aren’t more that are simply about hiding, disguising, or kidnapping the sun; most of the ones I looked at involved destroying or devouring it. I’m sure there are many more stories that I didn’t find, though. Let me know in the comments of any I missed!

Thanks to gingernifty for this week’s topic! If you have an idea for a Myth Monday topic, comment below.