Myth Monday: the legend-makers

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme

of things nor found within record time.

It is not they that have forgot the Night,

or bid us flee to organised delight,

in lotus-isles of economic bliss

forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss

(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,

bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).

 

Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,

and those that hear them yet may yet beware.

They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,

and yet they would not in despair retreat,

but oft to victory have turned the lyre

and kindled hearts with legendary fire,

illuminating Now and dark Hath-been

with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

-From “Mythopoeia” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Catch up on Myth Monday posts here.

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Scripture Sunday (34)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

“Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the Lord,
    “and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
    so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
    “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

-Jeremiah 23:23-24

Why I chose it:

Sometimes God seems too far away. Sometimes God seems way too close. I don’t know why it’s comforting that he is constantly both at once, but it is.

 

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?

The Jungle Books: Week 4

We have made it to week 4, and we are over halfway through the collected Jungle Books! How do you feel????

This post contains spoilers for “The Miracle of Puran Bhagat,” “Letting In The Jungle,” and “The Undertakers.” I was surprised by how well these three complimented each other (as well as fitting into the other stories as a whole); stay tuned after the show for some comments on that.

“The Miracle of Puran Bhagat”

Here’s my big question: What is the miracle of Puran Bhagat? I like how the way the title is worded makes it unclear if it’s a miracle that Puran Bhagat performs, or the person of Puran Bhagat is, himself, a miracle. Is the miracle the way Puran saves the villagers from a landslide? Or is it the animals who tell Puran about the landslide? Or is the miracle in the way that Puran starts out on one life track, and then switches to another life track, all within one life span? Puran himself “believed that all things were one big Miracle”, so is that the miracle of the story’s title? DISCUSS.

I really liked this story.

Please note that Puran Bhagat dies twice, once as Purun Dass: “….he did a thing no Englishman would have dreamed of doing; for, so far as the world’s affairs went, he died.” and once as Puran Bhagat: “…their Bhagat was dead, sitting cross-legged, his back against a tree, his crutch under his armpit, and his face turned to the northeast.” 

There’s also a lot of references to dreams. As quoted above, no Englishman would dream of giving up their life of power and prestige, but to Purun Dass, his whole life thus far has been “a colorless dream of the night” and he has his own dream for the future, a “dream of peace and quiet.” By leaving his life as Prime Minister, he hopes to “make that dream come true.”

In the end, do you think Purun Dass/Puran Bhagat achieves his dream? DISCUSS.

A list of Puran’s friends:

“A Song of Kabir”

My footnotes tell me that this song is written by Kipling (I mean, obviously) but it is inspired by the work of a philosopher-poet and mystic named Kabir. Kabir didn’t like the caste system either. You can read up on him here. It’s interesting that Kabir criticized both Islam and Hinduism, but they both loved him. Maybe similar to the way Puran Bhagat is part of both the western and Indian worlds but he isn’t a huge fan of either system?

Anyway this song is kind of weird and I don’t know where it came from or where it’s going to, but it sounds like Puran Bhagat would probably get along with Kabir.

“Letting in the Jungle”

“Justice” is a big topic of conversation in this story. Who decides what justice is? Who enforces it? The villagers try to mete out justice on Mowgli in absentia and on Messua and her husband. They’re afraid of the English, because English justice is stronger and “madder,” apparently. However, Mowgli takes justice into his own hands because he feels he is a) the best informed of the villagers and beasts and b) the most powerful of the villagers and beasts (Mowgli has a very high opinion of himself).

Mowgli takes command of the wolves, when they want to kill the humans instead of drive them out; he takes command of Bagheera, who is going a little mad with jungle-fever; he takes command of Messua and her husband, sending them away to safety; he takes command of Hathi, ordering him to use his influence to “let the jungle in” and destroy the village so that the villagers will never return. Mowgli’s kinda dark, but also has a lot of initiative and overall drive. I admire that.

Mowgli feels morally superior to the humans, especially, who he considers the same as the bandar-log, and judges them for the fact that they trap and kill each other. I mean, that’s fair. But does Mowgli take his personal opinions a little far when he decides to destroy entire villages? DISCUSS.

The story is called “letting in the jungle,” and there are a lot of implications that the jungle itself is raining judgment down on the unjust humans who try to live in it. But Mowgli is the one displaying agency and making choices. So. I’m not sure if the jungle is all it’s cracked up to be.

“Mowgli’s Song Against People”

Mowgli has a lot of feelings 100% of the time and he needs to express them via song. I like the repetition of “and the snake shall be your watchman/and the wolf shall be your herdsman/ and the deer shall be your oxen” to show that the jungle is replacing all of the domestic creatures with its own versions.

“The Undertakers”

A crocodile, a crane, and a jackal walk into a bar.

I don’t know where that joke was going but I think it’s promising.

 

Sources: crocodile crane jackal

This story is chock-full of extremely dark humor and I spent a lot of time laughing while saying “That’s terrible!” and then feeling bad for laughing. Because it’s terrible.

Although, you know you’ve been reading The Jungle Books too much when you start judging fictional animals by Mowgli’s moral code. Like….the crocodile is horrible not because he eats people but because, specifically, killing humans is taboo. The crane is terrible because he’s a scavenger, not a proper hunter. The jackal is terrible because he profits off of others’ kills. Etc.

Example of terrible humor that pleases me greatly:

Jackal: “But men are all alike, to my mind.” (meaning: referring to their character; they’re all faithless and big jerks and PS probably have tried to kill me a few times.)

Crocodile: “Nay, there are very great differences indeed. Some are as lean as boat-poles. Others again are fat as young ja–dogs.” (meaning: their bodies are all shapes and sizes and some are better to eat than others. PS I eat jackals sometimes but we don’t need to talk about that right now.)

This story has a very sneaky plot (the story of the man-eating crocodile and the tiny white boy who grows into a huge white man and kills it) that is threaded through the conversation between three “predator” animals discussing the best things to eat, the best ways to get fed, and the best ways thrive in the jungle.

There’s tension (a lot of tension) between the three interlocutors, but especially between the crocodile and the jackal. The jackal, we are told, is also “low-caste” and less powerful than the others, so his conversational ploys are more subtle, relying on flattery and undertones. He doesn’t dare to take offense at the crane, because “you cannot resent an insult from a person with a beak a yard long, and power of driving it like a javelin.” You get the impression that the crocodile usually doesn’t eat jackals, but it’s not above it if the opportunity comes along. There was a bit in there where the crocodile claimed blood-kinship with the jackal, the implication being that the only way a crocodile would have blood shared with a jackal would be if the crocodile had eaten a jackal. Eek. The jackal can occasionally hold his own, though, with clever double-meanings and under-handed jabs at the crocodile’s eating habits.

The crocodile has definitely been around the block, though. He has wise things like this to say: “With good luck, a keen eye, and the custom of considering whether a creek or a backwater has an outlet to it ere you ascend, much may be done.”

As for the humans, they seem to be divided between the native villagers, who fear, worship, and are often eaten by the crocodile, and the whites, who fight back (e.g. the white woman who injures him, and the white man who kills the crocodile at the end). I mean….This is a pretty heavy-handed dividing line, and I don’t like it. More on this below, after the song.

“A Ripple Song”

This is actually….really dark. And not in a fun way. A screaming way.

Run.

Run.

Some tie-in comments on these stories:

All three of these stories feature jungle power, whether in the form of a landslide, the jungle itself and its animals, or the “undertakers” of the jungle (the predators). However, English people/English power is the strongest in all three stories, and I find this weird for a book about the jungle. Even Puran Bhagat feels he has to reclaim his powers of Purun Dass in order to “save life” , i.e. to save the villagers. True, the villagers follow their bhagat because they know and trust him, but he doesn’t have the ability to lead unless he seizes on his old, western training. In “Letting in The Jungle,” Messua and her husband have to run to the English to escape the villagers, and the villagers themselves fear English justice (although not enough to try to circumvent it). In “The Undertakers,” it is the white man with the gun who takes out the crocodile, none of the villagers who have been suffering from it for so long. I don’t know, these stories are a hot mess. Mowgli is a great character, but even though he’s Indian he holds other native Indians in contempt, finding them superstitious, greedy, and cowardly.

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: Monsters In The Mark of Athena

The Monsters

Eidolons: In Greek mythology, eidolons are spirits of the dead that possess people. From the stories told about them, it seems like they can be a specific dead person with a life history possessing a living person, OR it come across as a more generic possession (such as Christian stories of demons possessing people). In either case, the person being possessed isn’t aware of their situation. Fun. Sidebar: Walt Whitman wrote a poem.  In The Mark of Athena, there seem to be three specific eidolons tasked by Gaea to ruin our heroes’ lives. They possess various characters and eventually resort to possessing movable objects. Fun. 5/5 Monstrous Rating for being terrifying and really hard to defend against!

Phorcys and Keto: What I love about these two is that they’re not just any old god and goddess of the sea (there are a lot of sea-deities and nymphs! SO MANY), but specifically represent the dangers of the sea and the monsters inside it. In The Mark of Athena, they’re more like caretakers or circus masters, having a vast collection of monsters that they can send after their enemies at will. In themselves, they aren’t very scary or smart. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for not taking full advantage of these cool deities.

Icthyocentaurs: Specifically named Bythos and Aphros, these are essentially fish-centaurs: kinda like mermaids but with more horsey features. They’re related to Chiron, most famousest of centaurses. I had never heard of them before and I demand more icthycentaur-centered stories! Bythos and Aphros live in colony of mer-people in The Mark of Athena, and rescue some of our heroes when they almost get eaten by a seamonster (see below). They claim to be trainers of champions, just like Chiron, only we haven’t heard of them because they’re ocean heroes. I love that Aphros doesn’t train martial arts of any kind, mostly just home ec. What a hero. 4/5 Monstrous Rating even though they’re more like precious sea creatures.

Skolopendra: This is a very large sea monster that may or may not resemble a giant crayfish. Or a giant millipede. It’s gonna be a no from me. The demigods in The Mark of Athena have to fight one and resort to blowing it up with Greek fire. Typical. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.

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Skolopendra? 

Achelous: Achelous was a river-god who fought Hercules for the right to marry a beautiful maiden named Deianeira – so, yes, pretty typical myth story, especially when Hercules is involved. Achelous typically took the form of a snake or a bull but Hercules wrestles the bull-form and defeats Achelous, tearing off one of his horns in the process. This horn is turned into the Cornucopia, horn of plenty, by the river-nymphs (keep that in mind next time you watch The Hunger Games). Achelous holds a grudge, as you can imagine, and tells the whole story to Theseus later. My question is, what happened to Deianeira (answer: nothing good). In The Mark of Athena, Jason and Piper are sent on a quest by Hercules to get Achelous’ other horn because Hercules is a resentful dirt sack. In this story, Achelous is a bull with a man’s face. And yes, they get the horn. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.

Ephialtes & Otis: These two giants are the kind of rabble-rousing teenagers that you just have to shake your head at. They did stupid things like trapping Ares (the god of WAR, okay!) in a jar, and threatening to make a pile that would make it to heaven, and then they decided to kidnap Hera and Artemis to be their wives. Artemis ran from them in a form of a deer and tricked them into spearing each other. Because that’s what happens when you try to kidnap the maiden goddess of the hunt. I like them even less in The Mark of Athena, where they mostly fight with each other and try to one-up each other and/or their nemesis Dionysus. Being giants, however, they’re very difficult to defeat by mere demigods. Giants, man. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for the tutu.

Chrysaor: This guy has one hell of an origin. So Medusa and Poseidon hooked up that one time, right, and Athena was mad because it was in her temple, so Medusa became the Gorgon with snake-hair. When Perseus chops off Medusa’s head, two kids spring out of her head from the hook-up with Poseidon: Pegasus (yes, that Pegasus) and Chrysaor. Everyone has heard of Pegasus, almost no one has heard of Chrysaor. None of my sources can even agree on who this guy is! He might be a giant, OR he might be a winged boar. In The Mark of Athena, he is a guy with a golden mask who has turned into a pirate because he has nothing better to do and no one has heard of him. He’s REALLY good at swordplay and defeats Percy. His pirate-crew is made up of the sailors that Dionysus turned into dolphins that one time. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being really obscure and tying in some Dionysus fun-times.

Arachne: Her backstory is well-told in The Mark of Athena, but in summary: Arachne was a beautiful young woman who was extremely skilled in weaving and had a great deal of hubris (FATAL FLAW). She claims to be as good as Athena (or Minerva). Athena goes to her and warns her not to be over-confident, but instead Arachne challenges her to a contest. They both make amazing tapestries; Athena weaves images of her rivalry with Poseidon (Neptune), whereas Arachne chooses images of embarrassing moments or failures of the gods. Athena is pissed off and turns Arachne into a spider; no one is surprised. In The Mark of Athena, Arachne is a giant monster-spider, and she has been taking out her revenge on Athena’s half-mortal children for centuries. Rude. But she makes a great Big Bad. 5/5 Monstrous Rating.

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Athena punishing Arachne Source

The Sources

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.

Riordan, Rick. The Mark of Athena. Disney Hyperion, 2012. Print.

See also the links above for more sources!

 

Bout of Books Day 6

Only one more day of Bout of Books! I don’t know about you but I’ve been having a great time, although I’ve been pretty busy this week so I haven’t been able to participate as much as I would like to.

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Reading time: 4 hrs 27 min

Books I read in: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, 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!

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River of Teeth and The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton. RoT was a really fast read, with lots of charming criminals and bloodthirsty hippos. I wish it had been longer because some of it felt more like a sketch than a fully-painted book. Fortunately there is a sequel coming out REAL SOON! The Anne Sexton poems were really intense and WOW DID SHE WRITE A LOT OF POETRY.

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Goal for day 7: I’d like to finish Beowulf, and read Penric and the Shaman by Bujold. And all of the other things.

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