Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Currently Reading

The Tolkien Reader is a collection of stories and essays written by JRR Tolkien at various points over the years. While I’m not much of a fan of Tolkien’s writing, I did discover that this book included his essay "On Fairy-Stories" (which you can learn more about here and here), which is something that has been on my “to read” list for years. I’m not too far into the book yet, but so far it is more compelling than his fiction.

Now I guess I should qualify my distaste for his fiction before I start getting death threats from overly obsessed Middle Earth lovers. I think Tolkien did something amazing in his creation of Middle Earth. He made a world that was so rich and real, with such a vast and compelling history that you can’t but be in awe of what he did. Unfortunately his fiction, especially The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is very hard to read. He spends way too much time in describing certain minute details that really don’t progress the story and because of that it is a bloody slow read (I honestly think I enjoyed reading the Appendix more than I did the actual books). It is for this reason why I do not enjoy reading Tolkien. I like to read for fun and when the reading feels like work, I just hang it up and go look for any damsels that might be in distress.

The Tolkien Reader on Amazon
The Tolkien Reader on Wikipedia

Monday, December 7, 2009 and Me

I decided to see what the fabulous has to say about yours truly today, so I headed on over and did a search for “prince charming” and was pleased to find quite a few entries including my name. But there was one that stood out…
The Sacred Fire: Book One: The Erotic Motive In Primitive Religion ...
In time, a youth appears on the scene, a young prince charming who slays the dragons or evil men, and liberates the princess. Of course, the two fall in ...
For once I have to admit that I’m at a loss for words, so I’ll let you just click and partake if you so choose.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chickens, Some Spilt Milk, and the Buddha as a Catholic Saint

People often ask me why so many cultures have the same stories. This is, sadly, not an easy concept for many to understand. Carl Jung believed in what he called the “collective unconscious,” which he explained as –
“My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.”
What does that all mean? Well basically it means that at our core, humans are more alike than we are different. Otherwise my handsome face wouldn’t show up in so many different stories from around the world.

Back in 1881 a gentleman by the name of Max Muller published a monograph entitled “On the Migration of Fables” in which he traces the origins of the story of the Milkmaid and the Split Milk. The part of this essay that I always loved was where he outlined how the story of a Catholic saint mirrors exactly the story of the Buddha.

From the essay –

If we now compare the story of Joannes of Damascus, we find that the early life of Josaphat is exactly the same as that of Buddha. His father is a king, and after the birth of his son, an astrologer predicts that he will rise to glory; not, however, in his own kingdom, but in a higher and better one; in fact, that he will embrace the new and persecuted religion of the Christians. Everything is done to prevent this. He is kept in a beautiful palace, surrounded by all that is enjoyable; and great care is taken to, keep him in ignorance of sickness, old age, and death. After a time, however, his father gives him leave to drive out. On one of his drives he sees two men, one maimed, the other blind. He asks what they are, and is told that they are suffering from disease. He then inquires whether all men are liable to disease, and whether it is known beforehand who will suffer from disease and who will be free; and when he hears the truth, he becomes sad, and returns home. Another time, when he drives out, he meets an old man with wrinkled face and shaking legs, bent down, with white hair, his teeth gone, and his voice faltering. He asks again what all this means, and is told that this is what happens to all men; and that no one can escape old age, and that in the end all men must die. Thereupon he returns home to meditate on death, till at last a hermit appears, 1 and opens before his eyes a higher view of life, as contained in the Gospel of Christ.

No one, I believe, can read these two stories without feeling convinced that one was borrowed from the other; and as Fa Hian, three hundred years before John of Damascus, saw the towers which commemorated the three drives of Buddha still standing among the ruins of the royal city of Kapilavastu, it follows that the Greek father borrowed his subject from the Buddhist scriptures. Were it necessary, it would be easy to point out still more minute coincidences between the life of Josaphat and of Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion. Both in the end convert their royal fathers, both fight manfully against the assaults of the flesh and the devil, both are regarded as saints before they die.


How palpable these coincidences are between the two stories is best shown by the fact that they were pointed out, independently of each other, by scholars in France, Germany, and England.

Pretty cool huh? But what does this have to do with yours truly? Well it is pretty simple. I am an archetype and exist because of the nature of humanity and our need for tales and myths. It is that need that has given me life and I thank you for it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oz – Book vs. Film

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved films and books of all time. I remember reading the book shortly after it came out in 1900. I was drawn to it because author L. Frank Baum described the book as an “American fairy tale.” The story was rich and the characters interesting and it really did remind me of the classic tales more than just about anything else from the time. Baum had tapped into something with his story of Dorothy in the Land of Oz that not only defined his entire career but just about everything else that came out since then (until Tolkien then redefined the genre but that is a topic for another time).

This book still stands today, even when compared to the juggernauts of children’s fantasy literature like CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter. Of course for modern readers, the lack of technology is off-putting I’m sure but honestly if one can suspend his/her disbelief to accept things like talking lions and boy wizards, I think that they can handle a book written at the turn of the 20th century (and if not then they have bigger problems, but I digress).

In 1939 when the big screen adaptation on Baum’s novel came out it was to mild success but I was there front and center (I had Snow White on one arm and Rapunzel on the other…what a night that was). I thought that while deviating from the book, the film was a beautiful interpretation. Judy Garland was just too precious as Dorothy and the moving from the black and white Kansas to the color-filled Oz was just breathtaking. I’m sure this is hard to imagine in the wake of Star Wars but this film truly was a first of its kind.

The thing that is unfortunate now is that in the 70 years since the film was released, most people seem to only know the big screen version of the story. As much as I love this movie, I love the book even more. Sure people seem to know that the movie was based on a book, but how many of them have actually read the book. Look I can totally understand people bypassing The Lord of the Rings now that those amazing movies have been made (because lord knows JRR is thick and cumbersome to read) but that is not the case with Oz. These books are fun and easy reads and should be read to every child and by every adult at least once in their life.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Matrix Journey

I thought this was a pretty interesting look at the film The Matrix through the eyes of Joseph Campbell.

Urban Legend of the Day

An airplane employee whose last name was “Gay” boarded a plane using his company pass. Finding his assigned seat occupied, Mr. Gay took another vacant seat nearby. But before the plane took off, another flight was canceled, and flight attendants were told that they had to pull nonpaying passengers off the plane to make room for ticketed passengers.

A flight attendant came down the aisle and asked the occupant of Mr. Gay’s assigned seat, “Are you gay?” The man looked surprised, but answered, “Well, yes I am.”

“Then you’ll have to get off the plane,” the flight attendant said.

Overhearing this exchange, the employee named Gay spoke up, saying, “No, No, I’m Gay, and I’m the one who will have to get off.”

Immediately two men sitting nearby jumped up and said, “Well we’re gay too, and they can’t make us all get off!”
-- from Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand (p. 122)

Thursday, December 3, 2009


If anyone hasn’t noticed, vampires are the new hip thing…again. This current resurgence is in part thanks to the success of the Twilight series, which I have to admit I kind of like. The books aren’t the best things that I’ve ever read but they are enjoyable enough. So far the films have done a good job of bringing the books to life (admittedly I have not seen New Moon yet, but I think Cinderella and I will be going to see it on our next date night).

I’ve often wondered why these blood-loving creatures of the night have captivated people for so long. Sure blokes like Edward and Spike and Lestat are captivating and sexy (even though I think that Robert Patterson fellow isn’t all that…he looks so disheveled and stoned all of the time) but why women get hot for a guy that is going to drink them up, literally, is just beyond me.

Recently I ran across this story, which briefly goes into the history of vampires. Here’s a taste –

Some sources incorrectly trace vampires back to Romanian prince Vlad Tepes (1431-1476), who fought for independence against the Ottoman Empire. Though by most accounts his methods were brutal and sadistic (for example, slowly impaling his enemies on stakes, drawing and quartering them, burning them to death, etc.), in reality they were not particularly cruel or unusual for the time. Similar techniques were used by the Catholic Church and other powerful entities and rulers during the Middle Ages to torture and kill enemies.

Bram Stoker is said to have modeled some aspects of his Count Dracula character on Vlad Tepes.

While Tepes (partly) inspired fictional modern vampires, the roots of "real" vampires have very different origins. As a cultural entity, vampires are a worldwide phenomenon. According to anthropologist Paul Barber, author of "Vampires, Burial, and Death," stories from nearly every culture have some localized version of the vampire, and "bear a surprising resemblance to the European vampire."

I remember ol’ Vlad. That was a brutal bugger for sure.

So, according to this at least, the idea of the vampire seems to come from the ignorance of the middle ages and the work of one writer. (Note – I know that Bram Stoker created vampire fiction but lord Dracula is a painfully hard book to read.) Yet still I’m mystified how not-so-rotten corpses and a blood thirsty Romanian could turn into this never-ending cash cow of an industry that now seems to focus around softcore porn on the page (no offense Laurell but you did create a monster) and teenage love stories.

There was a time that vampires were considered scary in popular culture. The first time the vampire took to the screen was in the 1922 film Nosferatu.

After that Hollywood started to churn out a plethora of films based on or about Dracula, with a slew of different actors filling the role and eventually even inspiring a series of blackploitation films (Blacula anyone?).

Wasn’t Bella Lugosi just a babe?

Then in 1976 Anne Rice turned the vampire world on its head with her novel Interview with the Vampire. I’ll be the first to admit that I could never get into Rice’s stuff -- she’s just too wordy and thick -- but Snow White loved it. Finally in 1994 the book was turned into a pretty darned good film. Unfortunately the series on film soon died after that because Tm Cruise is a little bitch that didn’t want to be upstaged by Brad Pitt.

Since then the vampire has experienced the ebb and flow of the whims of the public. Currently the vamp is riding high thanks to the success of the aforementioned Twilight, the Tru Blood series (based on the excellent books by Charlene Harris), and the Vampire Diaries.

I’m sure that these books, movies, and TV shows will not be the last that we see of our blood-sucking friends. Now if I could just some resurgence in popular culture…