October 19th, 2008


Remembering it so you don't have to

Well, to start his post, I'll point out that the feud between the Angry Video Game Nerd and the Nostalgia Critic is quite amusing. I'd actually seen one of the Critic's videos before, in which he reviewed that bold anti-drug effort by the first Bush administration, Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. I've been watching some of his others, and I've enjoyed them so far.

Speaking of nostalgia, a recent post by annamatic about the theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the actual title of which is "Funeral March of a Marionette") reminded me of a game for my old Texas Instruments computer called Shamus, which used that music on its title screen. Has anyone else played this game? It was developed by Atari, so I assume it was available for computers other than the TI. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it, and this review says that it's basically a combination of Adventure and Berzerk. (I've never actually played Berzerk, at least as far as I can remember.) Basically, you had to gather the keys to unlock new passages, while avoiding running into the walls (they were apparently all electrically charged), and shooting enemies. If you stayed in a room too long, a villain called the Shadow would show up to kill you, walking right through the walls to get to you. I understand that this is quite similar to the behavior of Evil Otto in Berzerk, as well as Baron von Blubba in Bubble Bobble. It definitely kept you on your toes while playing; I grew to dread the two notes that always announced the Shadow. There were four levels, each color-coded (and the color was identified on the bottom of the screen, which was useful when playing the game on a black-and-white TV set), but I could only ever reach the second. I remember including some Shamus characters, as well as ones from Word Munchers, in a story I wrote in elementary school.

By the way, did you ever ask yourself, "What if Jack Chick were slightly more up to date?"? Well, it looks like you can get your answer here.

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The Witches of Oz, Part 1: The Wicked Ones

While on the subject of witches, I thought it might be fun to write a few posts addressing the witches of Oz. I know a fair number of you have no interest in the Oz books, so I try not to burden you too much with Oz-related posts, but I think it'll be fun. First, we take a look at the Wicked Witches of the four compass points.

The East - The Wicked Witch of the East never actually appears on stage in any of the main Oz books, as she's crushed to death by Dorothy's house near the beginning of Wizard. We know that she ruled over the Munchkins, but it's unclear how much she actually interfered in their day-to-day affairs. She had invented a magic glue that could reattach severed body parts, and possessed the Silver Shoes (they were Ruby Slippers in the MGM movie, to better show off the Technicolor, but I have to say that silver would probably be a better material for shoemaking). The Shoes could transport the wearer anywhere in the world in three steps, and probably had other powers as well. Hugh Pendexter's short story "Oz and the Three Witches" claims that they allowed a person to fire a lightning bolt in any direction. There is an origin given for the Shoes in Phil Lewin's Witch Queen, and a different one in the Oziana story "The Romance of the Silver Shoes." There's also a book called The Silver Shoes of Oz, written by Marin Elizabeth Xiques, but I've never read it. In Wizard, the Tin Woodman claims that the old lady for whom his old sweetheart (later named Nimmie Amee) worked paid the Witch to prevent the two of them from marrying, but when he tells the story again in Tin Woodman, Nimmie's employer is the Witch herself. Perhaps there was some extra information that Nick Chopper found out in between the two books. Whichever version of the story you prefer, though, the Witch enchanted Nick's axe, making it slip and cut off various body parts, which Nick then had replaced with tin (not pure tin, I'm assuming, since his new body was able to rust) by the tinsmith Ku-Klip. The same basic thing happened with Nimmie's next boyfriend, Captain Fyter, who eventually became the Tin Soldier. In order to prevent anyone else from falling in love with her servant, the Witch went in search of herbs to transform Nimmie into an old hag, but she was hit by Dorothy's house on the way. I believe we actually catch a glimpse of this Witch in the MGM movie. During the tornado sequence after Dorothy hits her head, Miss Gulch turns into a witch, most likely the one from the East. Some people have reported seeing the glimmer of the Ruby Slippers on her feet, which I'll have to check for myself. The Wicked Witch of the East is never named in the main series, but the Soviet author Aleksander Volkov called her "Gingemma," apparently a common Russian term for nasty old women. In Gregory Maguire's Wicked, her name is Nessarose, and she has no arms. In Baum's universe, that would presumably make her unable to become a witch, at least based on what the Supreme Dictator of the Flatheads says in Glinda. I haven't seen the stage version of Wicked, but I understand that it switched her handicap from armlessness to a simple inability to walk, although the Shoes allow her to do so.

The West - The most famous of the compass witches, thanks to Margaret Hamilton's portrayal of her in the movie. The film gives her a much larger role than she does in the book, in which she only starts harrassing Dorothy and her friends after they travel into her country. The book also doesn't say that she's the sister of the Witch of the East, but they're definitely sisters in the movie (and maybe even identical twins, if that IS the Witch of the East that Dorothy sees out the window in the tornado scene). As shown in the novel, the Witch has only one eye, but it's as powerful as a telescope, probably allowing her to keep a close watch over her Winkie subjects. W. W. Denslow drew her with an eyepatch, which is likely what Baum intended, but the first copy of Wizard I ever had contained an illustration of the Witch as a cyclops. She's afraid of the dark and of water, the reason for the latter becoming clear when Dorothy inadvertantly destroys her by throwing a bucket of water at her. There's no indication that she carries a broom, just an umbrella, but Hidden Valley (written some time after the release of the MGM film) has her riding on a broom in order to steal kites from children. (Hey, not ALL of her evil deeds could be of supervillain calibre.) She doesn't really work that much actual magic in the text. She makes a bar of iron invisible so that Dorothy will trip over it, and summons several packs of deadly animals to destroy Dorothy's adventuring party. She calls most of these animals (wolves, crows, and bees) with a whistle, but needs the Golden Cap to command the Winged Monkeys, the creatures who succeed in capturing Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion and putting the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman out of commission. Everyone who possesses the Cap is able to call upon the services of the monkeys three times. We actually catch a brief glimpse of the Cap in the movie, after Dorothy and her friends escape from the poppy field, but she doesn't use it when ordering the monkeys to capture Dorothy. Her name is Bastinda in Volkov's books, and I think that name has a nice ring to it. I remember a dream I had in which I was playing an Oz game that was very similar to Super Mario World, and one of the locations was identified on the screen as "Bastinda's Castle." In Wicked, her name is Elphaba (after L. Frank Baum, her original creator), and she's presented as a sympathetic animal rights activist. As such, the back story of the Winged Monkeys is changed so that they're a product of Elphaba's genetic engineering, rather than the slaves of the Cap.

The North - Although I'm sure the Wicked Witch of the West is the best known among the general public, it's Mombi who plays the most significant role in the books. She first appears in Land, in which she is never specifically referred to as the Wicked Witch of the North, but Dorothy and the Wizard makes clear that she is indeed known by that title. She was presumably ruler of the Gillikin Country at one point, but since so many Gillikins don't recognize her, she must have kept a low profile. I get the impression that her power was never consolidated like that of her counterparts in the East and West. And she lost any authority she might have had over the country after being conquered by the GOOD Witch of the North. What she lacked in political power, however, Mombi made up for in troublemaking. She held Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, as a prisoner for years. After Ozma's coronation at the end of Land, Mombi is stripped of her magic and given a pension to live on. While she's mentioned a few other times in the Baum books, it's Ruth Plumly Thompson's Lost King that actually brings her back in a significant role. This time, she's searching for Ozma's father Pastoria, whom she had enchanted and imprisoned some time ago, but had forgotten exactly how. If Ozma's story in Dorothy and the Wizard is correct, she also disposed of Pastoria's father. Two of the better fan-written books, Blue Emperor and Paradox, give possible fates for this earlier King of Oz. Mombi is destroyed with water at the end of Lost King (one of very few times Ozma actually orders an execution; the only other time might have been with Eureka the kitten, and that was never carried out), but Thompson knew better than to let a good villain go to waste, and had Mombi's deeds in the past provide the impetus for the plot of Giant Horse. She also comes back in the form of an animated painting (and apparently not a water-soluble one) in Lucky Bucky. A witch named Mombi appears in Return to Oz, but she's a composite character, having traits of both the books' Mombi and the thirty-headed Princess Langwidere of Ev. Mombi also shows up as the main villain in the lousy animated film Journey Back to Oz, which has her magically creating an army of green elephants, or something like that. I can't really remember the plot too well. Finally, the Wicked Witch of the North makes a cameo appearance in Maguire's Son of a Witch, although the book doesn't mention her name.

The South - While Dorothy and the Wizard assures us that there was a Wicked Witch of the South, who was conquered by Glinda, she never actually appears in any of the Famous Forty, at least not under her full title. The most probable candidate within the FF is Blinkie, from Scarecrow, who's essentially another composite character. In Baum's own film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, there appeared a witch who was named Mombi, but clearly modeled on Denslow's drawings of the Wicked Witch of the West. When Baum adapted the plot of the movie into a novel, he couldn't use either the Witch of the West or Mombi, the former of whom was dead and the latter disempowered. So instead, we're introduced to a new witch, named Blinkie. The facts that "Wicked Witch" is always written with capitals when referring to her and that she lives in the Quadling Country might be hints that she's the official Wicked Witch of the South, but the whole thing could also just be a coincidence. After all, Glinda shows no sign of remembering her, and it's reported that she had conquered the WWS. Thompson only mentions the WWS in one brief reference in Giant Horse, and she's pretty much disregarded by the other official Oz authors. That is, until Rachel Cosgrove (later Payes), who introduced the WWS as a separate character named Singra, who had been put into a century-long sleep by Glinda. The story makes clear that she's not the brightest of the Wicked Witches, but she's still able to cause a considerable amount of trouble in Oz, after which she's made to drink the Water of Oblivion (thanks to a water nymph's spell, water won't harm her like it did Mombi and the WWW), and returned to sleep for another hundred years. This book wasn't accepted by the publishing company, with the reason given allegedly being that there weren't any more witches in Oz, despite the fact that a WWS is specifically mentioned in Dorothy and the Wizard. Eric Shanower's Enchanted Apples brings in a different WWS, who was also placed under an enchantment by a powerful sorceress (probably Glinda again, although Professor Wogglebug doesn't mention her name). Eric later illustrated Payes's Wicked Witch, which was finally published by the International Wizard of Oz Club. When asked about the two different Wicked Witches of the South, his answer was that he thought the two were sisters who were in competition. Really, though, the two needn't necessarily have overlapped. Wicked Witch was written in the fifties, and if it takes place around then, Singra was put under the sleeping spell in the 1850s. Enchanted Apples, by Eric's own admission, occurs during the "several happy weeks" that Dorothy spent in Oz after the main action of Ozma, and the Witch in Apples had ALREADY been enchanted a century before that, which was probably almost fifty years before Singra's initial defeat. Of course, the dates of the books aren't set in stone, but it does seem likely that there was a large gap between the conquest of this unnamed WWS and that of Singra.

Tomorrow, we take a look at the Good Witches of these same places, including Glinda herself.

A Ghostly Post

In sixth grade, one of the projects for my English class involved making our own books, including binding and illustrating. Wanting to get away from aliens for a little while, I wrote about an adventure in the Underworld. My land of the dead was neither a hell nor a heaven, but simply a strange land where the spirits of the dead lived out their afterlives. I don't remember too much about the story itself, other than that it featured a few ghosts (I made them Frenchmen who had died in World War II, so as to use bad puns on last names beginning with "de") sailing to an island and fighting a monster named Karlar. The ghosts' home island was Dekkastekkwekk, named after its founder. Don't even bother asking what HIS nationality was in life. I don't recall exactly what my pictures looked like, either, but since I've pretty well established that I can't draw, I'm pretty sure they were the Halloween decoration style of ghost. You know, like these guys?

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Pigging Out

One famous mythological witch I didn't mention in yesterday's post is Circe, Medea's aunt, who appears in the Odyssey. Her shtick was turning people into animals, as when she turned all of Odysseus' men except Eurylochus into pigs. Western culture commonly views pigs as filthy, uncouth animals, so turning a person into one would have to be a serious insult. I've never found that entirely fair, though. I mean, don't pigs roll around in mud and eat slop because that's all they're given? I mean, that's like New York dumping garbage in New Jersey, and then insisting that New Jersey is a dump. And despite the expression "chauvinist pig," I haven't heard that swine are particularly disrespectful to women. Besides, people say that pigs are smart. I'm not saying that you should allow a piglet to suckle at your teat, but they probably have a worse reputation than they deserve.

Wow, between this and the snake post, I think I'm fast becoming a defender of maligned animals. Just don't expect me to do the same thing for cockroaches, because those little buggers are disgusting.

Anyway, the theme of people being turned into pigs strikes me as a remarkably common one. In addition to Circe, here are some other examples I can think of off the top of my head (which means that I'm sure I've leaving out a lot, and would welcome any other examples you lovely readers might have):

  • The Duchess' baby boy in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland turns into a pig while Alice is holding him. According to The Annotated Alice, Lewis Carroll loved little girls, but wasn't so keen on little boys, which might explain why it was specifically a boy baby who underwent the transformation. What I want to know is, if the Duchess dies, does the pig become a Duke?
  • In "The Mandarin and the Butterfly," one of L. Frank Baum's American Fairy Tales, a mandarin who hates children uses a spell from a book he stole from the Chinese magician Haot-sai (a character I might like to explore in a future story) to turn them into pigs. He recruits a butterfly to help him, and when the butterfly tries out the magic formula on an actual pig, it turns into a badly-behaved human boy.
  • Speaking of Baum, in Ozma of Oz, one of the Nome King's many transformations is that of the Tin Woodman into a tin whistle shaped like a pig.
  • In another Oz book, Glinda of Oz, Queen Coo-ee-oh of the Skeezers turns her rival Rora Flathead into a golden pig, in which form she is unable to work her own witchcraft. (I'll get back to these two in a future post in my "Witches of Oz" series.)
  • Ruth Plumly Thompson's first foray into Oz, The Royal Book of Oz, has a potion that was intended to make the Scarecrow human instead transform the three scheming Princes of the Silver Island into two pigs and a weasel.
  • In the first Harry Potter book (the title of which depends on what country you live in), Hagrid tries to turn Dudley Dursley into a pig. He only succeeds in giving him a pig's tail, though, which the Dursleys have to get surgically removed.
  • One of the spells in Final Fantasy IV is Pig (or "Piggy" in the NES version), which, as you might expect, turns its victim into a pig. In this form, a character has a very weak attack, and is unable to use magic or other special abilities.
  • Ganon, the main villain in the Zelda series, resembles a pig, although not exactly. In Ocarina of Time, for instance, he has a long tail that isn't at all porcine. Still, since he's a human who essentially took the form of a pig (or, more accurately, a pig-like demon), I might as well include him in the list.