October 26th, 2008


Another Victim of the Adult Conspiracy

Happy birthday to sailorptah! Also to my sister, although I don't think she reads this. I really should get her a present, but my family is hard to shop for.

Anyway, I'm still working my way through the Xanth books. They're all quick reads, and I've gotten through four of them recently. Here are a few thoughts on those four.

Isle of View - Although the title appears to be a rip-off of L. Frank Baum's Isle of Yew, this is an enjoyable book, focusing largely on new characters. One of them is Jenny Elf, who comes from another world based on the ElfQuest graphic novels. I've never read any of those (I understand that therealtavie is a big fan), but I think it's a well-executed crossover that accentuates some of the differences between different fantasy universes (Jenny is taller than Xanthian elves, and isn't tied to an elm tree). She was actually named after a girl who had been hit by a drunk driver and become paralyzed. Also, we finally wrap up Prince Dolph's marriage dilemma, although the fact that the dilemma even exists shows that Dolph isn't all that bright. The other characters seem to be aware of this, though, and Dolph does make the obvious decision in the end. Really, though, I'm not sure why Dolph COULDN'T marry two women. I mean, this is a land where nymphs run around naked and people breed with animals, but polygamy is apparently out. I wonder what Queen Irene would think of gay marriage. Or does Xanth even have any homosexuals? Finally, I do appreciate that Gwendolyn Goblin and Che Centaur's problem is resolved through compromise, which seems to be a major theme in the series.

Question Quest - The Good Magician Humfrey, who had been missing from Xanth for some time, relates his life history. I appreciate the historical backdrop for the novel, and the fact that we finally get to see Humfrey as a viewpoint character. We see the events of the earlier Xanth books from his point of view, and while I've seen a review that says the recapping gets tedious, I like getting a different perspective on old plots. Besides, it's been a while since I've read most of those books, so it helped to jog my memory. It's a noble attempt to get everything established about Xanth to fit together, which sometimes requires Anthony to come up with a convoluted explanation for an apparent contradiction, but I guess that's pretty much inevitable in a series that had been running for so many volumes. I do think it didn't really work to have Lacuna announce her plan to reprogram Com-Pewter at the beginning, though, as it made the actual confrontation anti-climactic. That's a minor complaint, though, and I found this to be one of the better Xanth books I've read so far.

The Color of Her Panties - A somewhat embarrassing title to be caught reading in public, but I never had anyone say anything about it. This book focuses on the Adult Conspiracy, which is basically a combination of knowledge about sex and all the things adults tell kids without explaining why. The panties come in because, for some reason, seeing a woman in panties is more forbidden than seeing one totally starkers (as they say in the United Kingdom). Actually, I can kind of see that. Regardless, pretty much every Xanth book after Anthony started using child protagonists (all the main characters in the first two books were adults, which makes it kind of weird that it eventually morphed into such an adolescent-themed fantasy land) incorporates the Adult Conspiracy, and it gets a bit tedious. Still, this book isn't bad, although it seems like Anthony stopped even making an effort to make each book work as a self-contained story. I mean, yes, it has a beginning and an ending and all that, but most of it is devoted to tying up loose ends from earlier books, and introducing some that would come into play in future volumes.

Demons Don't Dream - I didn't much care for the setup of this novel. It was largely intended to promote a computer game that came out around the same time (and, based on what I've seen in online reviews, isn't anywhere near as good as the book makes it sound, but that's only to be expected), so the plot focuses on two American teenagers who get into Xanth by means of the game. Within the book, the game is being run by demons, and actual people and places in the country are modified to provide challenges for the players. While a clever explanation in a way, the fact that Anthony is trying to make it the real Xanth AND a game at the same time makes for some awkward writing and explanations. That said, once the plot actually gets going, it's not a bad story, and there are some quite clever parts. The introduction of a multiracial human society into Xanth is done in a rather heavy-handed manner, but I do like Sherlock as a character.

The next volume in the series, Harpy Thyme, does not appear to be available at the local library. Maybe I'll see if I can find a cheap copy on eBay. There are a few other things I might want to read before continuing with Xanth, though.
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We Don't Need Another Hero

For the past few Sundays, I've been writing about stuff I came up with as a kid. While I know I haven't covered everything yet, I don't currently have any memories that I think I can stretch into a full post. That doesn't mean I won't have more posts of that sort in the future, though, so don't despair. Also, there won't be any Simpsons, Family Guy, or American Dad reviews, since those shows aren't on tonight. Yeah, we're going to get another Simpsons Halloween episode after Halloween. I'm not sure why, if they knew they weren't going to air a new show this week, they didn't just put the Halloween one on last week. It's not like they don't show Christmas episodes well in advance of the actual day.

Like rockinlibrarian, I recently finished reading Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I'd never read it before, despite the fact that I've always been interested in mythology and that my dad owned a copy, but I finally checked out a copy from the library. I wasn't always that interested in the psychological parts, as it seemed to mostly reflect the ideas of Freud and Jung, which I always found rather far-fetched. I did, however, like the exploration of the similar themes in the mythologies throughout the world.

One passage I found particularly interesting was this one, from Part II, Chapter I: "The arranging of the world, the creation of man, and the decision about death are typical themes from the tales of the primitive creator. It is difficult to know how seriously or in what sense these stories were believed....Many of the tales that appear in the collections under the category of origin stories were generally regarded more as popular fairy tales than as a book of genesis." I do have to wonder how much people actually believed some of the more absurd myths. I'm sure there were people who did, just as today there are people who think the first human was literally made of dirt and fossils were the result of a worldwide flood. What immediately comes to mind are the Mystery Cults of Imperial Rome, like that of Mithra, where those who were initiated into the mystery were the ones privy to the truth behind the stories. As a non-religious person who's fascinated by mythology, it kind of seems to me like there are two different sorts, which are almost opposite in a way. One is making grand cosmic concepts into everyday symbols, and the other is finding mystical concepts behind more or less generic things. That's really oversimplifying it, but I'll try to explain what I mean. The former is when someone wonders about, say, the nature of the Sun, and says something like, "Hey, the sun looks kind of like an egg yolk. Maybe a giant bird lays the sun every day!" The Sun is outside this person's realm of knowledge, but they see eggs all the time. Does the person who comes up with this concept actually believe it, or just think it makes a good story? I don't know, but I would imagine it varies. The other kind can be exemplified by the story of Jesus. While we don't know for sure that he existed, his story (especially as told in the Gospel of Mark, which lacks the virgin birth and only hints at the resurrection) is pretty believable. We know that there was a time in Judea when there were people trying to reform Judaism, and being scorned by the establishment and sometimes even killed. The mystical notion here isn't simply that a religious leader was crucified, but the symbolism added to this, in which Jesus took on and paid for all the sin of the world, and came back to life after dying. To put it another way, my former sort of mythology is deciding that a tree holds the world together, while the latter is to come upon a naturally occurring tree and state that it IS a world tree. I think the latter variety is more commonly believed today, and perhaps has been throughout history.

To Campbell, and to some others I've seen address the topic, what's really important are the deeper truths behind the myths. I'd say those are easier to find in some stories than others, though. I mean, I can see the intended meaning in the Garden of Eden story, even if I don't necessarily agree with it. With Noah's Ark, though, it's a little more difficult to fathom. But then, some people think that story might be based on memories of an actual flood (perhaps of the Black Sea) that a few people survived by building boats. If this is true, it's not so much a tale meant to explain why things are the way they are (although there is some of that mixed in, like with the explanation of the rainbow), but more along the lines of the real (or at least possibly real) event being modified into a myth. That would make it fit more easily into my second category, but I'll admit that these categories aren't very rigidly defined.

Blame it on the rain? Blame it on copyright law!

With the revelation that Joe the Plumber isn't a licensed plumber (nor is he actually named Joe, and since when was he ever a "the"?), I'm sure you've all been wondering one thing: Are the Super Mario Brothers licensed plumbers? Well, the Super Show cartoon episode "Plummers' Academy" had them studying at a school to become plumbers. They're kicked out by their jerky instructor, but later save the Presidents of the United States and the Soviet Union from a flood, and are quite likely reinstated after that. So yeah, they're probably licensed. And I would imagine they're not delinquent on their taxes, since they can get a bunch of money simply by hitting blocks. Are they even American citizens, though? They do seem to maintain residency in Brooklyn despite having a home in the Mushroom Kingdom, so maybe they have dual citizenship. And since Mario is also the ruler of Mario Land, that might mean TRIPLE citizenship for him. I would say that this isn't a bad idea, but Yoshi's Island suggests that Mario might not have been born in this country. And we don't even know his middle name. Maybe he's Mario Mussolini Mario!

Anyway, I might as well get to my reviews of more Super Mario Bros. 3 cartoons, this time including the infamous Milli Vanilli episode.

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Getting back to a subject I had broached earlier, I generally don't mind that they edited out the copyrighted songs for the DVD release. It's not like they were any good anyway. The Milli Vanilli episode is likely to be the only one where someone who was watching this show for the first time would even realize there were supposed to have been songs. Still, I have to wonder why they were allowed to play them on TV, but not on the DVDs. Copyright law is just weird that way, I guess. I have my own gripes about copyright law, because if it hadn't been for the copyright extension in the late nineties, I believe that all the Oz books up through The Purple Prince of Oz would now be public domain. That's a pretty selfish reason, sure, but why SHOULD copyright law extend to well after the actual creator has died? Isn't that a major example of people having the potential to get rich for something someone else did? I have to suspect that the whole thing is Disney's fault, because I'm sure Steamboat Willie going into the public domain would seriously cut into their profits.