January 9th, 2010



  • 12:46 Our Internet connection @ home is down. And I was hoping to catch up on online stuff this weekend! #
  • 12:50 @NowIsStrange Not as picky as I am, I'm sure. #
  • 12:52 Hey, Leno, what happened to retiring? Did you realize you didn't have enough saved up to buy all 50 cars you wanted? #
  • 12:58 @DVDBoxSet You're the Lady of the Lake? Got any legendary swords for me? #
  • 12:59 It makes me sad that I fail at relationships. I'm in one, but I'm still failing. #
  • 15:36 Happy birthday, E
    lvis! #
  • 15:42 @DVDBoxSet Hey, Hitler didn't actually make Germany, did he? #
  • 15:44 This morning, I heard a commercial to an online local guide that used the Mr. Rogers theme music. Weird. #
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Book Reviews: Wizards, Wonder, and Wowbagger

So, as previously indicated, here are reviews of the books that I finished recently. Perhaps surprisingly, none of them are Oz books, although the first three all have connections to Oz.

The Collected Short Stories of L. Frank Baum - While obviously specializing in children's fantasy, Baum actually dabbled in a lot of genres. I suppose some of it could be considered hack work, but I have to say I'm somewhat jealous of writers who can crank out pretty much anything if pressed to it. I think I'm a decent writer when I stick to what I know, but if you wanted me to write a romance or thriller, I don't think I'd even have any clue where to begin. Anyway, while some of Baum's short stories are thematically similar to the Oz books, the author also tried his hand at science fiction, detective tales, rustic rural fiction, ghost stories, and even a probably Poe-inspired tale about a murderer who rigged the evidence to make it look like a suicide. The murderer actually gets away with it, too. The book itself is quite attractive, and includes a scholarly introduction and afterword.

Billy Bounce - W.W. Denslow, best known as the illustrator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, had an early syndicated comic with this name, concerning a boy who could bounce around like a rubber ball. Later, the idea was loosely adapted into a book, which Denslow illustrated. The author was Dudley Bragdon, but Denslow received higher billing. I haven't read that many of the original comics, but I get the impression that the book changed Billy's character somewhat, making him a good-hearted messenger boy instead of a mischievous circus clown. He still bounces, though, and I guess that's the important part. The story itself concerns a self-styled villain named Nickel Plate, who hires Billy to take a message to the Bogie Man. Along the way, he encounters a series of odd communities and comical characters. I actually rather liked it, although it became a bit repetitive after a while. The style of humor seems to be pretty typical of the era, full of puns and Wonderland-style nonsensical exchanges.

The Wonder Book - This is another collection, although this one was actually compiled during the author's own lifetime. It's a set of early stories, poems, and puzzles by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who continued the Oz series after Baum's death. Most of the material first appeared in her column in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, which is what attracted the attention of Baum's publishers. Most of it is geared toward a younger audience than the Oz books, and some of the material comes across as somewhat overly precious and saccharine. Still, it's hard not to have fun reading it, and there are some quite clever stories included in the mix. The longer story "Marvelous Travels on a Wish," which appears in installments throughout the volume, seems to be one of Thompson's darker ones. It's full of her typical sort of whimsical humor, but it's often used to a more depressing effect. In case you're interested, Hungry Tiger Press has the entire story (complete with some politically-themed jokes that were omitted from The Wonder Book, presumably because they had become dated) on their Tiger Tales page, and publishes a paperback edition of the entire story. (For what it's worth, I don't have the book, but it sounds interesting.) As with the last two books, The Wonder Book is probably more interesting for its scholarly value than anything else, but it's an enjoyable read nonetheless.

And Another Thing... - Speaking of writers continuing a popular series after the original author's death, this is Eoin Colfer's sequel to the late Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. I doubt anyone will mistake Colfer's work for Adams' own, but it's still an effective follow-up, bringing new adventures in the same universe with the same characters. One thing I've noticed about fan-written works is that, while they rarely recapture the same spark that the original authors had, fans do tend to remember and expand upon details that the creators might have forgotten. Colfer gives us more of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, and elaborates on Thor's brief appearances in the earlier volumes by providing some back story between him and Zaphod Beeblebrox. The references to previous events and established minor characters and locations actually became a bit tedious at times, but I have to admit that I probably would have done the same thing. I'm sure a lot of fans will object on principle to the series being continued by another hand, but while it certainly wasn't Adams, I found it to be a worthy addition to the so-called trilogy.

Tempt Not the Fates

One theme that comes up in a lot of Greek myths is that of the inevitability of fate. If something is destined to happen, it's going to happen, regardless of how many children you eat or leave on mountaintops. While the concept of fate personified as spinning women seems to have been a pretty early one, it was a little while before the specific idea of the three Moirai developed. I suppose it's not surprising that they ended up being a group of three, as that's a natural number for women in Greek mythology. The most common versions of the myths also refer to three Gorgons and three Graeae (the witches who share one eye and one tooth between them). The three Fates are generally regarded as children of some of the primordial deities, with Nyx (Night) and Erebus (Darkness) being perhaps their most commonly identified parents. Some myths made them the daughters of Zeus and Thetis, but this kind of goes against the idea that the Fates predate the Olympians and operate independently of them. Indeed, how much power Zeus and his ilk had to sway the decisions of the Fates, and how much they were subject to the Moirai themselves, was a matter of some contention among the poets.

The three Fates are named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos; and each one deals with a different part of life. Since there are three, they inevitably came to be associated with past, present, and future; but I don't think that's entirely accurate. The descriptions I've seen generally refer to Clotho as the one who spins the thread for each mortal, Lachesis as the one who determines the length of a person's life, and Atropos as the bringer of death by means of her thread-cutting shears. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that they represent the beginning, middle, and end of life; rather than past, present, and future specifically.

The idea of three spinning women who determine destinies appears in some other mythologies as well. Norse mythology has the Norns, who serve a similar purpose. Actually, sources refer to an entire race of Norns, female deities who have the power to influence the lives of humans. It's possible that the specific idea of three spinning Norns was borrowed from the Greeks, but it's hard to tell. Latvian mythology has Laima, Kārta and Dēkla, another three sisters who determine the fates of mankind, but I don't know that they were ever associated with spinning. And the three wyrd sisters from Shakespeare's Macbeth were obviously a continuation of the same theme, and they really DO specifically reference the past, present, and future.