Jack, Gourds, and Trolls

As October rolled around and the blog calendar begged to be filled with topics to write, I penciled in what seemed like a good topic for a Mythology Monday. Many people have long known the story of Jack O’Lantern, the poor condemned soul who would wander the world. But, thinking about the nature of the story and the usual way folklore twists and bends from other traditions, I wondered where that story originated. Was there a cultural significance to turnips? Were there stories from older cultures that reflected the story of Jack, maybe putting light to why you would mimic his carving and stick a candle into it? There were a lot of possibilities, so I thought, surely, this would be a cute entry for the Halloween season.

vintage-halloween

But what I found was actually kind of amusing in a whole different sort of way. Because what I found was that the story of “Jack O’Lantern” specifically didn’t seem to have an origin. First being told in the mid 19th century (a little after the practice of lantern carving became most common), the folktale appeared a little late to the party to be credited for the practice. Other stories of similar nature have appeared across Europe, all to account for the origin of what is most commonly known as the Will-O-Wisp, but the actual act of carving a turnip and using it as a lantern seems to be somewhat unique. Essentially, while you could find the origins for other versions of the will-o-wisp stories across the continent, “Jack” didn’t really seem to have one.

Now, that’s not to say that the name itself was just pulled right out of a hat. “Jack” has also long been a character used in many stories about borderline (and sometimes not so borderline) tricksters. Like the trickster spirits of other cultures, “Jack” is generally a clever but troublesome fellow who’ll use his wits to get out of situations. But as I was considering that, something occurred to me about why so many articles just could not figure out the when and how for Jack’s inclusion on the gourd carving practice in Ireland.

Because, you see, I believe we’re looking at the result of massive generational Trolling… Continue reading Jack, Gourds, and Trolls

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The Truly Unstoppable Force

A couple days ago, I posted a little thing about the various events that used to kept me up at night as a kid. As an astronomy geek that’s been in awe of the universe since I could first read, I’ve been long fascinated and slightly tormented by just how insignificant we are to the cosmos. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are but a pale blue spec of dust. And, funny enough, sharing some of my old childhood fears got some people thinking about how potentially screwed we are on this rock.

george-bush-mission-accomplished

But in all of the scenarios I listed, you could theoretically prevent the extinction of the human race by simply getting them off the Earth. This is because I spend my Wednesdays either pointing out something ridiculous or talking about writing and good story ideas. And while each of these outcomes would be horrible for anyone still here, there would still be a story to tell either in the aftermath or on another planet. The more people leave this rock before the end times, the more survive. Going to places such as Mars, Proxima b or any number of other exoplanets across the galaxy can prevent us from all sitting in one place, waiting to kiss our asses goodbye as the sky literally falls on us. Funny enough, there’s one scenario out there with absolutely no escape, one that could strike at any minute, one that could strike even as you read this blog right now.

Because, you see, the universe may actually have a critical flaw that we only discovered very recently… Continue reading The Truly Unstoppable Force

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Cosmic Disasters

Every year, as this time comes around, I sit back and think a lot about what exactly scares people. So many things that we deal with in our everyday lives can be so unassuming to most but absolutely terrifying to a few. But as I once pointed out, I’m not particularly afraid of things that require a lot of abstract thinking. Stick me in a situation where my entire biology is telling me to get out and I will be fairly afraid, but if I have to imagine something hurting me, I generally also imagine being able to fight back. Masked men with a machete? I wonder why no one’s grabbed the farm tools they just ran by. Animatronics in a pizza shop? I’m familiar with how fragile animatronics actually are. And, as much as people are caught up in some sort of clown hysteria right now, there’s really only ever been one clown outside of fiction that anyone had any real reason to be worried about.

john-wayne-gacy-clown-pic

Well, maybe two if you count the threat of obesity.

ronald-mcdonald

This doesn’t just hold for the small personal horrors either. As I pointed out once about the apocalypse, a lot of the allure for these scenarios is the feeling that we could somehow plan or prepare to handle them. Every apocalyptic story involves the survivor who finds their way out of it and deals with the horrors in front of them despite the odds. Aliens have invaded? You’ll join the resistance. Zombie hordes marching across the landscape attacking everyone they come across? There are entire websites devoted to planning your survival strategy. And nuclear winter? I know it sounds absolutely terrifying but we’ve actually survived something like that once before. So, despite how horrible they may seem to a lot of people, they’re never something I really sit back and worry about. As I once told my friend, the things that actually have kept me up at night are the things you could never prepare for.

Because where can you hide from something that makes the planet uninhabitable…? Continue reading Cosmic Disasters

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History of the Holidays: The Winter Nights

The time of year has come once again, the world has turned autumn shades and winter is coming. A season of holidays, ranging from thankful to solemn, now begins to stretch over the dark months. And to open these we celebrate Halloween, the days of the dead, or variants thereof. Long made a family friendly holiday, there was once a time that All Hallows Eve was seen as a very serious and solemn time, marked with a time of worship and reflection that would help the Catholic Church convert the pagans in Northern Europe and give them an opportunity to celebrate their own rituals within the framework of Christianity.

Of course, many people today know of Samhain, the Celtic festival devoted to the time when the veil between this world and the next would be thinner. Every year, you’ll hear at least one person tell you of how Halloween was all based on this one holiday, that the various traditions we’ve lost the meaning to once held an important place in the Celtic celebrations. But few people actually take time to make note of the fact that Samhain was also the celebration of the New Year, a time when one year was coming to an end and the next year was about to begin. And fewer mention the fact that the Celts and Gaels weren’t the only ones with a celebration this time of year.

Because this was also the time of the Norse New Year, the Vetrnætr, the “Winter Nights”… Continue reading History of the Holidays: The Winter Nights

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Alterpedia – Trolls

In the Alters’ World (and the series of books found here), creatures of legend reveal themselves to the world. Born through genetic abnormalities, defects and mutations, the Alters have lived for centuries as outcasts of human society, hiding their true nature from the world while colorful stories have been written by many to describe what they’ve seen. How are these creatures different from what was described in the stories? What relationship do they have with humanity? Every entry of the Alterpedia will delve into a new creature from around the world. This week we cover:

Trolls

trolls-gathered

Spoken of in the tales of old, the Jotunn were a race of creatures who tormented man and god alike and eventually resulted in the end of the world. However, as time went on, the idea of the Jotunn divided into two very different beings. The first, the giants, continued to have the impressive, impossible size while still looking otherwise human, but the other, the Troll, took on all of the primitive and supernatural elements of the creatures of lore.

Trolls – ugly, hulking creatures with a deep connection to nature – have long been spoken of in the Scandinavian regions as a result. Said to be hostile to humans, especially Christians, they represent not only the natural world but the old ways that have long ago been abandoned in favor of modern religions. According to lore, they’ve existed throughout the lands, battling the gods and tormenting man, living under bridges, deep in caves, and in the thick forests. only to be rare today due to their inability to stand in the daylight sun.

But how much of this is confusion with the Jotun of old? How much of it is just embellishment? And do these creatures truly turn to stone? Continue reading Alterpedia – Trolls

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Copyright Confusion: Macross Edition!

(To ensure there’s no confusion here: I am not a lawyer, I am a writer who has an interest in this subject because I would like to not be sued or ripped off. Noble motivations, I assure you.)

Copyright, it’s a funny thing. Having recently stepped into a hot debate, I found myself watching people argue with certainty over the nature of copyright law. Amusingly, most of these people were so absolutely sure they knew how copyright law works that you’d think they were all lawyers. For or against, both sides of the debate thought they knew for a fact what the law said on the subject. In fact, both were pretty adamant that the other side were thieves. And they “knew for a fact” because, according to these well-meaning souls, copyright is a simple to understand system that follows common sense. So, once I stopped laughing, I started writing on the subject.

As I’ve been pointing out ever since, there isn’t always as clear a picture as people like to believe there is. In some very black and white areas, it works – you can’t just duplicate someones work or distribute pirated copies (usually). But once you get to the matters of intellectual property, you’d be amazed how hard it is to parse out the solution. The system as it stands today has many glaring flaws that make it difficult to trust that it’s always going to work. Certain provisions within the copyright and trademark laws are intentionally murky, some things are entirely subjective, and most of the time you can’t tell what the truth is until a judge decides. This results in a system where no one is really able to get anything clarified until a lawsuit comes into the conversation. Unfortunately, the little guy can rarely afford that, so the big boys usually win.

In the end, most of us depending on the law to protect our works are depending on people acting in good faith. Generally, we like to hope that people are honest players. We like to imagine that legal action is like a big red button behind a glass case you break only in case of emergencies. In a grey situation, we like to imagine that people stop to hesitate and consider whether they should actually do it. No one would blindly and willfully hit that button just for the sake of hitting it, right?

Wrong.

A plethora of people abuse the system to lock it in their favor even if it shouldn’t be. A great example would be the situation mentioned last time when Saban, owners of Power Rangers, sued a game parodying Super Sentai and other Tokusatsu series. This game existed well within fair use, being a parody based on an entire genre that used no copyrighted or trademarked materials. But, apparently, when you see a team of colorful characters climbing into a bizarre machine – Saban wants you to think of them.

clowns

It’s a ridiculous situation, but one that happens all the time. Some companies go out of their way to sue for things they have no right to sue over. They’ll plant themselves on a copyright, trademark, or patent and then use that to strong-arm other companies. But, to be fair to Saban, they do have some legal claim to the IP and that makes them a lesser of evils. Instead, to find a really glaring example of copyright abuse in a similar situation, I’d like to tell you about a franchise from Japan and why a lot of you probably haven’t heard of it before… Continue reading Copyright Confusion: Macross Edition!

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Altternative Mythologies – Brazil

The Fantasy Genre has long been dominated by the religions and customs of countries touched on by the Crusades. While this makes sense, with the familiar image of a knight wandering foreign lands being key to the genre itself, there has been stagnation in recent times. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to look into the cultures of the world and find fascinating details about other mythologies often overlooked by the genre we so love, seeking out Alternative Mythologies.

The cultures of Europe and Africa have had some interactions with each other in the past, especially along the Mediterranean coasts. Egyptian mythology influenced Greek, as did Berber, and the same could be said the other way around. Many have known of the influences of Christianity on modern day Voudou and related groups. But that blend is rarely so complete that it would be difficult to know the origins of which belief came from what group. Though sometimes the details get lost to history, like with Poseidon being part of the Berber mythology long before being introduced to the Greeks, there is still some evidence from long ago that makes it possible to separate the two.

But what happens when that blend is a lot more complete and a mythology starts to form after the blending?

Behold, the beautiful mess of the mythology that is Brazil. Having been settled by the Portuguese during the colonial period, Brazil’s culture was heavily influenced from not one direction but rather three fully unique sources. The first, of course, was the indigenous people of the region, the Tupians in particular – a race of people defined by their language group, Tupian, which includes 70 different dialects. Then, as the Portuguese arrived, they did what Europeans generally do and tried to convert the country, introducing a whole new language and their culture. And, as the Portuguese arrived, they also brought along slaves, as the Europeans tended to do at the time, and introduced the unique flavors of the Western African cultures covered in earlier entries of this series.

The result was a wonderfully complex blend of the cultures of three different continents playing off of each other and creating something new. While the origins of some ideas are easy to identify, most are a gestalt which has grown greater than the sum of its parts. A creature shaped like something from the Amazon could behave like an African deity, be associated with a Christian concept, and have a name based on the Portuguese translation of a Tupian word.

So, while it would be impossible to cover the whole of such a rich culture in the space of a lowly blog like mine, it’s a time to give a brief look into the world of… Continue reading Altternative Mythologies – Brazil

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Being A Modern Ogre

From time to time, everyone gets lonely. Unlike others you know who have formed tightly knit groups, you have always just kind of tended to be a solitary soul. Frankly, it’s hard to deal with people on a regular basis. You’re not exactly the social butterfly. You’ve never been very outgoing, certainly could never be described as an extrovert, and sometimes you’d prefer if everyone just left you alone. But sometimes, even someone like you could use some company. Unfortunately, you’re an Ogre – and not the civilized kind.

ogre-uncivilized

Yes, a lot of Orcs and Ogres have kept up with modern times, but you’re not one of those. You’ve managed to somehow fall behind the curve and it has greatly impacted your social life as the rest of the world passed you by and took your friends with it. Once upon a time you were fairly standard for an Ogre, but several of your friends have long ago settled down with a nice woman who has gotten them into shape. In fact, since then, they haven’t really come by your place that much either. At first you thought they were sick, but they’ve clearly decided she smells better than you do – not that it was much of a contest.

This makes things tricky. Simply being an introvert or anti-social is a hard enough mountain to climb. But an anti-social backwater Ogre? Even the ice breakers generally involve a lot more screaming than you’re willing to tolerate. You can’t remember the last time you invited someone to dinner where the guest didn’t bring a pitchfork. And let’s not forget the shed. Frankly, you’re a little surprised that so many women were interested enough to get there. Maybe it was the intimidation factor, the wealth, your reputation, or that fabulous beard – it’s kind of hard to tell.

bluebeard

Regardless, now that the season of parties is upon us, you’re looking to make some invitations and try again. If you’re ever going to get back in touch with your brethren, you’re going to have a lot of catching up to do. Hopefully, this time, nothing will get set on fire… Continue reading Being A Modern Ogre

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Strange Creatures, Stranger Desires

Since almost the dawn of civilization, people have claimed there are no such thing as new ideas. I’ve never been one to buy that, seeing as we’ve come so far compared to where we were in the past, but it’s still something people like to trade around. However, looking at the stories we tell and the repetition of plots and archetypes, it’s easy to understand why some would disagree. We like familiarity, we like to see something that feels comfortable to us, and thus newer ideas often sit as niche for a while. The other ideas, the old well-tread stories, are easier to push forward and thus easier to notice. Generally, they feature something timeless that doesn’t require a lot of change to feel contemporary.

But even those are usually different as time goes on, we’re always adding to what existed before. Sometimes, those changes even happen without the fans wanting them to happen. One of the loudest criticisms of the Twilight books is what they did to vampires and werewolves. Fans of the horror genres felt that creatures which could have been “cool” and threatening were now fairly pretty instead. Unfortunately for those people, it wasn’t really Twilight’s fault and that ship sailed a long time ago.

pitt-vampire

But not very long ago I mentioned that the same was happening to a more unexpected creature. Once upon a time, zombies were a fairly scary thing which were seen as this ultimate form of “the other”. But as time has gone on they’ve lost a bit of their edge. They now feature in comedies, dramas, action movies, and even…romances. With the production of things like Warm Bodies and iZombie, we’ve managed to find ourselves seeing zombies as something that you could love and be attracted to. And for whatever you may think of the over-saturation of the market – that’s a relatively new idea that in 36 years has taken us from this:

dawn-of-the-dead

To this:

liv

So, the question becomes: How exactly did we go from head-shots to money-shots? Continue reading Strange Creatures, Stranger Desires

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