Tag Archives: Greek gods

Looking at Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz

Peter Pan, Wendy, fairytales, myth, Neverland, children's fiction, fantasy

Pete Pan as J.M. Barrie envisaged him, and had this statue mounted in Kensington Gardens. Wikicommons: Sebjarod

Somehow, in a childhood rife with reading, and a family of readers, I missed Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz. I saw the movies, but never read the originals. A few years ago, when I was on my way to Kansas for a writing workshop, I decided to read the Wizard of Oz, partly because a story idea had popped into my head and I needed to know what the original tale was really about.

The first two things I learned was that the original title was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and that Dorothy’s shoes had not been ruby red. They turned that color when MGM made the film because they needed something that drew the eye better and of course, it was those magical shoes that transported Dorothy home. It was a cyclone that took her away but she returned on her own two feet (more or less). From that discovery, my story “Shoes” was born and explored what happened to Dorothy after she had returned from Oz to the mundane farmlands of Kansas.

So, reading Oz as an adult perhaps gave me more depth than it would have otherwise. There were definitely political statements within Baum’s story, as well as aspects of self and what happens when you go from doubt to believing in yourself. In fact, it is Dorothy’s belief that she can return home which helps transport her there. Dorothy’s adventures take place in a world that is strangely different from a Kansas farm community. Indeed, this is a common tool in children’s stories, and some adult ones as well. While J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books use this, she has it that the world exists in the same place alongside the regular world but it is hidden from muggle eyes. Oz was elsewhere.

Now I’m reading Peter Pan because I’m trying to come up with a green man story. And Peter Pan‘s original title is Peter and Wendy, or Peter Pan: the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. J.M. Barrie wrote it first as a play in 1904 and the Wizard of Oz came out in 1900. Peter Pan has a lot to do with the green man. He lives in a wild land, dresses in green or in skeleton leaves and plays pan pipes. And yes, Peter Pan’s land is Neverland. It is the stuff of dreams and the sugar thread fantasies of children. But whereas Oz seems a fantasy from which Dorothy awakes, Wendy, Michael and John, and the other Lost Boys who return, did in fact leave to another land and their parents missed them.

These two stories are part of our modern fairytales. Along with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and

Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, ruby slippers, silver slipers,

Dorothy’s ruby slippers were originally silver and she took them off the dead witch’s feet. MGM

The Secret Garden, they do not have the generational mythos of fairytales handed down over centuries. Yet they are enduring and endearing and each deals with a child going to a place that is other. What is even more interesting with Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz is that while these stories were written a little over a century ago, they both have major female protagonists. Since I’m not doing a full essay here I’m curious if there were many tales of quests or journeys that took place before Alice in Wonderland. Of course, such journeys go back to the early myths of Gilgamesh and Herakles and Odysseus, so travels to mythical lands is not a new concept. But when did the children take over?

Dorothy is swept along on her travails, and while she observes and experiences growth through her trials, she makes very few decisions on her own until later in the book. Yet her main adversary is the Wicked Witch, a strong if megalomaniacal female figure, and of course there is Glinda as well. Wendy is the first one wooed by Peter’s pan pipes and while she goes with her brothers, she wishes for nothing but romance and to be a mother, and in fact plays mother to all the lost boys of Neverland. The boys kill and get in skirmishes because “children are gay and innocent and heartless,”  and Wendy keeps them in order. She is also the damsel taken captive. Tinker Bell and the redskin Tiger Lily vie for Peter’s attention but he is oblivious to all. Like many age-old myths of gods Peter is the eternal youth and Wendy is the mother/love figure that is part of the tale of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris.  For stories that are a century old I think it’s interesting that the male writers gave the females fairly major roles, even if they were still carried along on the action of the males.

Persephone, underworld, neverland, faery, fantasy, myth

When Persephone eats the food of the underworld, like those who eat the food of Faery, she is bound and can never fully return to the lands of humans. Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Peter Pan actually hearkens back to a far older myth. It is the tale of the grain goddess Demeter, loved by all of humanity, and her daughter the Kore. The Kore is seduced by a narcissus planted in the field. When she plucks it Hades, lord of the underworld, abducts her to his realm. Demeter blights the earth until Kore, now Persephone, is returned, but Persephone’s eaten the fruit of the underworld (the pomegranate). She is only allowed to return for part of the year because she only ate a partial meal in the underworld, and hence we have the seasons. When Peter guides Wendy and the lost boys home, he asks if she’ll come every year for spring cleaning, and her mother (who is loved by all) grants this, though Peter in his eternal youth, forgets some years to come by. It’s a simplified Greek myth but the seeds are still there, as they are in the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.

Both the Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan involve many adventures with different characters, just as Hercules/Herakles had twelve labors or Odysseus encountered sirens and cyclops. The language of Peter Pan is beautiful and evocative, yet compared with the sterilized Disnefication of tales today or even the movie versions of these stories, the children are savage and thoughtless. There is an inherent violence, which like nature, is part of a pattern and lacking morals. It just is.

I could go on but if you have not read these more modern fairy tales, consider that they are of a natural evolution that began with gods long ago, metamorphosed into magical beings and objects, took a trip to the land of Faery and never quite left.

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Movie Review: Immortals

Henry Cavill, Theseus, Immortals, film, movies, Greek gods, gods

Henry Cavill’s Theseus is competently acted but the plot lacks. Nice man muscles though.

I actually had no clue what this 2011 film was about when I got it. I thought Immortals might be about superheroes and in a way it is, the superheroes of old. It is a tale of Theseus; you know, the guy who battled the Minotaur and did other heroic deeds. In the ancient world of Greece you had your gods, your demi-gods and your heroes. As time, history and mythology progressed, some heroes became demi-gods. And when you have thousands of years of history and mythology the stories get a little muddied.

So I was willing to accept a lot of fantastic elements and let some of the costuming (of the gods) be historically inaccurate. But let’s look at the costuming because it’s often a bugaboo for me. Since this is placed in ancient Greece, it’s at least pseudo historical. How pseudo?  A lot.

Minotaur, Theseus, movies, film, Greek gods, Olympian, Immortals

I was okay with this interpretation of the Minotaur though the tale strays pretty far afield after this.

Theseus’s people live in a narrow cliffside area, but there are no trees, no grass, no chickens and what looks like no way down the very high, sheer cliffs to fish. So what do they do there? Is this the town center, missing any semblance of commerce, or a temple? Who knows but the people are dressed in weird baggy homespun robes of indiscriminate shape with odd woven cape things on some of them. Theseus himself doesn’t seem to be doing much but hacking ineffectually at a dead tree on a rocky shore. But at least he has a nice impression of leather armor/breastplate though if he’s not a warrior I’m not sure why he has one or how a man of his age doesn’t seem to be part of the army or working a little harder at surviving.

I can give the bundles of fabric to emulate peasantish clothing, I could even forgive that he has some leather armor but then we get to the sibyls in the sibylline monastery. First, monastery? Really? The Greeks had temples with priests and priestess. Monasteries came about with Christianity. And since we’re dealing with pseudo history, the “monastery” is some ugly rectangular edifice with no windows, and reminiscent of Mordor once the Heraklion forces move in.  But back to the sibyls who look like they’re wearing semi sheer red and black chitons or peplos (the rectangular garment we associate with Greece). Underneath, lo and behold, they’re wearing lovely red skirts with corset/bodice tops. Yep, that’s as far from ancient Greece as I am.

The worst case of crabs I’ve ever seen. The Immortals

The Heraklion forces are lead by the ruthless Hyperion (don’t get me started on the names), played by Mickey Rourke. I have to tell you it’s hard to take the really bad man seriously when he’s wearing a crab claw on his head. I kid you not. Of all the bad guy helms that could be made, I guess we can give this one points for originality but it is ludicrous beyond belief. The silly hats and headdresses don’t stop there. Enter the gods, dressed all in gold, plastic gold armor from what I can tell, and a nice gold corset top for Athena (no Aphrodite here; after all it’s about war). They’re all wearing bizarre headdresses that I can’t figure out until I hear Poseidon’s name and figure out he’s got shells on his ears in gold filigree. And the guy I took to be Apollo with giant rays of gold coming off of his hat (there’s too much air space for it to be a helmet) turns out to be Ares, god of war. The helmets that the Olympian gods don when they have to battle the Titans are nothing Greek at all and in fact pretty similar to the Titan helmets. Strangely the gods wear helmets but Theseus doesn’t in battle. Why why why do the dumb heroes and villains fight without their helmets unless they have no brains (or the directors don’t).

Immortals, Greek gods, Athena, Ares, movies

Ares looks back to measure Athena’s crown and see if it’s bigger than his. As a historical note, the ancient Greeks did not wear crowns.

Oh and the Titans, well they’re held in Mount Tartarus for all time, just chained up together in a box (it’s more cruel you know) so they can wait and wait. They’re shown as identical and when unleashed there are more of them than we saw. And let’s not forget that the Titans were 12 gods before the Olympians came along, and 6 of them were women. We see mindless cloned killing machines that Zeus ends up burying by pulling down gigantic statues, placed inside a mountain that nobody goes to. Why didn’t they do this first? And the gods, well they are so super fast that each of them can kill five Titans in the literal blink of an eye, but somehow the Titans still get the better of them and kill them all including some nondescript Olympian army dudes. No more Poseidon or Ares or Athena? Theseus doesn’t save the day except to kill Hyperion before he succumbs (but is saved to the heavens by Zeus).

The sets have their share of CGI, a bit too much and too obvious I think, but the biggest problem with the movie is that it’s a mishmash and doesn’t know what it wants to be. If you’re going to take one of the many varieties of a myth and do your own interpretation, that’s fine but this has the feel of someone with ADHD on too much caffeine, from the disjointed imagery and costumes to the storyline. I didn’t mind that the Minotaur is a very large man wearing a metal made bull helmet but when Theseus chops off his head in the mausoleum where he puts his dead mother,  he feels the need to carry it outside with him. The crypt suddenly becomes the labyrinth though he had no trouble walking into it and there is no Ariadne to give him a ball of twine but his own bloody or wet footprints. Once outside and seeing his friends about to be killed he tosses the head over the cliff and uses the Epirus bow.

Now we come to it, the item that Hyperion seeks and that Theseus finds. Okay, there is no mythological Epirus bow though there was a town of Epirus and Greeks like many cultures had archery. But the bow (very modern in looks) might have been tied to Apollo but they leave that out. And it’s a weak plot device and doesn’t add a lot. The sibyl Phaedra who has been trained as a prophetess gives up her virginity and pretty much the first sight of Theseus. At least in the myths they do have him married to Phaedra for a while.

The acting is competent with such names as Henry Cavill (Theseus, The Tudors), Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans (Zeus, Three Musketeers), Freida Pinto (Phaedra, Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Dorff (Stavros, Public Enemies) and John Hurt. But you can only do so much when the storyline dips and drops all over. When Poseidon causes a seismic wave of watery doom, the heroes get off the ship that is destroyed with their enemies, not to mention that we don’t see the rest of the decimation of a seaside coast for miles around. But hey, gods are capricious. Personally, I think I know why the gods meddled with Theseus even if Zeus threatened them with death if they interfered with the free will of humans. (Since when did Greek gods worry about morals?) They were probably so bored with the storyline that they had to spice it up with the action shots. After all, enough special effects will carry a story that should just sink to its watery doom. I’m afraid I can only give this a generous 5 Olympian statues out of 10. Originally I gave a 6 but that’s too generous by far. Addendum: I just saw Wrath of the Titans and it was even worse. I could only give it 2 crumbling statues. Directors, just don’t use existing myths/legends if you’re going to mangle them so badly.

Zeus, Greek gods, Immortals, film, movies

Hunky Zeus coddles Theseus but bans the other gods from doing so.

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Writing Update March

I’m way behind this year on submissions. Normally I do a blitz in January. But this year I was working on a large editing project for a client. I just seemed to busy to hunker down. Right now I’m trying to get a story rewritten for one anthology and write a new story for another anthology, as well as work on my novel. And I’ve been trying to get my taxes done. So I don’t think I’ve submitted anything new yet this year.

I’ve received some rejections for stories sent out from last fall, but yesterday saw some reward. I arrived home to find a letter from Barton College saying my poem “Finding Dionysus” was awarded second prize and will be published in Crucible. As well, there was an email from Shroud magazine saying they had accepted my story “A Kind Hand” for publication in issue #6.

Yesterday I said that perseverance is a large part of writing and becoming published. I’ve also talked about revisionist poems. Although “Finding Dionysus” is from Persephone’s point of view it’s not as revisionist as some of my others but is part of a series I’ve done on Greek gods. The poem was written about six years ago but as is often the case with submissions, an editor’s preference can be for a particular type or style of writing. As well, magazines may have themes or just published a piece with a similar theme. I was once told by one magazine that they had just published a torso story and they couldn’t take another or they would be seen as a fetish magazine.

“A Kind Hand” is a tale of perseverance in the writing. I started the story probably ten years ago, wrote a bit and let it sit. I liked the idea but for a while wasn’t sure where to go with it. I was basing it off of a Germanic folktale about Berchta (a hearth goddess) so I had the plot but I wanted to give it a more human aspect. Some stories flow out easily and all at once. Others come out in fits and spurts and seem to be a jumble. “A Kind Hand” was somewhere in between and when I wrote on it, it came out fairly smoothly. However, taking so many years to write the story meant that I had to keep rereading it to figure out where I was going. Also, one’s style can change from story to story and year to year. I had to try and continue in the style in which I had started, which I really liked.

Once it was done I sent it out but also sent it to a friend to read. He made some good comments so I brought out the threat aspect a bit more and once it was rejected, sent the story out again. I think I had only submitted this one a few times before Shroud.

Looking at start to finish on the poem was probably seven years. The story was ten or more years in the process. I have ideas like this, that I start because I had an image in my mind, but perhaps no plot, or no ending. They sit and sometimes I do finish them. There are those stories that I complete but am not satisfied with so I maybe send them out once and then they wait for a rewrite so that I can figure out how to make them better. Rarely does a story or poem flow out quickly, all in one piece, with minimal rewriting. And rarely does it go from creation to publication quickly. My quickest was probably “The Fishwife,” which flowed out in no more than three days, needed a minimal rewrite and sold to the first or second place I sent it. Still, with the time taken for submitting and the selection process of the magazine, it was about a year.

This doesn’t even include the time from acceptance to publication. The tardiest rejection I ever received was seven years. Some pieces that have been accepted may be  a year (or more) from acceptance to actually being published.

And last, as fantasy editor of Aberrant Dreams, I have released all stories but one back to the authors. The magazine is going through some structural changes and it was becoming far too long in holding stories. I hate giving up good stories but it wasn’t fair to hang on indefinitely. I have two letters to send out, releasing one more and letting one author choose if he wants his accepted story to sit in the to be published pile or if he’d like to withdraw it. Then we wait for the restructure.

Time is not linear in the world of writing and submitting, nor on the publishing end of a magazine. Patience and perseverance really help.

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