Archive | July, 2019

Middelboe Chronicles, Part 19: Ewenn Congar

Passing from one Celtic tale of shape-shifting and sorcery to another (Breton this time, rather than Welsh), we come to Ewenn Congar (“Animated Tales of the World,” 2001).

This is also a version of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” story (it lacks the broomstick incident that for many is the only known part, but it includes the dueling-transformations incident toward the end).

There’s a shout-out to The Day the Earth Stood Still at 5:19 (“Klaatu barada nikto”), and another at 6:12 (a reference to Gort).

SciFi SongFest, Songs 58-59

I’ll let you figure out what these two songs have in common:

58. David Bowie, “Supermen” (1970):

Another version:

59. Laurie Anderson, “O Superman” (1981):

I was first introduced to this latter song, and to Laurie Anderson’s work generally, by the psychologist Michael Commons when I was working as his research assistant at the DARE Institute in Cambridge MA during my freshman year of college.

The line “When love is gone there’s always justice / when justice is gone there’s always force” is a paraphrase of a passage from Laozi’s Daodejing, while the line “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” is a variation on the unofficial motto of the u.s. postal service, borrowed in turn from Herodotus’s description of the mail service of the Persian Empire.

Middelboe Chronicles, Part 18: Y Mabinogi (a.k.a. Otherworld)

Several themes from Cap o’ Rushes – rash vows, unkind parents, unhappy wedding feasts, and highborn princesses wrongfully exiled and/or made into servants – continue in today’s extra-long installment, Y Mabinogi (2003), a (pleasingly faithful) animated version of the Welsh cycle of interrelated legends, the Mabinogion.

For the first eleven minutes or so, you may find yourself asking: a) how is this an animated version? and b) how is this a version of the Mabinogion? But all will become clear.

This story features one of the most famous examples of the “magic loopholes” I discussed here and here, where Lleu can be killed only when neither indoors nor outdoors, neither on horseback nor on foot, etc.

We get a glimpse of the white hounds with red ears, the Cŵn Annwn, that are associated with the Underworld in Welsh mythology, though sadly they don’t really do much here.

The visit of Branwen’s brothers to the Irish court is also reminiscent of the visit of Gudrun/Kriemhild’s brothers to Attila’s court in the Völsungasaga and Nibelungenlied, where similar jollity ensues.

The way that Efnysien deals with the 200 warriors lurking in the sacks of flour is similar to the way Marjanah deals with the 40(ish) thieves lurking in the jars of oil in the story of Ali Baba.

You’ll also notice much that George R. R. Martin may have borrowed for Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones, including a wounded King named Bran with psychic powers, a feast where the guests are betrayed, and an army of the resurrected dead.

(Of course this is not the only example of guests betrayed at a feast. Martin himself has mentioned two examples from Scottish history as inspirations: the “Black Dinner” (Edinburgh, 1440), and the Glencoe massacre (1692). Another famous example is the betrayal of the Greek mercenaries after the battle of Cunaxa in 401 BCE, as related in Xenophon’s Anabasis.

By contrast, the similar event that occurs near the beginning of Braveheart is, like much else in that movie, entirely fictional.)

SciFi SongFest, Songs 56-57

Two songs about the dangerous appeal of authoritarian saviours:

Someone to claim us, someone to follow
someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
someone to fool us, someone like you
we want you, Big Brother ….

You don’t have no self-respect
you feel like an insect ….
he’ll wrap you in his arms
tell you that you’ve been a good boy ….
he’ll reach deep into the hole
heal your shrinking soul ….
but hidden in his coat
is a red right hand ….

Bowie’s song is of course yet another nod to Orwell’s 1984; and Nick Cave’s, while officially a reference to Paradise Lost, would be perfect for the soundtrack of that long-promised remake of Stephen King’s The Stand, if that ever gets around to happening.

56. David Bowie, “Big Brother” (1974):

57. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand” (1994):

Middelboe Chronicles, Part 17: Cap o’ Rushes

And now we follow up As You Like It with another English tale of a noble daughter who is wrongfully exiled and who courts her future husband in disguise: Cap o’ Rushes (“Animated Tales of the World,” 2002). This tale combines aspects of the “Love Like Salt” legend (related to the King Lear/Leir story) and “Cinderella.”

SciFi SongFest, Songs 54-55

Bowie laments that his new television has literally absorbed his girlfriend. Blondie gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to be thus absorbed.

54. David Bowie, “TVC-15” (1976):

55. Blondie, “Fade Away and Radiate” (1978):

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