Book Review: The Odyssey by Homer, Translated by Emily Wilson

One of my new scriptures.

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Book Review: Women Who Fly: Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females by Serenity Young

I felt like many of this book’s Campbellian claims for some version of a monomyth (read: unified theme) were thrown in without much expounding to make me truly believe there’s a strong thread there. There’s definitely a thread — a theme of flight. But I don’t think it means they’re woven together. They’re just similar threads — one here and one there — and it’s the book itself tying them together. A lot of times you have to take Young at her word or look at her endnotes to connect the dots yourself to work out the claims she mentions in passing. I’m not saying she doesn’t do a good job at explaining things, but she isn’t always clear. For example she states this passage with an endnote, rather than detailing how they’re interpreted as male:

“The angel who drives Adam and Eve out of paradise, the one with whom Jacob wrestles, and those that appear to Hagar, Daniel, Abraham, the Virgin Mary, the women at Jesus’s tomb, anand Muhammad are all male.[2]”

She states a lot of things as fact without a proper lead-in. She does eventually explain this passage with examples after a tangent or two, but up until that point you have to take her at her word until she arrives there and you’re just better off having looked at the endnote. This isn’t the best example of that, but hopefully you get the idea. You can guess what she is getting at until she makes a full circle, but all the while you have to suspend your skepticism. She makes her arguments out of order, making her chain of thought hard to follow. But that keeps you on your toes. The topic is never boring, even if you have to do a lot of the work.

This work seems like a conglomeration of her musings and observations of patterns — ideas she is justifying by fitting into her frame. What also stood out is her highlighting of stories that don’t fit the pattern she’s selling; she also talks about men who fly. Of course you can’t talk about women without contrasting them to men, but the titular subject(s) are otherwise misleading for the broad area this book covers. It’s broad because so many higher beings can fly regardless of their association with wings or flight to the point that it feels like she arbitrarily chose the beings she put into the book, possibly overlooking some and shoving in others. She even talks about Amelia Earhart, so flying mortals are under this umbrella. Like I said, arbitrary.

Here’s some interesting passages from the book:

“Princess Diana captured the world’s attention and imagination to a degree almost unprecedented by any other royal figure in history. The media was excessive in describing — and thus defining — her ‘fairytale’ romance, wedding, and happily-ever-after life. They just never got which fairy tale it was. On the one hand, she was the modern ‘wonder woman,’ having and doing it all…the fairy tale she really lived out, though, was that of the captured bride…”

“For all the detailed testimony elicited by the inquisitors, Hans Peter Duerr is struck by their apparent lack of interest in the actual contents of the ointment, beyond the fat of unbaptized babies and other repellent ingredients. He concludes that the influence of mind-altering plants was actually suppressed because it would have led to a natural explanation for reports of flying, and therefore would not have provided evidence for the existence of devils and their ability to physically interact with human beings.”

“But Elizabeth goes further. In perhaps her most astonishing vision, received during Mass on Christmas Eve, Christ appears to her in the body of a young female virgin, crowned and sitting on a throne. When questioned, her angel explains to her that hte virgin ‘is the sacred humanity of the Lord Jesus.’ In this vision, Elisabeth then questions St. John the Evangelist, asking why Christ has appeared in a woman’s, rather than a man’s, form. He answers that Christ has chosen the female form ‘to signify his blessed mother as well,’ because it is she who intercedes with her son to forgive the sins of humanity.’ Hildegard got it right; Christianity had entered an effeminate age.”

 

Book Review: The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden has a lot of logic issues

I’m rating this book one goodreads star for getting my hopes up but ultimately being a waste of time. I also want my review to be noticed by those filtering for reasons NOT to read the book. I want my time back.

This book promised a lot and hooked me with that gorgeous cover. I think that’s why I’m so angry. Another book I would compare this too is Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, which was also a sci-fi and fantasy/mythology mix. Lagoon, however, deals with aliens giving people powers and making gods appear in the present day. This book deals with drugs giving people powers and making dormant gods more…powerful? I’m still not sure.  In Lagoon, the system of gods make more sense. The gods in this story feel even more poorly-inserted than Lagoon’s were.  Both books deal with African cultures and belief systems. This one, however, didn’t make me understand the culture/beliefs any more than I did before. Okorafor’s, at least, did that.

I should technically label this book as a DNF, because I skimmed to the end, wishing that there was something to compel me to go back and re-read. But I didn’t find it. If you found it, please comment on this post with a link to your review or explanation of how I am wrong. I really wanted to be wrong. It had so much potential.

The characters start off as interesting and well developed, but they quickly devolve into unrecognizable plot devices who confuse you with their actions. Toward the end, characters who have never met only need to hear each others’ names once to know who they are and have quite the ability to understand others’ intentions (that took hundreds of pages of backstory for the reader to understand…). Even if they have some form of a “reading memories” power, it still seemed unbelievable at times. For example, Muzi cries “They’re going to rip him apart” about the robots touching someone they “hate” on page 260. I mean, how could he know that if he’s never met the robots and hasn’t read their minds (they’re not human)? Did I miss something??? There’s just a lot of correct assumptions going on.

Also, the author supposedly ties in south African mythology/folklore, but it is never really fleshed out to my liking. This was what drew me to the book — the mythpunk promise of it all, tied into science fiction. The only mythology you get from this book is something about a man who makes tree wives and they have animal children or something. I am not even sure what to Google if I wanted to learn more, that’s how unenlightening this book is to me. I’m not even confident it’s based on a real myth but just the idea of animal hybrids/demons/witches. In the acknowledgements, Drayden says “This is not a story of South Africa.”

Well, the back cover says otherwise.

The “Tau” of Mr. Tau apparently means demon or spirit in parts of…  South AMERICA. But otherwise, I have no leads to understanding where Drayden is drawing from.

I am willing to admit that my lack of understanding of south African culture and belief could be part of the problem. But it is not my only problem how the theological systems in this book work.  At times it seemed like the power of the gods was fueled by belief systems like that in American Gods (which I did not like and also find illogical). But then,it seems that Sydney really feeds on fear instead. It doesn’t make sense why the villain is trying to make everyone more god-like by taking the drug just to create fear. You can use normal drugs for that. Where the drug comes from is never really spelled out. Hell, it seems like the villian needs to just use the drug herself to get by, if it’s amplifying powers in everyone else. Her motivation is never clear enough to me. Nomvula even asks her why:

“But why? If everyone is a god, then who will be followers?” 

Sydney cups her chin, raises it up to her. “My dear sister, it is the way it was meant to be. Basos pales in comparison to the fear of a god. We’ll be able to feed from the weakest of them and gain great strength….” 

Like, OK. But you’re already pretty powerful. You’re already a lot better than puny humans. Your motivation seems too risky because you’re effectively inviting someone to become more powerful than you…

This book tries really, really hard to be adaptable. To be like a tv show. There are so many cut away scenes that follow around the (too many) characters that it would probably translate better on screen. Some of the fight sequences/action scenes just got too long or didn’t make sense. At one point, a character is using her power of “charm” to talk to a crowd of people — a crowd that would probably have gotten the hell out of dodge way before she could have had time to get back on stage (or wherever the hell she was supposed to be at) and gather a crowd. I didn’t understand it.

There’s also too much going on in the story to ever be coherent as a book. At one point we are introduced to a character’s father who doesn’t want to see her or speak to her and then suddenly doesn’t want his daughter to leave — drugging her and trapping her in her childhood home. WTF? That was the first time this story felt more melodramatic than reasonable. And then it’s never really spoken about again and the character, Riya, actually has enough drama going on with her drug use and her multiple sclerosis. The father scene could have been cut entirely to speed this already-speedy story along. I want authors to respect their mediums. Write TV shows instead!

My real issue is with the last third of the book, when things get too convenient and contrived. It’s like the editors stopped caring about the direction Drayden was taking this story because they had invested too much in her ahead of time or something.  At one point we are introduced to hybrid rhino-lion-hawks. And…one has a human brain? OK. Just throw that in there for fun, sure. Why not!

It doesn’t seem to go anywhere anyways.

In another scene, a robot sect that has gained consciousness but doesn’t like humans says (maniacally) that they need humans because “Human labor will be the backbone of our empire.” In what fucking world?

This is why machines were made. They’re literally more efficient…

Spoilers from here on out. 

I also have a major problem with a few scenes regarding Felicity Lyons, the alter-ego-turned-identity of the character Stroker. Side note: He turns into a she as she establishes what she wants throughout the story. I really loved the representation at first. But, at one point, she is dressed in her femme clothes and her “tuck” (as it is phrased in the book) comes undone and WAIT NO HER DICK BECOMES A SNAKE.

I am not even sure what the fuck that phallic nightmare is supposed to represent, either, because her mom is a snake as well. Is her mom her dick? I mean, her mom appeared as a snake in her dressing room, right? But then NO.  No, her mom is…plants? And lightning?

WHATWHYHOW

It made me very uncomfortable to think about. And, it made no sense.  For one, because if Felicity tucked her dick in for a reason, why is it taking over? Why is the author whipping it out? It reads as almost negative for body modification. You can put on a dress and say you’re a girl but your dick will always be there to protect you.  I don’t get it.

I also don’t get how, when her mom is dying and says she is proud of Felicity WHYYYYY. Stoker literally almost killed someone and mom had to cover it up/”take care of it.” Also, how did his mother DIE?!? If she can be called upon and enter into the form of the tree…how can she not also just…

MOVE???

whyy

And don’t get me started on that dream-sequency bit about being in the afterlife and how Mr. Tau just appears like a Deus Ex Machina and makes Muzi and Nomvula “work together.” WHY? It makes no sense. Why were they ever together? I DO NOT CAAAARE.

And Muzi is the one who gets put into the robot body??? Why not Elkin? It makes no sense why Muzi’s soul wouldn’t go back to the body it was in and Elkin would take the only space available. I don’t get it. It makes no narrative sense or suspended belief sense, either.

Other goodreads reviews I agree with:

My next issue with the book was the pacing of the plot. It seemed like there was no gradual reveal of the “gods” aspect of the book, and, in layman’s terms, ” the book went from 0-60 in two seconds”. Much of the book felt rushed, and the character development didn’t feel like character development, it was closer to “look at this thing, that’s who the person is.” It seems to me that no one is even mentioning how this book could be sci-fi. How on earth does this book get to be called sci-fi? If anything it’s closer to fantasy than sci-fi, the only prominent sci-fi element in the book was the alphies and robots. 

5. Again, cut Riya and Stoker!

But Part 5…I have never seen a book’s plot so utterly implode like this one did. I was left with SO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS from all of the plot holes. The tone changed, the pacing changed, the universe’s rules even changed. 

But by the end, these characters with all their subtlety, moral ambiguity, and rich inner lives had transformed into cliched heroes and villains fighting to save/destroy the world. Not only that, but the finale includes hastily handwaved trips to the afterlife, weird bodyswapping, genetically engineered super-animals (which are alluded to in the vaguest ways possible until they just suddenly appear), and, an actual giant robot made of hundreds of robots that just…form themselves together? With both a human controller, and a single consciousness uniting them, which would negate the necessity of the human controller?

I’m not saying that I didn’t like the book. My rating was headed for 4 stars until the last 25% of the book really went off the rails. I thought that the author was quite clever, sometimes funny, occasionally silly (i.e., a monster’s concern for her chipped nail polish) and showed a lot of promise, but boy did this book need an editor with a stronger hand, and maybe a whip and chair to wrangle this book under control. I’m sure that the author’s next book will be better if she learns to exercise some restraint.

TBR – The Automation by Anonymous

The capital-A Automatons of Greco-Roman myth aren’t clockwork. Their design is much more divine. They’re more intricate than robots or androids or anything else mortal humans could invent. Their windup keys are their human Masters. They aren’t mindless; they have infinite storage space. And, because they have more than one form, they’re more versatile and portable than, say, your cell phone—and much more useful too. The only thing these god-forged beings share in common with those lowercase-A automatons is their pre-programmed existence. They have a function—a function their creator put into place—a function that was questionable from the start…

Odys (no, not short for Odysseus, thank you) finds his hermetic lifestyle falling apart after a stranger commits suicide to free his soul-attached Automaton slave. The humanoid Automaton uses Odys’s soul to “reactivate” herself. Odys must learn to accept that the female Automaton is an extension of his body—that they are the same person—and that her creator-god is forging a new purpose for all with Automatons…

The novel calls itself a “Prose Epic,” but is otherwise a purposeful implosion of literary clichés and gimmicks: A Narrator and an Editor (named Gabbler) frame the novel. Gabbler’s pompous commentary (as footnotes) on the nameless Narrator’s story grounds the novel in reality. Gabbler is a stereotypical academic who likes the story only for its so-called “literary” qualities, but otherwise contradicts the Narrator’s claim that the story is true.

THE AUTOMATION is a this-world fantasy that reboots mythical characters and alchemical concepts. Its ideal place would be on the same bookshelf as Wilson’s ALIF THE UNSEEN and Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS—though it wouldn’t mind bookending Homer, Virgil, and Milton, to be specific.

And, yes, “B.L.A. and G.B. Gabbler” are really just a pen name.

I’m horny for more footnotes.

View on Goodreads.

You can also read this for free via Smashwords.

Book Review: Promethea #1 by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray

Sophie Bangs was a just an ordinary college student in a weirdly futuristic New York when a simple assignment changed her life forever. While researching Promethea, a mythical warrior woman, Sophie receives a cryptic warning to cease her investigations. Ignoring the cautionary notice, she continues her studies and is almost killed by a shadowy creature when she learns the secret of Promethea. Surviving the encounter, Sophie soon finds herself transformed into Promethea, the living

embodiment of the imagination. Her trials have only begun as she must master the secrets of her predecessors before she is destroyed by Promethea’s ancient enemy.

Promethea is a muse (lower-case on purpose) come to life. An incarnation of story itself, maybe? This work is so fascinatingly clever and meta that I could forgive a lot of the things that rubbed me the wrong way — some of what happens is hard to believe even under the rules of this universe (and it’s own universes, really). I found it hard to conceptualize how Promethea would “exist” singularly when more than one person could write about her at the same time — it could get complicated. It already is complicated with her previous “versions” still in existence in the imagination-whatever-realm.

tumblr_nzh4pejv2a1sq26wfo1_500The story potentially falls into all the plot holes you would find in the novel Inkheart, where someone could just write (instead of read) “and she dies” and the come-to-life being is done/the plot undermined. That said, there is still room for this “magical embodiment” to be explained better — fleshed out.

I read this as a spin on Wonder Woman — how there are so many versions of her, some of them sexist or ridiculous, yet all part of the same mythos. Mythos is another interesting point explored in this work — it takes from our culture and myths (mainly Egyptian and Greco-Roman?) like Marvel and DC comics do (i.e. Thor, Wonder Woman), yet doesn’t bastardize them without good reason (as I sometimes think mainstream comics do — do your research, damn it. Loki wasn’t Odin’s son!). Sophie is in a futuristic version of our world — not our exact world. That’s spelled out plainly. This is also why I could forgive a lot of the underlying theology (read: “The gods need prayer badly“) in the plot. The same rules do not apply.

Another review on Goodreads I agree with:

Promethea started with a really interesting concept: “What if there was a mythical being [Promethea] who every once in a while chose a person as her avatar. She would then fight to protect people.” The usual schtick about someone being granted powers and never being told precisely how they work follows. They “discover” what it means to have these powers through instinct and moral lessons. Anywho, overall it laid a decent base for a series even if it went on a few tangents that could have been omitted. 

I’ll be reading the second one, for sure!

 

This post was updated on 9/8/17

Book Review: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 4

This one progresses the story but gives no new background information. I believe it thinks it is going somewhere, but I am not so sure. There is a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming because it feels like the creators simply aren’t that clever. And it’s still a pretty vague twist at that, so, fuck it, I’m going to read the next one.

People call this work art porn but I call it music artist porn. The creators just want to see their favorite pop stars in fan-fictiony situations and I’m just like “I’m here for the statement on myth and existence, please. Any day now.”

Other reviews I agree with on Goodreads:

It was better than volume three, but this is really a 2.5 star book. I want to give it 3 stars, I really do, but I can’t. It’s sad, the series started out so strong. But this volume was still confusing (as was volume 3, though this wasn’t as extreme) and there were large sections that were just wasted space. I couldn’t understand what was going on during fight scenes or during scenes. There were other sections where I’m sure they thought it was dramatic but where nothing happened or moved the story forward. It made the entire book feel flimsy and frusterating. i know that for me that feeling was exacerbated by having finished Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, a very complex and satisfying story, immediately before starting this. But the comparison couldn’t have been more stark. The art is really bold and striking and often really special. But sometimes it adds to the confusion as well. Overall it just wasn’t great and by no means did it live up to the promise of volume one. Sorry! 

 

This was…alright. It wasn’t bad, just really basic to be perfectly honest. The plot was very thin, and the action just got really, really over-the-top. The second I finished this I picked up Volume 1 again and flipped through it, and I came to realize that this story seriously one-eighty-ed in this volume. What was a commentary on celebrity life has become sort of typical fantasy fair.

 

Despite all the action and the return of the original artist, this didn’t really feel all that exciting. The script felt notably slapdash, with campy dialogue that didn’t flow very smoothly. I think I may be done with this series.

 

Neil Gaiman’s Mythmaking Makes No Sense

 

I would like to examine a section in Gaiman’s “Reflections on Myth” published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and republished in in his collected nonfiction The View from the Cheap Seats, which I have recently started to read. This is the chunk:

 

“Too often, myths are uninspected. We bring them out without looking at what they represent, nor what they mean. Urban Legends and the Weekly World News present us with myths in the simplest sense: a world in which events occur according to story logic-not as they do happen, but as they should happen.

 

But retelling myths is important. The act of inspecting them is important. It is not a matter of holding a myth up as a dead thing, desiccated and empty (“Now class, what have we learned from the Death of Baldur?”), nor is it a matter of creating New Age self help tomes (“The Gods Inside You! Releasing Your Inner Myth.”) Instead we have to understand that even lost and forgotten myths are compost, in which stories grow.

 

What is important is to tell the stories anew, and to retell the old stories. They are our stories, and they should be told.”

 

These sentences don’t present much to argue with on the surface. But through Gaiman’s actions/creations, we can see he undermines what he “preaches.” Gaiman goes beyond retelling myths, such as what he did with Norse Mythology, where he updated myths for the modern reader and arguably stayed close to source material (though I, like Ursula K. Le Guin, didn’t like how he went about it). I am speaking of American Gods and Sandman more specifically, where he assimilates myth into his own brand—taking it from a communal (read: cultural) form and turning it into a fandom-religion where he is the priest. My thesis, which I am still ironing out in this brainstorming exercise, is that he does not participate in mythology. He does not contribute to it or polish it as others, like Jo Walton in her Thessaly series, do, but breaks it apart and then takes the pieces he likes and melts them into something else entirely. He destroys the original, cultural beauty and theology of myth, as if there are no merits in seeing these stories as they are in their original time periods, contexts, and evolutions. Allow me to explain.

 

In Sandman, Gaiman plucks the gods from the myths and sticks them in the comic universe just like he plucked Marvel characters and stuck them in 1602. Gaiman is quoted in the Afterword’s script letter to Andy of Marvel 1602 as saying he didn’t want to “mirror the Marvel Universe here: we’re doing something that’s more fun than that—we’re trying to create it. We get to make up our own.” He just wants the characters, never mind the original contexts that made these characters what they are in our consciousness. He steals their history, making the familiar unfamiliar without having to work for it. It’s the equivalent of going to a film simply because your favorite actor is in it and associating all the characters they were previously with the new character, except Gaiman doesn’t even create a new character for the actor. He merely changes the setting and tells the viewer “this character is Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter all at once now tell me how clever I am.”

 

And this is exactly what he does with myth. He ignores the very roots of mythology while reaping all the benefits of seeming the well-versed mythologist. Never mind the fact he refused to read Joseph Campbell, saying: “I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true — I don’t want to know…I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.” Gaiman actively avoids the mythology itself when he ignores the pattern. Mythology is the pattern.

 

In that same interview, Gaiman is quoted as saying, “But I tend to be more interested in the actual myth.” I am not so sure he understand what myth is to actually be interested in it. Gaiman, repeatedly, tends to ignore the “actual myth” and instead use the idea of myth to shove his story along. This is seen in the way he treats the creation of myth/gods/life:

 

In American Gods, gods do not create the universe (leading to what I call a “scientific explanation” of things that I will expound later), but humans create the gods out of their belief. The very families of gods don’t make sense anymore (if gods are born from human belief, how are their divine children born? How is Zeus born from Rhea? Thor from Odin? They must not be, if they are actually formed from the collective consciousness of people). This undermines what the are said gods even think about themselves and their hierarchies.

 

And let’s not get into how Shadow is Odin’s son (i.e. is he divine or not? Is he a demigod or not? What is the “creation” hierarchy there?). Instead, let’s look at how Gaiman doesn’t even allow the gods he deems worthy of his story to evolve with the times. He calls them “Old” as if the gods are not timeless (the very concept of a god). Gaiman creates “New Gods” that encompass our new collective consciousness—what we pay attention to in this modern age. Never mind that, historically, gods always evolve to incorporate new forms of worship and interests: Kronos shifts from child-eater to castrated Father Time figure, Greek gods are merged with Latin gods and Egyptian gods, the Hebrew monotheistic god turns into the Polytheistic Trinity—there are many ways the old gods evolve, yet they do not die from non-belief. Humans do not have that power. A sacrifice to the gods does not give them physical strength. It only gives them proof of one more bent ear for their own agenda.

 

In American Gods, the New Gods squeeze out the possibility of the Old Gods evolving. Instead, they are the ones who offer the Old Gods chances to “rebrand.” This is what fundamentally doesn’t make sense about Gaiman’s theology and ontology. If the Old gods could always just rebrand, how could New Gods ever get the chance to exist in the first place? Why weren’t the old gods snatching domains up right and left, as if the Old Gods didn’t know what was coming if they didn’t choose to rebrand? It seems more like they’d be chomping at the bit to associate themselves with anything and everything. After all, if they aren’t diversified enough they will die. Seems like that’d be priority number one. Heck, they even overlap.

 

We know that the goddess Easter is feeding off the Christian holiday, so she, clearly,  was quick to rebrand and share. So was Vulcan, the new character created for the show, now the god of guns (which seems more like territory Ares would want, but I’ll let someone else rant…). The Old Gods seem to encompass a lot of modern ideas already (after all, it’s the gods who taught us how to do things in the original myths—like Prometheus giving us fire, they bring modernity to mortals, right?). For example: Vulcan would be a better personification of technology (BECAUSE: FEMALE ROBOT HELPERS) than Technical Boy. Arguably, Yggdrasil is the Internet itself. And don’t you dare tell me that Dionysus wouldn’t be the god of films (he loved theater). It seems more reasonable to believe the Old gods would never have a chance to die out, to me. If we believe in them, then we should also believe they evolve like they do IN THEIR ACTUAL MYTHS.

 

In myth, gods had sex with each other and made babies. Sometimes, accidentally. That’s normally how you would get “New Gods.” Yet, American Gods needed to create conflict and thus created the “New God” strawman so Gaiman could stitch together the short stories about individual gods he actually wanted to write. Though, if we were to give Gaiman some credit, we could argue his “New Gods” were to show that there is a scientific explanation for gods: if Gods are created from human consciousness (i.e. we create our own monsters, they are a shared delusion, reality isn’t real) then yeah, sure, they make a little more sense. And, I’m willing to acknowledge that’s possibly how some things are created—in a Jungian, archetypal sense. Sometimes humans do help create myth—true or not. Humans propagate myth and mysteries. For example: Lady Liberty—Libertas—is the personification of freedom. She was, at one point, erected for a political agenda (multiple versions for multiple agendas, really). Sure, it could be argued that humans created her, but if the narrative is that I’m to believe in a god for the sake of a story then I want more: maybe they just gave a name to a personification—a personification of something they did not invent; or, gave a previously unnamed goddess a name; or, gave an old goddess a second name and association. Is the Lady Liberty of the U.S. the same as Libertas? I wonder if Gaiman would label such a being as “Old” or “New” under his form of ontology? They seem the same being to me but with so many “versions” of gods it’s hard to know if new versions of Old Gods would be New Gods. The dichotomy breaks down.

 

It is also my “belief” that sometimes a god might lie and say they are another god if it makes you believe them—or if the name expresses part of themselves they want you to see and understand. If we were “trapped” one day and a goddess heard our prayers, why wouldn’t she call herself Libertas so we wouldn’t be afraid? Names give understanding.

 

Sure, we help shape gods as much as they shape us. But saying that we created them does not make sense to me—not even scientifically (as American Gods, as argued, tries to do). It is much more believable, to me, to take a Perelandraian view of mythology in fiction. Where the gods are gods of space and time. Where the gods are found in science itself. Where they caused the big bang and populate other worlds like a colonial race of aliens. Whatever. Words may create worlds, but belief does not make gods. Even if I suspend disbelief for a fiction, this belief cannot logically create gods I accept. At most, I feel like humans have the power to summon demons. A demon who was already in existence. A demon who can tell me whatever name he’d like. But we cannot create. Maybe we can shape, yes, but we do not command reality like Gaiman supposes we do—and command may be the wrong word here. We have power, but no control over it in his story.

 

But enough of me entertaining constructivist excuses that I’m not sure I’m executing correctly.

 

In episode 7 of American Gods, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeny,” it is implied that one person alone brings Mad Sweeny the leprechaun to America. If one single person can cause the existence of an imaginary being, then why aren’t more children’s night terrors running about (a happening I would say occurs more than their belief/understanding in God). There are too many holes to poke into Gaiman’s method of believing. Sure, there are plenty of holes you could poke in current thought processes (thus, atheism) but shouldn’t—if we are to suspend disbelief anyways—we account for what we believe gods are originally? If, for instance, we are to believe that leprechauns or X god exists in the U.S. because one person believed in them, yet that person didn’t know to believe in them unless she was told about them in the first place this becomes the “chicken or the egg” scenario. Which is not what myth typically is. Mythology is typically an answer to the “chicken or the egg” dilemma, not the dilemma itself. Gaiman shouldn’t use mythology to answer his Big Questions if he makes his own answer irrelevant.

 

I am starting to disagree that myths are “compost” as Gaiman states, for this overlooks myths as living, breathing plants woven into current narratives and practice. Gaiman does not weave into what already exists—American Gods is not another branch on the tree. Allow me to be dramatic: it is a stolen piece of nature. And when you chop off plant parts, yes, sometimes the seeds and stems can take new root. You can graft something new. But the old trunk you stole from is still sitting there. Or the plucked fruit shrivels up. Or you get a bad seed.

 

Parts of American Gods can’t take root. Instead of nurturing the plant-that-is-world-myth that is already firmly planted, Gaiman whacks away at it. He does the very “dissecting” he claims to avoid. He wants to “create it” as if it is not already in existence and as if myth is not a communal, cultural act. As if picking flowers here and there to make his own floral bouquet (that will eventually wilt) will somehow give him a clearer understanding of what he has destroyed. And perhaps it does give a clearer view. It got me talking about mythology, for sure. But it is so much more satisfying when the author works within the constraints of what is already established—grows from the same tree rather than try to be an entirely new plant all together. Myths/stories are not compost. We are the compost. We are what they grow from. We are what the stories live in and sprout from.

 

Mythology is not like the fairy tale. Fairy tales are retold in countless renditions. They are the story archetypes whose characters (more so, story structure) can be pasted into other contexts. Mythical characters/stories cannot have this done to them so well because mythology is the context. The characters are myth/religion/reality itself—representations of forces of nature and culture. If you take such characters, you automatically change nature and culture (rather, you try and fail to, because let’s be honest, your story is weaker than the richness of our reality). It doesn’t translate.

 

Arguably, this myths-as-compost has been done long before Gaiman (read: Thor and Wonder Woman and countless other comic book characters), but never has mythology been so controlled by one man. Arguably, comics before him were still a communal art form. Now Gaiman slaps his name on them and creates his monomyth according to his own selection. In his Columbia essay he states American Gods “will be, for me, a way of trying to pin down myths—the modem myths and the old myths, together—on the huge and puzzling canvas that is the North American continent. …I have lived here for six years, and I still do not understand it: a strange collection of home-grown myths and beliefs, the ways that America explains itself to itself.” And this is part of the problem too—his trying to pin down the myths like insects to be studied. America needs no outsider to explain their myths to them. America, yes, needs to look inward sometimes. But perhaps let us have a say in our own cultural mythmaking? But that would go, perhaps, against the Gaiman brand—colonialism.

Thank you for letting me put these messy chunks of thought out there. They might be worth chipping away at later. Polishing.

This post was updated on 5/10/18.

BOOK REVIEW: Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton was informative

I never had to read this book in high school or college, though I probably should have. Apparently it is used more than Thomas Bulfinch’s, which is one I picked up on my own. I can understand why they would lean toward Hamilton over Bulfinch, due to the language and the scope and the time period they were written in. How interesting they were both American, though. You would think such a topic would be infiltrated by the Brits (I can only think of Roger Lancelyn Green…).

Americans: 2

Brits: 1

This was one of the most informative books I’ve read on mythology. Using the most prominent versions of the myths, Hamilton gives not only facts about the ancient tales but context. I don’t feel like Bulfinch gave much context. I feel like he  was writing for a more classically-minded audience anyway. I had to look stuff up when reading his because he assumed much. Hamilton chooses the simplest explanations and the most graceful narratives to explain the stories. Half the time, I don’t think Bulfinch captured the whole picture of myth — only what he found interesting.

Other observations about this book include: Hamilton focuses a lot on the heroes, which I find a tad boring at times. But not because of her writing, just the subject matter. I also found it odd that she even bothered to tack on the Norse myths at the end of this.  They take up only about 10% of the actual book — at the very end. Why’d she even bother, really? Her excuse is that they make up part of the Western culture too. But she does not seem to know these myths as well or, at least, have as much to say about them. But she does seem to cover the most relevant points and at least an effort is made to include them.

Book Review: The Wicked + The Divine Vol 2 gets better on the myth, worse on the story

See my review of Vol. 1 here.

So, the plot is kind of all over the place with this one. Everything we know to be “the rules” turns out to be false. There are no rules. The mythos behind the plot is better explained, which made me  stomach a lot of my initial mythology-related issues. But the plot doesn’t really go anywhere and isn’t better for all the “explaining.” Spoilers from here on out.

So, at one point in this Ananke is like “They may not really be gods, but they think that they are.” So, we aren’t even dealing with gods now?! Which makes sense, because their powers are so limited. And Woden does things that seem more like stuff Hephaestus would do (like building armor). It seems more like Ananke is just telling them who they are (naming them after the gods like pets) and every time they (re)incarnate they just remember what Ananke had named them…

The backstory that Ananke gives is so vague (as to why she exists and why the cycle happens) that it seems like the writers don’t know themselves. You could argue that they are being purposefully vague (but that vagueness isn’t working for them), or that they just don’t want to back themselves in a corner, but it seems more like they just don’t care. That they know we’ll eat from their hands anyways.

All we get of that “ancient backstory” is like one page worth of frames explaining that it’s some stupid battle between light and dark (why the gods incarnate? Or why they exist? I can’t even remember). Except I don’t know if we’re supposed to believe Ananke. She doesn’t seem to be very trustworthy. Are they here to fight darkness or to inspire? Because all these pop stars want to inspire. Not much fighting going on. Perhaps they want to inspire to fight the darkness. I don’t know. It sounds cheesy though.

And then Ananke proceeds to make a 13th incarnation. So, apparently there can be more than 12. Way to break your own rules, writers. My guess is that Ananke is feeding  off the gods/whatevers she has trapped somewhere. But she has to let a few of them out at a time otherwise they’ll consume her or turn on her or something something something.

Let me write my own comic book and I’ll do better.

I have beef still, but I’ll probably read the third one just so I can complain more.

And the fact it’s set in the UK continues to rub me the wrong way. Of course the most historically imperial country would get the gods. Of course it feels entitled to all cultures. Of course.

Other reviews I agree with:

Kieron Gillen’s story for this book is incredibly thin. I’m not really sure why it’s important for Laura and Cassandra to find out who Luci’s failed assassins were because 1) they proved their incompetence and aren’t a threat, and 2) Luci’s dead anyway. Also, Laura’s “investigation” involves her going to raves and underground parties, doing drugs and dancing which isn’t just utterly tedious to read but wholly ineffective! Without going into spoilers, the reveal of who the assassins were is also really anticlimactic.

 

I really like the idea behind this series, but it is hard to follow. I don’t think I’m really lost, so much as things just aren’t clearly explained. It’s enjoyable having a Pantheon of characters, but I can’t be the only one who finds it difficult to keep their personalities straight.

 

Twelve gods, I think, were too many to adequately develop. It feels as if they’re thrown into scenes or forced to converse with Laura just because they’ve had very little stage time and the audience hasn’t had a chance to get to know them yet. This has slowed the pace of the story to plodding (I was so bored reading this) and plot threads have been too quickly resolved (who and why were snipers shooting at the gods?) which was anticlimactic or forgotten until the closing act (Laura’s obvious god ability)The Faust Actdid a lot more in 144 pages than Fandemonium did in 166.

Reviews of the next few issues of the comic aren’t reassuring. It seems plot is completely absent in favour of telling back stories. If one of those is Ananke’s then that might be helpful. Should my library purchase the third volume, I may skim it. The Wicked + The Divine‘s mythology is compelling but I’m not willing to waste money on it.