Sun Wukong [Common Meter]

The Monkey King with magic staff
outmatched monsters and gods,
defying the Jade Emperor's
edicts against all odds.

He erased himself from out of 
The Book of Life and Death,
and lived through the Crucible --
nearly holding his breath.

Finally, the gods called Buddha,
though some had their qualms,
but the one thing Monkey couldn't do
was leap from Buddha's palm.

BOOK REVIEW: Supernatural Shakespeare by J. Snodgrass

Supernatural Shakespeare: Magic and Ritual in Merry Old EnglandSupernatural Shakespeare: Magic and Ritual in Merry Old England by J. Snodgrass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Like – I suspect – most of humanity, I’m a big fan of Shakespeare’s work, but I’m also not alone in feeling that I’ve missed a some of the depth and texture of his plays. Both language and the body of common / popular knowledge have evolved and migrated tremendously since the Elizabethan era. This makes a market for books that offer insight into the age and the role that the beliefs, norms, and daily life played in Shakespeare’s theatrical works. This book is one such work. It focuses on the role supernatural beings and various festivals play in the Shakespearean canon and why they do so.

Conceptions of the supernatural may be one of the areas in which human beliefs have changed most severely since Shakespeare’s day. The book has chapters on witches, ghosts, fairies, and enchanted forests that are interspersed among chapters that deal with various seasonal festivals of Pagan origin. I did find this leapfrogging around a bit odd, but I would speculate two possible reasons for it. First, the author may have wanted to build cyclicality into the overall organization, and thus put beings and creatures that seemed thematically related to a season near its festivals. Second, it may have seemed like a good idea to break up the festivals because that discussion could have felt tedious to a general reader if it’d been clumped together (as opposed to the “sexier” topics of witches and ghosts and the like.) This organization didn’t bother me; it just seemed a bit strange, but I could imagine it being for the best.

I learned a great deal from this book, and my newly gained knowledge wasn’t all about the supernatural elements of Shakespeare. The author dropped some fascinating facts regarding other domains as well – such as Elizabethan sexuality and lifestyles as well as biographical facts about Shakespeare. If you’re looking to expand your understanding of background information relevant to Shakespeare’s plays, this book is worth looking into.

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BOOK REVIEW: Adi Shankara by P. Narasimhayya

Adi ShankaraAdi Shankara by Anant Pai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This short, comic book tells stories associated with the Advaita Vedanta sage, Adi Shankara. As it’s a comic book intended for children, it’s more occupied with mythology and magical tales than with describing Shankara’s philosophy or what real world events influenced said philosophy. That said, it’s a quick way to gain some insight into the mythology of Adi Shankara as well as a few sparse biographical details such as the places he traveled and people he met.

At the end, it does have a half-page box of quotes that offers a tiny bit of insight into what Shankara believed and what concepts he emphasized in his teachings.

If one reads it with the expectation that this is a book that is primarily going to offer insight into stories and fantasies bandied about, it’s certainly worth the limited investment of time and effort required to read the book. But it’s kind of boring in the way of Superman-type comic books –i.e. fantasies of a guy who does whatever he can imagine because he’s not bound by the physical laws of the universe. That is, it’s more intended as escape from reality than as education.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre

The Mythology Class: Where Philippine Legends Become Reality (a Graphic Novel)The Mythology Class: Where Philippine Legends Become Reality by Arnold Arre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: August 9, 2022

Let’s call this “Breakfast Club” meets “Ghostbusters” but instead of busting ghosts this group of student-misfits is tasked with getting Filipino mythical creatures back to their home domains while saving their own city from the most villainous of the beasts. There’s a lot happening in this graphic novel — action and adventure tied to the daunting task of containing these creatures, some magical and some monstrous, but there’s also a couple love stories that play out, as well.

I enjoyed reading this graphic novel, finding it fast-paced and imaginative. The characters, both human and mythological, are distinct and face meaningful problems. It’s a story that is both lighthearted and humorous, but with the requisite tension and conflict for such a story. If you’re into mythological superhero stories, check this one out.

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Watchable Monsters [Free Verse]

They were written into 
the lives of ancients,

written into the oldest
stories,

carved into cave
& temple, alike.

These beasts terrorized
and defended --
sometimes both
at the same time.

Towering stacks of hours
were lost to the
beastly crunch of their teeth.

Early peoples tried 
feeding bleating creatures 
to these intermediate beasts --
these watchable monsters:

 one's too scary to chase,
but too still to run from.

But they were as relentless
in their non-hunger
as they were in inspiring
long chains of possibility.

Diabolus [Sestina]

I woke up seeing stars up in the sky,
a blanket brightly twinkling above.
But I could only guess just where I lie,
and knew no better from what place I fell.
And for a moment I was lost in stars,
and felt the vastness I'd been cast against.

What was it that I had rebelled against?
What got me tossed from beyond vaulted skies?
Was it that I tried counting all the stars?
Or that I turned my focus from above?
Can I return some day from whence I fell?
Or is it best to stay right where I lie?

You may think I tell myself perfect lies,
that I'm angry with those I've sinned against.
But I'm not sure my exile was a fall,
and I'm not sure I lived beyond the sky.
What of the freedom not seen far above?
What of the beauty seen amid the stars?

For now, I reside in the field of stars.
Where passersby told stories full of lies,
and I have no love for the far above.
It's just a place that I once raged against.
They preach earth and water and endless skies,
but not a thing is here that never fell.

It's all matter that spiraled as it fell
that formed this platform amid blazing stars.
A vacuum beyond mountain, sea, and sky.
But I remember that's the greatest lie -
the one that I had always railed against.
That meaning lie in words like "far above."

That word is laden with judgment: "above."
And where's the gravity by which I fell?
Can puny bodies be so pulled against
where exist so many colossal stars?
So many obstacles between us lie,
and so much nothing before reaching sky.

There's no "above," only a field of stars.
And no one fell; that's just a peoples' lie.
Nothing stands against me - no endless sky.

BOOK REVIEW: The Medea by Euripides [Trans. Gilbert Murray]

The Medea of EuripidesThe Medea of Euripides by Gilbert Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Project Gutenberg

This tragedy follows up the myth of “The Golden Fleece.” That hero’s journey culminated in three trials which Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts) must complete in order to acquire the golden MacGuffin. Jason succeeds in large part because (arguably, entirely because) Medea, daughter of the fleece’s owner, i.e. King Aeetes, gives Jason some potions to make the trials a cinch. She does this in exchange for Jason’s everlasting love.

And, herein, lies the heart of this play’s conflict. Jason – like many heroes of Greek Mythology – is kind of a jerk. In flashing forward to the beginning of this play, we find Jason has traded Medea in for a younger and higher stature wife (i.e. a princess whose father doesn’t despise and disown her). [Note: Technically, Medea may not be married to Jason because of legalities, but she did bear him two boys.] To add insult to injury, Jason’s new father-in-law (King Creon) insists that Medea and her two boys be exiled, effective immediately.

What makes this play so fascinating is that we have sympathy for Medea’s plight, but then her inner monologue turns to the nuclear option she will employ – killing Jason’s new princess-wife and, more disconcertingly, her own children. Medea goes back and forth about her plan, showing reluctance to kill her boys, at least. So, the reader (viewer) ends up finding Jason loathsome because he steadfastly refuses to accept any blame for how poorly things have gone, but – on the other hand – he’s being more reasonable. (i.e. He talks kindly and isn’t murdering anyone.) It’s a fascinating reflection on the battle between rationality and passion.

I’d highly recommend this play. It’s a short and straightforward story, but it does present a great deal of food-for-thought.


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BOOK REVIEW: Angels: A Very Short Introduction by David Albert Jones

Angels: A Very Short IntroductionAngels: A Very Short Introduction by David Albert Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book offers an overview of angels in the Abrahamic religious traditions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.) [It does take a quick dip into angel-like beings from other religious traditions – e.g. Hindu and Parsi – but generally comes down on the side of it doing a disservice to everybody to equate such beings across mythological traditions – with the possible exception of the New Age angel which is predominantly an offshoot from Abrahamic mythology.] The book considers the evolution of theological thinking on angels: how they’ve been portrayed in art; what they are [made of;] what their purposes are (i.e. messengers, healers, guardians, warriors, etc.;) and, occasionally, how they play into popular culture.

I took away a great deal from this book. For example, I learned about the differences between the djinn of Islam mythology and demons of Judeo-Christian mythology, and the theological underpinnings of this difference (i.e. Muslims do not believe angels have free will, and thus angels can’t be fallen, and so the djinn are a separate entity altogether [rather than being fallen angels.]) I found the book to be readable, interesting, and balanced in its approach to the topic. If you’re looking to learn more about how angels (and related beings, e.g. fallen angels / demons) have been treated by thinkers of various ages, without getting deep into the minutiae, this is a fine book to consider.


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BOOK REVIEW: After Lambana by Eliza Victoria & Mervin Malonzo

After Lambana: A Graphic Novel: Myth and Magic in ManilaAfter Lambana: A Graphic Novel: Myth and Magic in Manila by Eliza Victoria
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: May 10, 2022

This urban fantasy takes place in a Manila where magic exists and mythological creatures live. The story follows two young men as they travel around the city. The two seem to be new and casual friends. One is an ordinary human (Conrad) though with a terminal illness that seems not of this world, and the other is an expat from the magic realm (Ignacio) who’s going to great efforts to help Conrad. The hook is the question of why this casual acquaintance seems so important to the too-cool-for-school Ignacio. Conrad seems to be along for the ride as a distraction in his last hours, but Ignacio has an objective – benighted as it may be. The story unfolds to reveal what’s really happening and to offer backstory.

I love works that incorporate mythology and folklore, and think it’s a wise move for writers of speculative fiction because there’s such a rich and engaging field of stories and characters / creatures – all ripe for the picking. This is particularly true of a mythology, such as that of the Philippines, that isn’t widely known and, thus, offers a whole slate of creatures and alternate worlds with which most readers aren’t familiar. In this book, Filipino mythology is most prominently seen via the “Sirena,” which bear some resemblance to Greek Sirens – except being in the form of mermaids (though able to walk on legs under certain conditions.) I think more could have been done with Filipino Mythology, though there are a few other magic elements in the book that may or may not have mythological origins.

In found this to be a compelling story, and the art was colorful, while still capturing a little noir feel for late night Manila. If you’re interested in speculative fiction graphic novels, this one is worth investigating.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel ChristThe Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Pullman tells the story of Jesus’s life from manger birth to the birth of the religion that flowed from Jesus’s crucifixion, with two major deviations from the gospel accounts. First, in this book, Mary gave birth to twins: one healthy, disciplined, and charismatic [Jesus] and one stunted, bookish, and with grand designs [Christ.] Second, the book tells the story in a way which requires no miracles or magic.

The reason for complicating the story with twins is to be able to split apart two confounding entities. Jesus represents the traveling preacher that most people find appealing and admirable. He’s compassionate, non-judgmental, simple (in the sense of eschewing wealth and glory,) and is a great storyteller. Christ represents the path that Christianity would come follow — one of billionaire evangelists, manipulative missionaries, and the Spanish inquisition – as well as, less intentionally, the Crusades, witch hunts, and pedophilic priests. That said, “scoundrel” status is only realized at the story’s end when Christ plays the Biblical role of Judas. Even then, Christ is conflicted and thinks he’s acting in accord with the directions of an angel.

While most of the events described will be familiar (in some form) to those acquainted with the New Testament stories, there’s an ongoing sub-plot between Christ and “the stranger,” a mysterious character who has an interest in seeing Christianity blossom, if in its imperfect form.

This book is part of a series on mythology called the Canongate Myth Series that features numerous renowned authors.

I found this take on Jesus’s story to be compelling and thought-provoking. I’d highly recommend it, except for those who take their Bible stories very literally and get riled by such writings.

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