Victory Mythologized [Free Verse]

victory in the palm of the hand
(specifically, 
the winged, laurel-bearing Nike --
goddess who personifies victory)

it's a bit on the nose
as is the bent front leg
as if standing on the chest 
of a vanquished foe

as is the looming,
nothing says victory
like looming
(unless you're a weaver) 

but victory is never so 
unambiguously glorious
as it's mythologized

BOOK REVIEW: Myth: A Very Short Introduction by Robert A. Segal

Myth: A Very Short IntroductionMyth: A Very Short Introduction by Robert A. Segal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book situates myth amid the broader body of scholarship by examining what role myth plays within – or in opposition to – various academic disciplines, including: science, philosophy, religion, the study of ritual, literature, psychology, structuralism, and social studies. The book is organized so as to compare competing ideas of various major scholars in each of the aforementioned domains. So, as the blurb is upfront about, the book doesn’t spend much time talking about what myths are, and the discussion of how myths are structured is only made as relevant to distinguishing various hypotheses.

One does obtain some food-for-thought about what myths are as one learns how different scholars have approached myth. Questions of how narrowly myth should be defined (e.g. only creation stories v. all god and supernatural tales,) and how myths compare to folktales, national literatures, and the like are touched upon. One also learns that some scholars took myths literally (and, therefore, saw them as obsolete in the face of science and modern scholarship,) but other scholars viewed myths more symbolically.

If you’re looking for an introductory book to position myth in the larger scholarly domain and to examine competing hypotheses about myths, this is a great book for you. However, those who want a book that elucidates what myths are (and aren’t) and how they are structured and to what ends, may find this book inadequate for those objectives. Just be aware of the book you’re getting.


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BOOK REVIEW: Egyptian Mythology: A Very Short Introduction by Geraldine Pinch

Egyptian Myth: A Very Short IntroductionEgyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction by Geraldine Pinch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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It’s a daunting task to provide a flyover of such a fruitful mythological tradition, one that spanned thousands of years. This book does a mixed job of it. When it’s good – it’s exceptional, and when it’s not – it’s not. One can’t fault a book with this one’s editorial mandate for not being comprehensive. However, one can fault it for not using the little space available in the best manner. The book spends too much time discussing art and artifacts, and (to a less objectionable degree) history. I say “to a less objectionable degree” not because there was less space devoted to history but because having some historical and anthropological background is of benefit to understanding a culture’s stories [more so than knowing about their material possessions.] Until I got to chapter three, I thought the book might have been mistitled and should have been “Egyptology: A Very Short Introduction” because it was such a broad discussion of Egypt and its artifacts.

That said, in chapter three, the book does an excellent job of reviewing the gods of Egyptian Mythology. Thereafter, it meanders back and forth between being an excellent introduction to Egyptian Mythology and a rambling discussion of things Egypt. There’s a fascinating presentation of the conflict between Horus and Seth, but most of the discussion of myths are short summations (often one-liners.)

I don’t have any basis for comparison, and, therefore, couldn’t tell you if there is a better introductory guide to Egyptian Myth. That said, it does a good job of presenting an outline of the subject, but expect to spend a fair amount of time reading about subjects that are, at best, tangential to the stories of ancient Egypt.


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BOOK REVIEW: He Who Fights With Monsters by Francesco Artibani

He Who Fights With MonstersHe Who Fights With Monsters by Francesco Artibani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Release date: August, 30, 2022

This graphic novel tells a story featuring the Prague Golem, a mighty protector figure from Judaic folklore – formed of clay and breathed to life by magic words. The setting is Nazi-occupied Prague, and the golem is brought to life after a great period of dormancy, having been stored in the rafters of a synagogue, in order to once more act as protector to the Jewish people.

It’s a gripping tale of wartime resistance, but with a flat ending. However, I’m not sure it could have concluded in a satisfying way. That’s the challenge of writing a story of a superhero versus Nazis. The Holocaust is such a colossal tragedy that to rewrite the it resets the book into some alternate reality fantasyland, striking a raw nerve and killing any poignancy in the process.

The artwork is skillfully rendered and captures the grim nature of a city under fascist occupation quite well.

I enjoyed the story, despite not really knowing how to process the ending. Maybe that’s the point, that one can’t turn such mindless brutality into a storybook satisfying ending [by satisfying I don’t mean happy, but rather concluded in the definitive and intrinsically reasonable – if horrifying – way of tragedies.] Still, one is left wondering about apparent changes in character motivation and whether they make any sense — because they don’t feel like they do.

If you’re intrigued by a historical fiction / fantasy mashup set in Prague during the Second World War, check this book out, but expect to be left in an uneasy space at the end.


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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: 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 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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POEM: Orpheus Twisted [Day 30 NaPoMo: Ballad]

He played his way to the underworld,
capturing every ear.
Even the gods couldn’t move to fight,
but stood stock still to hear.

The musician made his merry way
to the throne of the gods.
And boldly made a petition
that defied rules and odds.

Ye, gods! There’s been a huge mistake.
My wife, she died too soon.
If you’ll let us go on our way
I’ll play THE most dulcet tune.

The gods conferred and reached a verdict:
“If our terms are heeded
and your tune is dreamy enough,
she Will be conceded.”

Tuning his lyre, the artist asked,
“May I, Now, hear the terms?”
“Lead her above — without a peek,
or t’s back to food for worms.”

The dulcet tune was as he claimed,
and Two had leave to go.
From Styx out to the burning sun,
he itched, her place, to know.

When almost out, he heard a thud
and his name feebly called.
He stayed true to the gods’ strict terms,
as her blood puddle sprawled.

As she was retaking bodily form,
she’d tripped upon a rock.
Maybe direct pressure on the wound
and she’d not bled into Shock.

So if god or man makes you a deal
contingent on ignorance,
you might think twice before taking
up residence inside that fence.