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

Amazon.in Page

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.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Iphigenia in Aulis Adapted by Edward Einhorn [from Euripides]

Iphigenia in Aulis: The Age of Bronze EditionIphigenia in Aulis: The Age of Bronze Edition by Edward Einhorn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

This illustrated play is an adaptation of Euripides’ drama of the same name. The title character, Iphigenia, is the daughter of King Agememnon and she’s lured to Aulis by her father to be a human sacrifice, but under the fraudulent claim that she’s to be married to Achilles. [Because, you know, people tend to not show up if you invite them to be murdered, but they’re much more amenable if you invite them to marry a hunky half-god.]

It’s a simple and straightforward story, but one that is never-the-less evocative and dramatic. Agememnon’s will to kill his daughter falters for a time and when his wife, Klytemnestra, scores Achilles’ support for the cause of saving her daughter, it’s unclear how things will unfold. It’s a story that encourages one to reflect upon fate and the virtue of sacrifice, while showing that different chains of causality applied to the same event can radically alter the perception of justness. When Iphigenia’s death is seen as the means to get back Helen (who eloped with Paris to Troy,) it’s vile and despicable. However, when it is viewed as the means to get the fleet moving in order to restore the honor of those assembled nations pledged to fight, that’s a different matter.

I found this play to be compelling and well worth reading.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Adi Shankara by P. Narasimhayya

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

Amazon.in Page

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.


View all my reviews

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

Amazon.in Page

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.

View all my reviews

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.

BOOK REVIEW: Native American Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Sean Teuton

Native American Literature: A Very Short IntroductionNative American Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Sean Teuton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

This VSI (Very Short Introduction) stimulates curiosity from its very title. One might be interested in, but not necessarily intrigued by, titles such as: “Native American Folklore,” or “Native American Mythology.” However, when one thinks of the world of Native American story and language-centric art, one is likely to first think of oral storytelling, and then, secondarily, about the immensely popular genre / commercial fiction of someone like Stephen Graham Jones. Even if one is aware of some of the Native American literary works that got widespread attention and praise, works such as Momaday’s “House Made of Dawn” or the poetry of Joy Harajo, one may wonder whether there’s the basis for such a broad overview style book.

That’s just the notion that this book seeks to challenge. That said, until the final two chapters, it doesn’t always feel like the topic is as advertised. That is to say, with the exception of chapter two — which discusses the oral storytelling of various Native American tribes, much of chapters one through five is historical and cultural background designed to provide context for the creation of a Native American literary canon, but without talking about the canon’s components much. Some of the questions addressed include: how Native tribes came to written language, in general, and then to the English language, specifically; how self-image of tribal peoples shifted over time (and how that impacted the nature of written works;) the nature of various strains of Native literature (e.g. literature of resistance v. literature of assimilation, and so on.)

I learned a lot from this brief guide. I’m not going to lie, it does have some sections that are dry and quite scholarly, but it also raises some interesting ideas while introducing the reader to books that will be wholly unfamiliar to some and largely unfamiliar to most.

If you’re interested in how Native American literature came to be, I’d recommend one check it out.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Jagannatha of Puri by Gayatri M. Dutt

Jagannatha of puriJagannatha of puri by Gayatri Madan Dutt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

I recently visited Puri, and – seeing the little, big-eyed Jagannath idols and images all across Odisha – I was curious to learn about the mythology behind the Puri temple and its tripartite deity. This 30+ page comic may not be the most scholarly or detailed account, but it may be the quickest way to get the gist of the story. And the comic does present an intriguing morality tale that includes lessons of patience and unselfishness.

The story begins with a king who is obsessed with finding a fabled cave-shrine that he was directed to in a dream. The king sends his best men out in search of the cave as its whereabouts are unknown. In time, one of the men stumbles upon a village whose chieftain is said to regularly make secretive visits to the cave and its idol. And from there, the race is on to get the king to the cave. But the deity is elusive, and insists that its followers work together harmoniously.

It’s a clear and well-developed story. It blends intriguing trippy elements like time-travel and messages in dreams with traditional religious mythology.

If you’re looking for a brief explanation of the Puri temple and the Jagannaths, it’s worth giving this short comic a look.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: St. Mercy by John Zuur Platten

St. MercySt. Mercy by John Zuur Platten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: March 1, 2022

This graphic novel combines a Cowboy Western with backstory featuring Incan mythology from pre-Colonial Peru, the latter adding a supernatural element to make a kind of “Unforgiven” meets “Dawn of the Dead” mashup.

It thought the Western narrative was quite well done. The villains were villainous. It’s nothing particularly novel, but the story and characters are skillfully crafted. The Incan story portion forms the origin story for the main character and offers a supernatural element thrown into the gritty realism of the Western. This part of the story is intriguing as well, but there are a couple things I should point out. First of all, I know nothing about Incan gods and monsters lore. Therefore, I can’t say whether the author and artist did their homework, or whether they just made up a generic demon and zombified beings out of nowhere. Secondly, I don’t think the link up of the two storylines was as seamless as it could have been. I found myself unsure of who was whom among carry over characters, and didn’t feel its relevance was sufficient to go back in the middle of what was otherwise an intense story in order to figure it out.

I think the story suffers from two common problems among comic books. First, the mindset of “you can smash any two good things together and make a great thing.” People love Westerns. People love zombies and monster. How could thrusting them together miss? Well, it misses because the visceral emotional quality of the gritty Western tanks in the face of magic and monsters. It misses because the smartly developed Sheriff character is squandered to get him out of the way. Second, this comic suffered from the “cool idea” problem. That’s when someone says “wouldn’t it be cool if…” And then there’s this idea that’s floating out there that you can either do a lot of work to fit into the story so that it makes sense organically, or you can cram it in there willy-nilly and hope the reader says, “cool,” instead of being befuddled by needless complication. I found myself more with the latter.

With a little thought and focus I believe this could have been an excellent story, but – as it is – it’s a bit muddled because it tries to mash together disparate story elements and genres in a way that robs its own thunder.


View all my reviews

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

Amazon.in Page

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.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Bliss by Sean Lewis

BlissBliss by Sean Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

This eight-issue graphic novel blends sci-fi and mythology to tell a story of the double-edged nature of memory – bringer of both bliss and trauma. At the story’s core is a father-son relationship in which both the father, Benton, and son, Perry, must come to grips with the fact that contained within the former is the greatest possible range of virtue and vice, a nearly irreconcilable mix of good and bad.

I enjoyed that the author instilled an intriguing strangeness to the book’s world using a mix of futurism, mythology, and creativity while at the same time dealing with primal human concerns. The book asks whether being free of memories can contribute to our being worse versions of ourselves (being able to forget misdeeds,) and whether healing (forgiveness of both self and others) can happen without memory.

I found this book to be provocative and well-composed. There were points at which it felt like the scale of deviation between the good and the bad Benton were unfathomably great. In other words, it felt like the motivation for his actions strained credulity. However, that encourages one to think about how a person might behave if he knew he could be freed of the memory of ill deeds.

I loved the story, the art, the world, and the characters. I’d highly recommend the book.


View all my reviews