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Mighty Myth Month: This is pretty grim.

Godfather Death

Before the Coen Brothers, before the Smothers Brothers, and LONG before the Jonas Brothers, there were the BROTHERS GRIMM – Jacob and Wilhem.

 Once upon a time, there were two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm. They collected folktales and fairy tales as one might collect a bushel of berries. Many of us are quite familiar with the European tales from Germany, France, and other countries about girls with long hair, little evil sprites with identity issues, and the rule of “3,” “7,” and “12.” These fairy tales are as ubiquitous as your neighborhood wolf stalking a goody-basket laden girl. And most of us know these tales are darker, more visceral than the Disney-ized versions many of us grew up with: Cinderella’s sisters cut off parts of their feet to try to fool the prince (who is tricked until a talking tree clues him in), and Rapunzel is freely given up by her parents for stealing some lettuce. They never protest, but accept the child they longed for will be handed over for adoption to the witch next door, whose only advantage was having a better vegetable garden.

But, one thing I learned by reading this annotated version was how deeply racist some of these tales are. They were more than cautionary; they were examples of when modeling even the simplest acts (butchering a pig) can be a demonstration for murder.

The stories are timeless in their creepiness, horror, and forbidding. “Grimm” is indeed an apt name. Don’t go out in the woods alone, dear children. The wolf is waiting.

 A collection of the Grimm Brothers’ tales:

Grimms Brothers on National Geographic:

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Snake charmer.

Talk about your bad hair day.


 Once again, some goofy mortal chick is just hanging out, being beautiful, and some god takes an interest in her, and she pays the price:

Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, daughter of Phorcys and Ceto. She was the only one of the Gorgons who was subject to mortality. She is celebrated for her personal charms and the beauty of her locks. Neptune became enamoured of her, and obtained her favours in the temple of Minerva. This violation of the sanctity of the temple provoked Minerva, and she changed the beautiful locks of Medusa, which had inspired Neptune’s love of serpents. According to Apollodorus, Medusa and her sisters came into the world with snakes on their heads, instead of hair, with yellow wings and brazen hands. Their bodies were also covered with impenetrable scales, and their very looks had the power of killing or turning to stones. Perseus rendered his name immortal by his conquest of Medusa. He cut off her head, and the blood that dropped from the wound produced the innumerable serpents that infest Africa. The conqueror placed Medusa’s head on the shield of Minerva, which he had used in his expedition. The head still retained the same petrifying power as before, as it was fatally known in the court of Cepheus. . . . Some suppose that the Gorgons were a nation of women, whom Perseus conquered.

From Lempriére’s Classical Dictionary of Proper names mentioned in Ancient Authors Writ Large. Ed. J. Lempriére and F.A. Wright. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.'re breaking my heart...'re breaking my heart...

What strikes me are the explanations (in mythology) of “when good things happen to bad people.” Bad things happen because the gods and goddesses are meddling in mortal matters. The deities are not aloof, watching “off shore through heavy lenses” kinds of omnipotent beings. They are involved, they get in the mix, they cause trouble with their jealousies, infidelities, and revenge. Mortals are quite capable of causing enough problems, thank you very much. Do you think it’s fair that just because Poseidon/Neptune wanted to take a cutie out on a date that she should pay the price for forever with bad hair and stone-etching blood?

Well, I guess on a positive note, she and Poseidon did produce Pegasus, but that’s a horse of another color.

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Wannabes, posers, and the real deal.

This is something that’s been nagging at me a little bit–have you ever noticed that a hit book will come out, and then there comes a slew of wannabes? For example, when the Harry Potter series was published, and J.K. Rowling made more money than the Queen, publishers would have sold their own mothers to publish titles that were very similar genres and plots. Twilight has bitten millions of readers, and now anyone with a keyboard is dreaming up other traditional monsters to transform into anti-heroes with ripped abs and swooning heroines.

Well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Like plots, readers are, more or less, individuals. And even in a vat of vanilla ice cream, there are nuances to be found. (There’s French vanilla, homemade, Mexican vanilla, and birthday cake vanilla.) So, just because one kind of vanilla isn’t to your liking, perhaps another will be. And maybe you can have your cake and eat it, too–meaning, you can find novels that entertain, and add a little more to your life than before you read.

No matter what anyone tries to convince me otherwise, I still go back to Harry. I will defend the Potter series–no amount of sparkling vampires can compare. Sorry, Ms. Meyer–I know you’re secure enough in your belief in your talents and your bank account to take a little criticism. But it’s a flick of the wrist and a know-it-all bookworm witch, and jester/joker twins who enchant me.

the ring

However, if you really want to go back to some authors who influenced the fantasy genre the most, you’ll have to go to the kings: Tolkien and Lewis. My grandmother was a fan of CS Lewis, but I never really delved into his works as much as I should; but Tolkien…oh yeah. The Hobbit, and the Lord of  the Rings trilogy was my first taste of being transported to another time and place, completely and wholly, in my mind.

From the Writer’s Almanac, January 3, 2010:


It’s the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, (books by this author) born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien in Bloemfontein, South Africa (1892). His father, a banker, had moved to South Africa for work, but he died when Tolkien was four years old, and his mother moved the family back to England. They lived in a rural village outside the city of Birmingham. Train tracks went right beyond their house and young Tolkien was drawn to the Welsh names on the sides of coal cars, names like Nantyglo and Senghenydd. And his mom tutored him in Latin, and as a young child he was fascinated by the way that language worked. When he was eight years old, his mom converted to Catholicism, and her family was so upset that they disowned her. Now the family, which hadn’t had much money anyway, had even less.

And then, when Tolkien was 12 years old, his mother died from complications of diabetes, and he and his younger brother were put in the care of a Catholic priest. He went to a good school, started inventing his own languages, and formed a literary group called the T.C.B.S., friends who exchanged ideas and critiqued each other’s work. He graduated, got into Oxford. But before he started, he took a summer trip with friends hiking in the Swiss Alps, and much later when he wrote about Bilbo Baggins hiking the Misty Mountains, he used his memory of that summer in the Alps.

But as a teenager starting at Oxford, he had no desire to write fantasy novels. Instead, he was interested in language. He studied Classics, Old English, Finnish, Welsh, and the Germanic languages. He went to fight in WWI, spent four months on the Western Front and then got trench fever and was sent home to recover. All but one of his friends from the T.C.B.S. literary group were killed in the war, and to honor them and also to help work through his own awful war experiences, he decided to write down some stories. They were stories about elves and gnomes, but they were not cheery fairy tales — they were filled with war and violence and trenches dug under battlefields.

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Myth-of-the-Month Club: Gone fishin’ (King of Sharks – Hawaiian)

This is a story with some bite to it: 

Copyright DC Comics
Copyright DC Comics


  The King of Sharks
retold by
S. E. Schlosser

One day, the King of Sharks saw a beautiful girl swimming near the shore. He immediately fell in love with the girl. Transforming himself into a handsome man, he dressed himself in the feathered cape of a chief and followed her to her village.

The villagers were thrilled by the visit of a foreign chief. They made a great luau, with feasting and games. The King of Sharks won every game, and the girl was delighted when he asked to marry with her.

The King of Sharks lived happily with his bride in a house near a waterfall. The King of Sharks, in his human form, would swim daily in the pool of water beneath the falls. Sometimes he would stay underneath the water so long that his bride would grow frightened. But the King of Sharks reassured her, telling her that he was making a place at the bottom of the pool for their son.

Before the birth of the child, the King of Sharks returned to his people. He made his wife swear that she would always keep his feathered cape about the shoulders of their son. When the child was born, his mother saw a mark upon his back which looked like the mouth of a shark. It was then she realized who her husband had been.

The child’s name was Nanave. As he grew towards manhood, Nanave would swim daily in the pool beside the house. Sometimes, his mother would gaze into the pool and see a shark swimming beneath the water.

Each morning, Nanave would stand beside the pool, the feathered cloak about his shoulders, and would ask the passing fishermen where they were going to fish that day. The fisherman always told the friendly youth where they intended to go. Then Nanave would dive into the pool and disappear for hours.

The fishermen soon noticed that they were catching fewer and fewer fish. The people of their village were growing hungry. The chief of the village called the people to the temple. “There is a bad god among us,” the chief told the people. “He prevents our fishermen from catching fish. I will use my magic to find him.” The chief laid out a bed of leaves. He instructed all the men and boys to walk among the leaves. A human’s feet would bruise the tender leaves, but the feet of a god would leave no mark.

Nanave’s mother was frightened. She knew her son was the child of a god, and he would be killed if the people discovered his identity. When it came turn for the youth to walk across the leaves, he ran fast, and slipped. A man caught at the feathered cape Nanave always wore to prevent him from being hurt. But the cape fell from the youth’s shoulders, and all the people could see the shark’s mouth upon his back.

The people chased Nanave out of the village, but he slipped away from them and dived into the pool. The people threw big rocks into the pool, filling it up. They thought they had killed Nanave. But his mother remembered that the King of Sharks had made a place for her son at the bottom of the pool, a passage that led to the ocean. Nanave had taken the form of a shark and had swum out to join his father, the King of Sharks, in the sea.

But since then, the fishermen have never told anyone where they go to fish, for fear the sharks will hear and chase the fish away.

Read the original post on the American Folklore site.

King of Sharks

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