Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tricksters on the loose!

I have been taking notes of all the various trickster characters that have popped up in the media lately. I thought it is time to share some of the fresh catch, and the most delicious bites. So, here is the Trickster in some of his new/old faces:

1. Loki
All right, so everyone knows Marvel's Loki these days. I don't even need to introduce him. I'll just note that it entertains me to no end to observe the unbroken popularity the Norse god of mischief manages to maintain through the ages and even today. You know Trickster is on the right track when he has a bigger fandom than all the Avengers together.
Marvel's Loki is an interesting new take on the old stories. I have mused about this at length on my other blog, in the post titled My Loki is not your Loki, and that's OK.

2. Floki
Clearly a play on Loki as a character, Floki does a spectacular job of being the resident Trickster of History Channel's Vikings. Portrayed by the amazing Gustaf Skarsgard (the more talented one of the Skarsgard collection), Floki carries a huge portion of the show's weight and most of the love of the fans. All his mannerisms and his actions are consistent of the archetype of the Trickster, right down to him being extremely hard to kill.

3. Lorne Malvo
Since I am focusing on recent Trickster appearances, this time I mean Fargo the TV show, not the original movie. The character of Lorne Malvo is played by Billy Bob Thorton, who once again does an excellent job (notice how tricksters only get played by good actors? You can't skimp on a character of that magnitude). The character is the True Neutral version of the Trickster, in its purest form: Does things for the sake of chaos, for entertainment, and because "there are no rules." Versatile, volatile, and genius in planning, the Malvo character is a treat to watch, and not very far from true Tricksters all around the world.

4. Gabriel
He appeared first a couple of years ago, but recently made a return on CW's Supernatural. Outright known as "the Trickster" throughout the show, this character was responsible for some of the best episodes of the drama. While he turns out to be an archangel (what? Did I not say spoilers?), he is a true Trickster at heart - not only wickedly smart, but also always hungry, incredibly shift, self-centered, and impossible to kill. One of the highlights in the show's writing, if you ask any storyteller.

So, it looks like Tricksters are living one of their many Renaissances these days. Let's hope it brings more of them out of the woordwork.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Big Bang Theory, 7x20 - This too shall pass

Whoa, Big Bang is just all over the storytellers' repertoire lately. Is storytelling becoming nerdy or what?...
In this episode Sheldon breaks up with string theory, and consequently becomes depressed. He consoles himself with a story about a ring that says "this too shall pass."

The original story of the ring comes from the Middle East; it is often recorded in Jewish folklore. In the Jewish version, King Solomon sends out people to find him a magic ring that can make the happiest man humble, and can console the saddest person on Earth. The messengers search high and low without finding such magic, until one of them comes across a beggar on the way home. The beggar asks for his own ring, promising to give a magic one in return. When the messenger hands him the ring, the beggar carves "This, too, shall pass" into the ring and hands it back. King Solomon takes one look at the ring, and in his wisdom understands that it is exactly what he was looking for.

Let's hope the beggar got rewarded.

Read more about the story here.

Big Bang Theory 7x19 - Lovers in the sky

Okay, so this was as easy to spot as a fish in a barrel, but Big Bang used a story that I am actually fond of, so it goes on the blog anyway. It has magpies in it!

The story of Altair and Vega is an old Chinese legend. The festival celebrating it happens of the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. The story associated with is is known as The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

Weaver Girl (Vega) was a heavenly maiden, and the Cowherd was a mortal man. One day he saw a flock of birds descend from the heavens and turn into beautiful women. While they took a bath in a pond, the cowherd stole the dress of the youngest and most beautiful one; once all the others returned to Heaven, he revealed himself and asked her to stay with him. She did, they fell in love, married, and had children.
However, the gods in heaven could not go long without getting new clothes, and the work of the Weaver Girl was sorely missed. They ordered her to return, and she was in no position to refuse. She left her husband and her two small children, and went back to the sky. The cowherd was desperate. One day, his ox suddenly spoke, and told him that if he killed him, he could fly up to the heavens on his hide. The cowherd killed the ox, and took his tow children up to the sky with him. The gods, however, did not want them distracting the maiden. They drew a barrier between them in the form of the Milky Way.
The only creatures who felt sorry for the lovers were the birds. Because of that, every year on the seventh day of the seventh month, the magpies fly up and touch their wings together, creating a bridge that arches over the Milky Way, allowing the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd to spend the night together.

Not the worst story to use as a pickup line. Raj would know.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reign 1x02 - Dangerous dresses

Okay, so the dresses in this show are apparently not only horribly out of place, but also possibly lethal. Even if she was just faking it. (SPOILERS!)
Poisoned clothing is a proud and ancient tradition in mythology and folklore for disposing of thine enemy, usually practiced by jealous women. That alone speaks volumes.
Most famous examples include:

This is how Hercules died
This is how Medea got rid of Jason's new wife (and her father)
Oh look it even has its own Wikipedia page

Reign 1x01 - Every king should have a trade

So, Prince Francis is not only, like, ten years older than he should be, but he is also quite capable. He makes swords. And he has a good philosophy to go with it: Even kings should have a trade. In case their kingdom falls and they have to fend for themselves.
(Because this is France in the 16th century, hence they don't know yet what happens to kings when their kingdom falls)

With that said, storytellers know exactly where he is getting his idea from.

The tale is called Queen Anait, and it is from Armenia. A very capable queen teaching her king how to not die. Read it, you'll like it. The story has quite a few other versions in world folklore as well.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Frozen - Youngest of 13 seeks suitable thron... erm, wife

So there is Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, right?
What a douche.

Spoilers aside, however, I couldn't help but catch a reference here to a folktale that has a special place in my heart (and repertoire). It is probably an unintentional reference, but I spotted it, so it counts, because I said so.

Said story is known as The King of the Frozen Lands (I usually call it Kingdoms of Ice and Fire), and it is a Hungarian folktale, with versions recorded from South Hungary's German speaking (!) Swabian communities. The tale starts out with the youngest of twelve princes realizing that there is no place or job for him in his home, so he sets out specifically seeking a kingdom that has no prince, hoping to marry his way onto a throne (!). Crossing several kingdoms, he finally ends up in the Kingdom of Fire, where the king promises him the hand of his only daughter - provided he defeats the hostile King of Ice before the wedding. Oops.
The story is long, intriguing, and one of my favorites to tell, especially in the winter. Without giving all of it away here (would take a lot of typing) I'll just throw in the fact that the prince, who in the folktale is NOT a douche, is told by the usual magical helpers that he is on his own until he proves his worth with an act of bravely and sacrifice. Guess what, he finally wins their help when he is turned into a statue of solid ice, trying to defeat the evil King of Ice.


Monday, December 31, 2012

Django Unchained - German heroes, soaring eagles, and some good storytelling

(Post lifted and copied from my other English blog)

Taking a break from all the end-of-year madness and the fact that the heating is still broken in the house, I went to see Django Unchained last night. This is not a movie review - all I can tell you is I personally had great fun with it. Tarantino once again knows what he is doing, and he is pulling all the stops. Fair warning: in this one, violence is the answer, and it feels sinfully justified. You just want to dunk Leo's head in a toilet anyway.


I just wanted to make a short post about the role of storytelling in the movie. Because there is storytelling in the movie, and not just in the film studies "getting the plot across" sense of the word either. Cristoph Watz makes a wonderful job of telling a campfire-side version of the story of Brünhilde and Siegfried from the Niebelungenlied (*insert heart throb here*). That would be worth a blog post alone, but the movie goes way beyond that: they make a point of showing why that story is directly relevant to the plot of the film.
For one, and this is fairly obvious, the lady in need of rescuing was named by her slave-owners after Brünhilde (she also speaks full frontal German, on screen, good Tarantino style). As the good doctor-slash-bounty-hunter explais, Django's story echoes Siegfried and Brünhilde's - he has to "climb the mountain, fight the dragon and cross the hellfire" to rescue his love (luckily for them, the metaphor ends here, and the storyteller spares his audience the bloody-gory end result of the original legend... well, gory for the heroes, anyway, there is plenty of gore left in the movie for the bad guys).
The other point of relevance is that the good doctor, when asked why he is helping a slave to rescue his wife, brings up the story as a reason: as a German, he says, he feels obliged to aid a hero trying to save his Brünhilde. (*insert sqealing part-German storyteller in the audience here*) In this form, the old story (and the telling thereof) plays a very direct role in the movie plot. Also highlights why stories are important and relevant and all the stuff storytellers work hard to remind people of.
Nice work, Mr. Tarantino.

Another nugget that I caught: at one point in the movie, the doctor compares Django to a "soaring eagle" that is superior to chicken. This is nice as it is, as a metaphor, but storytellers will know there is a story behind it, connected to flight and freedom: The Eagle who thought he was a chicken. I personally have heard it in the masterful telling of Antonio Rocha, and also the delightful adaptation of Brenda White Wright at the JC Umoja festival (complete with singing!). Both of them tell it with a much happier ending. Not many people will catch that reference, but it made me smile all the same.