Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taos: All The Elements

If you are in the American Southwest in early July, you might check out this event: a workshop celebrating the beauty of the desert in artistry with books, metal, wood, stone, found objects. Here is a poster for the workshop (aren't those artifacts in the poster breathtaking?):

And here is what artist Edward Abbey has to say about his workshop:

In my case it was love at first sight. This desert, all deserts, any desert.

What draws us to this place? A magical thread winds through the desert southwest and pulls us in. This landscape offers bounty for the artist, and we will use those offerings as an inspiration for the art we create in this class.

For more of the desert's bounty, check out the work of Trix Press, which both chapbooks of desert poetry, as well as postcards and photography inspired by that landscape that is a house made of dawn:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Pyramids: Seashells in the Desert

A recent article in Discovery News reveals that archeologists have just discovered great quantities of intact fossils in the limestone blocks that make up the pyramids at Giza. The fossils are seashells and the remains of extinct organisms, including ancient starfish and sand dollars. This discovery adds fuel to the debate over the origins of the pyramids and deepens the mystery surrounding them.

Recently, the leading theory among Egyptologists has been that the blocks that make up the pyramids were created by casting limestone in vast molds. This theory allows us to accept that the peoples of ancient Kemet, which we call Egypt, could cast the limestone at each layer of the construction, allowing them to make the blocks on the spot and maneuver them into place without the need to first lift the blocks up the wall of the pyramid. However, the presence of intact fossils in the limestone lends credence to an older theory, and suggests that the limestone was actually carved from natural rock (rock that had once been at the bottom of the sea).

This leaves us back at the riddle we started with: if the ancient Egyptians did carve the stones out of natural rock, then how did these people, who had no cranes, lift those massive stones up the walls of the great pyramids? Some of these stones exceeded 200,000 tons in weight. How did they manage this wonder of the ancient world?

Durwaigh fairy tale Ebay Sale

Dear readers, in honor of the start of spring season, yard sales, and auctions, here' a dispatch from one of our fiction editors:

Duirwaigh, "An Inspired Artist Agency," represents many of the artists creating iconic images of new and classical fantastical worlds. In anticipation of their upcoming move, they are hosting a special eBay sale, inviting you to "ADOPT OUR FRIENDS!"

The owners write:

"Being the wild bohemian revolutionaries we are, our friends are a colorful, diverse lot. Among them you'll find Cheshire cats and frog footmen, drag queen roosters, high heeled teapots, flitting faeries, fuzzy-brained bears, and divas of all shapes and sizes. They hale from places like Wonderland, Narnia, Oz, the Hundred Acre Wood, Lothlorien, Neverland, Fairyland and the Duirwaigh forest.

"If you're even the remotest bit fanciful, there's something for you in this auction. Even those of you with rampant practical natures will find something pressing its face against your computer screen begging to come home with you. From May 1 to May 14 we'll be listing an assortment of paintings, posters, drawings, dolls, chess sets, signed prints, sculptures, tea services, figurines, puzzles, christmas ornaments, housewares, fabrics, dresses, shoes, books, garden statues and elsewares!"

It looks like fun fraught with delicious danger. Why not have a look? Start here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Minotaur Opera

Now here is something intriguing and very bold: the tale of Theseus' battle with the Minotaur deep in the Minoan Labyrinth - and of his ill-fated romance with Ariadne daughter of the king of Crete - translated into opera, by renowned British composer Harrison Birtwistle.

Our top Anglophile on the Dante's Heart staff forwarded several reviews of the opera The Minotaur to me today, with some excitement. Here is how the International Herald Tribune describes Birtwistle's opus:

The earliest opera composers looked to Greek myths for the substance of their operas. Four hundred years later, the British composer Harrison Birtwistle obviously thinks they knew what they were doing. Not for him is the practice of basing an opera on a popular play or novel, with its inherent invitation to the audience to measure the new work against its source. Myth, Birtwistle recognizes, can supply just what the opera composer requires: psychological depth and bloodcurdling violence, a point made grippingly clear by his opera "The Minotaur," which had its world premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, last week....

Birtwistle's score is relentlessly modernistic, its astringency serving to underscore the opera's violence and unremitting tension. One did not expect this crusty composer to turn mellow at 73 and he has not done so. His large orchestra includes an enormous percussion section that spills out of the pit with mallet-struck instruments, tom-toms, woodblocks and the like doing heavy duty. This is not music from which one derives much sheer pleasure, but it is intently theatrical.

The opera is not for the faint-hearted, and it is also not for audience members who suffer from histories of violence or traumatic memory, for whom a more triggering production could scarcely be imagined. The opera has all the raw energy and unremitting and insistent tension that one finds in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus or Cormac MacCarthy's Blood Meridian. According to a Reuters article that dubbed the opera (honestly but perhaps reductively) "blood-drenched":

A group of Innocents is sacrificed to the beast in his lair as a crowd around the bull ring bays for blood. One is raped, and vulture-like, screaming Keres tear the hearts from the victims."I think it's a very dark piece," Birtwistle told Reuters before the curtains went up on the eagerly anticipated work.

Most interesting to me is librettist David Harsent's interpretation of the legend, a look at heroes and monsters that is as unflinching as Birtwistle's music:

Harsent wanted to challenge the assumption that the human Minotaur was preferable to the animal in light of the suffering caused by conflicts the world over.

"When he identifies the human side of himself he is not certain he's found something worthy and virtuous," he said.

"I think there are other ways of looking at this -- you might well have it the wrong way around. Look at the man, not the beast. I think the myth stays relevant and stays modern."

He also casts Ariadne as a woman prepared to do anything to escape Crete and Theseus as someone scheming to get rid of her even before he agrees to her plan.

"I don't believe in heroes," Harsent said. "There might be moments of heroism but I don't really believe in heroes."

For more information about the opera, you can read an intelligent review of The Minotaur here at


(On an entirely different note, this is our 100th post on the Dante's Heart blog. We hope that many of those posts were interesting or useful, and we hope that for those of you who have been with us for a while, the journey has been a good one. May we go to many strange and unexpected places together in the coming months!)

50,000 cupcakes, and a Zebra in Seney Hall

I know that this is only barely on topic for our blog, but these two incidents in the news are such marvels that I think they qualify.

First - the University of Maryland is baking 50,000 cupcakes in preparation for this Saturday's Maryland Day festival. The effort of transporting and arranging the cupcakes will require over 200 staff and volunteers. You can read about it here.

Second - Students at Oxford College of Emory University performed a really remarkable prank Tuesday night, stealing a zebra from a nearby farm and giving the zebra the free rein of historic Seney Hall on campus. Apparently the zebra spent the night munching on the campus furniture. Campus security had a shock the next morning when they opened the doors to be find a zebra flitting through the building's shadows. You can read about the prank here.

The sudden appearance of a zebra in an unexpected (and indeed, revered) place - that is a marvel indeed, something to talk about all morning over coffee at the station, a burst of fresh energy in a dull working day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Snow White and Mah-Pishooni in Isfahan, Iran

Dear readers, today's Tehran Times, a leading newspaper of Iran, reports that a group of German and Iranian school-children have just collaborated on a two-part theatre project. In the first part, the schoolchildren have brought a theatrical version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Naqsh-e Jahan Square in the city of Isfahan, Iran.

In turn, the Iranian students performed their own folktale, Mah-Pishuni (or Mah-Pishooni), for the visiting German children. Mah-Pishuni is a story relatively unknown in the West. Mah-Pishuni, whose name means Girl With a Face Like The Moon, is an Iranian princess, whose prince searches all of Iran for her, having fallen in love at a glimpse of her beautiful, moon-like face. To come together, they have to thwart the machinations of Mah-Pishuni's embittered sister-in-law.

I find this a beautiful moment - these two groups of schoolchildren have chosen these fairy tales to try and convey to each other some of the depth and beauty of their two cultures.

You can glimpse some echo of the beauty and energy of Mah-Pishuni through this song based on the story (forgive that the video component is a slideshow and not a clip of the singer, GooGoosh - it is difficult to find any of this in the West, so we must make do; fortunately the slideshow is very compelling itself):

Think of it! We may have Snow White, and Cinderella with her glass slipper and her prince seeking her, but we do not have the Girl With A Face Like the Moon. How blessed these students are to be sharing their stories, stories that have been told and retold in each of their cultures until they have fermented with their age like fine wine. Think of the beauty and ideas we get each time we encounter a new story, especially a story from a different part of the world. If only there were more opportunity for this kind of sharing, and if only more newspapers than the Tehran Times will recognize this event for the occasion it is, and make mention of it. This is a very beautiful thing that the children have done, and I hope that it enriches their lives.

And I must try to learn more of Mah-Pishuni.

You can read the article in the Tehran Times here - it is very brief.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mimicking Neanderthal Voices

Anthropologists led by Professor Robert McCarthy at Florida Atlantic University have just begun simulating neanderthal speech (meaning their vowel sounds). It's a fascinating and appealing project to anyone who has ever been inflicted with what fantasy writer Elizabeth Kerner has called ferrinshadik - that is, the desire to speak with sentient species other than one's own (J.R.R. Tolkien cited a similar impulse behind the longing of readers for tales of elves and dwarves). The neanderthals, so similar to us and yet so apart, have not been around for 30,000 years. None of us and none of our remembered ancestors ever got to speak with them or learn how they perceived the world we shared.

The speech mimicking remains quite controversial, as anthropologists debate the level of sophistication of neanderthal vocalization (who we once assumed could only grunt). A lot of the debate is summarized for laymen in this British news article which nonetheless falls prey to exactly the assumptions that underlie the debate. Our friendly journalist declares with surprising haughtiness:

They became extinct around 30,000 years ago after failing to compete with the brighter and more adaptable Homo sapiens.

Actually, we have no idea why neanderthals became extinct. Theories include climate shift, a decline in game (neanderthals were aggressively carnivorous, whereas early homo sapiens were omnivorous), or increased need for long-distance migration. There is no evidence that early homo sapiens were necessarily brighter or better. (In fact, had we remained locked in an Ice Age, neanderthals would have proven far better adapted to the extreme cold and probably far brighter about their means of surviving and thriving under those conditions.) We continue to perpetuate one of our most beloved and most erroneous myths: that of the caveman and of the heroic upward evolutionary climb of the human species. The myth runs something like this: We are the heroes, we dragged ourselves out of the primordial goo by our bootstraps and we dominate the world, and we were the only ones who managed it. Is anyone else struck by the subtle malignancy of this myth that continues to pervade both our scientific journalism and our scientific journals - that distracts us from either objective study of our past or from looking upon our genetic relatives with compassion)?

Recent primatological studies of plains chimpanzees in Senegal, Africa reveal that these chimpanzees have learned to hunt their prey with sharpened spears. If the Senegal chimpanzees become extinct at some point (all too possible), will our descendant journalists 30,000 years from now be writing about how they died out because homo sapiens was brighter and more adaptable? Of course nothing could be further from the truth. If the chimpanzees do die out, it will be not because we are brighter but because we were earlier: we beat them to the punch.

Hopefully in 30,000 years we will be a wiser species - but that supposition would itself be a subscription to the evolutionary hero myth.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Battle Dance of Durga

In dance, we can tell myth through our bodies. In dance, we can get to the drumbeat heartbeat of myth - we can access directly the part of us that responds to myth with emotion and action and movement.

This is the battle dance of the Hindu goddess Durga against a demon king:

See the way that combat is made a dance - the combat between warriors, and between life-giving strength on the one hand and belligerent, life-destroying ambition on the other. Durga is the fertility goddess, the grain goddess who with her breath called her slain warriors back to life; Mahishasura the raksasha demon shifted in shape from a water buffalo to a war elephant to a man but could find no shape in which he could defeat Durga, that goddess of life and war whose name is Sanskrit for invincible. The life that bursts crops and human beings from the earth may be challenged, but can not be held back for long.

The dance commemorates and enacts that conflict, and the victory when gods and world unify to drive out the rot that infects the world.

In what other dances do we enact myth, living the myths that drive us through the activity and song of our bodies?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Swan Lake: Ballet Meets Figure Skating

Ah, here is something a good friend forwarded to me - Tchaikovsky's magical dance of the swan maidens:

While the dancers don't wear skates, this performance of the Swan Lake ballet appears meant to capture some of the movements of figure skating, as the dancers swoop gracefully by on the ice sheen of the lake. While I know little of ballet, I find the grace of this undeniable and enchanting. It evokes some of the breathlessness that one finds in the old stories of swan maidens.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Yearning of History for Prophets, Heroes

I find myself both deeply moved and deeply troubled by this brief prose piece from Christopher Howell's book, Memory and Heaven (1996). I have trouble saying why, but here it is:

The News

Before Confucius said "No" it was Chinese custom to immolate living dog, servants, concubines and wife along with the wide-eyed and carefully painted corpse of the nobleman. The Other World was thought to be far away and glittering with necessities only a peasant or an eunuch or a woman would go forth to all alone, like a fish battling great rivers on the way to death.

It was widely reported that sacrificed women wept exclusively for the dearly dead, never for that savagery death had ignited all around them. Even the dogs and horses, it was said, mooned only for the master sent alarmingly off ahead of them, and so, with the wisdom of good beasts, were anxious for the flames to scorch apart the veil dividing flesh from light and let them down, free, on the eternal paths of servitude and love.

As fire crept up the racks of [wood], chewing faster and faster like a famished menace, some claimed figures in the blaze kowtowed, smiling bodhisatvah-like into their last earthly moments or clapping with expectation. Actually, Confucius tells us, they screamed, like nothing else but creatures burning in the ruins of their lives, so that no amount of mourning brought relief to those who heard them, everyone shuddering for terrible death, desperately, as today we shudder at the small starving faces brought to us in the evening as we eat. And those watchers long ago, before Confucius, said finally there is nothing we can do until a wise man comes to tell us, "This is unseemly. This is mad."

Christopher Howell, Memory and Heaven

Aside from the piece's subtler-than-most orientalism, I am disturbed (though greatly compelled by) its message: that we wait more often than not passively for the arrival of our next prophet, our next folk hero who will stand in for us on the stage of the world and right the wrongs that we recognize. That we at heart tend to be passive rather than active readers of our world.

When does our celebration of folk heroes and of historic figures whom we have translated into folk heroes galvanize us to action and inspire us to imitation...and when does the telling allow us an outlet, a way to pass the buck, to say "It's ok, there are prophets out there who make the world better. There are people fighting so that things won't get too bad. There are saints to feed the hungry. There are superheroes to stop wars. I needn't do anything. They have it covered." How do our evolving folk legends reinforce or break apart our conviction that "there is nothing we can do"?

I have added a thread on our message board for discussion of this question. If you have a thought, a remark, a question, or a similar passage to share, come add your comment: we'll get a fierce and invigorating conversation going, with any luck. Casey Jones and Paul Bunyan and Davy Crockett are as past to us as Confucius. Who ARE our contemporary folk heroes? Who do we look up to when we think of people of quasi-mythical status who have that unique ability - whether through strength, trickery, or sheer charisma - to save us from ourselves?

Calls for Papers, Calls for Submissions

Dear readers, a quick note: we are moving our growing list of CFPs + calls for submissions on all things fantastical from the blog to the message board. We will be collecting calls for submissions here. Come by to take a look, or to add a call for submissions that you have heard about. Currently we have calls for submissions on American superhero comics, for papers on ghost folklore and urban legends, and other topics. We will grow this resource until it is an extensive and constantly updated list of calls for papers, art, fiction, and poetry on matters of wonder.

More on Wolves

Dear readers, here is quick review of recent things our editors have found on wolves, as we continue to research into wolf lore and collect submissions for our fall issue on wolf folklore and werewolf lore. Please also visit our rolling discussion on the message board on this topic, which now includes quite a few thoughts on wolves and werewolves in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Chime in with your own "wolf sightings" and thoughts on the attraction and fascination that our culture(s) has with the wolf.

Meanwhile, here are a few items:

1. Endicott Studio of Mythic Arts just posted links on their blog to all of the (quite good) poems on Little Red Riding Hood that have collected over the years in their online Coffee House. Take a look!

2. If you haven't seen it yet, you must check out Wolf Song of Alaska, a massive and beautiful online resource on wolf fact and folklore. The site also features some wonderful photographs of the arctic wolf.

3. A YouTube video featuring an Arctic encounter between a man in a truck and a wolf on the road (no, not a collision). There is always something enchanting to us about such encounters between the "human" and the "wild" (perhaps because such encounters suggest simultaneously distance between those two and that perhaps the distance is an illusion):

Drop by the message board and share your own encounters with wolves or with wolf stories...

Credit for the painting above goes to J-C at deviantart.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rare Seahorses in the River Thames

Dear readers, one of our fiction editors, newly back from England, sent this article from the BBC to me today, with the comment:

Seahorses are just mystical to me and I loved seeing them at the London Zoo, where there was a wonderful exhibit of watercolor sketches of them (seadragons, too).

We wanted to pass the article to you, because this is indeed a wild magic of nature and a wonder of ecology. British biologists report that short-snouted seahorses, usually living in the warmer waters off the Canary Islands or in the Mediterranean, have been sighted in the Thames "in shallow muddy waters, estuaries or seagrass beds" as far upriver as east London. Think of that! Subtropical seahorses, beautiful with their tiny, ridged bodies, living in that cold river. Seahorses in London. It is a beautiful thing. As of last weekend, the species has been granted protected status, and the BBC reports that the presence of the seahorses indicates an increase in the quality of London's water. (I wonder if it indicates global warming, as well.)

The portrait to the left is Seahorse, an oil and canvas painting by the former photojournalist Shawn Olson, and it does not depict a short-snouted seahorse. However, you can learn more about snort-shouted seahorses here.

Seahorses: they are beautiful and evocative even without the invention of sea-folk to ride them: they are a species that rides the waves by wrapping their tails around plants; in which the male carries the eggs; and in which the creature's two eyes move completely independently of each other, in its attempt to watch for food or peril. What could be more wondrous?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Moments of Wonder in Computer Animated Scenes

Computer animation has something of a bad rep, a stigma it must fight. Everyone remembers Jar Jar Binks. But ah, what a tool our new visual technologies can be in the hands of an artist or a great director - someone who understands how to evoke wonder not just for the sake of startling or amazing the viewer, but wonder at just the right moment to break the story open in some new way...especially if combined with powerful music, or powerful acting, or powerful dialogue. I want to write a quick post here with a few of my favorite moments, to celebrate some moments in the past few years when the computer animators and the storytellers came together to make us gasp...and feel.

First prize among those that come first to mind tonight is the opening of The Two Towers...the stirring music, the sweeping camera view over an ice-cold mountain ridge as the sounds of terrible battle slowly become audible, then the moment that makes it all: that long meteoric fall into a lake within the earth, while a daunting choir laments in our ears. That is wonder-work; that is film-making. (After all, what did we all set down our books a few moments and go to the movies for, if not in hope of such moments of wonder as that?)

Now for Number 2 - the critical scene in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children - the return of the villain, Sephiroth, whom the heroes had thought put away forever. Three things I love in this scene, besides the music (did I mention the importance of a great choir?). One: the widening of Cloud's eye when he realizes his enemy is back. How did the animators capture so much emotion in a cartoon eye? In the words of our art editor, who grabbed my arm at that moment in the movie, "You see that look? That's consciousness!"

Two: Sephiroth's lines. This is the kind of villain that rouses all my boyish horror and admiration. "I want to sail the darkness of the cosmos with this planet as my vessel." That's quite a way to say hello after a long absence. There is dark ambition and a grim majesty to his first lines upon his return.

Three: The grace and menace with which the animators imbued Sephiroth's movements on the screen - especially that moment when he leaps into the ruined tower after Cloud and gets our adrenaline going, sword out, hair flying, at a dead run, moving like some wild god, relentless, self-sufficient, terrible. This is no mindless car chase action scene: there is a grace and dark poetry to the duel.

The Two Towers scene is an example of how to begin a movie right; Advent Children, how to end a movie right. Here's the scene:

And now for a middle from a movie. Not a flawless movie by any means, but a movie with many beautiful scenes. The moment in Big Fish when our hero first sees his beloved so well illustrates the wonder of first love and of love at first sight, which the French used to call le coup de foudre (i.e., being hit by lightning), that I can never forget it. And once more, the storytellers has given us some great lines: "They tell you that when you meet the love of your life, time stops. And that's true. ...What they don't tell you is that once time starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up."

I will end my celebration here, but please add some favorite scenes of your own in the comments. Frankly, the moviemakers are turning out so much special-effects-heavy shlock these days in the name of "fantasy" films that I feel no guilt at all in taking an evening just to throw up my hands and celebrate the real thing, the scenes that moved me, without necessarily offering anything really intelligent to say about any of them. And that's the beauty of a blog, as opposed to a conference or a class or a scholarly publication (although all three of those have their own place and their own beauty). A blogger is allowed a few free moments just to stand up and start cheering. Join me in that!

Valinor map

Maps are mere allegories of the world. I am fascinated by the cartography of paradise in this map of Valinor (the elvendom west of the Sea in Middle-Earth) by the late Karen Wynn Fonstad:

Fonstad strikes an intriguing compromise between the urge to map Paradise and so delimit the undefinable, and the desire to convey the beauty of Paradise as a blossom-open, uncontainable experience unfiltered by the dry map. The little framed boxes fail to contain their images, which, maplike though they remain, are also evocative and suggestive of the beauty of the woods of Orome or the pools of Este. This map strives to provide both chart and illustration, both the technical and the artistic, the flesh and the soul; it evokes both the engineer's and the poet's discovery of paradise.

How does one draw a map of paradise?

For more of the attempt to detail or describe paradise, see TheOneRing.Net's Grand Tour of Valinor. For more Karen Wynn Fonstad, check out her geographies of Middle-Earth, Pern, and Thomas Covenant's The Land.

(Seaworthy) Viking ship made out of ice cream sticks

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.

Stuntman Robert McDonald must have been gripped with Sea-Fever indeed; according to an article our art editor found this morning, Robert, his son, and more than 5,000 children have worked to build a seaworthy Norse longship out of 15 million ice-cream sticks. I'm not kidding about this. It staggers my imagination. McDonald and his faithful crew are about to leave port in the Netherlands and brave the icy northern seas for England. But they are not coming as marauders; according to Reuters, "he has loaded his ship with cuddly toys and plans to reach London and visit children in hospitals." The media, of course, is eating up the human interest factor, and for my part I am gawking at what this man and 5,000 children made out of ice cream sticks. (A Viking ship carrying stuffed animals to hospitals in England may be wildly bizarre, but it is infinitely more beautiful and useful than 15 million small wooden sticks sitting in a landfill or at the bottom of the sea. I stand amazed.)

Our art editor has posted a link to the article and has opened the forum for discussion here, on our message board. Swing by, see a video about the ship, and comment - this is a remarkable, if unexpected, moment in the history of seafaring.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Turtle: Totem

Dear readers, here is a very quick post - I promise more later. I was fortunate enough to find this painting recently and wanted to share it with you. The piece is called Turtle: Totem.

Here is what the artist, a mythworker who goes by the callsign Inspiritous at deviantart, had to say about that great blue creature:

Turtle - Totemic:
Due a very stressful period of my life I was constantly having bad dreams and nightmares. During one, I felt myself sink into deep, blue water. I saw the sun filtering down through the water and waves, and slowly a large gnarled, ugly Turtle passed over me. This huge behemoth of a creature, scar covered, and armoured created a feeling of peace within me. The next day, I painted this.

Ah, "behemoth" - there is a beautiful word that we don't use nearly enough. And so well the word describes both that turtle and the feeling it evokes. As a man whose totem is the tree kangaroo, I am far too bouncy and hyper for my own good. I would enjoy having a friend whose totem was something as solid and at peace as an armoured sea turtle.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Glass Slipper

Do you know how many artists are actually making glass slippers (never in a pair), and how many bridal shops are called The Glass Slipper? It is remarkable. This beautiful slipper to the left, with its attendant mice, is the work of Francine Zaslow; the slipper below I found at the Crystal Fox Gallery, which showcases glass sculpture of many kinds. Beautiful and frighteningly fragile, these glass sculptures appear attempts to capture something fleeting in our culture, an image of the feminine or an image of courtship that is outdated and yet continues to leave traces throughout our culture.

Perhaps the slippers are nostalgic, a longing for the stories and safety of a childhood image of the world, one brought to young consumers by Disney and by bedtime stories and by a million Barbie commercials. Or maybe the slippers have their appeal because of a longing for romantic chivalry that has proven persistent amid the upheavals in gender conventions over the past decades?

To me, they are beautiful as art objects. I cannot imagine anyone wearing them, but in their breathtaking fragility and in the way the light shines off their edges, these glass slippers look like artifacts that someone from Faerie left behind. No doubt that is what the prince thought when he found Cinderella's one slipper left behind on the stair, no doubt he thought her an otherworldly beauty, someone as likely to have a faerie grandmother as a faerie godmother, for all her scrubbing of the kitchen floor. Stranger yet the slippers seem to me, a man in a generation in which men are taught that women, while fascinating, are not divine nor would they allow themselves to be confined or treated as any Victorian "angel of the house," but they are real human beings struggling to comb their hair and pay the bills. These slippers, in their shining light, must have been dropped not by any human woman but by some elf in the garden -- surely they can have no connection with someone I might take to a dance or someone who may want to split the cost of dinner.

I must ask some of my friends what these slippers look like to the eyes of a woman viewer. Do they arouse disgust? Longing? Curiosity? Laughter? Wonder?

Friday, April 4, 2008

CFP: Call for Reviews on Werewolf Classics

Dear readers, Dante’s Heart: A Journal of Myth, Fairytale, Folklore, and Fantasy is now calling for book, short story, and film reviews on werewolf classics. Reviews will be perused by our panel of editors; those accepted will appear in Issue 3, forthcoming in fall 2008, a special issue on wolf folklore and werewolf lore.

Suggested titles for book or short story review include Lila The Werewolf by Peter S. Beagle, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, Only the End of the World Again by Neil Gaiman, The Hero As Werewolf by Gene Wolfe, and Moon Dance by S.P. Somtow. We seek brief reviews (maximum 800 words) but not work that is over-quick; we are looking for both wit and depth and freshness of insight.

The deadline is June 15.

Send submissions to as Microsoft Word or RTF attachments.

We are also continuing to look over submissions of art, fiction, poetry, and essays pertaining to wolf folklore.

Spread the word.

P.S. I haven't actually watched Skinwalkers (above) - the poster just caught my eye: an astonishing amount of saliva.

Painting Elephant

This was sent to me by our art editor, and it is not a hoax. This Yahoo video features the paintings done elephant! In Northern Thailand, artists are training elephants to paint with their trunks. Elephants are very intelligent, and have extremely dexterous trunks (with over 5 times as many muscles in the trunk as there are muscles in the entire human body) - perfect for wielding a paintbrush and creating fine strokes.

Most recently, the artists are training the elephants to paint other elephants. Unknown to me is whether the painting is from sight of a model as the cheeky trainers suggest or (far more likely) from memorization of the brushstrokes required ("an elephant never forgets"?). Either way, it is remarkable. Now the important question: do the elephants enjoy painting?

Here is another video with more footage:

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Yang Liping - Moonlight

This is so beautiful. It is the Moonlight dance, by the Bai dancer Yang Liping, who has in the last 20 years become famous and sought after in China. In this dance you cannot even see her face: just the light and the shadow, the movement of the dance, the sound of the music, and the many shapes she makes with her silhouette:

"People limit the definition of dance," Yang Liping tells us. "Dance is everywhere. Sitting here is a gesture and writing is a movement." She is showing the world something about dance and about life that is so easy to forget - and she is working hard to preserve the memory of the culture she knew in the mountains as a young girl.

"When I was very young, my grandmother told me that singing and dancing is one way we live and one way we express ourselves. The bimo talks with the gods and communicates between earth and heaven through dancing. My grandmother herself is a typical example. When my grandfather died, she sang for three days and nights about his life, their love stories and to mourn."

You can read a full article about Yang Liping's dances and about what she hopes to preserve and celebrate at Xinhua Net - which is also my source for the quotations above.

Stonehenge Excavation: A Place of Healing?

Recent news from the BBC - forwarded to me in high excitement from one of our fiction editors who has only just recently flown back from England: this very week excavations are beginning at Stonehenge, the first practical archaeology (meaning digging) to occur there in fifty years. Professors Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill (how thoroughly British their names are!) have secured permission from the British government and funding from BBC Timewatch and the Smithsonian to undertake the dig in order to verify whether there is anything to their theories of Stonehenge's origin.

Archaeologists have been speculating for long decades about who built the monument, where it came from, and when it came to be. Most enthusiasts of archaeology and mysticism know that there are two types of stones at Stonehenge - the massive ring of gray sarsen stones, and the much, much older stones of dolerite that appear eerily blue. These are the 80 stones that somehow traveled 200 miles from Carn Melyn to the site of Stonehenge, in an age that had yet to discover bronzeworking. Some time over 4,000 years ago, something drove the ancestors of the modern Welsh to transport the massive blue stones over all that distance, through the darkness and wet of the stone age English countryside, without roads. Students of Stonehenge have postulated all types of reasons for this feat, reasons astronomical or religious (observatory? burial site? temple to the sun?). Wainwright and Darvill note that many of the human remains that have been disinterred at Stonehenge show signs of sickness or wounds. This has led them to an intriguing theory: that the blue stones may have been believed to hold healing properties - in short, that Stonehenge's purpose was curative, a holy place to which the sick and the dying were brought in hope of healing. Later, the sarsen stones were added in a great circle, but originally there were just the blue healing stones - if that is what they were.

This may be the most fascinating and compelling theory yet advanced, to my mind. Certainly it has struck the powers that be in the United Kingdom as such, and we are now witnessing one of the digs of our century - young as our century is. You can read more about it in the BBC article here, and you can find there two very good documentary-style video clips, one of them an interview with Professor Wainwright.

During the excavation, Stonehenge will remain open to tourists, and large plasma screens will allow them to see details of the work. The dig will last until April 11 (it is a "fortnight" dig - fourteen nights - another very British detail), and the archaeologists hope to verify the date that the blue stones were brought to Stonehenge, and to find further evidence to clarify the stones' purpose. We wish them luck, and hope that whatever they find, whether it deepens or resolves the mystery, will prove wondrous and offer much food for thought.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Moon Dance

One more wolf post before I change subjects! One of our fiction editors gave me a copy of S.P. Somtow's Moon Dance (1989), and it is a terrific read. It is a rarity - a tale told with both beauty and poetry for the heart and mind, and adrenaline and pulse-pounding excitement for the blood. It is great to find both in one book. If you want to watch a talented writer examine the clash of cultures or the psychology of alienation or the tragedy of extinction, or if you want to know what happened when European werewolves immigrated to the Americas and ran into their indigenous counterparts among the Sioux on this continent, or if you are just a lover of a chilling and well-told story, check this one out. Somtow understands his werewolf lore very well, and digs deep into what has made that lore so compelling to generation after generation of storytellers and wide-eyed listeners. He also tells his story with quirky and believable characters, and with a great deal of pathos. I give you a long excerpt here, because I cannot resist doing so:

1880 - Dakota Territory - half-moon, waxing

"Snow. Snow streaming down since the onset of night. Snow heaped up against the tent flaps, whipped up by the wind, seeping through the places in the walls where the hides have worn thin. Snow piling on the treetops outside and bending the branches to breaking. Snow on the ground packed hard, stubborn snow. Snow caking on the buffalo robes, not melting. Snow hanging in the air even beside the dying embers of the fire. Snow on your clothes and your hair and even your eyebrows, my son. Are you surprised, my son, that this winter the snow has crept inside me, and turned my old woman's heart to ice?"

He did not answer her but continued to squat cross-legged on the buffalo robe. Perhaps he was listening to the wind. Was he awake, even? But his eyes were open.

"It is time for me to go out into the snow, my son. There is only enough pemmican for you and your wives and their children. You will slaughter the dogs one by one to fill the hunger from moon to moon. The time has come. The wind whistles and whines, and sometimes I think I hear my name. Do not be sad. I know that is why you will not speak to me. You also hear my name on the wind, my son. Is it not so?"

He still would not look at her. She studied him. His hair was almost as gray as her own; here and there it was flecked with snow. In the shadow, away from the fire, a baby cried; she heard a young girl's soothing voice and did not know which of her son's wives it was, for her ears were failing her. She knew it was from deep reverence that he did not speak to her directly; whenever he did it was always with the politest of speech forms. She wished it were not so now. The cold had burned its way into her bones. She could feel them creaking. Her bones were like flutes through which the winter wind whistled.

"The hardest thing of all, my son..." She paused. He looked up at last. He is clenching back some terrible emotion, she thought. I must not shame him. "I can no longer change. Do you understand? I have lost the gift."

There, I will pause. Let that excerpt be our gift to you on the blog tonight, though it is really Somtow's gift. I am only fifty pages into the book, but it has such promise. Here is a writer whose craft is honed like a fine tool, who can keep you up during the night gasping for breath, and who always knows exactly what he is doing with the stories he is reworking. I must leave this post and get back to that book.

Tlingit wolf

So my mind is still very much on wolves, and I found this beautiful piece this morning - it is a greeting card published through Art Cards, Editions, Originals (ACEO). Isn't this something remarkable? The Tlingit-style drawing of a wolf juxtaposed with the more naturalistic, European-style rendering of a wolf. European and indigenous art, body and spirit set side by side. And seeing it makes me long for the part of the world where I was raised, for the scent of cedars and the mist on the shore.

The artist is Julie Thompson, creator of the painted feathers that some anonymous fan has been circulating so rapidly via chain e-mail.

For another post from our blog that samples folklore or fairy tale greeting cards, check out this.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Are You a Werewolf?

I've recently been introduced to the joys of Are You A Werewolf: A Game of Deception, Paranoia, and Mob Rule, an incarnation of the popular card game known as Mafia tailored to the tastes of horror readers and students of lycanthropy. The game is wild fun, designed for 15 people (though it can be played with fewer), and it works like this:

There is a village. Some of the people in this village are ordinary villagers, one is a seer, and two are werewolves. No one knows who the werewolves are. There is also a moderator who facilitates the game. Now the villagers close their eyes and mime going to sleep; the werewolves wake and take a look around - silently! - and decide on their victim. Then they close their eyes, and the seer awakes and asks the moderator - silently! - about one of the villagers, whether that person is one to howl at the full moon. The moderator replies yes or no (still silently). Then everyone wakes up, and the moderator removes one player from the game and lets everyone know that this person's entrails have been found smeared across the streets of the town, and one foot has been recovered from outside the church. (As you can tell, when it was my turn to be moderator, I was especially gory in describing the crimes of the night.) The conclusion is inescapable: the villagers have among their number one or more werewolves.

What ensues is either a careful game of detective work or a wild lynching, with villagers denouncing each other in a manner that would have horrified the citizens of Salem. The seer can of course speak up and identify one of the wolves (if he or she guessed right the night before), but if they lynch one werewolf and the other remains, the seer will probably be the next night's dinner.

The villagers win, of course, if they find and eliminate the predators, while the lycanthropes win if they devour the village first. I imagine they won't starve - there must be other villages around when they are finished with this one.

All the fun is in the denunciations and the mob frenzy of the game. It is remarkable what the fear of being eaten - or the fear of being lynched by one's neighbors - will do to quite apparently ordinary people. I told a friend of mine from South Africa about the game and she was horrified, which makes me wonder whether there is anything distinctly American about the game's appeal. It bears thinking about.

You can find out more about the game and its rules here.

On another note, we are actively seeking fresh work (fiction, poetry, art, essays, etc.) on wolves or werewolves, for our fall issue of the Dante's Heart journal. Have an interview with a werewolf you've always wanted to write? Maybe a short story about a funeral for a werewolf, where only one mourner was in on the secret? Or a poem with a new take on our dear little Miss Riding Hood? A painting critiquing the ecological devastation of the Arctic? A one-minute film clip showing the world in the night-colors of a wolf's eyes? You can find out more about what we're looking for here.