Friday, October 31, 2008

Magic in the DC Universe

On a completely off topic note: I love Halloween. No holiday is better! I hope everyone has a great Halloween.

So, on topic: Magic and fantasy are so deeply seeped into the DC universe that I would think more people would know of the connection. I guess with the science fiction aspects of "Superman" and "The Flash" so evident, who would think about the characters dripping with magic of old?

Neil Gaiman's "The Book of Magic" introduces a new character while calling upon famous magical characters. Timothy Hunter is your average kid (British, but average). Actually, he's a bit whiny and childish, which works well. He is also skeptical and unsure of what he is seeing. He is us, but cooler since he has the possibility to use magic. Of course he knows none of this; if he did I think the story would be quite useless. The "Trenchcoat Brigade" is a group of four wise sages sent to keep Timothy on track. They are familiar names in the DC universe: The Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult, Mister E, and John Constantine (a way cooler comic book character than the movie made him). The Phantom Stranger guides Tim through the magic of the past. Merlin and Jason Blood (a man later bonded to a demon) meet him in their own time. The use of mythical history is brilliantly employed -- from the Big Bang expertly blended with Christianity's fall of Lucifer to the witch trials; Egyptian and Greek mythology are wound together into a cohesive human history. Constantine, snarky and a product of our time, shows Tim current magic.

The plot begins to pick up a bit, as the importance of Tim is uncovered. His four guardians are described nicely through tarot cards, which help Tim to understand that he "isn't in Kansas anymore." Here current DC magicians make an appearance: Jason Blood, Zatanna, and Tala. For someone entrenched in the DC mythos, this section is great for a different view on the characters. If you aren't all into the DC universe, then this section is just a bit of the story moving along. Doctor Occult takes Tim to Fairyland, where Queen Titania of Shakespeare fame plays a large role. The use of faerie laws is applied, causing Tim to be almost trapped. Finally, Mr. E takes Tim into the future. It is a jumble that connects the entire story through chaos. There is a nice side bit, if you know Gaiman's “Endless.” If not, it isn't too hard to figure out what is going on, for the story concludes its’ end as it began; a nice circle.

It's a great read if you know the DC world, and I think a good read if you don't (Of course I can only guess about that).

I give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Happy Halloween
J.R. West the Raccoon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bits of News

Dear readers,

A couple quick snippets of news:

* Dante's Heart Issue 3: Snow White's Wedding (titled after a poem that will appear in the issue) will arrive early in February 2009. We'll be featuring a banquet of new art, fiction, and poetry - so mark your calendars!

* There's still time to submit to the Dante's Heart Poetry Contest.

* Our archive on wolves and werewolves will remain open to submissions on an ongoing basis. Halloween is tomorrow. If you haven't had a chance to come howl with us, stop by. And if you know someone who has a chilling or moving wolf story or artwork, please drop them a note about us.

* You may have noticed our new guest columnists here on the blog. Please drop them a comment to welcome them - and also watch for a new weekly column coming soon that will feature fairy tale and myth-related work by emerging artists.



Daniel Fusch
Editor, Dante's Heart

Monday, October 27, 2008

Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle

For some time I have been looking for the perfect story for my first posting to the blog, and today a perfect conjunction of events occurred. I serve on the Dante's Heart editorial board and as one of the fiction editors. Now I am delighted to join the Dante's Heart blog, sharing the many, many manifestations of wonder in our little world.

Years ago my grandmother sent me a magazine article about a wondrous fairy castle made on a miniature scale. The chandeliers were encrusted with real jewels, and the organ played music. The lights really lit, and the taps of the bath tub in the princess' suite could be turned on to fill the bathtub with water. I was just dazzled and kept the article through many years and many moves, but lately could not find it.

Today I spoke with a friend, enthusing about the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Chicago Institute of Art, which include more than sixty tiny rooms devoted to recreating the architecture, furnishings, and decorations of European and American life over the past five centuries and including representative rooms from Japan and China. At this link you can see a gallery of the different rooms.

My friend, who grew up in Chicago, said, "Oh, but did you see the fairy castle?" And I at once knew that she was talking about the lost fairy castle that was my fond memory of my grandmother. Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle is now housed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and it is as dazzling as ever. Even if you cannot get to Chicago you can take a virtual tour and dream about the real thing, including the marvelous "Dining Room" pictured above with King Arthur's "round table." Now that I know where it is, I believe this Fairy Castle will not disappear again!

International Year of Astronomy

This January (2009) is the beginning of the International Year of Astronomy (from here on out referred to as IYA because I am lazy). It is amazing to me how few people have heard about IYA. Within the Astrophysics community it is slowly getting talked about. However, I have heard no giant reference in the greater world. It is a disappointment really. Astronomy is part of the soul of humanity. I can think of no ancient or modern culture that has not spent considerable time looking at the sky.

The IYA is a joint project, with at least 129 different countries participating in an effort to increase knowledge about astronomy. It includes a 356 day astronomy pod cast, along with other more sporadic pod casts for various levels of science comprehension. I've heard a sample of the standard layman pod cast... it was hilarious. There are eleven corner stone projects at the heart of the year long event, and even a Second Life island has been dedicated to IYA. Furthermore, a big push is being made to increase knowledge affordably around the world, along with a global movement towards dark skies around the planet.

It seems like such a big deal to me, yet it is mostly being ignored. The Greeks, the Mayans, and many Native American tribes named the constellations and attached stories to them. This tradition oral story telling based on the stars spanned both cultures and time. In addition, the Incas Aztecs and Mayans are known for there insanely accurate calendars based on the movements of stars and planets, the Mayans even predicted many of the comets it took modern astronomers years to "discover." Werewolves are dependent on the moon's phases, and though vampires have problems with starlight from the sun they revel under the dim dots in the night sky. Science fiction writers have a field day with new science. And the movie "Event Horizon" placed hell on the other side of a black hole. Children look up at the night sky with wonder, and long lovers spin poetry of eyes shining like stars. Imagine if the next love poem compared you to the cosmic microwave background: "beautiful in the nearly hidden complexity, giving birth to the stars that shine in your lovers eyes." Or imagine cursing someone, "You're as volatile as a Red Super Giant Star, I'm just waiting for you to supernova."

Astronomy is poetry, so I urge you all look up information on IYA.

J.R West the Raccoon

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Troll in a Honda Commercial

Dear readers,

Here's a little clip of a Honda pilot car commercial that I stumbled onto today while searching for things on trolls. I have to share it - it's too bizarre not to. It's actually pretty clever too:

Fairy tales are a favorite for product commercials - no doubt because if you can connect your product to either the romance or nostalgia of a fairy tale, you can make a good sell. This next commercial - one for cell phones - is actually poetic and beautiful:

Shamelessly, I have to admit that this second commercial really does make me want to go out and buy a Nokia phone.


Ark Angels: A twist on the Bible Story

Last week browsing the library I stumbled upon a three volume manhwa (Korean comic) called "Ark Angels" by Sang-sun Park. The author was new to me, but the cover was cute enough. I figured, eh why not.

The main character is Japhet, who was always my favorite in the ark story. In this case Japheth is a girl joined by her sisters Shem and Hamu. They are the daughters of Noah. Instead of building an ark as ordered by God, Noah and his girls (well really just his girls) are part of a collective of semi-divine creatures. The council must decide the fact of humans on Eath. The two sides want to save an anthropomorphized Earth from human pollution. While that idea is used often (i.e Bruce Coville's My Teacher is an Alien series and Clamp's X/1999), our heroines, following the biblical story, must save the Earth one endangered species at a time taking them into an extra-dimensional ark. While the overall premise is not terribly original, the creator keeps the story interesting.

While this story is a bit elementary, it is cute with "scary parts" and "dating." The plot is a collection of stories related to the animals (which to them look like humans). Each animal has their own history and story that are believable and very human. The girls are childish, but fun. Japheth has the same energy as Hikaru of Clamps' Magic Knight Rayearth. Japheth is the real focus as she looks with untainted optimism that humans can be better. It can be a bit preachy about conservation, but no worse than Captain Planet (is our hero, is going to take pollution down to zero).

I give it a 3.5 out of 5.

Peace for now!
J.R. West the Raccoon

Well Hello

So the dear Editors of Dante's Heart have allowed me space to post my opinions as a guest columnist. Conceivably a bad move on their part permitting a loud, opinionated nerd on their blog... ah well. I will mostly be focusing on myth and fairy-tale related news, as well as, the review of comics. But, every so often I also anticipate a science bit, just to mix things up.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on comics. I am not a professional comic critic. I cannot draw. But I do love comics. I am a true blue marvel girl, as deeply in love with my dear X-Men as I am with my husband (Honey, if you are reading this; I'm kidding). I enjoy reading comics from many different countries, though most have been translated into my native English by professionals and friends alike. For that reason, any review I give on a comic not translated by professionals will have a disclaimer. I am a physicist by trade and a novelist by delusions of grandeur (a phrase stolen from my beloved Star Wars). Overall I'm chatty and friendly. So Enjoy!

J.R. West the Raccoon (no not a real raccoon, but my Daemon is)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Guest Columnists

Dear readers, a quick bit of news: we are going to be inviting a few of our readers as guest columnists onto the blog this fall and winter. As our editors get increasingly busy (both with submissions and with the holidays!) and also because until now the blog has been mostly just one voice (that of our senior editor), we're going to shake things up a bit. I look forward to seeing this blog become a noisier common room, with more varied and frequent reflections. So if you see a guest columnist or two appear, like marvelous and glowing jinns from an old lamp, please welcome them! I will keep posting as well. Also, if you have interest in becoming a guest columnist, drop us a quick line at to inquire further, and we'll chat.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Full Moon Night!

Dear readers, tonight is October’s full moon, and we are excited to announce the firstlaunch of our Full Moon Night, a festival of art, poetry, fiction, and reviews addressing the place of wolves and wolf stories in our world. We are delighted at the conversation that this issue has already raised, and Full Moon Night will continue to remain open for submissions – an ongoing archive (and one to which we expect to keep adding through the remainder of the year, and afterward).

The above image, by the way, is a detail from Kathy Treadwell's painting, Full Moon Night, and the cover for this archive.

Come join us at You’ll find elegies for the American wolf, meditations on lycanthropy, revisions and reconsiderations of Little Red Riding Hood, an encounter with a not unfriendly Brazilian werewolf, and the struggles of a formerly vegan werewolf in a post-apocalyptic world—among many other delights both tragic and comic. The writers and artists whose work you’ll encounter are diverse, from Angolan novelist Ondjaki to a Colorado artist and a poet working at Grand Teton. Their works are brave, urgent, desperate in their grappling with the ghosts of wolves in our culture.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

3 Little Pigs Lost in the Woods

Have I mentioned:

1) how oddly fairy tales appear again and again in our news media,
2) how oddly the patterns of fairy tales are repeated in our lives?

You might enjoy this Tuesday article from Scotsman - here is the punchline, for those pressed for time:

Three young Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs found abandoned in a Scottish forest may have been the latest and most exotic victims of the global credit crunch, it was revealed yesterday. The three young sows were discovered wandering in dense woodland in a remote area of Aberdeenshire, between Huntly and Dufftown, last week. One theory being pursued by animal cruelty investigators is that the owners set them loose in the woods because they could no longer afford to keep them.

This certainly is a strange - if happily ended - tale. It makes me ponder other tales of animals set loose on continents strange to them because of an economic or other collapse. How many African animals were kept beneath the Coliseum in Rome, and what became of them when the Visigoths poured over the hills? Will wolves some day break out of city zoos and reinhabit a post-icestorm America, as in The Day After Tomorrow? Might a post-apocalypse hiker find in the Rocky Mountains a giraffe loose from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo? How often, I wonder, have we human beings transported or trafficked animals across the globe - like these three Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs - only to set them adrift in environments utterly bewildering to them, unsentient wanderers and exiles?

An additional note: the Scotsman article, entitled "Fairy tale ending for three little pigs lost in the woods," does something typical of both modern media and modern film - it plays mix and match with fairy tales, blending the 3 little pigs (who get lost only in the wolf's stomach) with Goldilocks or Gretel or some other mostly-innocent lost in a dark wood. Open for discussion: what causes this odd conflation and merging of tales in our media, and what does it mean?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lightning's lover

My wife has given me to read Dragon Champion, a novel by E.E. Knight, and now, a few chapters in, I have come across a stray phrase that struck with its evocative beauty:

Lightning will light up a place she wants her lover Thunder to visit.

A mother dragon is telling her hatchling of the beauties of the world above their winter cave. Now, having heard the dragon's words, I don't think that I will ever look at lightning quite the same way again.