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Archive for the ‘Film and Pop Culture’ Category

Once in a while on Tumblr, where I indulge mostly my fannish interests and my love of birds, I post what I call a “Who’s your daddy?” list, where I ramble about who are the definitive actors in certain iconic roles. For example, Jeremy Brett is my Sherlock Holmes, Leonard Nimoy is my Spock of Vulcan, and Spock is canonically a descendant of Sherlock Holmes because he said so in Star Trek VI.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the gods and about the influences that have formed my conceptions of them. To do that, I have to look back to my childhood and think about the books I read.

I was a voracious reader as a child and a precocious one. I was always interested in myths and gods and religion, and I read and re-read a lot of books, both children’s collections of stories and adult books on archaeology, history, and world religions. The truth is, most of the children’s books on mythology I can’t remember, except for the ones with my favorite illustrations.

You know the books I mean. You read them, too, I’m sure. Many of them are still in print, a fact which gladdens my heart.

I somehow skipped over the D’Aulaires’ book on Greek myths. I cannot remember whether my neighborhood library owned it or not. But I don’t know how many times I borrowed their Norse myths book.

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That’s Thor. That’s always going to be what Thor looks like, in my head. A big man with red hair and red beard, tall, muscular, a hint of beer belly. The sort of guy who loses his temper quickly, shouts and crashes around, cools down and apologizes ten minutes later. A guy who’ll always lend you his ladder or help you move something heavy. Not Chris Hemsworth; more like Ray Winstone.

Anthony Hopkins made a pretty awesome Odin for Marvel, but in my head, Odin still looks like this:

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The D’Aulaires weren’t the only book on Norse myths I read, however. More influential in terms of the text than the illustrations was The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogany. Colum included the story of Sigurd the Volsung, which may be why I mutter darkly when I hear Wagner’s Ring operas–“Sigurd, not Siegfried!” It was Pogany, however, who gave me my images of Loki, in graceful Art Nouveau lines:

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Yes, Sif’s lovely naked breasts appeared in a children’s book. We weren’t quite so sensitive in those days. And my personal favorite Loki illustration:

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The determination and malice in Loki’s face as he eats the heart of Gullveig, knowing that he does not know what the consequences will be and not caring. Colum and Pogany sanitized the stories less than the D’Aulaires, I think. For all the delicacy of Pogany’s drawings, they carry a menace in them, a seriousness.

I think children’s books about the Greek gods influenced me less than photographs of the abundant statues and vase paintings that portray the gods. I even had a coloring book of Greek art that reproduced some of the most famous vase pieces. Likewise Egyptian art, which I liked very much as a child, was full of depictions of the gods in their human and animal forms. (For a long time I only drew human figures as the Egyptians did, in profile, with the eye looking out from the side.) Perhaps because I absorbed the idea so early, it didn’t seem odd to me that a god of writing should have the head of a bird, or a goddess of war and violence the head of a lioness, or that Zeus should become a bull, a swan, a shower of light.

People wonder if children can tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t, if they’ll confuse the stories in books and on television with accounts of real life. I’m not sure if I can say definitively, I thought the gods were real, or I thought the gods weren’t real, or I thought Jesus was real but not Hermes and Odin and Thoth. In a sense all the gods, and Jesus, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, Captain America, even, are all equally real to me because they are all stories. There are real stories and then there are not-real stories. If a writer creates a story which mentions an important book that doesn’t exist, is that book real? Is the Necronomicon real? Whose Necronomicon is real? Which is the “real” Bible–the latest translation, or the Authorised Version, or the crumbling manuscripts the translators used? Which is the real book of Isaiah, the Masoretic Hebrew, or the Septuagint, or the version from the Dead Sea Scrolls?

What is fictional is real to me. What is mythical is real to me. “News” is not real in my universe. Propaganda is not real. Facebook is not real. Yet I don’t want to pray to Captain America, I only want to write stories about him. I did not encounter Antinous in my childhood reading about the gods of the world; I only heard him referenced, later, as the lover of a Roman emperor, a beautiful youth who died young. But having discovered him as a god, I pray to him, and he responds.

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Hildegard starring Patricia Routledge

The Antinoan Doctor surprised me this morning with a post about an actress who became a nun in the only traditionally cloistered Benedictine women’s community in the United States. He had stumbled across a short documentary on her conversion engagingly entitled God Is The Bigger Elvis. At once I went looking for it on Amazon, and from there I segued to looking for another film I knew I had heard of about Hildegard of Bingen.

Amazon Instant Video did not fail me: I have just watched Hildegard, the 1994 film starring Patricia Routledge as the twelfth century’s most famous nun. Routledge is, of course, best known for playing Hyacinth Bucket (“It’s pronounced ‘Bouquet’!”), but she is as capable a dramatic actress as a comedienne; this is not Hyacinth-playing-Hildegard, but a solid and sober performance.

The film wisely concentrates on a few crucial moments and relationships in Hildegard’s life: Her friendship with the younger nun Ricardis; her conflict with the abbot of her community at Disibodenberg over the burial of a Crusader who may be excommunicate; her decision, supported by the nuns’ priest Volmar, to leave Disibodenberg and found an independent abbey at Bingen. Quotations from Scripture and from Hildegard’s profuse writings interweave with her justly famous music and tableaux of her visions to create a lovely taste of Hildegard’s personality, life, and work. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in her.

Despite no longer being a Christian, I remain deeply connected to a few saints and notables of the tradition who have meant a great deal to me. Julian of Norwich is foremost, but Hildegard is a close second, and I’d have to include the poet Dante and some of the English poets–Donne, Herbert, Hopkins–and Nicholas Ferrar, who founded the lay religious community at Little Gidding that inspired Eliot’s poem of that name. Hildegard, so very German in some ways, is also deeply Celtic; her Rhineland home had been evangelized by monks from Ireland and Scotland, and her persistent themes of nature and its goodness, the spiritual value of music and of the natural sciences, medicine and healing, and viriditas, literally “greenness”,  her metaphor for spiritual life and health (chi? prana? awen?) seem not only Celtic but Druidic (for Revival values of that word, at least). I am happy to discover I am still interested in her work and spirit.

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The above video is the record of an extraordinary project. One young woman, a fan of the BBC radio show Cabin Pressure, took a gag from one episode and made of it a book that included contributions from fans all over the world and raised a substantial amount of money for charity. Then she contacted the show’s producers and arranged to present the show’s writer and creator, John Finnemore, with a copy of the book, at a recording of the show in front of an audience.

Finnemore, the writer of this extraordinarily funny and touching show, says in the video that he feels all this acclaim is “unearned, because I was just doing something that I really wanted to do!” That doing something he wanted to do would bring together talents on the order of Roger Allam, Stephanie Cole, and Benedict Cumberbatch; that it would inspire a shy, socially awkward fangirl to collect photos from around the world and assemble them into a book; that she would involve people in multiple countries, raise money for charity, and get to present the book to the man who inspired her (and then hug some very attractive famous people!)–all this is testimony, I think, to how very powerful it can be, and how beneficial to other people, to do the thing that you like and really want to do. That is the power of Awen.

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Recently Read:

Current Reading:

Current Listening

Current Viewing:

(including movies I’ve seen this summer)

  • The Avengers
  • Iron Man
  • Iron Man 2
  • Men in Black 3
  • Farscape
  • Life on Mars, the British series with John Simm about a police detective who wakes up thirty years into his own past after being hit by a car

Current Obsessions:

  • The BBC’s Sherlock and its lead actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
  • the writing of Aidan Kelly
  • ice cream, lots of ice cream
  • the two red-eared slider turtles we’re housesitting this summer, Beatrix and Matilda, the Shell Sisters

 

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I had never heard of Malcolm McLaren until last night, when I heard he had died.  I have heard of the Sex Pistols, whom McLaren discovered and managed.  But when I heard a brief clip of him speaking on BBC World News, I realized that he was the vocal model for Bill Nighy’s character Billy Mack in Love Actually.  I recognized the speech patterns and intonation instantly.

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theworsthorse.com: the Buddhist sub- and pop-culture site | “Home of the Dharma-Burger” » Blog Archive » Lisa Simpson, Worst Horse.

I am so there….

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