Alfablot: A Hidden Festival

As autumn chills into winter, a holiday of that evokes elves comes ‘round once more. No, not Christmas elves. I’m talking about álfablót, a Norse tradition that called on the álfar for protection in the dark months of winter. Unlike commercial Christmas, which thrives by exploding throughout stores ever earlier and ever farther across the globe, álfablót has long cloaked itself in secrets. That means this will be a somewhat shorter post than usual, though I hope I can still share enough details to keep it interesting. Continue reading “Alfablot: A Hidden Festival”

Quarterly Bestiary: Eloko: Beware the Bell (or the Stick)

Sometimes the forest guards mysteries, and sometimes the mysteries guard the forest. Or maybe they’re just hungry! In the case of the eloko (plural biloko), both could be true. An eloko is a powerful little mystery said to haunt the Congo rainforest. I’ve wanted to cover biloko since reading A Song Below Water, which gives the eloko several delightfully modern face. Yet when I started digging, I found that, a bit like Norwegian trolls, biloko wear more than one face in legends too. Clear details about those faces proved frustratingly difficult to sort out in English-language sources. As a result, my image of the eloko is a bit fractured. However, I hope I’ve found enough to give you something to chew on regarding this enigmatic being. Continue reading “Quarterly Bestiary: Eloko: Beware the Bell (or the Stick)”

Monkey in the Middle: The (Nearly) Indefinable Monkey King

I love tricksters, and possibly my favorite is Sūn Wùkōng (孫悟空), the Monkey King. Recently, I got to read Professor Anthony C. Yu’s annotated and revised English translation of Journey to the West /Xīyóujì (西遊記). Seeing the original Monkey King in all his mischievous glory just made me fall in love all over again. His larger-than-life personality is instantly recognizable in every story he appears in. At the same time, however, the Great Sage Equal to Heaven is incredibly difficult to pin down identity-wise. Is he a god or a demon, a mythical being or a novel character? Or maybe he was always meant to be constantly outside the lines. Since the Hong Kong version of his festival was on the 22nd of this month, I thought I’d post a celebration of this quirky hero’s slippery nature. Here’s to you, Marvelous Monkey King! Continue reading “Monkey in the Middle: The (Nearly) Indefinable Monkey King”

Spirited Swords, Part 2: Five Living Blades

Welcome back! Ready for more swords? In Part 1, I listed blades that, like the Soul-Devouring Sword in Ice Fantasy, were possessed and/or cursed. These swords were animated or driven by forces that initially existed outside of their steel or bronze. Now I’d like to cover swords in a slightly different category: Living blades. Unlike cursed swords, these weapons have a little bit more ambiguity because they have their own intelligence and therefore their own agenda. Just like with people, whether you get along with a living sword is a matter of personal compatibility rather than because the sword itself is good versus evil. So here are another five blade displaying a different kind of spirit! Again, I will include at least one update of the exact sword in modern media along with one echo, a similar media sword possibly inspired by the myth. Continue reading “Spirited Swords, Part 2: Five Living Blades”

Spirited Swords, Part 1: Five Possessed and Cursed Blades

Greetings on this morning after Guǐ Jie /the Ghost Festival! Contemplating the roaming spirits of this thin time led me to thinking of the Soul-Devouring Sword (噬神劍) from Ice Fantasy. The energy-eating sword spirits possessing it give the sword great power but in their hunger they may strike even when the sword’s wielder would rather show mercy. Searching for a mythological model for the Soul-Devouring Sword turned up several interesting possibilities that I could only cover briefly. It seemed a shame to just leave those blades in my unposted notes, so I’d like to expand on them now. I’ll pair each one with at least one update, where the exact sword reappears in modern media, and at least one echo, original fictional weapons that bear some resemblance to the mythical. In keeping with tone of the Ghost Festival, I’ll start with possessed and cursed blades. Continue reading “Spirited Swords, Part 1: Five Possessed and Cursed Blades”

Double Your Loki: Ragnarok 2 and Loki 1 Review

Welcome to my first official review! I’ll get to that awful Dinotopia mini-series soon, but I wanted to warm up with a more pleasant topic. I’m so used to taking a more objective stance even in the near-reviews where I talk about mythology in media, like Ice Fantasy or the Grishaverse. Those posts also focused on more or less completed series. But sometimes I just want to share my thoughts and opinions about the latest installments of ongoing series. Such is the case with the second season of the Norwegian high school drama Ragnarok and the first of Marvel’s Loki show. So here is my take on these two Lokis who made me smile this summer. Continue reading “Double Your Loki: Ragnarok 2 and Loki 1 Review”

Quarterly Bestiary: Aos Si: The Complicated Neighbors

The word “fairy” can refer to many different types of mythical beings. Both the teeny winged fairies still popularly pictured and the wilder human-sized fae of YA and adult fantasy novels often reflect a patchwork of source material. Since it would take many posts to adequately cover all those sources, I’m going to focus on the aos sí of Ireland today. A fair amount of modern fairy lore hearkens back to these Good Neighbors, who, like most neighbors, were never really good or bad. They were simply their own people, with their own motivations and standards. Continue reading “Quarterly Bestiary: Aos Si: The Complicated Neighbors”

Shadows of Legend: Sifting Bones of Myth from the Grishaverse, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my dive into mythology in the Grishaverse! In Part 1, I looked into some origins for Grisha in general, Morozova’s amplifiers, and some connections to Russian Firebird tales. This time I’ll be focusing more on specific characters rather than overall themes. I am drawing mainly from Bardugo’s novels rather than the Netflix show, with topics from the Shadow and Bone trilogy to the King of Scars duology. I’ve tried to keep the references general outside of the Spoiler Zone, though. Once again, please note that these posts reflect my own connections between myth and literature as a reader, and that they are not meant to cover every possible mythical reference from the Grishaverse. Continue reading “Shadows of Legend: Sifting Bones of Myth from the Grishaverse, Part 2”

Red Thread Reblog: A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow — Emerald City Bookworm

Welcome to Red Thread Reblog, a feature that pairs a post about media inspired by mythology with a post about the mythology shown in the media.

I’ve mentioned A Song Below Water before, but I’ll bring it up again because I really believe this is an important book. Set in a slightly alternate Portland, Oregon, Bethany C. Morrow’s story follows two sisters, Tavia and Effie. Effie is still discovering the magic in her heritage, but Tavia knows from the beginning she is a siren, one of two acknowledged magical human minorities in this world. Unlike the popular elokos who appear across races, sirens are always Black women. And their powers are feared, so Tavia has long hidden her identity. The social justice element is key in this book, something Cristi Smith-Jones tackles with grace in her review on Emerald City Bookworm. I highly recommend Cristi’s site and her reviews, which are detailed and thoughtful, often celebrating OwnVoices works in a variety of genres. She highlights the beauty in A Song Below Water as well as its call for change, and it was through her blog that I first learned of the newly released sequel, A Chorus Rises!

Bethany C. Morrow’s 2020 YA novel A Song Below Water is a timely and necessary story that takes places fantasy elements in a contemporary setting in a refreshing way. It’s an incredible tale about social justice, self-discovery, sisterhood, and the power in finding one’s voice.  I bought the Kindle edition of A Song Below Water […]

A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow —

Shadows of Legend: Sifting Bones of Myth from the Grishaverse, Part 1

Considering the popularity of Netflix’s new Shadow and Bone series, I thought it might be interesting to talk about the Grishaverse. For those not familiar with the term, the Grishaverse is a fantasy world where some people—Grisha—are born with the ability to manipulate parts of the physical world, including air, iron, shadows, and light. Leigh Bardugo’s world includes several nations, but the stories mostly center around Ravka, inspired by historical and mythical Russia. Today, I’d like to examine the mythical side of things, the tales that might have shaped the Grishaverse. Some topics will touch on some pretty big spoilers, but I’ll make sure to keep those at the end under a “Spoiler Zone” label for those who wish to avoid them. Continue reading “Shadows of Legend: Sifting Bones of Myth from the Grishaverse, Part 1”