Monthly Archives: July 2012

Travels in Florida: Manatee swim and more

Right before Ascendio, the big Harry Potter con, I visited Kennedy Space Center and took Florida Dolphin Tours to see the manatees and swim with them!

On my first day, I’d scheduled a very very early morning pickup at a hotel a mile from mine. I knew I’d be jetlagged the bad way, but was all packed and ready to go. However, I had hoped that the disgusting sauna weather wouldn’t strike that early and that if it did, the buses would be running first thing in the morning. I was wrong on both counts.  I arrived, hot and worn out but in plenty of time for my tour.

First we went and visited the manatees in Crystal River. At the last minute, I got a wetsuit, not because the water was cold, but to protect lots of exposed skin from the sun (my sunscreen, oddly, wasn’t waterproof. Perhaps because it had mosquito spray, meant for this very excursion). Of course, sitting on the boat in basically a black rubber turtleneck as we searched for elusive manatees was less than pleasant. By this point, I’d truly had it with the weather. After a long search (it was off season, but even our boat captain was getting frustrated) he spied a group swimming with a pair and we went in. The cold water was wonderful, and I found I could snorkel all right, even though I hadn’t tried since I was twelve.

I looked down and oh my! There was a giant brownish creature hovering maybe five feet below me! Manatee etiquette determined that we float on the surface and only touch when they bobbed up for air—no chasing, grabbing, or riding. I floated for some time, admiring the whiskery face and huge body. And yes I got to touch a few times—though he was completely coated in algae. After, I felt much cooler, and we headed for the state park and wildlife reserve. They had wolves, gators, and a host of other creatures, including more manatees, who adorably devoured about a barrelful of lettuce. They warned us that here we’d want mosquito spray, so I piled it on, unaware, that everywhere not covered by the wetsuit was already covered with bites from the first trip. Guess we took too long  to get in the water.

Halfway around the preserve, the heavens opened, and I discovered that my pretty sun parasol, black with sequins, embroidery, and glitter, makes a perfectly fine rain umbrella (I was reasonably far from the gift shop and it was really coming down). After, however, it was much cooler out. The tour had provided a breakfast buffet at Sizzler (about the last thing I wanted that morning) and a bag lunch. The ham and cheese was annoying for me (kosher) and others on the tour (vegetarian) and the cookies and chips included made for a pretty junky lunch. Of course, the park had food, so I settled things with an ice cream as big as I was. (no judgment please, but I have to wonder about the oblivious lunch providers).

Our third stop was an airboat ride into the swamp (again mosquito warnings). It was my first airboat ride with no gators, but pretty enough, and our captain enjoyed spinning the boat in surprising ways.  These excursions were a good distance from Orlando—we finished two annoying kiddie movies on the bus (though I also wrote a bit. The kids found my writing career and upcoming conference quite amusing, as did their mostly-British parents.) All in all, this trip managed three lovely excursions and I‘d definitely recommend it.

Though I didn’t take video or underwater photos, this promotional video covers my tour pretty well: http://www.floridadolphintours.com/sightseeing-tours/florida-wildlife-manatee-adventure-tour

I got back in time for many silly souvenir shops. Until midnight, everything’s open, and International drive had a carnival atmosphere, compete with midway, arcades, junk food, and even a few alligator petting zoos. Lots to see and do. At last I got back to my hotel and collapsed in a dead state, knowing that I had another early tour booked for morning.

The next day I had a bus tour to the Kennedy Space Center (perhaps 20 miles outside Orlando in an enormous wildlife preserve). This time I got to meet an astronaut (on my other  visit, I had missed this, probably because I didn’t know it was an option.) This time, Jim Reilly did a talk about his spacewalks and time in the space shuttle, going up to repair parts of Mir and the International Space Station. Day to day life in weightlessness was fascinating to hear about. Then there were the actual space shuttles and lots of posted history of the program. There were lots of videos of astronauts speaking, including the very famous ones. The Space Shuttles, in use since the eighties, are being retired now, in favor of a new international system. One of these, Atlantis, will be housed at Kennedy as a museum piece next year. One is going to LA—I must find out where.

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Thoughts on Brave

At first glance, of course, it’s a warrior-girl story, meant to appeal to both boys and girls in an example of butt-kicking girl power. As expected, we have the traditional fairytale structure. However, within, there are some unusual choices that sap power from the heroine.

She begins as that most classic of fairytale heroines or heroes: the adolescent who doesn’t fit in and longs to escape the humdrum world of the home. She has an unusual talent, archery, not permitted to her and she’s tired of being a traditional princess. She discovers a path open to her, using her special talents– “I’m fighting for my own hand” is a delightful moment of modern girlpower in the ancient world.

However, from the moment she runs away, meets an ancient witch and requests a spell to “change her mother” thngs take an odd turn. First, the spell costs her nothing—for her necklace, trapping of the world she doesn’t want, she earns not only the spell but also an entire house ful of carvings.  Second, she the heroic quest isn’t Merida’s but her mother’s. The mother indeed transforms…into a bear! From there, Merida’s entire quest is undoing the spell she caused. But Merida doesn’t grow or  change; only Queen Elinor does. From the proper lady setting a breakfast table even as a bear and stopping a battle with her stately presence and self-possession, she turns into an animal eating raw fish in the stream and romping with her daughter. She’s the one to battle the evil bear Mordu, enemy of her family; she’s the one to learn a lesson and caution Merida she should abandon her arranged marriage. Merida makes a stab at silencing a room with her queenly presence, but apart from that, she’s like a chastened child trying to wipe up a mess she’s made, not an independent heroine. Even with her mother mute, Merida doesn’t voice her anxieties about getting married, instead concentrating on undoing her rash actions. The heroine’s journey is about growing up and learning the lessons of life and death needed to be an adult. Merida gains the maturity to admit she’s made a mistake and fight (quite literally) to fix it, defending her mother with a spear. But she likely had both the determination and the humility from the start, as from the  instant she makes her mistake, she’s cleverly, apologetically, fiercely working to undo it. She doesn’t really learn the wisdom of peace or other knowledge she didn’t already possess. And that’s problematic.

The theme here may be “Don’t worry kids, your parents are really wrong and you’re really right.” But if it’s brave to do something scary,something far outside one’s comfort zone, then it’s the queen who’s brave, not really Merida.

 

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Sexism on Game of Thrones

Yeah, there’s problems. The biggest one of course is how one or more women in each episode take off their tops to manipulate men. Obviously, this cable show is trying to show as much female nudity as it can manage, but really? The problem, aside from just making this a peep show for heterosexual men, is that it inaccurately portrays and degrades women. Fully clothed powerful men defend themselves with swords, women defend themselves by showing their breasts or seducing the men. Yes, both use their wits. But there a major disconnect in who has the power. Even when women say they have the power, like Cersei or Jon Snow’s “girlfriend” beyond the wall, the women do little to change the system. The one birth we’ve seen was unnatural, the dark wispy thing that killed Stannis’s brother, and everything surrounding it were treated as pure evil. The powerful gods are male, the powerful kings are male, it’s all lopsided.

Arya Stark and Brienne (Lady Stake’s knight) are examples of women who operate in a man’s world, both by hiding their gender and embracing an androgynous life, becoming men in order to beat them. Lady Margaery Tyrell,  Red Priestess Melisandre and Shae, all fully feminine, know what kinds of power they want in life and go get it…however, they do so through sex, seduction, and relationships, once again suggesting that showing lots of body parts is the only path to power. Catelyn is quite strong. But she acts to follow her husband’s and son’s wishes, or gives in to emotion and makes politically poor decisions to avenge Bran or retrieve her girls. She’s not a good example of female power. Her sister, locking the doors of the Eyrie in a burst of feminine irrationalism and refusing to participate as she coddles her son (who seems to be growing spoiled and bloodthirsty as Joffrey) is even worse.

Queen Cersei Lannister in season one knows her family is too powerful for the king to offend, as her sousins fill the castle and her father holds the purse strings. She murders to protect her villainous secret, adopts Sansa as someone she can mold, beats Ned Stark, and takes over the kingdom on her husband’s death.

However, in season two, she’s revealed as the queen who can only get drunk and sulk in her bower. Tyrion out-manipulates her every time, Joffrey ignores her as her father likely will, she has no capable spies that match everyone else on the council. And by this point, everyone knows all her dirty little secrets. She’s been beaten. Finally, her mothering of Joffrey, whom she truly loves, has made him vile and dishonorable – she’s failed as a mother, wife, sister, and daughter as well as queen.

Daenerys Targaryen is of course the empowerment girl. I’m disturbed that she starts the series getting raped in a marriage she loathes and fears and then grows to love her husband as she obediently does his bidding, with a touch of her own manipulation. Once again, we have those seduction lessons and bare skin as her path to power. She’s misled by a treacherous witch woman and sacrifices her own child and husband for nothing. However, surrounded by death, she vanishes into the fire and is reborn stronger than ever. She also redefines the title Khaleesi (which basically suggests a useless concubine in the book) to mean queen over the men who have never served a woman, only warriors. She protects her people and fights her enemies, not with a sword, but with the dragonfire of her children…her own path to power. And, having decided she wants the Iron Throne, she’s going to get it, not by marrying a king or sleeping with a lord (as many other heroines on this series would do) but by forging alliances and taking revenge on those who betray her. She’s cruel but just, and she tries to protect the innocent, as Sansa does.

Sansa is the character I’m having trouble understanding. Season one, she was charmed by the handsome prince choosing her above all others, sweet-talking her, and making her the dazzling queen. But, even as she deluded herself, the final episode left her betrayed as Joffrey valued cruelty over sparing her father.

In season two, she hates Joffrey. She (probably) loathes Cersei and has seen that Cersei isn’t really the power behind the throne. Logically, she might be trying to be a powerful queen someday and doing whatever she must to achieve it…but she’s shown no sign that that’s what she wants. And Cersei’s example shows that she won’t really be a power in the kingdom, even as Joffrey’s wife. Marrying the king and poisoning him a day later would be logical. But we haven’t seen her setting that up. The series has established that most characters are “playing the Game of Thrones” and seeking power. Is Sansa? She’s not manipulating people to achieve her own goals, only acting to save others and convince everyone she’s sweet and helpless.

She might be making the best of a bad situation. But that only makes sense if she has no other choice. Offered several opportunities to let strong, somewhat honorable men escort her back to her family, she refuses. Why? Every character has said she’s in danger. She doesn’t appear to being spying as Arya has been – she’s never in important council meetings only the public throne room. If she’s loyal to the Starks, she should try to sneak back to them, but we haven’t even seen her send a covert letter (which admittedly, could condemn her to death). Imagine how Catelyn will feel upon hearing that Sansa keeps refusing to leave, even with offers of safe passage.

The final possibility is that she’s too scared or traumatized to act, even by running away, and possibly make things worse. She’d rather stand around, no longer queen-elect, and let Joffrey abuse her, rather than acting and possibly being executed as her father was. This is psychologically valid, especially with all she’s been through, from losing her family one by one to her humiliations and injuries at Joffrey’s hands. She’s been taught that nice girls do embroidery, lead the women of the castle in hymns, nod and smile at the men, choose their words carefully, bear humiliation proudly. But this pattern of thought will only lead to a worse and worse life as she gives up her own happiness to be mistreated for the delight of others. If she’s going to be anything other than an anti-feminist punching bag that the Lannisters degrade in every episode for her family’s crimes and for being a “nice girl,” she’s gonna have to get mad. Or at least grow up.

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Game of Thrones: The Real Conflict of Ice and Fire

Game of Thrones has an awful lot of conflicts. But watching the show, I feel that none of the characters are managing to put the pieces together:

  • Daneyris comes from the line of hereditary royalty who managed to unite the kingdoms and protect them all with the might of dragons. They’ve always interbred, probably to keep their amazing dragon magic strong.
  • Over the centuries, the White Walkers have faded until they’re only legends. Likewise, over the centuries, the dragons diminished in size and power, and no one remembered their original importance.
  • The nastiest weapon anyone has is “wildfire” so vicious it can burn armies at a distance and won’t go out…sort of a chemical substitute for dragons.
  • “For the night is dark and full of terrors,” chants the red priestess lady who insists on burning their enemies and worships fire as their savior. She says Stannis will save the world with fire.
  • “What is dead will never die” says the religion of the drowned god…vaguely echoing all these wights we’re seeing up north…
  • Pyat Pree explains that the dragons have returned and brought magic back to the world (though he doesn’t know it, this has happened at the same time as the White Walkers have returned. Perhaps this magic freed them as well). “It is strongest in their presence,” he says, “and they are strongest in yours.” Daenerys apparently IS magic incarnate.
  • Men of the Night’s Watch have always guarded the Southern lands, not from wildings, but from White Walkers. The oath on the show leaves out one line from the books.

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

While the horn part is literally true, the Watch is supposed to fight White Walkers with fire and light, though they’ve only just started remembering that. Admittedly, they’ve sent warnings and requests for more men south, but these have no result. They’re supposed to be calling the alert but aren’t doing enough of a job.

  • Former Night’s Watch Ranger Mance Rayder has made himself King-Beyond-the-Wall and united all the wildings into a single army. Likely he saw White Walkers and realized the time had come to form an alliance of fighters.
  • Old Nan explains to Bran: Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know about fear? Fear is for the winter when the snows fall a hundred feet deep. Fear is for the the long nights when the sun hides for years, and children are born and live and die, all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little lord; when the white walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts, and women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt their tearsfreeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story that you like?  In that darkness the white walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds.
  • The books are called The Song of Ice and Fire. Ice VERSUS Fire might be more accurate. A few things are clear: The White Walkers are the real threat. Daneyris Targaryen is “meant” by her birth to destroy them with her fire and dragons as the realm’s true protector. And she’ll probably make it back home before it’s completely desolated.

However, the characters are all ignoring this to kill each other, wasting entire armies that they already need in order to take a castle for an episode or two, destroy resources, and move on. They use the wildfire, dragons, and men only to attack one another. Now at last, winter is coming. And they may all be screwed.

Okay on Game of Thrones, I’m aware much more of the story has been written. I read some of the novels, maybe #1, #3, and part of #4 some years ago.  I need to reread those books…

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Greek and Roman Myth in Harry Potter

All pantheons of ancient mythologies have similar archetypes: There’s Zeus, Odin, or Enlil, the father god. Demeter, Hathor, or Chicomecoatl, goddess of the harvest. The Hogwarts teachers as they sit along their long table reflect these archetypes, from Dumbledore to Professor Sprout. Dolores Umbridge might be Eris, Goddess of Discord. Slughorn is rather a Dionysus figure, obsessed with hedoinism and selfishness. Dour Snape, always excluded, has many correspondences to Hades as he lurks underground. At the same time, Many names and identities come directly from the Greek/Roman tradition: Argus Filch is guardian of the gates at Hogwarts, Minerva is its font of wisdom. Hermes, Percy’s owl, shares roots with Hermione Granger. At the same time, there are many less known gods and goddesses of the classical tradition:

Pomona Sprout is named for the Roman goddess of fruit and agriculture.

Aurora Sinistra (Professor of Astronomy) shares a name with the Roman goddess of the dawn.

Remus Lupin is named for the hero-twin born of a wolf who founded Rome. Remus was sacrificed before his side could win.

Hagrid replaces Silvanus Kettleburn, whose first name is shared with a Roman forest god similar to the Greek Pan.

Helga Hufflepuff, like Vesta, humbly guards the homestead.

Sybill Trewlany is a sibyl, a Greek seeress or prophetess.

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, Dark Arts professor in book four: Alastor was an epithet, or honorific nickname, of Zeus, which described him as the avenger of familial bloodshed and other deeds against nature. This is the perfect name for an Auror, avenger of the innocents killed by Death Eaters. It was also an epithet of the Erinyes, like a living breathing curse. Alastor, in Christian demonology, had a simialr meaning, as a kind of possessing entity, echoing Moody’s “possession” in book four.

Merope Gaunt, mother of Voldemort, was sister of Phaeton and one of the seven Pleiades, star nymphs in the sky. She married King Sisyphus.  Her name is interpreted to mean “with face turned” from meros ops, referring to the fact that her star faded from the cluster of Pleiades out of shame for her husband’s crimes. Another Merope out of Greek myth includes the daughter of King Cypselus of Arcadia and wife of King Cresphontes. When her husband is murdered, she runs away with her son Aepytus and trains him in vengeance…but nearly slays him by mistake, thinking him the murderer. At last, she succeeds in punishing her enemy.

This name also belonged to the adoptive mother of Oedipus, branding every Merope as an innocent victim but the close family of some very bad men. Sisyphus tried to cheat death and live forever. Oedips defied the gods’ natural laws by killing his father and marrying his mother, and Phaeton nearly destroyed the world when he tried to fly the sun god’s chariot. All three of these men defied the laws of the gods in unholy and unnatural fashion, and all were punished.

Andromeda Tonks and her daughter Nymphadora:  Greek nymphs were beautiful, magical maidens, known for shapeshifting to become part of nature, from tree nymphs to ocean nymphs. They were generally helpers of heroes rather than heroes themselves. Andromeda was   beautiful princess rescued by the hero Perseus, who mostly furthered the hero’s story rather than her own. This suggests that her Muggle husband Ted was a true hero.

Quirinus is an early god of Rome state. In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus, Janus of the spear (quiris). Janus was the “two faced god,” and Rowling’s character echoes this perfectly, with Voldemort on his back. The tarot symbol or Celtic hallow of the spear echoes the elder wand in the series. Quirinus was originally most likely a Sabine god of war.

Alecto Carrow: Evil professor of Muggle Studies in Deathly Hallows: Alecto “the implacable or unceasing anger” is one of the Erinyes, or Furies, in Greek mythology.

Amycus Carrow: Evil professor of Muggle Studies in Deathly Hallows: Amycus, the son of Poseidon and Melia, was a boxer and King of the Bebryces.  When the Argonauts landed on the coast of his dominions, he challenged the bravest of them to a boxing match. Polydeuces, who accepted the challenge, killed him. Likewise, Amycus Carrow challenges the brave Gryffindors to fights all the time.  Upon the tomb of Amycus there grew a laurel, would make people fight when they encountered it. Thus he’s like a male Eris or Fury.

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