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Archive for January, 2017

Among the Jivaro people of Equador, legend tells of a terrifying monster. It is a river dragon that can change its shape to become any sort of snake. This is the dreaded Iwanci, a serpent spirit who protected snakes from people who might harm or harass them.

Iwanci is most often seen in one of two forms. According to the stories, it can turn itself into a magnificent Pani (anaconda) or an even larger semi-mythical snake called Macanci. Macanci is a cryptid, an animal that straddles the line between real and myth. A steady stream of informal reports and folk takes keep its legend alive, but there has never been scientific proof of its existence.

Of course, we know that anacondas are THE biggest snakes in the world.They’re members of the Boa family and can grow to be over twenty feet long. As such, they take down prey as large as deer, caimans — and humans! (However, there is little documentation of anacondas actually attacking people.) There are four species of anaconda, all found in the Amazonian region. The one we are most familiar with is the green anaconda.

Since anacondas often lurk in the water, people living near rivers and streams would potentially have been in danger. It’s thought that the Jivaro people told stories about Iwanci to keep children away from snakes.

 

 

 

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News flash! My publisher, Sky Warrior Books, has the pre-order link up on the anthology I edited. Wee Folk and Wise is a collection of fairy tales by twenty authors. I’ll be telling you more about that shortly.

But first… This week my character, Anatar, from Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, visited Entertaining Stories. Here’s her interview on Lisa Burton Radio.

Entertaining Stories

Lucky you, you’ve just landed on Lisa Burton Radio, the only show out there featuring the characters from the stories you love. I’m your host, Lisa the robot girl, and today we have an interesting fairytale princess with us today. “Welcome to the show, Anatar.”

“Thank you, Lisa of Burton. It’s a pleasure to be here.”

“My bio says you and your sister Eletay were orphans. How does an orphan get to be a princess? Were your parents banished or something?”

“No secret heiresses here, I’m afraid. Our family lived in a small village outside Chantain. I was only seven when our parents died, and Ella was nine, so I don’t remember much about what happened. We spent several months wandering and working for food when we could find anyone kind enough to let us stay.

“If we were able to improve our lot, it was because I saw opportunities…

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Tomorrow! That’s the day I’m visiting C. S. Boyack at his blog, Entertaining Stories. I hope you’ll wander by.

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We’ve all heard of Voodoo, that mysterious, wicked form of magic where curses are bestowed by sticking pins into dolls and the dead rise as zombies. Pop culture offers a sensational and even scandalous view of Voodoo in movies, books and on TV.

In reality, Voodoo/Vodou is a folk religion practiced in the Caribbean, especially Haiti. It is thought to be a fusion of West African, Native American, and Catholic religions. Vodou has spread all over the world, wherever Caribbean immigrants have traveled. Without a central authority or holy writings, it’s hard to know how many people practice Vodou today.

Every religion has its deities. In the case of Vodou, the supreme deity is Bondye but scores of nature spirits called loa serve as his intermediaries. And the loa just happen to include a few dragons. Damballah-Wedo and Ayida-Wedo are leaders of the Rada pantheon. Both take the form of gigantic rainbow serpents who give shape to the world.

Damballah, the father figure,  sired most of the pantheon. His relationship with humans is said to be remote, but fond. A lord of rivers and streams, he was honored in special pools where he could come to bathe. He also enjoyed forests with many trees. Whenever he came to Earth, his body would carve the land into canyons and valleys. At sea, his swimming provoked great waves.

His wife, Ayida, is a goddess of rain, and consequently fertility. It is said when she milks her cows, the rains fall onto the Earth. She can most often be seen as a rainbow arched over the land. Not surprisingly, Ayida is a popular deity compared to the more distant Damballah.

Together,  Damballah and Ayida are a perfect team, loving and devoted. Earth and sky shape each other. Without one, the other has no meaning. Decorative items often show them twining together. Their stable and affectionate relationship is an example to their earthly followers.

And you thought Voodoo was just about casting curses!

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This, to me, is the movie of the year. Certainly it’s the best animated movie — sorry, Zootopia fans — and possibly the best movie over all. Kubo has a terrific story, great imagination and a respectful depiction of Japanese folklore. It was made by Laika, the studio that specializes in a distinctive animation/stop motion hybrid. Previous films from Laika include Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and ParaNorman.

The lead character is Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who struggles to care for his mother, who is very ill. In the daytime, Sariatu exists in a daze, while at night she is cheerful and loving. Kubo gets money by telling stories in the markeplace, using an instrument called the shamisen to bring his origami figures to magical life. The stories he tell involve a powerful samurai, Hanzo, who dared gather enchanted weapons and armor that would allow him to take on the terrible Moon King. Kubo doesn’t tell the villagers that Hanzo, in fact, was his own father.

Sariatu makes Kubo promise that he will never venture outside at night, because the Moon King is still hunting him. He’s the one who stole Kubo’s eye, and he wants the second one, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Kubo kept his promise. Grieving for his lost father, he attends a lamp-lighting ceremony that is interrupted by his vicious aunts, Sariatu’s sisters. Sariatu appears, sacrificing her own life so that Kubo can escape.

I can’t say much more without spoiling things. There are chases, races, funny moments and amazing battles. There’s also an awesome dragon, very like the Asian-style dragon kite I mentioned in a post last year. Raiden, the Moon King, assumes this form for the final confrontation. It’s a dragon like you’ve never seen before.

If you’ve heard that Kubo and the Two Strings is a great movie, you’ve heard right. Beg, borrow or rent this movie. You won’t regret it.

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One brief announcement: I’m gonna be visiting a few blogs in coming weeks. Charles Yallowitz of Legends of Windermere will be hosting me Sunday, so look forward to that. On January 19th, my dragon character Tetheus will drop by Lisa Burton Radio on Craig Boyack’s Entertaining Stories.

It’s all to support my collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas. You have  bought yours, right??

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Throughout history, there have always been special words to describe a woman who had a forceful nature. Harridan, bitch, nasty woman… My personal favorite has always been Dragon Lady.

We all know that dragons are so mean, right? Bold, fierce, rapacious. Or maybe just a little bit outspoken. All the things that a woman is not supposed to be.

Although English does contain a few references to an aggressive woman as a dragon or dragoness earlier than 1900, the specific term “dragon lady” springs from the character in Terry and the Pirates. (See my last blog post.) While supposedly a villain, Dragon Lady is one of those special characters who the public really took to their hearts.

Perhaps it was the slinky outfits she wore. Perhaps it was the mystique of the Orient or the woman’s determination to make her own way. Her image was wildly popular and influential. It’s said that numerous planes in World War II had Dragon Lady nose-cone art. Dragon Lady’s character evolved from a pirate queen to a freedom fighter. Even on the occasions when the good-guys captured her, they invariably found some reason to let her go. So in the reader’s mind she remained a supreme woman, undefeated and triumphant.

As the term “dragon lady” made its way into common use, it could be applied to any woman who made a mark on the world stage — especially if she was Asian. Wives of Asian leaders and actresses playing action roles were equally styled as dragon ladies.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the flogging. The label “dragon lady,” which was intended as a put-down, morphed as much as the Dragon Lady herself had. Nowadays, “dragon lady” is as much a term of respect as an insult. You can say that dragons are vicious, malicious and cruel — or you can say they’re tough, determined and smart. Like the phrase “nasty woman,” used by Donald Trump to annoy Hillary Clinton, “dragon lady” has taken on a life of its own.

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Terry and the Pirates was a long-running (1933 – 73) comic series by the noted American comic artist, Milton Caniff. It was basically a boy’s adventure story set in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. Young Terry Lee and his pal, the intrepid reporter Pat Ryan, busted gangs and scooped headlines in places where the actual authorities feared to tread. From the outset, one of their recurring foes was the Dragon Lady, a.k.a. Madam Deal. (Her birth name was Lai Choi San. I have no idea if that could be an actual Chinese name, or if the author simply made it up.)

At the time the series began, Americans regarded Southeast Asia much as contemporary Americans do the Middle East: a lawless and barbaric place where anything might happen (usually something bad). Anyone of Asian descent was subject to the most grotesque caricature. This is impossible to escape in the popular entertainments of the time, such as Terry and the Pirates. The Dragon Lady was definitely part of that package: sleek, seductive and coldly evil. Although she’s supposed to be Chinese, her image is reminiscent more of Greta Garbo than anyone Asian.

The Dragon Lady was a powerful figure in the Chinese underworld. She was boss of the pirates that Terry and Pat were always meddling with, not to mention drug smuggling and who knows what else. But as the series went on, the character grew beyond that role. Tensions were mounting toward World War II, and there was a lot of talk about the “Yellow Peril” (Japanese ambitions in the Pacific). After war actually broke out, the Dragon Lady’s role changed significantly. She became a resistance fighter trying to drive the Japanese out of China. This wasn’t completely altruistic, since the Japanese occupation was interfering with her underworld empire. Still, she became a “frenemy” who worked alongside Terry and Pat more often than not. She and Pat Ryan were in love, and she also shared moments of warmth with Terry. However, those feelings were never strong enough to interfere with her criminal lifestyle.

Check back with me on Tuesday for more about the Dragon lady.

 

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A travel writer comes to a secluded island, searching for his next great story. Blessed Island is at the center of many rumors. There might be a lost Viking burial site, or perhaps a secret fountain of youth. The native orchid, Little Blessed Dragon, is either poisonous or rejuvenating depending on how it’s brewed. Eric Seven has an open mind about all of this, though perhaps he’s become jaded after visiting so many paradises-on-Earth in his career. What he actually finds is the last thing he expected: love at first sight.

Even while entranced by the lovely Merle, Eric knows there is something amiss. This paradise does seem lost, at least to technology. Electronic devices mysteriously lose charge, and there is no electricity to restore them. The residents, led by Tor, are nothing but helpful, and yet they pop up to intervene whenever he tries to research his article. Soon he begins to forget why he came, or that there was ever a life before Blessed Island.

On the brief adventure when he escapes surveillance, Eric stumbles into enigmatic terrain of eyes painted on rocks and the weirdly beautiful orchids. There’s a huge old house, or maybe a church, crumbling away on a headland. Inside it, a massive painting depicts the chaotic ritual sacrifice of a Neolithic king. And then things get bad…

This award-winning fantasy spins a complicated tale of love and destiny. In some parts horror, in some parts angsty YA fantasy, it moves from ancient to modern times, spiraling in a way that draws the story together slowly. The text itself is complicated. There’s no single plot arc, but a series of 7 short stories, each with multiple chapters, which weave together to reveal the mysterious connection between Eric and Merle.

Although the book has been described as horror,  I didn’t find it especially horrifying. The atmosphere is creepy rather than gory, which is appropriate for the YA audience. I did find myself questioning if this is the right audience, though. It takes a patient reader to follow the threads of this story.

The writing is really excellent. Midwinterblood won the 2014 Printz Award. It is a good read if you’re up for a challenge.

 

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