Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Comparison of American Gods and Percy Jackson: Western Adaptions of Ancient Gods

Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan have distinctly different audiences but they do have one area where they create similar worlds: their Americanisation of ancient gods. So when I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for the first time, I found it hard not to compare it to Rick Riordans work.

(As a quick disclaimer, I’ll be referring only to Riordans Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series. I’m aware that Riordan has written about the Egyptian Mythology, but I haven’t read them yet so I can’t include them in this blog post. I’m also using Gaimans ‘preferred text’ so if anything seems unfamiliar, that may be why.)

Rick Riordans ‘Percy Jackson’ series is a young adult book which focuses on adventure whereas Neil Gaimans ‘American Gods’ is more of an adult novel which reads like a road trip. Since Gaiman targets an older audience, it means that he can incorporate some of the more adult myths (such as the Queen of Sheba who becomes a prostitute). The Percy Jackson series does discuss the gods infidelity (we wouldn’t have our demi-gods without it), however it’s not described in any explicit detail.

In Percy Jackson, the children of the gods live in the human world, as they did in the classical myths. The gods still hold their divinity, just translated into modern aspects. So they still live on Olympus and visit the mortal world at will. Whereas in American Gods, the gods live in the human world and have human occupations relevant to their mythology (for example Thoth and Anubis run a funeral parlour). They still have their powers but they’re very weak as the gods have no followers and their powers are largely dependent on faith. Interestingly, in both fictional universes, the underworld still exists as it does in the myths; Hades in Percy Jackson and the Egyptian mythology in American Gods.

In both adaptations, the gods travel to America because of their followings. In American Gods, the gods follow their followers. Once rituals started occurring in America, the gods would move over. Similarly, in Percy Jackson, the gods moved as the West developed. In American Gods, the premise is that gods exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought their gods with them. The power of these gods diminish as peoples belief in them weakens. This allows new gods to appear, reflecting America’s obsessions with concepts such as media, technology and drugs, which become gods in their own right. This is similar to Riordans dichotomy of the Greek and Roman gods, but with a more modern slant.

Arguably, Riordans dichotomy can be pretty confusing at times. The Greek and Roman gods are intrinsically linked and it’s hard to tell if the aspects are supposed to be the same or different people. In American Gods, the depictions are a much clearer. The gods have different names but are still pretty recognisable (especially when their pseudonyms are Low Key. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.)

American Gods features a large range of different religions such as: Egyptian, Norse, Slavic and Germanic. Whereas Percy Jackson is solely devoted to Greek and Roman gods (I will reiterate that Riordan has written a separate series about the Egyptian Gods, I just haven’t read it yet.) The Greek and Roman gods didn’t feature in American Gods, possibly because their followers were a lot less likely to have gone to America. As I mentioned before, Riordan creates new gods based on what people in modern times worship. These include: the Technical Boy (god of computers and the Internet), Media (goddess of television), The Black Hats (Mister World, Mister Town, Mister Wood and Mister Stone) who supposedly exist out of America’s obsession with Black helicopters and the Men in Black and The Intangibles (gods of the modern stock market). The story revolves around the war between the new and old gods, similar to how the Heroes of Olympus series introduces the war between the Greek and Roman gods. The only difference being that Gaimans war is much more contemporary and makes a lot more sense in the modern context.

Both stories construct a brilliant world in which the ancient gods are translated into an American form. Which one you prefer is largely dependent of which style of narration you prefer. Rick Riordan is largely a young adult writer, and his work is targeted at younger audiences. It’s fun to read and focuses on the friendship and the adventure. Gaimans American Gods is a lot darker and focuses more on the underhanded side of the gods and the politics which work between them. Despite their differences, I would recommend both texts if you’re interested in reading about mythology.

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The Muppets Wizard of Oz Film Review

The 2005 Muppets adaption of the Wizard of Oz is pretty much what you’d expect from the Muppets. Our human actress plays Dorothy while the most famous of the Muppets are cast in the other main roles. So Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie play the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. In an odd twist, Toto is played by Pepe the Prawn (because they have similar names?)

Miss Piggy plays all of the witches (who oddly used to be a girl band together…okay). Interestingly the Witch of the West isn’t green (probably because it would be harder to make a new Miss Piggy Muppet out of green material), one of her sidekicks has green skin to make up for it though. Instead the flying monkeys, we have a biker gang of Muppets who are ruled by whoever wears a special hat. I’m not sure where that plot point came from but why not?

The film is pretty predictably, after all they couldn’t deviate that much from their source material. The main difference is that, in the real world, Dorothy wants to audition to tour with the Muppets so instead of wanting to go home, Dorothy’s main motivation is to become a famous singer which she naturally manages to achieve by the end of the film.

At first glance this film is pretty tame. But it did receive a lot of criticism for being far too raunchy for a kid’s film. Take a look at some of the proclaimed infractions:

• Dorothy says the shoes make her feel “sexy”.
• Pepe the Prawns problem (akin to the scarecrow having no brain) is “I’m so gosh darn sexy it hurts.”
• Pepe fiddles with knobs on Gonzos chest. Gonzo then says they’re his nipples and Pepe promptly runs away saying “I feel dirty.”
• There are references to the Girls Gone Wild series, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypse Now, and Kill Bill: Volume 1.
• “What happens in Oz stays in Oz” is mentioned. Which has obvious sleazy connotations with the famous Las Vegas phrase.
• Dorothy goes to the “makeover machine” and comes out in a skimpy dress. In addition, a wolf whistle is heard as she steps out. Unlike the original Wizard of Oz, only Dorothy gets a makeover, which is pretty unfair.
• The poppy fields is represented as a night club. Which is interesting given the connotations of poppies with opium. But not really stuff for a kid’s film.
• The Wizard appears as a seductress when appearing to Gonzo.
• It’s implied that the Glinda Miss Piggy pinched Kermits ass while Dorothy was saying goodbye to the biker gang.

You can make up your own mind as to whether or not the Muppets film went too far in their desire to appeal to an adult audience as well as their children one. I will say that a lot of the more adult jokes went completely over my head when as was a kid, as they were designed to.

I’d recommend this film if you’re a fan of the Muppets franchise, it has a similar formula to their other films and does a pretty good job at working with the Oz mythology. I’ll leave you with the best joke in the film:

The Top Three Prequels to the Wizard of Oz

I’ve always loved the story of the Wizard of Oz. The original film was a constant in my home when I was growing up, so I’m pretty familiar with both the world of the original and the subsequent adaptions. So I thought I’d make a handy guide to my favorite prequels to the Wizard of Oz.

1. Wicked

As far as I’m concerned the musical ‘Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz’ is, hands down, the best adaptation of the Wizard of Oz out there.

The musical is based on a series of novels by Gregory Maguire; Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Amongst Men and Out of Oz. The musical very loosely follows the plot of the first book but a lot of it is adapted to make the characters more likeable. The biggest example of this is the relationship between Elphaba and Fiyero. In the musical, Fiyero has a sort-of relationship with Glinda, so when he falls in love with Elphaba it’s more like the drama you would see in a high school sit com (which admittedly, makes sense in the highschool setting). Whereas, in the book, Fiyero is married with three children, so it’s more of an affair and it’s a bit harder to cheer on him and Elphabas relationship.

The story predominantly deals with the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, the antagonist of the source material, during her time at school. But it also includes the back story of all of the other Oz characters. So we see Nessarose (Elphaba’s younger sister) becoming the Wicked witch of the East. Glinda fulfilling her role as the good witch. The Cowardly Lion appears as a cub who is saved by Elphaba. Fiyero (Elphaba’s boyfriend) becomes the scarecrow. And Boq is turned into the tin man by Nessarose.

Unlike other adaptions of the story, Wicked has a strong focus on the political, social, and ethical issues with Oz. The characters are fully developed and a lot more human than they are in the source material. One of the most feared villain in the fairy-tale world becomes the heroine. The Wicked Witch isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil, she was driven to it after trying to do everything she could to be good but failing, which isn’t a twist you expect when you watch the original film.

The musical does, unfortunately, leave out a lot of the commentary of race which appeared in the novel. For example Fiyero is an Arjikis and as such, he is dark-skinned and tattooed with blue diamonds, which you never see in the musical. In fact, they rarely get the ‘dark skinned’ part right. I’m all for racially-blind casting, but at least give him his diamonds.

Fiyeros character is designed to introduce a whole other culture to the Oz mythology, which is unfortunately ignored in the musical adaption. However, there is the oppression of the munchkin people by the dictator Nessarose (which we see in the original Wicked of Oz) and Elphaba remains a brilliant metaphor for racism and a symbol for how prejudice can harm an individual.

The music of Wicked is also a gorgeous addition to the story and if you get the chance to see the musical, you should definitely take it!

2. Lion of Oz (2000)

The Lion of Oz is a children’s animated film which deal primarily with the backstory of the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard. The film is based on the book “Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage” which was written by Roger S. Baum, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum.

In the opening sequence, the lion lives in a circus where Oscar Diggs (who later becomes the wizard) works. Both the Lion and Oscar were taken to Oz. during a tornado (just like Dorothy, tornados are clearly the only way to get into Oz) after the wizard stupidly decides that a hot air balloon trip with a lion is a brilliant idea. The main antagonist of this film is the Wicked Witch of the East, who claims to have kidnapped Oscar. She explains that she will release him when the lion brings her the “flower of Oz”. It’s essentially the same set up as the original film. The Lion is given a quest by a witch and collects his companions along the way. On his travels, the Lion is sent to a girl named Wimsik (Get it? Because she’s whimsical) who knows all about flowers. Wimsik is an eternally cheerful child with the most ridiculous fake accent you will ever hear. Interestingly, no-one seems to find it weird odd when Wimsik can magically grow flowers or perform magic just by singing. It’s not really much of a surprise when it transpires that Wimsik was the flower all along.

The Lion’s characterisation in this film is pretty odd. He thinks that his bravery is intrinsically linked to the badge Oscar gave him at the start of the film. The Witch of the East steals it during the climax and he supposedly learns that he doesn’t need the medal to be brave. But he then decides to go on a new quest to find his medal and Oscar (who he’s been told arrived at emerald city in his balloon). The film ends with the lion landing on the yellow brick road and coming across Dorothy and co. Because of the Lions new motivation, the film doesn’t really work as a prequel. If we’re to assume that this is immediately followed by the events in Wizard of Oz, then the lion quickly loses track of his goal of finding Oscar, doesn’t recognise his friend when they do meet again and instead asks if the wizard can just give him courage.

Overall, the animation in this film is what you’d expect from something designed solely for children and the storytelling is pretty cheesy. The songs are also painfully cheesy in comparison to Wicked but you can put that down to their production budget and their primary audience. This is probably best exemplified by the first song in which the wizard sings about how he and the lion have the “courage to be friends”.

3. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz the Great and Powerful deals with the back stories of the Wizard and the Witches. Basically, somebody saw Wicked and thought that it was a good idea so appropriated the concept and turned it into a film. I’m not saying that Gregory Maguire has the monopoly on Oz back stories, I’m just saying that he did it a lot better.

Most of the film is spent mimicking the classic Wizard of Oz film. The black and white beginning is interesting but it drags on for far too long. The transition doesn’t have the impact that it did in the first film because it’s not a surprise. Literally everyone was expecting it. It worked so well back in 1939 because the technology was new, now it’s common place and not nearly as special as it was back then.

Like the Lion of Oz, this film mimics the plot of Wizard of Oz. Our hero is given a quest by a witch (that quest being to kill the witch), and collects companions along the way. These companions represent people he knows in real life. Finley the flying monkey represents his assistant from the Circus and the China Doll symbolises the little girl who asked him to help her walk.

The film is set up to trick you into thinking that Evanora is the bad witch (she wears a green dress, what more evidence do you need). There’s also a different character referred to as the ‘Wicked Witch’ which turns out to be their Glinda. I didn’t mind the twist of the wicked witch being Theodora, but I was disappointed that the cause of all of her evil was a boy. Yes, in Wicked Fiyero partly caused Elphaba’s path into wickedness, but that’s only a small part of it. Wicked is more of a political commentary and Elphaba is represented as being the hero whilst the Wizard is the truly wicked one. In Oz the Great and Powerful, Theodora’s heart is broken and she chooses to remain green simply to ‘punish the wizard’. Seems legit.

In this film, the wizard is presented as being a good sympathetic character. But he’s just plain awful. Like Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, the wizard tricks and manipulates women into (presumably) sleeping with him, and yet he’s still our good guy. The Wizards lose morals are far better represented in Wicked, where the Wizards misdeeds begin with him drugging Elphaba’s mother to sleep with him.

Overall, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Oz the Great and Powerful.

So that’s all for now. I was considering doing a post about the prequels to Wizard of Oz, but to be honest all I would be able to talk about is how much those Wheelers creeped me out. Those things were awful.

Let me know what you guys think. Do you love these prequels? Hate them? Were there any that I missed out? Leave me a message to let me know.