The Three Princes of Serendip and The Queen of India’s Puzzles

The three Princes of Serendip conclude their adventure in India. From the Peregrinaggio.

When we last saw them, the princes had just defeated the giant hand that had been terrorizing India. In exchange, the Queen of India promised to return the Mirror of Justice to the Emperor Beramo. But one of her counselors objected.

“How can we be sure that the hand won’t come back? And without the mirror, what can we do if it does?”

But the Queen wouldn’t go back on her promise. Luckily, she had another plan.

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The Three Princes of Serendip and the Giant Hand

Another adventure of the Three Princes of Serendip, from the Peregrinaggio.

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When we finished the last post, the three princes of Serendip were staying comfortably as guests of the Emperor Beramo, who much appreciated their company and their conversation. After the brothers saved Beramo from an assassination attempt by one of his own counselors, Beramo decided to ask them to help him with a problem that had vexed him since he began his reign. This is the story he told them:

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The Three Princes of Serendip and the One-eyed Camel

The tale that gave us the word serendipity, and possibly the classic detective story.

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Once upon a time, in the land of Serendip, there ruled a wise and powerful king, Giaffer. He had three sons whom he loved very much, and he wanted to leave them not only his kingdom, but all the knowledge and virtues that the rulers of a great kingdom should have. So he gathered great scholars from all over his realm, each with a different specialty, and set them as tutors to his sons. The king bade each tutor to instruct the princes so well that any expert who encountered them would immediately recognize who their teacher was. And so the tutors did.

Because the princes were all highly intelligent, it took hardly any time for them to become experts in science and language and philosophy and all the other subjects that they studied, and soon they were far more knowledgeable than any other young princes or nobles of the same age and rank. The tutors returned to the king to report on how much progress the princes had made. The king was a bit skeptical that the princes could have gained so much knowledge so quickly, so he decided to test them.

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(Not) Friday Video: Ubasuteyama

In which I (sort of) revive my old Friday Video series…

I found this charming 1925 anime today; I was randomly websurfing while waiting for a long computation to return (it was either websurf or fold the laundry…): Ubasuteyama by Yamamoto Sanae.

A feudal lord considers old people a drain on society, so he has them forcibly shipped off and fed to a giant bird. A farmer, fearing his sixty year old mother will be taken away, takes matters into his own hands.

Ubasuteyama deals with ubasute/oyasute, the probably mythical practice of carrying ones elderly parents (or other relatives) to a remote place, and leaving them there to die. Sumerias Fain (aka Sumerian Otaku), who restored and posted the video that I’m sharing, translates ubasuteyama as:

uba: old woman
sute: get rid of
yama: mountain

So ubasuteyama means something like “abandoning the old woman on the mountain.” I said the farmer would take things into his own hands. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.

The film appears to have a bit of it missing: we learn that the feudal lord hates old people, and some sort of ghost appears in the lord’s room, then disappears. Then we jump straight to the farmer fretting about his mother. I feel as if there ought to be another scene between these two where the lord makes a law or issues an edict about shipping off the elderly. Nor is the ghost ever explained. But these are just nitpicks; it’s a wonderful animation and an entertaining story. Also, the film includes the cutest animated wolf. The horses are darling, too.

Length: 18 minutes, 10 seconds. Make sure that the subtitles are on.

After you’ve seen it, you might want to watch Sumerian Otaku’s commentary, which includes some history of the film and of Yamamoto Sanae (I’ve linked to the video about six-and-a-half minutes in; the first part is just summarizing the story).

Enjoy.

New Article on the #FolkloreThursday Blog: Laughter from Empty Rooms

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The second of my three-part series, Stories my Parents Tell Me, is up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! This piece is called “Laughter from Empty Rooms.” My parents tell me more family stories, this time about haunted houses. But what haunts a house? Ghosts, or fairies?

“How do you know [Uncle Pepito] wasn’t just making things up again?” I said.

Mom thought about it.

“Oh, he could have been, but you know… later, your [grandfather] sent him out to the country, to our great-grandfather’s house in Baao …. At first, Pepito was glad to go, but after a few months, he begged to come back home. He said there were multo [ghosts] in the house. Poltergeists.”

Poltergeists? My dad has a different theory.

You can read “Laughter from Empty Rooms” here.

Enjoy.


Image: Old house, Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines. Photo by Elmer nev valenzuela. Source: Wikimedia

Watching Boris Karloff’s The Veil

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Good evening. Tonight I’m going to tell you another strange and unusual story of the unexplainable which lies behind The Veil.

I’ve been on a bit of a Boris Karloff kick since the beginning of the year, after rewatching Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. So I was pleased to discover The Veil, a supernatural-themed anthology series from 1958, which, unfortunately was never broadcast. Only ten episodes were made (and an additional one acquired from another studio), all with intros and outros by Karloff. Karloff also played a character in all the episodes but one. Counting the “unofficial pilot,” there are twelve episodes total.

The Veil isn’t as strong a show as Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, but it’s not bad at all, and some of the episodes are excellent. Unlike Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, The Veil supposedly presents real-life supernatural episodes, what we might call Forteana. Karloff even sometimes refers to his “research” in his episode commentary, as if he himself had discovered the stories. I don’t believe that these stories are based on real incidents, but many episodes do have that open-ended feel of true-life anecdotes, without the neat tied-together structure of fictional tales.

It’s a pleasure to watch Karloff and several other excellent actors in each story. I recognized a few faces (several from Twilight Zone), and people who are real classic TV or classic film buffs may recognize a few more. If you recognize someone in an episode that I didn’t call out, please do let me know in the comments.

The episodes are short, a perfect snack sized TV break when you need one. They are (at least mostly) in the public domain, and you can find them on YouTube or the Internet Archive. Ten of the episodes are on Amazon’s Prime streaming service. In the mini-reviews below, I link to each episode on YouTube.

Karloff went on to host a more successful series, Thriller, which I plan to watch soon.

And now, shall we step behind The Veil?

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New Article on the #FolkloreThursday Blog: Bars of Flaming Swords

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I have a new series of three articles going up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! The series is called Stories my Parents Tell Me, and the first piece, “Bars of Flaming Swords,” is up now.

If you’ve been reading Multo for a while, the articles may seem familiar: I’ve based them on several posts from my Stories my Parents Tell Me category. I’m excited to be sharing my parents’ stories with the larger #FolkloreThursday audience.

“Mom, what do you know about the aswang?”

My parents never told me much about Filipino folklore when I was growing up. As professionals with advanced degrees, maybe they felt that old folktales and superstitions weren’t the kind of thing to share with their American-born daughters. Or maybe they just never thought about it. It wasn’t until much later that I got curious. So on a sunny Boxing Day morning a few years ago, I decided to ask.

Read “Bars of Flaming Swords” here.


Image: Mt. Isarog at the ricefields of Kinalansan, San Jose, Camarines Sur, Philippines. Photo by Geopoet. Source: Wikimedia

The Flowers of Dorian Gray, Part Three

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Last of a three-part series on flower symbology in The Picture of Dorian Gray.


So far, we’ve looked at flower symbology in Dorian Gray generally (Part One), and with respect to specific flowers (Part Two). It’s true that some of what I’ve pointed out could be happenstance: Wilde clearly liked flower imagery, and he might have been using it merely decoratively, as random details to fill rooms, like the divans that characters constantly fling themselves into (no one ever just sits down in this novel). But here, in Part Three, we’ll look at some interesting parallel structures that Wilde built into the novel, using flower-related imagery. I think it’s a good bet that these parallel constructions are conscious and deliberate.

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The Flowers of Dorian Gray, Part Two

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Second of a three-part series on flower symbology in The Picture of Dorian Gray.


In Part One, we looked generally at the use of flowers in The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this post, we’ll look at the repeated use of a few specific flowers, and try to connect them to flower symbology, both Victorian floriography and the meanings that Wilde himself invests into the flowers. Roses we covered a bit in Part One, but there’s more.

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The Flowers of Dorian Gray, Part One

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First of a three-part series on flower symbology in The Picture of Dorian Gray.


I recently bought Mark Valentine’s anthology, The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray, which is a collection of some of my favorite authors riffing on the themes found in Oscar Wilde’s novel. It had been quite a while since I’d read The Picture of Dorian Gray, so I decided to re-read it before diving into the anthology.

Of course, I noticed (again) all the things in the book that one usually notices: the gay subtext of artist Basil Hallward’s feelings for Dorian, Dorian’s moral decline, the characters’ witty (or precious, depending on your point of view) conversation, Wilde’s little digs at Victorian upper-class society, and what a poser and asshole Lord Henry Wotton is.

About a third of the way in, I ran face-first into this passage. Basil has just learned of Dorian’s engagement to Sibyl Vane, and Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian are having dinner before going to see Sibyl’s performance in Romeo and Juliet. In conversation, Henry says, “When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good, we are not always happy.”

To which Basil responds, what does Henry mean by good?

“Yes,” echoed Dorian, leaning back in his chair and looking at Lord Henry over the heavy clusters of purple-lipped irises that stood in the centre of the table, “what do you mean by good, Harry?”

For some reason, that paragraph stopped me cold. What on earth were those irises doing there? Wilde does spend a lot of time describing settings: the furniture and bric-a-brac in a room, the plants in a garden; but he hadn’t described this particular room at all. Was it important that Dorian had to look over the irises to see Lord Henry?

That sent me back to the beginning of the book, looking for all the flower references. And I realized that there are a LOT of flower references. The Victorians were into floriography, the language of flowers; did Wilde fill the text with symbology that I wasn’t catching?

Probably he did; and probably literary and mythological references that I also missed. But he also built quite a lot of explicit structure into the novel through flowers, as well. I’m sure there’s a dissertation out there somewhere on this, but it was new to me, and so for fun, I thought I’d suss it out, along with some possibly apropos flower symbology.

Warning: plot spoilers abound. I’m assuming that you’ve read Dorian Gray, or at least skimmed the synopsis in Wikipedia.

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