Pygmalia: Galatea

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz

Many people suggested the subject of this month’s column, either in the comments here at Pornokitsch, or on Facebook/Twitter, so here we go with this column’s first video game! Or at least, text-based adventure. 

GalateaGalatea (2000)

Galatea, by Emily Short, is an award-winning text-based adventure, or interactive fiction game. Praised for its NPC, the eponymous Galatea, it apparently revolutionized the genre of interactive fiction games due to of the depth and complexity of Galatea’s responses to the player. Not only that, but the game is multilinear, meaning you can take multiple paths to the same endings, having a different experience each time, creating your own story within the framework of the game.  

On its surface, Galatea seems simple enough: you are a famous art critic at a gallery opening, and you discover the statue of Galatea on a pedestal. But Galatea is more than a statue; she is an “animate,” which you may or may not get explained in more detail, while you play the game. The game is then to talk to her, to solicit responses, and respond in turn to have a conversation with this strange creature. Once you start, however, you may find it's more challenging than it might sound...

The first thing Galatea says to you is, “They told me you were coming.” From there, you can speak to her by “asking” about topics. You can “look,” you can “touch” and do other physical actions like “embrace” or “smell” Galatea; you can “tell” her things, and apologize if you annoy her. 

The game is… unsettling. Galatea is wise but naïve, direct but oblique, as confusing to speak to as you might imagine a living, sentient statue would be. She has what appears to be a rich inner life. It is very strange.

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Films of High Adventure: Mad Max 2 AKA The Road Warrior

Mad MaxThe Film: Mad Max 2 AKA The Road Warrior (which is how we Yank philistines will be referring to it) (1981)

Responsibility Roundup: Besides creating, co-writing, and directing all four Mad Max movies, George Miller is also the man behind both the Babe and Happy Feet film franchises. You know, for kids. Co-written by Terry Hayes (the From Hell movie, the novel I Am Pilgrim) and Brian Hannant (uh, something called The Time Guardian?). In addition to Mel “Butt-dog” Gibson, the movie stars Bruce Spence (Dark City; I, Frankenstein), Mike Preston (Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn), Virginia Hey (Farscape), Vernon Wells (Weird Science; Commando), Emil Minty (um, something called Fluteman?), and the Lord Humungus as himself (wait, no, that’s wrong—he’s played by Kjell Nilsson). Soundtrack by Brian May (Mad Max, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and the countless explosions.

Quote: “Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”

Alternate quote: “I’m only here for the gasoline.”

First viewing by Jesse: As an early teen, maybe?

First viewing by Molly: A couple of weeks ago.

Most recent viewing by both: A couple of weeks ago.

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Pygmalia: Watch and Ward by Henry James

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz. I’m woefully under-read in comics specifically, but any and all recommendations are welcome!

This month’s entry is not only our first novel, but our first audience suggestion! Back in January, BenjaminJB mentioned Henry James’ 1871 novel Watch and Ward contained a wife-training element, and boy howdy yes it does. Thanks, BenjaminJB! I think.

Like last month, Watch and Ward doesn’t directly reference the Pygmalion myth… but it is in many ways a flattering, and even romantic treatment of Thomas Day, real-life Pygmalion wannabe, so we’re going with it.

Watch and Ward (published in 1878) - Written by Henry James (later disowned by him)Watch and Ward (1871)

I’ve never read Henry James before, so Watch and Ward served as my introduction to his writing… which is interesting, because apparently James at least partially disowned this novel later in life. It does read like an early novel, and its being written for serialized publication in The Atlantic Monthly makes for a necessarily episodic feel to the action, though not in a particularly good way.

Watch and Ward is the story of Roger Lawrence, a well-to-do dandy who wants nothing more than to marry a nice lady and settle down happily. He settles his affections on a young lady, Miss Morton, even though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him, which she shows by declining his advances on several occasions. Proto-Nice Guy that Roger surely is, he tries one final time, only to depart, humiliated, after she reveals she is engaged to someone way richer (and presumably less soppy) than Roger. Nice guys finish last, am I right, my fellow MRAS? Anyways, after this Roger “would now, he declared, cast his lot with pure reason. He had tried love and faith, but they would none of him.”

It’s important to note that Roger is at this point currently staying in a hotel in town—and before he even goes out to call on Miss Morton, a seedy man in the lobby tries to touch him for one hundred dollars. When Roger declines the man’s desperate pleas, he declares if Roger doesn’t help him, he will “slit his throat.” Roger doesn’t believe the threat, and dismisses the fellow.

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Films of High Adventure: Waterworld

WaterwoldThe Film: Waterworld (1995)

Responsibility Roundup: We usually start this section with the director and writer or writers, but real talk here, we all know there’s only one person to blame for this turkey of the sea, and that’s Kevin Costner. Not only does he “act” in the film, but he reportedly sunk millions of his own money into the film as producer and backseat-directed the whole damn thing. Tempting though it surely is to hold Costner fully accountable, we must nevertheless give credit where credit is due to the rest of the cast and crew—after all, there’s plenty of guilt to spread around.

Kevin Reynolds directed, though he really should have known better after working with Costner on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The script was apparently re-written three dozen times, but final credit went to David Twohy of the Chronicles of Riddick franchise and a dude named Peter Rader whose sole previous credit was a mid-nineties remake of Escape to Witch Mountain. Joss Whedon allegedly did some last minute rewrites, and the movie’s certainly bad enough to make this sound plausible. Supporting roles by Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, and the Super Mario Bros. movie), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, Big Love), a bunch of character actors, a youngish Jack Black, and Tina Majorino (Veronica Mars) as the kid.

Quote: “Nothing’s free in Waterworld.”

Alternate quote: “Well, I'll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy. You know, he’s like a turd that won’t flush.”

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Pygmalia: Vision of Escaflowne

There’s something completely fascinating to me about tales where a person tries to make another, whether from scratch, as in the original Pygmalion myth, or by attempting to permanently re-shape another person’s mind or body. Every aspect of the conceit bewitches and absorbs me—the process by which the metamorphosis occurs (or fails), the fraught relationship between creator and created, the end result of these sorts of experiments. Thus, this year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz. Or email me, emollytanzer [at] I’m woefully underread in comics specifically, but any and all recommendations are welcome!

As January’s column on The Bride featured a storyline that directly referenced the Pygmalion myth, for February I decided to write on something with a much more esoteric relationship to Pygmalion: Vision of Escaflowne, one of the most mid-90s animes ever to come out during the mid-90s. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you, like I, are a veteran of 90s anime, but I’m really not sure how else to describe it… Vision of Escaflowne is a baffling, indescribable thing, and one impossible to meaningfully discuss without revealing major series spoilers. So, you’ve been warned.

Vision of escaflowneVision of Escaflowne (1996)

Vision of Escaflowne gets real weird, but it begins like any other magical girl anime: Kanzaki Hitomi is just your every day high school girl. She has a crush on her senpai, is on the track team, seems to be generally liked by her peers. But Hitomi is special because she can tell accurate fortunes by using Tarot cards, possesses a pendant necklace from her grandmother that has magical powers/can tell accurate time (I dunno), and occasionally (meaning 3x an episode at least for the first half of the series) has prophetic visions.

During a normal everyday track practice, Hitomi, mid-run, has one of said visions, of a young man holding a sword, who appears to her in a pillar of light. This then turns into a different vision of the earth breaking under her feet, her falling, and some winged guy swooping down, angel-like, to save her. Then she awakens in the infirmary—it was just a dream! After a sexually tense interaction with Senpai she does a Tarot reading for them and sees—gasp!—the cards for the Tower, which means separation of lovers (OH NO!! AMANO SENPAI!!) and a dragon. Or serpent, I don’t remember. It looks like a dragon, and dragons are important in Escaflowne. Anyways, this reading inspires her to go back to school with Senpai that night, where she asks him to time her with her magic pendant. If she can run fast enough, he’ll kiss her as a prize.

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Films of High Adventure: Krull

Krull PosterThe Film: Krull (1983)

Responsibility Roundup: Directed by Peters Yates (Bullitt, The Friends of Eddie Coyle). Written by Stanford Sherman, who had previously penned episodes of the Adam West Batman TV series and went on to do, uh, The Ice Pirates. Soundtrack composed by James Horner (Titanic, Aliens, and tons of other Seriously Epic Shit) and performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Sets by (or at least at) Pinewood Studios. Starring Ken Marshall (Lt. Commander Michael Eddington on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Lysette Anthony (Without a Clue), Francesca Annis (Lady Jessica in Lynch’s Dune), David Battley (he plays Ergo the Magnificent, what more do you peasants want?), Alun Armstrong (lots of TV, Braveheart), and Freddie Jones (pretty much everything awesome that ever came out of British cinema or television). Oh, and Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in early bit parts as members of what must be the most respectable bandit posse in the history of fantasy cinema.

Quote: “I came to find a king, and I find a boy instead.”

Alternate quote: “If I really had my wish I'd be sitting on top of a gooseberry pie as big as a mountain. No, that's a bit greedy. I'll settle for one as big as a house. ”

First viewing by Jesse: Before I even knew myself as an autonomous being, I knew Krull. And when I knew Krull, I knew myself. When I was really young, is the idea here.

First viewing by Molly: Grad school, when I probably should have been working harder on my M.A.? So like… somewhere between 2007 and 2009?

Most recent viewing by both: A few weeks ago.

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Pygmalia: The Bride (1985)

PygmalionSing, O Muse, of Pygmalion, the sculptor so disgusted with womankind that he chiseled himself a wife from stone! Sing of Aphrodite’s decision to reward this questionable impulse by turning the resulting statue into a real, living girl! But most of all, O Muse, sing of the enduring legacy of Pygmalion, for his misogyny and unreasonable expectations inspired generations of artists to contemplate what it would mean to create an ideal instead of finding one in the real world. (Or just, you know, settling.) 

Many Greek myths have found their way into fiction over the years (uh, millenia), obviously and otherwise. Prometheus’ fire-bringing set aflame the Shelleys’ imaginations, among others; Orpheus and Eurydice are recalled in diverse media ranging from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to the film Moulin Rouge!. Countless texts warn against the sort of hubris that damned Icarus, and Dionysus and his maenads show up in that beloved coming of age novel, The Secret History, to name but a few examples.

The Greek's myths endure because they continue to resonate. While Donna Tartt treats The Bacchae directly, the tale of Dionysus’ razing of Thebes is at its heart about the terrifying power of religious mania, the danger in believing you possess all the answers; it points a finger at the hypocrisy of those who pretend they have no shadow side, and cautions them to beware what they repress. Similarly, who among us has not wished we could retrieve something irretrievable, as Orpheus tried in vain to do? And what isn’t appealing about the noble attempt to bring fire to a dark world? 

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Films of High Adventure: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Welcome… to Films of High Adventure!

Some of you may recall that Jesse Bullington and I used to do these columns pretty frequently on our blogs and Fantasy Magazine, back (as the kids say) in "the day." The idea was that we’d re-watch films that one or both of us saw as youths, and compare our remembered reactions then to our feelings as adults. Some withstood the test of time pretty well—say, Barbarella. Others… not so much. Hey—The Craft? I’m looking at you.

The initial inspiration for the column was me not having seen a lot of iconic genre films from the 70s and 80s, or from the 90s for that matter, as a child. For whatever reason, while I have seen nearly every Disney film, Hitchcock entry, or movie featuring Fred Astaire dancing, I never saw Robocop, Willow, Predator, The Abominable Dr. Phibes… you get the idea. After Jesse showed me Conan the Barbarian when I was perhaps 27, and enjoyed watching my reactions as much as the film, we decided to blog about the experience, with each showing the other unfamiliar films, or settling in for a simultaneous return to childhood. For good or for awesome we’ve slogged through many a turkey (Dungeons Ampersand Dragons, anyone?) and many a surprising delight. Like, uh… Vampire Hunter D. I… guess.

Anyways, after a several-year hiatus, Jesse and I are back in the saddle, for realsies this time. We’ll be here at Pornokitch once a month, talking smack and offering up praise when either (or both) are warranted.

Don’t call it a comeback. We’ve been here for years!

Bill and TedBill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Responsibility Roundup: Directed by the most triumphant Stephen Herek (Critters, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead). Written by Ed Solomon and Christ Matheson, who also co-wrote Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the animated Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures, and Mom and Dad Save the World. While Solomon later worked on blockbusters like Men in Black and Charlie’s Angels, Matheson’s solo career peaked with 1994’s A Goofy Movie, though word on the backlot is he’s writing a made-for-TV reboot of The Greatest American Hero. The supporting cast is a who’s-who of who’s-that character actors, including Amy Stock-Poynton (Summer School), Bernie Casey (In the Mouth of Madness), Dan Shor (TRON), Terry Camilleri (The Cars That Ate Paris), Hal Landon Jr. (Eraserhead, The Artist), and Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s as Noah’s wife. Hauntingly sincere performances by leads Keanu Reeves (pretty much everything) and Alex Winter (pretty much nothing), and, of course, George Carlin (duh).

Quote: “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”

Alternate quote: “It seems to me the only thing you've learned is that Caesar is a ‘salad dressing dude.’”

Alternate alternate quote: “Gentlemen [puts on sunglasses]... we're history”

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Completing Dahl: Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety

Here we are, at the end of December. This will be the final installation of my Roald Dahl series, as I have completed my mission. I’ve now read everything he wrote (that can be found—never got a hit on his play). It’s hard for me to believe it’s been a year since I first wrote about “The Sword,” and “Smoked Cheese,” but there it is. Before I wrap things up with Roald Dahl’s Guide To Railway Safety, however, I think it would be a good thing to look over the past year and take stock. There have been ups… and there have been downs. But it’s been a thrilling ride. 

I’d read quite a lot of Dahl’s writing before this year, of course—but delving into his more obscure titles has given me so much of a deeper sense of him as a writer. His more obscure short stories gave me insight into his weirder, more experimental side. Going Solo showed me how Dahl wrote about himself as a man, not a boy—and how many more of his stories than I realized were drawn from his life experiences. His flying stories made me aware of just how much he loved flying, his cookbook how much he loved food—not just chocolate, which he is naturally most famous for adoring.

GuideDuring the last year, I’ve seen Dahl at his worst (...gremlins...), but I’m happy to say that over the course of this project, I’ve also seen him at his best. To that end, let me say I’m ever so thankful that I decided to save Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety for last, instead of Two Fables. Two Fables… well, I made my opinions clear last month. I have no mixed feelings about the Guide

Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety

Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety (1991) is a slender booklet, and the inside front cover tells us that “British Railways Board asked Roald Dahl to write the text of this book, and Quentin Blake to illustrate it, to help young people enjoy using the railways safely.” It was published by the British Railways Board. But the Guide… it is so much more than a booklet to help young people not get run over by trains. Yes, it contains advice such as “NEVER NEVER NEVER STICK YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE WINDOW OF A MOVING TRAIN” and “NEVER GO ONTO A RAILWAY LINE. NEVER NEVER NEVER” with appropriately gruesome illustrations by Quentin Blake. But more excitingly to me, it begins with a series of philosophical musings on the nature of writing, reading, and travel.

“I have a VERY DIFFICULT job here,” the Guide begins.

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Completing Dahl: Two Fables

This year I’ve been blogging once a month here at Pornokitsch about trying to read everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. I’m closing in on the end! Just a few more odds and ends to go.

The usual full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote, save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.


Two FablesTwo Fables (1986) 

It’s difficult for me to believe I’m almost done with this project! It’s been really rewarding overall, even if I did go through a pretty dire stretch over the summer. Gremlins. The word still makes me shudder. Regardless, this time next month I’ll be dutifully typing up a response to, ahem, Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety, the final book of his I have yet to read. And maybe reviewing the film based on Beware of the Dog. Crazy!

So... Two Fables. I managed to nab a water damaged 1st edition of this 1986 release for only three American dollars, totally worth it for the slender volume (64 pages). It contains, as you might imagine, two fables, both original to Dahl, and published together as a limited edition in honor of his 70th birthday. It also contains illustrations by Graham Dean, who is still alive and painting. Dean’s watercolors are beautiful and unsettling in full color - in black and white, as they’re reproduced in Two Fables, they reminded me strongly of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. They suit the fables very well. I don’t mean to imply that Two Fables is scary - just bleak, and pared down, like Alvin Schwartz’s retellings. They’re also among the most misanthropic stories of his, I now feel qualified to say. One is all about rape; the other, how becoming pretty makes you awful. Fun times!

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