You didn’t have to go.
You didn’t have to go.
I took up the 100 Day Project challenge to improve my skills on a medium that I adored, but didn’t get along with. I just put up my last piece and I know that having spent more than three months exclusively with this medium has helped me get better with it. There is still a lot of room for improvement, as is always the case, but I’ve come a long way and I know it.
And below is the proof.
Practice does make perfect, or gets you closer to it. A lot of people have stood by me through this whole thing, providing support, encouragement, and company as I tried not to lose my mind doing this. Thank you to all of you who helped, all of you who watched. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Now, onwards and forwards!
As I stated at the beginning of this project, watercolors and I were a medium who didn’t get on. I test drove them before starting these 100 days with a little painting copied from the movie poster of Beauty and the Beast. Painting that didn’t hurt too much, so I figured, what’s a hundred more? Shouldn’t be too hard. (I was both right and very very wrong. My achy fingers, sprained neck, and the gray smudges under my eyes can attest to that.)
Anyway, what better way, I wondered, than to conclude my 100 Day Project with a new illustration on the same theme.
I think I was three years old when I first watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and two when I got the hardbound book from Disney World in Orlando. Naturally, I was utterly enchanted. Belle was something of a childhood hero for me in the “Look Ma, she likes books too!” and “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere” ways. (Later, I was called Jasmine and Pocahontas because of the long hair and the brown skin, but as far as Disney princesses go, I started off as Belle.) I was and am a voracious reader and in retrospect, I can probably attribute a part of that to wanting to be like a character I saw in a movie who loved books, was unashamed of her intelligence, and didn’t change herself despite people considering her odd.
Also, that library scene. THAT LIBRARY SCENE.
In addition to Belle herself, this was, in my opinion, one of Alan Menken’s finest scores (granted, that was before I heard his work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The piano arpeggios of the Prologue haunt me even today.
When I saw the live-action movie earlier this year, I went more than a bit insane as I relived the tale as old as time, now with the new stories, angles, plotlines, and details. (Thank you for getting rid of the Stockholm Syndrome thing.) I related to both Belle and the Beast, which is what we’re supposed to do as viewers. I think they took a decent bit of reference from the Broadway musical, where they had Belle and the Beast bond over being outcasts in their respective communities: her for being an oddball and him for being a seven-foot-tall furry monster with horns. Also, Shakespeare. (I’m on the Beast’s side on Romeo and Juliet). Despite the overall movie having some hiccups and moments where it fell flat, I would watch it over and over. Emma Watson was a wonder, Dan Stevens was utterly amazing, and Gaston was frightening in a way his animated counterpart was not. Kevin Kline’s Maurice was the most wonderful thing about the whole movie. Also, Alan Menken and his triumphant music. I was singing ‘Days in the Sun’ and ‘Evermore’ for months after, and examined the movie frame by frame to catch every bit of detail in the production and art direction.
This finale piece was a labor of love and I tried to do it justice to the best of my abilities. With this, I conclude both the series of story windows as well as the 100 Day Project. It has been a whirlwind three months, with its highs and lows. I have spent days and nights on adrenaline rushes or barely conscious, have coped with the exhaustion and exhileration that came with it, and have loved every second. It’s been an experience, and I can’t wait to see what comes my way next.
Before I go, a few details about the piece:
The oldest stories are ones that were never written down until years and years after they began to be told. These were passed down through word of mouth, tales told by hearth fires and homes and tavern corners. Stories are living things. They pass through minds and memories and tongues, and change their shape and meaning based on the storyteller and the values of their world. The Ancient Greek tale of Hades and Persephone is no different.
(Disclaimer: I am not an expert in Greek mythology. I have not read the original texts, only various versions of stories, which are effectively SparkNotes versions of the real thing. I just read a lot.)
In the most popular version – and possibly the most recent – the story is more one of a mother and her daughter. In this, Persephone is known as Kore and is a beautiful goddess of grain and vegetation, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest and one of the Twelve Olympians. Demeter always kept her daughter far away from the other gods, and Kore grew up in Nature, planting seeds and playing in fields. In this, Hades, god of the Underworld, was in love with the young goddess and with permission from Zeus, decided to abduct her because Demeter, being extremely protective of her child would never allow Hades to marry her. Thus, when Persephone was gathering flowers with the Nereids in a field, Hades burst through a cleft in the earth in a great chariot drawn by black horses, grabbed Persephone, and dragged her into the Underworld. Demeter searched all over the earth with Hecate’s torches and without her attentions, the harvests failed and the earth starved. Zeus thus intervened and told Hades to send Persephone back. She came back to the earth, but because she had eaten some pomegranate seeds down in the underworld, she was bound to the place and had to return there for six months every year. Some say Hades tricked her into this. And thus, the seasons were created. During the Spring and Summer, Demeter rejoices with her daughter, and in the Autumn and Winter, Persephone returns to the underworld where she reigns queen with her husband.
Personally, I don’t completely buy this version of the story.
I mean, it makes sense if you’re looking at it strictly as Demeter’s tale and celebrating Spring and the way a mother’s love can literally change the face of the earth and rescue someone from hell, though you can’t really refer to the underworld as hell. That’s more a thing in Christian theology. From my understanding, the underworld had everything ranging from Tartarus to Elysium, so it was pretty much the place to go to for a final resting location after death.
Also, myths tend to be allegorical and this is a pretty decent explanation for how seasons are formed. It wasn’t uncommon for young maidens in Ancient Greek stories to be little more than props and have no agency, so it’s not strange that the story would have an abduction, but I really don’t think Hades, who kept to himself so much that he nearly never visits Olympus and is thus barely referred to as an Olympian, would turn to Zeus for permission. Sure, Zeus was technically Persephone’s father and Hades didn’t really get out enough to understand the concepts of wooing. He’s no Apollo, but it still looks a bit dicey to me.
Then, there are the two titular characters of this.
Let’s look at Hades first. In this version of the story, he is represented as the evil old man who takes the beautiful young virgin by force. Some regard this as a metaphor for a girl moving to womanhood and Hades representing the archetypal male energy that facilitates this. This, in my opinion, is complete bullshit. It also goes against nearly every other story about him. If you’re looking at Olympians who abduct maidens on a regular basis, take a look at Zeus. Even Poseidon was known for his multiple relations outside his marriage to Amphitrite, though she wasn’t even a fraction as vengeful as Hera. Both of them were also known for their anger (Zeus has thunderbolts at his disposal and Poseidon is the god of earthquakes AND the sea; do NOT piss them off.).
Hades, on the other hand, got a bad name with most people because he was king of the underworld. Note that this isn’t to be confused with the god of death – or personification of death – Thanatos (who has good reason to hate humans if you’re looking at Sisyphus as an example). Still, Hades was not a god whom the commonfolk would build temples or make sacrifices to. He represented death to people, but was more concerned with the balance between life and death. The souls of the dead came to him, he judged them, and sent them to their resting places, good or bad. The only time his anger ever sprang forth was whenever someone tried to cheat death after dying, like Sisyphus, or did something really, truly stupid (looking at you, Pirithous). Considering Zeus’s penchant for destruction, Ares’s passion for war, and Poseidon’s storms, Hades seems to be the person who’s often on the receiving end of their shenanigans. Abduction doesn’t really seem his style (I wouldn’t discount it altogether considering the times, but I imagine the circumstances might have been different.). Also, I wonder when he would have left the underworld at all to have been able to glimpse Persephone (who was jealously guarded by her mother and never once visited Olympus), let alone fall in love with her.
And then, there’s Persephone herself.
The older versions of her story describe her very differently from the innocent, virginal child that she is shown as in the popular tale. In these, she is more a young woman than a young girl, which makes sense, considering that she was born of Zeus and Demeter, and I can assume that this took place very shortly after the Titanomachy and before Zeus took Hera to consort to rule as king and queen of Olympus. This effectively means that Persephone is technically older than most of the other children of Zeus, including Athena and Artemis, who are always known as grown women. In these versions of the tale, she finds the Underworld on her own, or is lured, when she goes adventuring. This also makes sense if you consider how Demeter raised her in effective isolation from all the other gods, keeping her among the nymphs and vestal goddesses and raising her as a child even when goddesses much older than her held positions at Olympus. Note that this does not take away from her relationship with her mother. The strength she learned from Demeter gives her the courage to wander away in the first place, as well as the ability to survive in the realm of the dead.
In even older stories, Persephone ventures into the Underworld when she hears the despairing cries of the dead, and Hades stops her from trying to rescue them as it would upset the balance he reigns sovereign over. Not that she doesn’t influence this later on. Fellows like Sisyphus and Orpheus (for Eurydice, not himself) were given free passes on Persephone’s insistence.
If you look at the most ancient layers of myth, Persephone’s name has a different translation altogether. The more common and recent meaning is “She Who Shines in Darkness”, which shows her as a bringer of spring. In the oldest references to her, she is described as both a chthonic and a vegetation goddess, “She Who Destroys The Light”, showing her as a Goddess of Death as well as a Goddess of Vegetation. This equates her with her husband, who like mentioned before, maintained the balance of life and death, and also shows her as something of a partner to her mother, who brings life and the harvests that sustain it.
Either way, this story emphasizes the cycles of life, death, and rebirth, and when it comes to love stories among the gods of Ancient Greece, I like these two the best, though Eros and Psyche have a pretty good story too. Say what you want about Hades, but he had no mistresses or a thousand and one demigod children. (Do not bring up Rick Riordan.) And Persephone, frankly, could be pretty darn terrifying when she wanted to be. I like the idea of her ending up in the Underworld as a result of her own wanderings, effectively stealing Hades’s dog (You named your dog Spot, Hades; are you kidding me?), becoming Queen of the Underworld, and keeping the balance of life and death above and below by working things out with both her husband and her mother.
A few notes:
I was thirteen when I first picked up Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. (Yes, Sorceror, not Philosopher. I had the American version of the first book published by Scholastic, and got the Bloomsbury version for the rest of them.) It’s a bit late by general standards, especially because I had technically had the book since I was eight, and just never read it. I’m glad in retrospect though. By the time I started reading Harry Potter, three books were already out and it was only a matter of months before Goblet of Fire was out. Thus, when I finished The Sorceror’s Stone in one night and started clamoring to know what happened next, there was something for me to read. The rest, as they say, was history.
I was and am a proud member of the Potter generation and was utterly insane about it. This series was a cornerstone of my adolescent years. I pre-ordered the novels whenever they came out and lined up in front of the bookstore in the early morning hours. I watched every movie within the first week. I cried over Sirius Black, over Remus Lupin, and I will never be over Fred Weasley. I quoted in regular conversations and made friends with everyone who got the references. I drew art in my sketchbooks, in the margins of my school textbooks and notebooks. My friends and I used to write fanfiction and had an unofficial (and short-lived) newsletter in our class, sort of like The Daily Prophet. I read nearly every meta theory out there, discussed plotlines and possibilities before and after the series was complete, speculated over ideas of war and racism and cultural divides in the way that they are portrayed in this series and how they reflect in our world.
I waited for years for my Hogwarts letter, which never came.
With the last ten days of this 100 Day Project being based off stories, I couldn’t possibly not make something for this very beloved series.
Oh, and to add before I get to the details about the illustration, according to Pottermore:
1. My Hogwarts house is Gryffindor, where dwell the brave of heart. I’m nearly always sorted into Gryffindor, though it’s often a very close call between that and Ravenclaw. Personally, I’d be happy with either, so I let the Sorting Hat decide.
2. My Patronus is a beagle, which confuses me, but it does well to keep the Dementors away. Also, I believe in Remus Lupin’s sage advice to keep chocolate on oneself as often as possible, if not always.
3. My wand is made of sycamore wood with a unicorn hair core, 14 1/2”, with surprising swishy flexibility. It’s something of a questing wand, always eager for new experiences and turning dull if it is forced to remain stuck in mundane activities. It may even spontaneously combust if it gets too bored. Sounds like me, so it’s rather ideal.
4. My Ilvermorny House is Pukwudgie, which is considered to represent the heart of a witch or wizard, and often favors healers. I don’t know what that says.
(I love doing this so much.)
Anyhoo, a few details about the illustration:
I’ve mentioned my fancy for folklore before, how there is much to be learned about a culture from the old stories they tell. This book pandered directly to that fancy. Seriously, I knew most of the gods who appeared as characters in this as well as their tales, so I could enjoy it all the better.
There have been many books written about America and the immigrant experience and this is another one of them, but seen through a whole new lens. It takes the concepts of immigration, of incarnations, the definition of faith, and how stories technically only ever exist so long as they are told. Stop telling a story, give it time, and it will be forgotten. They will have existed in a time long past, but no more in the present, where there is no one to remember that they are real.
And thus are the gods who came to America.
In the central premise of this, gods and creatures of myth and legend exist because people believe in them. It goes past the human question of whether god is real or if gods are just stories we tell ourselves, and goes to the idea that they exist because they are stories we tell and entities we invoke for luck or blessing or whatever we invoke the gods for. So long as people believe in them and worship them, they exist. Gods can die in the same way that stories can. In this book (and in the current TV series, in which I am only up to episode 7), when people immigrated to America, they brought their gods with them and as the years passed and people changed and acclimated to the world around them, the power of these old gods began to diminish as the prayers to them waned. In their place, new gods have sprung up based on American obsessions, including media, technology, celebrities, etc.
It begins when an ex-convict, Shadow Moon, is released three days early from prison on news that his wife and best friend died in a car crash. Left with nothing in the world, he falls into the service of a Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious smooth-talking conman, who seems to know more than he ever lets on. Shadow and Wednesday travel across America, visiting the latter’s strange colleagues and associates, until Shadow learns that his employer is an incarnation of Odin the All-Father, the Norse god of the gallows, and that he is doing more than just visiting old friends. He is recruiting them for a war, one last stand where the Old Gods will battle the New Gods, and re-establish their place in the hearts of the people who were forgetting them.
The show has taken a bit of a departure from the books and has fleshed out some characters, added new storylines and the like. It has its pros and cons. I like what they’re doing with the prologues for each episode, going into the cutaway scenes that Gaiman inserted in sections of the book. Like the first Vikings who came to America, that amazing scene on the slave ship with Anansi, Anubis and his scales, the forgotten tale of Nunyunnini, and the tale of Essie McGowan and the leprechaun, which extended through a whole episode. Ian McShane is an excellent Mr. Wednesday. Gillian Anderson is a triumph. I wasn’t sure about Mad Sweeney, but he’s growing on me.
However, I am in two minds about Laura Moon. I’m not fond of Ricky Whittle’s Shadow, though in his defense, book Shadow had so much of himself going on in his head that I’m surprised they were able to translate him to screen at all. People swear wayyy too much. I mean, I’m okay with swearing, but after at least five hundred times, it starts to sounds meaningless. Also, that’s not how blood works. That’s really not how blood works.
I recommend this book to everyone and I’m going to keep an eye on the series, see how it goes. I do hope they bring in Samantha Black Crow sometime. She was a delight.
A few fun facts:
This is not one of the most well-written books I’ve ever read. Elizabeth Kostova has issues with voice and character and distinguishing one from the other. Everyone sounds the same, from the barely-eighteen nameless narrator to her father to her father’s old professor, all the way to Vlad Tepes himself. (Yes, that Vlad. We’ll get to that in a bit.) This book is also really long. I mean, really really long, especially for a debut novel.
Still, it’s one of those books I would recommend to anyone who has a love for medieval history, travel across Eastern Europe, towering dusty libraries where you can taste the centuries in the air, and the smell of old, yellowing books.
And vampires. The real ones. The original one, in fact, not the kind that sparkle, watch you as you sleep, and for some godforsaken reason, still go to high school.
I don’t want to go too much into the plot, but it starts with a book. The narrator, who remains unnamed, finds a curious old book in her father’s library marked with an eerie symbol which she recognizes as the Order of the Dragon. Inside it are a bunch of letters addressed to ‘my dear and unfortunate successor’. Discovering these thrusts in between the folds of history, where her father’s secrets and the truth of her disappeared mother rise to the present. When her father vanishes, leaving behind a set of letters revealing his past, the narrator follows the trail, back and forth through time, while evading the evil that dogs her footsteps, the same evil that pursued her parents years ago. And she must find them before it is too late.
Summaries are clearly not my strong suit.
This is a book of historical fiction, and the history part of it is fascinating. Vlad Tepes, or Vlad Drakulya (meaning ‘son of Dracul’ after his father, Vlad Dracul, which was later simplified by Mr. Bram Stoker), was the three times voivode of Wallachia in the 15th Century. (Wallachia is an area in Romania, south of the Carpathians, close to Transylvania, where Stoker’s Count Dracula is from.) The Historian traces his life from the time he was held hostage alongside his brother, Radu, by Mehmed II, ruler of the Ottomans in 1442. From there, we see his invasion of Wallachia after his father and eldest brother were murdered, and his kingdom was taken by John Hunyadi of Hungary. From there, it is purge after plunder after conquest, featuring his famous mass impalements, his defiance of the Ottomans (and breaking of his vassalhood; is that a word?), and his open massacres in Ottoman territory until Târgovişte. This goes on until his death in battle, where the Ottoman’s ordered that his body be cut up and the head be taken to Istanbul to present before Mehmed II.
Now this is where it gets interesting.
After his death, Vlad’s body was taken to Bulgaria by a group of monks, where he was supposedly buried in the Monastery of Snagov, a bit north of Bucharest. Excavations done later have revealed no body, only the bones of dead horses. There are theories that he might be located on the grounds of the Comana Monastery in Romania, but what if he wasn’t? What if his body was never found because there is no body to be found? His head was also gone, but what if it was retrieved, perhaps even put back together with the rest of him? What if Vlad Drakulya lived after his supposed death and walked the earth as something different, something not human?
I suppose that’s what might have run through the mind of Mr. Bram Stoker as he spun the tale of his immortal Count.
A few fun facts: