I'm not sure how many people that have reached this blog are actually writers. Though I devote a lot of posts towards the inner workings of the profession as I see them, from tropes to alternative mythologies, I can't be sure who's reading it. There is no survey that has you tell me your profession and I'm not entirely sure who does follow the links more often than not. Still, in my heart, I like to think that there's at least a few of you out there who are writers and appreciate where I'm coming from. And I want you to know I appreciate you too.
Group hug time
Almost every writer I've ever talked to has had a similar problem in their life: feeling accomplished. Even Isaac Asimov, famous as he was, still feared the idea that he could be rejected with his next manuscript. JK Rowling started writing new books under a pseudonym so she could see if she could sell her writing and not just her name. Even the most successful of us feels they stand in a precarious position overlooking a pack of hungry wolves.
As a service to the community (and a little bit of shameless plugging for my books) I feel it necessary to educate the populace about those persecuted souls that happen to be something other than human. For knowledge is power and I like to pretend I'm powerful. Once a week (roughly… yeah I know I’m late), we will address those topics that deal with Alters, and this week we’re covering:
The enemies of Garuda, the Naga is an entity of many forms and functions in Hindu mythology. Though they are often depicted as violent aggressors, the tormentors of all living creatures, they also have been known to serve the gods and bring balance to the Earth. Because of this, Naga, and the snakes they are based on, have a love-hate relationship in many parts of South East Asia, with some villages even worshipping cobras and the deities they represent.
But are they just snakes or is there something more to them? What are the Naga really?
The Naga’s natural form is that of a snake, specifically a cobra, and it spends much of its time in this form. Though the depictions of what that may entail change from one place to another, the typical traits of a serpent are always present. Sometimes, these forms are also known to have multiple heads (up to thousands) or hoods large enough to support the earth on them.
However, the Naga are also known to be capable of changing their shape and may appear human as they please. In these cases, the Naga often interact with people as people indistinguishable from human before presenting their true snake-like nature. One good example of this was Shesha, the Naga supporting the earth upon his head. Originally, he encountered Brahma (one of the great deities of Hinduism) under the guise of a human. Being asked to stabilize the unstable earth, Shesha took his snake form and went beneath the earth before balancing the earth on his many heads.
Naga are, like many Alters, more human appearing than depicted in the stories. From a distance, a Naga may appear to be perfectly normal. Their skin-tones match a wide variety of people from southern Asia, the middle-east and northern Africa.
It is only upon closer inspection that one starts to recognize that the texture of their skin may be very snake-like and that their eyes can be unusual. The typical Naga also has pronounced canines, almost fang-like, which are semi-retractable and only noticeable when the Naga is agitated.
These traits, combined with a renowned talent for flexibility, make the Naga people very snake-like to anyone who would be pressed to describe them in detail. Though, often, their talents and natural beauty trump their intimidating cobra-like traits and many have come to be known as alluring and exotic by those who have come in contact with them.
Naga, like many Hindu deities, have a natural talent to shapeshift. They tend to travel in human forms for a great deal of time but can turn into their natural snake form whenever they please. This ability to shapeshift also allows them to grow new heads, much like a Hydra. However, the number of heads typically depends on the task they have been given to accomplish.
Also, their venom is supposed to be quite powerful, what with their natural connection to Cobras. This has been one of the primary reasons for worship of Garuda, whom is immune to their venom and is said to be able to grant protection against lesser venoms as a result.
They are also considered to be nature spirits in control of rains and rivers. With the protection of the Naga, villages are given rain, fertile soil and protection against drought. However, a wrathful Naga can bring about the same droughts they prevent or, alternatively, severe floods.
Though it is not an unheard of talent within the Alter community, Nagas are not actually shapeshifters. The origins of this myth come due to a skeleton which more closely mimics that of creatures such as cats. Due to a less pronounced clavicle and a much more flexible spine, the Naga people are incredibly flexible and can often become professional contortionists or dancers.
Their venom is also something of an exaggeration. Though Naga saliva is actually somewhat toxic to other people, it is not of the same quality as a Cobra’s venom and for many people will only cause a severe allergic reaction or a similarly severe infection. This is not to be taken lightly, however, as the impacts of such infections can be as bad or worse than the venom of some snakes.
As for their attachment to rain, modern Alter researchers theorize that the Naga dancers were, at one time, much like the rain dancers of the North American continent. Though the effectiveness of these dances is up for question, the memory of this ceremonial act could have carried on to form the basis of the belief that they were nature spirits with power over the elements.
Naga have traditionally been known as the persecutors of all things. They are not inherently evil and can sometimes be very helpful to worshippers and higher gods. But they are also known to be aggressive, violent and capable of holding grudges. Their infamous feud with Garuda, for instance, was said to be caused by the Naga mistreating Garuda and his family.
However, when they are not acting as the aggressive persecutors of people, they have a tendency to be of great help to divine beings. One of the more famous Naga of Buddhism is Mucilinda who protected Buddha from the elements after his enlightenment, shielding him from a torrential downpour with his cobra-like hood. Mucilinda did not receive any reward for this and instead seemed to have been overjoyed to help someone of such enlightenment.
As such, Naga, like the snakes they are associated with, are essentially neutral parties who are viewed not so much as good or evil but rather forces of nature who are best left alone. A Naga at peace is a gentle and protective force, but one filled with wrath will end you like nobody’s business.
Like with many Hindu and Buddhist deities, the depiction of Naga in mythology is fairly balanced and even human-like. They are not aligned to any specific stereotypical form of good or evil and thus they are as people would be. As a result, Alters share a lot of the personality traits of their mythological counterparts. However, a few things have been missed by the mythology due to the more human characteristics of the Naga people.
First, Nagas are prolific dancers. Due to their skeletal structure and stamina, they’re incredibly graceful, flexible and capable of achieving poses that many others could not. As a result, you’ll often find them being professional dancers in forms that require a lot of fluid, nearly inhuman motions.
Second, Nagas are actually somewhat playful with people. Though they are typical people with a wide variety of personality, they all enjoy using their talents to make others uncomfortable or simply amazed. After all, if you could do this:
Years ago, when the eBook market was just beginning to form, there was a problem that everyone faced: what the hell do you charge for digital content? To this day, we still don’t have an absolutely settled price-point and it’s hard for all of us to come to a decision just what our work is worth (especially for independents).
But then along came this strange stigma that made some sense in a way but in truth was a fabrication. According to conventional wisdom; if it’s priced low, it’s a shitty book that wasn’t ready for prime-time. This perception is guided primarily based on the fact that the higher-end authors came onto the market with books that were near or completely full-priced compared to their print companions. In essence, the stigma of the vanity press started to bleed into the image of independently published eBooks.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Obviously, those big names were offering their books at full price and managing to do really well despite competing against each other. The traditional publishers were right: quality material didn’t have to drop below a certain price to get a market shar-
So, let’s get it out of the way, you’ve read the title and you know what this is about. And, more than likely, you disagree with it. Most people do. But let me clarify something right away: I am not saying Bella Swan is good for feminism, I’m saying the series is good for feminism. No role that could accurately be portrayed by Kristen Stewart has the depth necessary to be good for anyone.
I know making that distinction isn’t quite enough since Twilight has been held up by some to be one of the most misogynistic things to have ever been written by a woman. The series itself is the story about one of the weakest women of all time being stalked by a man old enough to be her great, great grandfather. Over the course of the series Bella even goes so far as to try to kill herself in order to see him in her near-death hallucinations. The idea any of this could be good for feminism is enough to make just about anyone scoff - including myself from last week.
But recently Divergent came to theaters and the reviews came in. Many of those reviews were lukewarm, but one brief discussion about the film pointed out something to me that I had not thought about. Despite the fact the movie has had some rough reviews, everyone can see that it is a clear success as its opening weekend was damn impressive. And because movies like that continue to succeed, we're going to continue to see more YA adaptations. And that's where the revelation kicks in.
The fact is: YA adaptations are responsible for the casting of more female protagonists than any other trend in cinematic history. So, despite everything…
(Content Warning: This article contains a great deal of profanity as I'm talking about some very taboo words. This may offend some people since, upon further review, it's more profanity than I usually use. But, seeing as I'm channeling the spirit of George Carlin and I'm making a fucking valid point here, I intend to keep it all, god damn it. And if you have a problem with it, I'm truly fucking sorry for my shit.)
Millennia ago, as we were dragging ourselves from the mud
and learning to communicate what we wanted to each other, rules of how our language works had to form. We, as a people, had to cooperate to define
our world and come to an agreement what those definitions were. We also had to
agree on the weight of words and that agreement became so engrained into us
that we even feel it on a visceral level. People have long tried to figure out
just why we feel that way when certain words arise, but few take time to point
out how stupid that process is.
George Carlin pointed out with one of his most famous bits
the absurdity of this, and that absurdity actually cost him work. Famously, or
infamously, Carlin was actually fired from a gig performing in Las Vegas for
saying the word “shit”. As Carlin later put it, “I got fired in Las Vegas for
saying “shit” in a town where the official game is craps.”
Sometimes the language gets changed and that change is
spurned by a movement within our culture. This is usually in response to some
great injustice or a history of hatred. Normally these movements take years,
decades, sometimes even centuries before they’re finished. It’s a long, arduous
process not to be taken lightly or trivially because it is one of the most
profound changes in our society. For words do have power, but that power is
granted in a unique cultural symbiosis where-in we give them power as we try to
take it away.
A recent movement has started to try to change the rules
for something that even sympathetic voices agree is a somewhat trivial matter
(including me). So I feel like I need to take a page from Carlin’s book now and
try to point out the absurdity of…
For as long as there have been movies, there have been
religious fundamentalists trying to bring an end to them. Since the things
started there’ve been people proclaiming them as the work of devil and some
would argue it’s appropriate Charlie Chaplain shared facial hair with Hitler.
Their general argument over the years has been that having something you can
actually see is going to somehow corrupt the minds of the people seeing it. This
is an understandable position for someone with a third grade education: anyone
who can make still images move is clearly a witch.
Some even claim to be "warlocks"
After a century or so of dealing with angry villagers at
their gates, studios have gotten pretty good at tuning these people out and
just selling the four cardinal sins: sex, drugs, violence and popcorn. The
turning point was probably about the time when literacy rates spiked enough
that everyone could actually read the book rather than just leaving it to one
guy per town. Because anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows it’s 90%
sex, drugs and violence in the first place.
Including massive amounts of incest!
But in recent weeks they’ve gone to new lengths. Just this
last week Frozen was accused of being gay propaganda created by the devil to
convert children into new homosexuals. Aside from the fact that it takes some
stretching to even see how one character might be gay, I have it on good
authority that my girlfriend and her roommate went to see that movie together
and haven’t once made out since. Aside from proving they might be wrong it
could also stand as ground on false advertising if these guys keep it up.
"I was promised hot lesbian action involving ice cubes."
But the real prize winners have to be for the people who
protested Paramount and Fox recently over Noah and Cosmos. You see, Paramount
had the gall to do a version of Noah’s ark that was filmable while Fox went and
tried to teach kids science. But the part that really gets me is that, in both
cases, the nutjobs won. I expect crazy to come out of the fundamentalists, but for
the studios and their affiliates I’ve gotta ask…
The fairly euro-centric fantasy genre has had a pretty good
run, but a lot of people have pointed out, especially in recent years, that it
has started to become stale. Maybe it was the bombardment of at least 12 hours
of Tolkien film (so far). Maybe it was the cheap knockoffs of those movies
which left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
I dare you to try to remember the name to this movie.
Or maybe it’s because we haven’t refreshed the lore in a
As I started with in the last entry, I’m going to continue
touring other regions of the world that aren’t part of the lands involved in
the Crusades and give a small taste of what makes those places interesting
source material too. With our last entry I pointed out a few interesting but
often overlooked ideas from the far east with lore from China and Japan. But
today, I move a little south of there and look into the regions more influenced
by Hinduism. It’s time to take a look at…
I write things and I'm told by some that these things are worth reading. So I'm going to keep writing these things until they're good enough that everyone tells me they're worth reading. Yeah, I'm a little needy.
But feel free to form your opinion by checking out my work at JeremyVarner.com where I'm going to shill my stuff for all it's worth.