Category Archives: Animals

Book Review: The Littlest Christmas Kitten

christmaskittenA sweet little Christmas story for kids of about age two through six. The story itself is simple and straightforward, and I like that it incorporates the true Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. We most definitely need more kids’ Christmas books that speak of what Christmas is truly all about, or that are centered around Jesus and His love for us, as opposed to the worldly Christmas view that centers around Santa Claus. The only thing I wasn’t overly crazy about were the illustrations. I am a bit picky about illustration style, especially after having read so many children’s books in the past few years (I have a 7-year-old), and the type of artwork in this book simply isn’t a style that I gravitate toward. It is very 2-dimensional and unrealistic, with the use of a very small amount of colors. My son is a fan of all different types of illustration styles, however, and he liked the illustrations in this book, although the story itself was a bit simplistic for him now that he’s at a higher reading level. All in all, The Littlest Christmas Kitten is a great story that I would recommend for any Christian family at Christmas time, or any time during the year!

(I received a free copy of this book from BookCrash in exchange for an honest review).

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Half-Human: Werewolves

werewolf

Lycanthropes is the other name for this shape-shifting half-human – the werewolf. The name itself may give us at least an idea of where this mythical creature first originated. In A.D. 1, Ovid wrote Metamorphoses, in which he told the story of King Lycaeon. The king angered the gods by eating human meat and was duly punished by being turned into a werewolf. Lycaeon, when in his wolf form, could continue his horrid behavior without causing more offense to the gods.

The myths and characteristics of the werewolf have evolved over time, though. In Ovid’s rendition, for example, the phases of the moon had no bearing on the werewolf’s changing form. In fact, many of the earliest known stories of werewolves had nothing to do with the moon at all. Werewolves were able to change shape at will. Some of those early stories spoke of a belt or girdle that, when put on, would transform the wearer’s shape into that of a wolf.

In 1500s Europe (England, France and Germany), several men were executed after being accused of being werewolves. Historical records show that these men were likely serial killers. But this was the 16th century. These were the days of Henry VIII, the days of superstitious beliefs and religious confusion. And when a man was arrested and wouldn’t confess to the crimes he was accused of – crimes his superstitious neighbor may have sworn to seeing him commit – he was many times tortured into a confession instead. It made for records and “proofs” of werewolves’ existence. And it also made the stories of werewolves grow, and people’s belief in them run wild and frenzied.

It so happens that real wolves roved in great numbers over much of Europe during this werewolf2time period. This could be suggestive for any number of reasons. The wolf itself was an active part of the European people’s mindset and consciousness, for one. Real wolf attacks at this time could have had something to do with these so-called “proofs” of the existence of werewolves as well.

So, how do you become a werewolf? That, too, is something that has changed and varied over the years. In her book “Giants, Monsters and Dragons,” Carol Rose says in ancient Greece it was believed one could become a werewolf by eating the meat of a wolf mixed with that of a human. Umm … ick.

Other suggested ways to become a werewolf include being cursed, being conceived under a full moon, sleeping under a full moon, drinking water that has been touched by a wolf, and of course the most well-known method today – that of being bitten by another werewolf.

These half-human creatures are second in popularity only to vampires in today’s speculative fiction, although I can’t say they’re my personal favorite (that’s barring Professor Lupin, of course!).

So what about you? Do you have a favorite half-human?

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,the raven2
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
”Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
”Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
‘Sir,’ said I, ‘or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as ‘Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered ‘Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.’

the raven1Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
‘Doubtless,’ said I, ‘what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking ‘Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
‘Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

(First published by Edgar Allan Poe, January 1845)

Fantastic Beasts … Where DO You Find Them?

fantastic beasts5

 

By now you will have heard plenty of news about J.K. Rowling’s latest project – a movie version of her book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The book itself, written by the fictional Newt Scamander, features more than 80 fantastical beasts and beings. Some of them, such as the pixie, the kelpie, the unicorn, the mer-people and the dragon, are well-known to even the most half-hearted fantasy fans. But there are quite a few exceptions. Here are a few fun ones.

 

  1. Puffskein: A sphere of soft ur that is fond of eating leftovers and even the occasional spider. It emits a humming sound when it isfantastic beasts5 contented. Fred and George Weasley modified the Puffskein to make the Pygmy Puff.
  2. Jobberknoll: A speckled blue bird that never utters a peep until the moment before its death. And in that moment, it utters a long scream which consists of every sound it has ever heard – backward. Its feathers are used in Memory Charms and Truth Serums.
  3. Ashwinder: A thin, gray wisp with glowing red eyes that rises from embers to lay its eggs in a dark corner before it dies. It only lives about an hour.
  4. Bowtruckle: A twig-like creature, about the size of a person’s hand, which serves as the guardian for its home tree (which it looks very similar to!). A peaceful being, but can become violent when its tree is threatened.
  5. Chizpurfle: A crab-like, parasitic creature that is attracted to magic. It often attacks magical objects such as wands and cauldrons. When it can find no magic, it will resort to attacking Muggles’ electrical devices and wires.
  6. Glumbumble: This furry flying insect produces a treacle that induces melancholy, which can be used as an antidote to treat hysteria. It nests in dark places and feeds on nettles.
  7. Streeler: A giant snail which changes colors hourly. Streeler venom is one of the few things that can kill a Horklump.
  8. Diricawl: Muggles think of this plump, flightless bird as the extinct dodo bird. But the wizarding world knows it is not extinct – rather, it can disappear and reappear when needed as an escape method. Thus Muggles have not seen it for many years.

Many of the creatures in Rowling’s book (and upcoming movie) are ones she invented herself, although the classic fairytale beasts emerge here and there as well.  If you could create a magical beast, what would it be?

fantastic beasts2

Nathan Lumbatis

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