Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Little Skinny Planet

I've posted quite a bit recently about an unfinished story I wrote in 1997 about William Alizio. An excerpt is posted in "Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name." It was a deliberately silly story, deliberately badly written, and not consciously intended to mean anything. Attempts at nonsense and randomness are, of course, openings for material to come in from elsewhere.

The excerpt I posted ended with Alizio being taken away in Tim and Patrick's spaceship. Here's what comes next:

"What is your planet called?" asked William Alizio after they had been in space for several hours.

"Its name is Vilum-el-Prika-Vlein," said Patrick.

"What language is that?" asked William Alizio. "And what does it mean?"

"It is Znorg-el-Bop," said Patrick, "and it means Little Skinny Planet. We usually call it the Little Skinny Planet, because nobody speaks Znorg-el-Bop anymore."

"Oh? What do you speak now?"


"English?" said William Alizio, a little surprised. "Why English?"

"It's a long story," said Patrick.

"Oh. Well, how did your planet get its name? Is it little and skinny?"

"Of course not!" said Patrick in disgust. "How could a planet be skinny?"

"I don't know," admitted William Alizio.

"When Bop the Great discovered our planet," said Partick, "he noticed that all the animals on it were little and skinny, so he said, 'Fi-el-krumi prika-vlein bister yorg."

"What does that mean?"

"It means 'all the animals are little and skinny.'"

"Why are all the animals little and skinny?" asked William Alizio.

"They aren't. Bop the Great just happened to land in someone's giraffe sty."

"Giraffes are little on your planet?" said William Alizio. "And you keep them in sties?"

"Bop the Great just thought they were little. He was a giant."

Little Skinny Planet was not a name I coined for this story. I used to talk about the Little Skinny Planet when I was a toddler. I have no memory of this, but I know it from the journal entries I used to dictate to my mother before I was able to write. This was a name comparable to "Black Africa" -- not a description of the place itself, but a reference to its inhabitants. It was where I imagined the Little Skinnies must come from.

Rereading this now, remembering that prika-vlein apparently means "little and skinny," and that the planet got this name on account of giraffes which were raised as livestock, I made a connection I hadn't before.

In my May 2021 post "On the threshold of a dream," I described my experience of a dream taking form. A spiral of fiery letters in "para-color" slowly transforming into blobs and then . . .

Then, with an abruptness that startled me, everything snapped into focus just like that, as if someone had flipped a switch. The vague blobs of "color" immediately transformed into a "photorealistic" scene. (Not the sort of thing that could be captured in a photo, of course. I refer to the level of clarity, detail, and definition.) I saw rolling farmland in what I felt was perhaps Ohio or Kentucky, a couple of small houses with white aluminum siding, and in the distance what were unmistakably two giraffes picking their way across the fields on their spindle legs. Actually, the giraffes looked somewhat less real than the surrounding countryside, as if they might have been some sort of holographic projection. They were just-perceptibly shimmering, and the ratio of para-color to ordinary spectral color was higher than in the surrounding scene.

Farmland with giraffes -- notably skinny giraffes with "spindle legs." And why are they described as "picking their way across the fields"? I remember that when I wrote this, it felt like "pricking on the plain" -- from the famous opening line of Spenser's Faerie Queene -- was the perfect way of describing the giraffes' movements, but I didn't know why. Spenser is referring to the knight pricking his horse with his spurs, which makes no sense when applied to riderless giraffes. I therefore went with the nearest somewhat semantically defensible phonetic approximation of the word I wanted, and pricking on the plain became picking their way. Now, though, it seems likely that some dim memory of prika-vlein in connection with skinny giraffes on a farm may have suggested those words to me.

The other thing about the giraffes in the dream is that they were "shimmering" with impossible colors.

Yesterday, as documented in "Blue Boat Home," I discovered the song "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men.

I heard it in a restaurant and didn't actually watch the music video until after posting. The beginning syncs with Swiss Family Manhattan, as we see an "airship" crash in a giant tree after being attacked by Ziz in the form of a black two-headed bird of prey -- symbol of the Holy Roman Empire. (The Swiss family crashes their airship on the Empire State Building, which they believe is a giant tree.) The synchronized insect-like way the men in the video move their spindly legs has a creepy "uncanny valley" effect that reminded me very much of trooping fairies or Little Skinnies. The floating fairy-like creature that accompanies and protects the Little Skinnies reminded me of Tim the Enchanter with the way she keeps zapping things and making them explode.

After she has zapped Ziz, Behemoth, and Leviathan, a final gigantic creature appears which she does not zap. It is full of shimmering colors and presented in such a way as to suggest that -- although I first thought of it as "Humbaba" -- it is meant to represent God:

Its rams' horns were another link to Tim the Enchanter, but its gigantic size and many eyes made me think of something else:

That's a screenshot from the Keanu Reeves film 47 Ronin, from my April 27, 2014, post "A beast with many eyes." I compared it to a qilin (a creature from Chinese myth) in the post. The night before seeing it on TV, I had dreamed of a whale "blue in color, with a row of eyes on the left and a row of eyes on the right — perhaps eight eyes in all. It also had feelers on the sides of its mouth like a catfish." The qilin-type beast "aside from the fur, horns, and nostrils, [looked] exactly like the many-eyed 'whale' I saw in my dream." Later, in 2022, I found that I posted my many-eyed whale dream on the 430th anniversary of Dee and Kelley's many-eyed whale vision.

The beast from "Little Talks" doesn't suggest a whale at all, but I think it does suggest the qilin-creature from 47 Ronin. Here's a traditional Chinese depiction of a qilin; the link with the 47 Ronin beast is indisputable:

The Humbaba creature at the end of the "Little Talks" video has shimmering colors like the farmyard giraffes in my dream (in a video that also features Little Skinnies, remember) -- but surely none of these fantastic creatures bears the slightest resemblance to a giraffe, right? Here's Wikipedia:

The legendary image of the qilin became associated with the image of the giraffe in the Ming dynasty. The identification of the qilin with giraffes began after Zheng He's 15th-century voyage to East Africa (landing, among other places, in modern-day Somalia). The Ming Dynasty bought giraffes from the Somali merchants along with zebras, incense, and various other exotic animals. Zheng He's fleet brought back two giraffes to Nanjing and they were mistaken by the emperor for the mythical creature, with geri meaning giraffe in Somali. The identification of qilin with giraffes has had a lasting influence: even today, the same word is used for the mythical animal and the giraffe in both Korean and Japanese.

Axel Schuessler reconstructs Old Chinese pronunciation of 麒麟 as *gərin. Finnish linguist Juha Janhunen tentatively compares *gərin to an etymon reconstructed as *kalimV, denoting "whale"; and represented in the language isolate Nivkh and four different language families Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic and Samoyedic, wherein *kalay(ә)ng means "whale" (in Nenets) and *kalVyǝ "mammoth" (in Enets and Nganasan). As even aborigines "vaguely familiar with the underlying real animals" often confuse the whale, mammoth, and unicorn: they conceptualized the mammoth and whale as aquatic, as well as the mammoth and unicorn possessing a single horn; for inland populations, the extant whale "remains ... an abstraction, in this respect being no different from the extinct mammoth or the truly mythical unicorn."

So the qilin is linked not only to the giraffe but to the whale as well! Keep in mind that my 2014 dream whale, like the qilin, "had feelers on the sides of its mouth like a catfish." A whale with such accoutrements was a novel idea to me at the time, but here it is in the 1997 William Alizio story:

"Are those ducks out there?" asked Jessica Nolin.

"I don't know," said William Alizio. "I never could tell ducks from geese."

"I think they're ducks," said Jessica Nolin.

"Yes," said William Alizio. "They must be ducks."

There was a loud, disgusting slurping sound, and the ducks (or geese) disappeared in a little whirlpool which appeared out of nowhere. Then the whirlpool went away and an enormous fish, golden-brown in color, broke the surface of the lake and dove back under the water. . . . William Alizio could see its bulging eyes staring up at them. Its enormous sucker-like mouth, flanked by fleshy feelers, was gaping open.

I think I conceptualized this at the time of writing as a gigantic carp, but big fish and whales have been interchangeable since the time of Jonah.

And then, in the sort of scene familiar from the "Little Talks" video, the monster is zapped and explodes. Some intelligent extraterrestrial monkeys, minions of the villain Thomas Hosey, have stolen Tim's laser gun and are trying to shoot Alizio and Nolin:

There was a rapid series of loud splashes behind them. William Alizio glanced back and saw that the lake was full of monkeys. They spotted him and Jessica Nolin almost immediately, and a teal-colored ray whizzed over his head. A tree on the island was reduced to rectangles.

No sooner had William Alizio taken all this in than he heard a horrible slurping sound beneath him. He felt something pulling him down and struggled to stay afloat.

"Do something!" shouted Jessica Nolin. She was slowly sinking towards the fish. Another tree exploded, sprinkling them with rectangles. . . .

A third teal ray flew towards them, hitting the water. For a moment, all William Alizio could see was a cloud of multicolored rectangles. He heard a scream.

When the rectangles had settled, William Alizio and Jessica Nolin were both floating again. The fish was nowhere to be seen.

Go back and watch Time the Enchanter and "Little Talks" again and tell me there's no connection. Tim the Enchanter makes a tree explode for no apparent reason -- and here Tim's laser gun (Patrick's having been destroyed) does the same thing. The fairy in "Little Talks" zaps an enormous sea monster just as it is about to eat one of the Little Skinnies. I first saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail no earlier than 2000, three years after writing the Alizio story, and of course the "Little Talks" video didn't even exist until 2012.

I haven't even begun to figure out what this all means, but it clearly means something.

One more thing: William Wright has hinted several times on his blog that he thinks the sea voyages in the Book of Mormon -- those of Lehites and the Jaredites -- may actually have been space voyages. As anyone at all familiar with the field will know, every theory of Book of Mormon geography begins with postulating the identity of the Narrow Neck of Land. Narrow Neck of Land. Little Skinny Planet. Despite its central importance for would-be BoM geographers, the exact phrase "narrow neck of land" only actually occurs once in the text. Care to guess which chapter?

Yes, it's Ether 10.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

According to Wikipedia, “ The qilin is depicted throughout a wide range of Chinese art, sometimes with parts of their bodies on fire.”

I wonder if Salvador Dali knew this when he did his “burning giraffe” paintings.

William Wright (WW) said...

Interestingly, I just learned that 'stripling' was used to describe young people likely from the combination of strip + ling, meaning a "long, narrow piece". Per Etymonline:

late 14c., a word of uncertain origin, possibly from diminutive -ling + strip (n.) "long, narrow piece" on the notion of one who is "slender as a strip, one whose form or figure is not yet filled out."

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Interesting, since my mental image of a "stripling" is a big muscular dude. That may be associative contamination from the similar-sounding word "strapping" -- or, more likely, the influence of Arnold Friberg and those awful "Stripling Warriors: Mommas Boys" T-shirts. (Do you know those? I can't remember if you've spent any time in Utah or not.)

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Heck, maybe it even comes from subconsciously associated Helaman with He-Man.

Ben Pratt said...

Hahaha I bought one of those Stripling Warriors t-shirts in about 1996, probably at either the old location of Deseret Book or the old Seagull Book, both of which were near the Arizona Temple, now called the Mesa Arizona Temple. I wore it during my high school years and freshman semester at BYU before my mission. Part of what I liked about it was that it very naturally started conversations about the Book Mormon.

Another reason relates to my participation during those years in the Arizona Temple Youth Guides program during its last couple of years. We gave guided tours of the beautiful temple gardens, taught gospel principles via the flora and features and the very unique friezes along the top of the temple itself. We also introduced the Book of Mormon via a calendar stone that had been found in the desert about 40 miles south of there*, and referred over 700 interested visitors a year to the missionaries. One had to be 17 to become a Youth Guide, which involved being interviewed and set apart by one's stake president. However there was sort of a training auxiliary called the Ammonites for interested 16 year olds. The name came from those Lamanites who were converted to the gospel by Ammon and his brethren, and especially their children who were Helaman's stripling warriors. I'm pretty sure I was an Ammonite when I bought the shirt.

* During the recent complete makeover of the Mesa Temple grounds accompanying its renovation, the calendar stone was removed. I did some digging and found that it was given to the Pima Tribe on whose current reservation the stone was originally found. I haven't been to see it yet but I know where they installed it.

Ben Pratt said...

The other reason was the teenage boy fantasy of being very muscular build rather than the stripling I was.

WanderingGondola said...

Ohh! "Little Talks" must have been popular down here because it still gets airplay, and yet I never had a bloody clue of its title or the band's name before these syncs!

Wiki's suggestion that the qilin "is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler" makes me wonder. Further down, the gallery has one picture of a qilin with a "simurgh", a mythical bird sometimes equated with the phoenix, etymologically linked to eagles, and shown in art as large enough to "carry off an elephant or a whale". The phoenix thing is interesting in the context of the Four Holy Beasts.

If you'll allow me to dip into games stuff once again... First, Guild Wars 2's major release last year reintroduced a land inspired by Asian cultures. I've fallen behind with the game's story and so haven't seen the new content for myself, but knowing Cantha from the first Guild Wars, the inclusion of kirin was a safe bet. Their aquatic adaptions are interesting in that what I know of the new Cantha includes a water dragon, and the widespread use of jade mined from a sea transformed into the literal mineral by the magic-infused death wail of an evil man. Adventuring on the crystallised water was one highlight of GW1 back in the day.

Another thing will take a bit more explanation. After my comments here and here, my thoughts went to Warframe. One friendly settlement on its future version of Earth is named Cetus. True to the name, it has a few odd links to whales, notably the home of the village's protector, the Unum; she allows the flesh-walls of her living tower to be harvested for resources, much as whalers do the same with their catches.

One Warframe's story is directly connected with the Unum. The original Gara, the "Glass Warrior", sacrificed herself to destroy a giant sentient machine that sought to attack the Unum's tower. As a playable Warframe, Gara's special abilities are all glass/crystal-themed -- reflect, shatter, crystallise -- and she happens to have been the 34th regular frame released. (This is the alternate appearance I'm using for her in the screenshots in the following paragraph.)

Combining the whale/fish and glass themes, a number of statues called the Thousand-Year Fish are hidden throughout the Plains of Eidolon area accessible from Cetus. The glass statues resemble a fish species called the Tralok, which has multiple sets of eyes. Finding each statue unlocks art and lore for the player to examine; the "transmissions" replicated here tell how Cetus got its name, involving the couple of Er-Phryah, a woman of the earth, and Mer-Sah, a man of the sea who ultimately becomes the thousand-year fish.

They are the Eggmen

In connection with my recent posts about Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planet  novels, both Wandering Gondola and William Wright have drawn...