Boats, Beasts, & Baubles in Books

A is for the Argo, the ship in Greek myth that carried Jason and his crew eastward to Colchis, to Aea, on their quest for the Golden Fleece. When I was a college student taking Greek and Roman mythology, our big course project was a “Herculean Labor” which we could design for ourselves — the professor would approve it as long as it was a way of delving deeply into the subject. I was fascinated by the voyage of the Argonauts, so I decided to study every account of their adventures I could find, and then to write (in the same poetic style and meter as the old mythmakers) a missing part of the tale — to fill in a gap left by all the earlier tale-tellers, if I could find one.

Sure enough, I discovered something intriguing: the accounts I read (most of which were based, I think, on the most thorough one by Apollonius of Rhodes) made mention of a people called the Chalybes — a dark, subterranean race who spent their days in caverns of fire and smoke, hammering and smelting. Apparently the Argo docked on their shores for a brief time, but nowhere could I find more detail than that.

Heh, heh — cavernophile that I am, that seemed the perfect point of entry for me. The challenge was more than just writing a harrowing episode for the brave Greeks. One thing the course had taught me was that the classical myths are all interconnected: a stone tossed into one sends ripples through many others. Certain overarching lines of story and theme emerge. Various defining events in the mythologic history are referenced by and shape the tales.

First, the voyage of the Argo seems to have taken place chronologically after the Calydonian Boar Hunt but before the Trojan War. I wanted that fact to be important in my part of the story. I had to be careful about which characters I used and how I used them. They all had to be present on the voyage; I obviously couldn’t use a character who had already died at that point; and I couldn’t kill off someone who appeared later. (And that was a challenge for me, because I knew I wanted to include a giant monster and lots of mayhem — of course. Why else write something, right?)

I had a whole lot of fun with the project, writing the story itself and a paper explaining what I’d done and the choices I’d made. One of my favorite aspects was that the Calydonian Boar’s severed tusk (carried as a trophy by Meleager) played an important role, and that the Argonauts recovered (rising from out of the blood-stained sea) a helm and armor that later passed into the possession of Achilles. This armor appeared in my tale out of bloody water, acquired through heroism and great violence, tragedy, and loss; it later figures largely in the actual myth of the Trojan War, since it’s the armor that Patroclus “borrows” when he’s masquerading as Achilles, which ultimately leads to much more wrath and tragedy.

Incidentally, I recycled and reworked this idea into a part of something I’ve been working on much more recently. So the morals there are to save everything you write and don’t be afraid to play with ideas — you never know when something will come in handy even years down the road.

The “net beneath the trapeze” was that, if I did make a mistake or introduce an inconsistency, that too would reflect the vast body of classical myth. Many of the myths do contradict one another and the chronology gets a bit muddled at times. (One oft-cited example is how Helen of Troy, if she were born when she was supposed to have been, would have been well into middle-age by the time the Trojan War even began. But then again, I noticed in re-reading Genesis lately that Abraham’s wife Sarah, even in extreme old age, was still in danger of being snatched up by kings who didn’t know she was a married woman; Abraham was still passing her off as his sister . . . . which goes to show, I guess, that a good woman is worth protecting and fighting over at any age . . . right?)

Anyway, here’s the next plea for reader contributions, if there are any takers: A is for Argo. Let’s try going through the alphabet again, and let’s do our best to go in order. For each letter, you can name (from some story you like) a vehicle (ship, spaceship, submarine, car, wagon, scooter, whatever) or an animal of some sort (preferably one that characters ride) . . . or (since we may get stuck) some object from a story, such as a character’s trademark prop, favorite thing, weapon, clue, book, etc. Think we can do this?

Have at it!


31 Responses to “Boats, Beasts, & Baubles in Books”

  1. John Says:

    B is for the Batmobile which raced through the streets of Gotham and the games of my childhood to wage a never ending battle against crime.

  2. Gaetano Says:

    C is for Charybdis- between a rock and a hard place indeed! The Argonauts avoided this problem with the help of Thetis; Odysseus was not so lucky.

  3. Scott Says:

    D is for Dalek, the ultimate evil. It’s the killing machine that wants to destroy everything in its line of fire.

    Although, the new Doctor Who series tries to make us feel sorry for the plunger wielding psychopaths.

  4. Nicholas Says:

    E is for Ethereal Plane, which is–technically–a place, but many mystical characters (Dr. Strange, for instance) use it to get around.

  5. xenorama Says:

    F is for the Fantasticar, and choose your version- the flying bathtub original model or the sleeker jet style. used to get the non-flying members of the Fantastic Four from place to place quickly, at least in NYC.

  6. SwordLily Says:

    G is for GUNDAMS “Gunnery United Nuclear Duetrion Advanced Maneuver System” Showing up in all Japanese mecha shows these awesome robots take kicking butt to whole new level of awesome 🙂

  7. fsdthreshold Says:

    H is for the Harpies, those bird-women of Greek myth, which J.E. Zimmerman describes as “fierce, filthy, winged monsters, with the faces of women, bodies of vultures, and sharp claws. They left a loathsome stench, snatched and defiled the food of their victims, carried away the souls of the dead, served as ministers of divine vengeance, and punished criminals.” (See? “Carried away souls” — that’s how I can get away with including them in this list of vehicles — plus, in “The Star Shard,” a character gets snatched up and carried off by a Harpy.)

    I’ll never forget the Harpy in Peter S. Beagle’s THE LAST UNICORN, a creature that scared the bejabbers out of me as a kid.

  8. I am the 'I' guy Says:

    And I am a little late, so, if Fred (and Nicholas) will forgive:

    E is for NCC 1701 Enterprise, from the original Star Trek series. Nuff said,

  9. Gabe Dybing Says:

    I is for Idun’s golden Apples. It was by eating these that the Norse gods kept themselves young. But in exchange for his life Loki betrayed her and her apples into the power of the giant Thjazi. Everything worked out, however. It was told that Idun was last seen with Loki, Loki accepted Freya’s falcon-cloak, flew to Thjazi’s house, transformed Idun into an acorn, and flew her back to Asaheim. Thjazi, who was chasing after in eagle form, was burned to death in flames that suddenly erupted along the walls of Asgard. Thjazi’s daughter demanded were-gild. She was told she could have a god for a husband, but she must choose him based on the appearance of his feet alone. She hoped to get Balder, the most beautiful of gods, but was stuck with Njord. Oh, well.

    And Odin turned Thjazi’s eyes into stars in the sky.

  10. I am the 'I' guy Says:

    J is for the Jolly Jack. Duh.

  11. I am the 'I' guy Says:

    I am not sure what the K may be for, but I am thinking it stands for ‘kite’ as in “we are so slow in filling out this post we must all be out flying a …”

  12. fsdthreshold Says:

    Okay–K is for Killdeer, the name of Hawkeye’s rifle in The Last of the Mohicans, a part of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. (I said weapons were okay . . . and a rifle transports a bullet, so it’s a vehicle, too!) Anyway, I was really into this story when it appeared on Masterpiece Theatre when I was a kid. I watched it whenever the series would be re-run, every couple years; I read a Classics Comics version; and I tried to read the book, but had some trouble with it at that young age (this was lower elementary school). I read The Deerslayer, though, for a college class–that’s the first book in the series.
    Anyway, what made Killdeer so cool was that it was a longer rifle than anyone else had (and hence, had a much longer range). Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo, the main character of the series), an American scout during the French and Indian Wars, is called “Le Longue Carbine” by the Indian tribes of the region; he’s a really good shot and can hit things from a gazillion miles away.
    In the Masterpiece Theatre production, EVERYONE had British accents: the British, the French, the white-men Americans, the Hurons, the Delaware, the Mohicans. . . .

  13. xenorama Says:

    L is for Laser Sword, from Isaac Asimov’s “Lucky Starr series of novels from the 1950s. guess what it is a predecessor for? hint: it also starts with an “L”…


  14. John Says:

    M is for Moya, the ship–the living ship–in the series Farscape.

  15. John Says:

    Oh, and thank you, xenorama, for not listing the Love Boat for L…. 😉

  16. Gabe Dybing Says:

    N is for Nerfherder, “a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerfherder!”

    “Who’s scruffy-looking!”

  17. xenorama Says:

    O is for Octopus’ Garden, under the sea, where we’d all like to be. since i didn’t do the Love Boat (didn’t even think of it) i’ll do a nautical themed one here.


  18. I am the 'I' guy Says:

    N is NOT for nerfherder. It is for The Nautilus, submarine of Captain Nemo and crew.
    And, in staying with the maritime theme … P is for the Pequod.
    “I alone am escaped, to tell thee …”

  19. Scott Says:

    Q is for the Q-Continuum from Star Trek TNG, DS9, and Voyager. It is the home of the Q. If I remember correctly, it was credited with supplying their powers and allowed them to travel from one place to another.

  20. fsdthreshold Says:

    I was going to say R is for the Rake in “The Star Shard,” but how’s this one?
    R is for the Red October, that awesome submarine in Tom Clancy’s novel. The film (and probably the book, too, assuming that’s where they came from) has some highly memorable lines:

    “Looks like we’ve got a boomer coming out of the barn.”

    “Personally, I’d give us one chance in three.”

    “I told you to speak your mind, Jack, but [expletive]!!!”

  21. Daylily Says:

    Q is also for Queen Susan’s horn. At his hour of great need, Caspian blew the horn, which called Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy out of England and our world and back to Narnia, where they once had been kings and queens. So the horn functioned as a form of transportation!

  22. I am the 'I' guy Says:

    S is for Stormbringer, the sword of Elric.
    I like Fred’s choice of Krasny Oktobre for R, but I would add “Rama”, the enourmous spaceship that coasts into our solar system in two different books from the late great Arthur C. Clarke. I heard a rumor that “Rendevous With Rama” was to be a Summer 2010 movie release, but I think it died on the vine. Too bad.
    And while I am at it, and speaking of swords:
    T is for Telekirion, blade of the Lion of Correllon. But that is just me being selfish.

  23. John Says:

    U is for Untowards, those fabled beasts who’ll guarantee you a wild ride to wherever you’re going.

    or should I say it’s for the Unicorn, the late, lamented ship of Sir Francis Haddock?

  24. mileposter Says:

    T is for Tylwyth Teg, the enormous shell-vessel in which the Quest traveled to the Rock to seek an Arnenvil Stone held by the Sorcerer of the Lake. in Fred’s best book, ‘The Threshold of Twilight.’

  25. I join the chorus Says:

    An ARNENVIL STONE? We took one from Fjogan in Thorak, completing the mission that Cullenstein failed at. To date … oh well, those were “other” stones, in a different time and place …. and though I remember them from the beginning, I have never been granted the pleasure of reading “Threshold” hint hint.

  26. John Says:

    For the lack of anything better, V is for the USS Voyager from the Star Trekseries of the same name.

  27. Scott Says:

    You may have to set your Wayback Machine for this one… W is for the Wayback Machine from the Mr Peabody & Sherman cartoons.

  28. fsdthreshold Says:

    I was going to say that W was for Windwagons, those mythical (? I think?) ships of the American prairies: great wagons with sails attached. Such were a definite inspiration for the Thunder Rake in “The Star Shard.” But Scott beat me to it with the Wayback Machine, so that’s cool. 🙂

    If we’re on X, I suppose I have to say X-wing fighters. Remember what it was like back in 1977?–it seems only yesterday, but my student today who gave an earnest speech in class about the Star Wars series hadn’t even been born yet. Remember your first glimpse of X-wings, which were not like any other sf fighter ships you’d ever seen?

    “Look at the SIZE of that thing!”
    “Cut the chatter, Red Two.”

  29. xenorama Says:

    Y is for Yellow Submarine- that takes the Beatles on a magical mystery journey to Pepperland, to save it (and us) from the dire Blue Meanies!

    “once upon a time… or maybe twice…”


  30. fsdthreshold Says:

    By the way, a brief explanation is in order. Arnenvil Stones exist in two separate frames of subcreation. Honestly, I can’t remember which ones came first! I think it was the ones for my D&D campaign–yes, I’m pretty sure those predated The Threshold of Twilight. In our Verralton campaign, they were 12 stones created by the gnomes of Arnenvil, each having a discrete magical power. They were scattered and lost, and we had endless hours of fun questing after them. In Threshold there are 3 of them, and they must be sought out and brought together to reunite the sundered halves of the Man so that he may stand against the Huntsman and save the world.

    I’ve always been a recycler of ideas. The character of Ithamar Memnon exists in the Verralton campaign, in Threshold, AND in The Fires of the Deep!

  31. I join the chorus Says:

    I am thrilled the Stones found their way (in some form and fashion) into another realm. I always liked Ithamar Memnon, too, though it was usually unpopular among our group to “waste” hours at a Council of Wizards meeting (only Fred, Steve T and I enjoyed ‘rhetoric’ meetings).
    As far as recycling goes … why not? Good ideas deserve being brought to light, which is why I lifted the name of Swithin Hundredwind for the elvish paladin in my own campaign (1997-2003).
    Ahh, Verralton lives on …
    As Peter S. Beagle said about Toliken (and I paraphrase): “let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.”
    That is damn right.

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