Thursday, January 01, 2015

Quoth the raven

Ravens, which are essentially a big black type (really several types) of crow, are among the coolest of birds. I thought I'd top-ten them, not discerning between real and fictional:

10.  Grip

I never read Dicken's Barnaby Rudge. Honestly, for the most part, Dickens bores me (A Christmas Carol, the first hundred pages of Oliver Twist and Hard Times being exceptions). In any event, Barnaby's companion is a raven, and some lines "What was that – him tapping at the door?" and "'Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter" are going to make you think of Poe's raven. No surprise. Poe reviewed the book and thought the raven should have been more prophetic (I read all this online; but, I thought it was deserving of mention). Obviously, it led to his own great poem. You might think that the inspiration for Poe would rank higher, but it was not one of Dickens' greatest works and has fallen off the radar of all but the most die hard Dickens' fans.

9. Bran

Bran was really the name of several characters or heroes in Welsh and other Celtic mythology, particularly The Mabinogion, in which Bran the Blessed is an important character, was one of my favorite if confusing collections of myths. Bran means raven in their language (or maybe crow or jackdaw, but I'm including it). Also confusing, raven is apparently the meaning of the Celtic sun god, Lugh. I wouldn't know, as some ravens know far more English than I know Celtic. As with American Indian myths, lots of stories fall into this category, but most famous is that after Bran sacrificed himself, his head continued to talk for years. It was finally buried facing France. King Arthur dug it up. Get a book if you want to know more.

8. Charlie the Raven on The Munsters

One of the Munsters' pets (not to be confused with the Addams Family's vulture), it was voiced by the greatest of all voice actors, Mel Blanc, and occasionally an actor named Bob Hastings (roles on McHale's Navy and All in the Family). Charlie lived in their cuckoo clock and would say "Nevermore" and other things, making wisecracking remarks ("3 o'clock and all is still rotten"). He was apparently referred to as Charlie only once, but good enough.

7. Roac son of Carc

The name of an ancient talking raven associated with the dwarves who lived among other ravens in Ravenhill on a peak on The Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. They are long lived like many Tolkien creations. He played a small role in the book, letting the dwarves know when the dragon was killed and communicating between them with each other before The Battle of the Five Armies.

6. Tower Ravens

Ravens have long been associated with the London Tower. It's not clear to me how far it goes back as I've read the first reference in writing we have to them was in the mid-19th century. Whenever the tradition started, the legend is that the British Empire will not fall until the last raven leaves the tower. Unfortunately, that already happened shortly before the Empire fell after WWII and the ones they have now were a replacement made shortly after the war. I've seen the ravens there myself and they are fun to look at, whatever the history.

5. Raven from Noah's Ark (Genesis):

 "And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth."

4. Huginn and Muninn

It would be wrong to rank one of these mythological birds ahead of the other, so I doubled them up. They were the companions of the chief Norse god, Odin, whose shoulders they perched on,  giving him the name (big surprise) The Raven God. Huginn is thought and Muninn is mind or memory in Old Norse. Odin would worry that they would not return from their daily flights from which they brought him information about the world. In one source, he had given them the gift of speech.

3. The Raven in American Indian and Siberian mythology

Raven is featured in the mythology of the tribes of the pacific northwest. Probably other than coyote, the most important animal-god/totem figure in N. American Indian myth and often associated with creation myths. The stories differed tribe to tribe to tribe, but I believe mostly as part of the creation myth and as a trickster. He is, not surprisingly, a feature in Siberian mythology as well and some stories are almost identical. It probably started in the Old World and came across the straights. At least, that is the easy guess.

2. Jimmy the Raven aka Jimmy the Crow

At one time a movie star, IMDB lists 18 featured films for this odd bird. His first movie role as was the crow that landed on the Scarecrow. He also played Uncle Billy's raven in It's a Wonderful Life.  He actually is a raven, but his great talent enabled him to play either bird. Jimmy Stewart said he was the best actor on the staff. After It's a Wonderful Life, Capra put him in every film he made. His last film was made in 1954, Martin and Lewis's 3 Ring Circus. Jimmy's passing was not noted. However, his trainer, Curley Twiford, died in 1956 and he was not heard from again.

1. Poe's The Raven

The greatest of all ravens. It's such a popular and evocative poem that it out almost impossible to make make a raven reference now without evoking it in everyone's mind.

I quote only the first stanza:

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,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more."

Honorable mention: Raven Baxter   

The lead character in the Disney tv show, That's So Raven. Okay, I never saw it, but I know it was a kid's show and that she was psychic. And . . . well, that's all I know.

Still, how can honorable mention hurt.

Did I miss anyone (anybird)? Just in case you are wondering, Heckle and Jeckle were black magpies (which can come in numerous colors), somewhat related, but not ravens.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .