Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Beaver

Here's an easy one. Beavers are known the world wide as natures construction workers. They are pretty much the poster-animal for hard word and diligence. Don't understand it? You must not know beavers!

Let's break it down. These little guys are equipped with the latest technology in wood-cutting bucked teeth. They have these spectacular flat tails that appear to have lost a battle with a waffle iron. They industrially clear out the forests of trees and use them to make dams--actual dams--where they also live and raise families. What's so great about living in a dam? How about everything?! There's something just so cool about that! They dam up a river and then live inside of it. Nothing is cooler as far as I am concerned.

In fiction, the beaver is likewise portrayed at the industrial worker. They have made many appearances in cartoons in just about every era of such media. I got to tell you, there is something hilarious about a bunch of beavers wearing hard hats going around yelling out, "Timber!" I have also read old west stories about beavers that were quite amusing and even one where a human fugitive interloped inside a beaver dam much to the little rodent's chagrin.

For me, the grand achievement of beaver-kind was the Nickelodeon cartoon show known as "The Angry Beavers." The show was about two brother beavers named Norbert and Daggett who live with each other in a very stylishly decked-out dam. What was the plot? I have seen all sixty-three episodes and I have yet to really determine what it is. The basic idea is sibling rivalry--Norbert was the cool, beatnik brother that everything good had to happen to, while Daggett was often the fall guy always in his brother's shadow. Everything seemed to come from that general idea, but there was not much of a long-lasting narrative. Nevertheless, the show made the idea of living as beavers seem very cool, and on top of it, it was a remarkably funny cartoon.

The popular stereotype is exactly what I would draw from. I love the ides of the beaver being an industrious species. They are diligent creatures who believe in progress built upon hard work. The hard hats just make them cute. Fiction--in general--is capable of evolution. People can often imagine newer and better ideas that can even create new standards. In this case, I must agree with the old idiom "If it an't broke, don't fix it." I like them just as they have been historically presented, and I really don't have any desire to change it; however, you might be surprised what I can accomplish with a common stereotype. The possibilities are greater than you might imagine.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or I can also be reached by email at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Timber!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Prairie Dog

There are many, many species of rodents out there--far more than I will be able to make blogs about. Not every species will inspire books, cartoons, and movies to make characters of them, and I understand this. But I cannot help but be rather stupefied by how the fascinating prairie dog has been overlooked.

All you must do to enjoy these critters is simply watch their daily habits from afar. They seem to almost mimic the social structure of people, and it is quite fun to observe. Now, I know that most humans don't burrow under the ground to make their homes, but we do--at least--HAVE homes and entryways that others recognize as private property. We live on streets and form communities with very distinct social structures. We even visit each other once in a while for favors or simply to have a chat. The same seems to be true for these eccentric rodents.

You'll notice that these creatures live in a bustling community made up of holes. Visits and chatter are a common thing. Sometimes, one seems to act as constable and dictate either laws or the day's general news of fascination to the masses, and they all listen with grave interest. Of course, they may not be saying anything at all, but what fun it is to imagine that they are!

It was a common thing for wagon travelers to pass by a prairie dog "village" and see them all come out to watch the spectacle as it went by. It was like seeing a rare passing comet that everyone went outdoors just so they could see it. The resulting tableau of the image brings to mind a simple town filled with simple folk who marvel about simple things. We have very similar occurrences in our own human society.

The only notable fiction that I discovered concerning the prairie dogs was a short-lived cartoon called "Little Dogs on the Prairie." It was a Christian show made by the same people responsible for the famed radio drama "Adventures in Odyssey," which I was a fan of at a much younger age. "Little Dogs on the Prairie" only lasted three episodes, but I will attest to it being top-notch entertainment.

The show portrayed the rodents as living in an old west village. Everyone there was simple-minded country folk who would find some light adventure as something new would show up in the village. The hilarious thing that always got me about the show was that the buildings were just fronts (as one might find on a movie set.) Once you pass through the door to one of the rodent's homes, you would find the hole leading down into their actual abode. I thought this was terribly clever.

For myself, I believe that prairie dogs should be portrayed as a social community--if done at all. A lone prairie dog would quite literally be a mistake. Here is a rodent that is all about the social and family structure that we all sometimes take for granted. We can learn from them! It is a shame that they have not been given more chances at fame. Perhaps, I shall have to be the one to do it. Only time will tell.

Thank you for reading this blog. If you enjoyed it, please comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. TTFN!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Chipmunk

Although closely related to their squirrel cousins, the chipmunk is easy to differentiate. For one, the chipmunk's tail is not as showy. That is not to say that the rodent had a failure of a tail--far from it in fact. I always found the chipmunk tail to be cute in its own way. I believe it has something to do with how the stripes on their back flow right into it. Does that seem like a peculiar observation? If it does, you may forget how often I consider things like this--even on a daily basis.

I love rodents, and I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge a North American species that has gotten so much notoriety. Now, I have not written anything of them personally... yet, but you must imagine by now that I have an opinion about them.

Let us first begin with the two Disney characters that have scurried into the hearts of people since 1943: Chip and Dale! What is not to love about these guys? In the olden days, they were just two woodland chipmunks trying to save up food for the winter when someone like Donald Duck would come and just mess everything up for them. This, naturally, gave them the supreme moral authority to get revenge on the duck and enjoy every moment of it in the process. Similar formulas have been accomplished within other franchises, but in this case, everyone almost always sided with Chip and Dale mainly because they felt that Donald Duck deserved the punishment. The hilarity of the duo was how much fun they seemed to have in obtaining their revenge. This showed itself as they would reenact their deed in pantomime followed by a bout of adorable laughter.

Later these two characters would be re-imagined in the show "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" where they would team up with two mice and a housefly to do good deeds around the city. I enjoyed how they expanded much on the personalities of the characters. Chip was cast as the more level headed sleuth, and Dale was the more carefree and silly one of the bunch. This is how it always was for the two, but the personalities came out far more clearly in the new show.

In 1958, we were introduced to the still famous musical group "Alvin and the Chipmunks" when a creative genius by the name of Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. released a song called "Witch Doctor." It was the beginning of a long career for these guys, and it spawned a couple of TV series as well as a lot of films. Now, I'll be honest: I never really thought the lil guys looked anything remotely like chipmunks. This was later remedied with the new movies, and I wholeheartedly saw it as a major improvement to their looks. Regardless of how you saw it, they WERE chipmunks, and they belong in the hall of rodent fame for it.

I'll say it again: I love their cute, little tails. I also like the designer racing stripes that run down their backs. To me, chipmunks seem to be as frisky and playful as their squirrel cousins, but I see them as being a bit more levelheaded from a fictional standpoint. Squirrels have a tendency towards trouble, but chipmunks seem like they will just go about their business unless otherwise molested. They do seem to have the capacity to form into teams and take on anyone who would give them trouble. Don't believe me? Just ask Chip and Dale what they think about it.

If you enjoyed this blog, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Squeak!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Squirrel

Where to begin? Squirrels have been seen so many times in fiction that they have achieved a certain "hall of fame" status. I found it rather difficult to choose what I should and should not talk about in the interest of time, but here is what I have come up with.

No matter what the truth may be about your real-life common squirrel, they have a very stable and organized stereotype that has drawn people's interest since the beginning of time. For one, squirrels are perceived as nature's hard workers. They are often used as an example of diligence. This is due to their affinity for saving up nuts for the winter. They are also known for being rather frisky and energetic. Children often see them as friendly and free creatures who love the sun and enjoy romping about as the children themselves would likely wish to do.

Squirrels have been in our imaginations since even ancient times. The ancient Greek referred to the creature by the name σκίουρος (pronounced ski-ou-ros.) The word literally means "shadow-tailed," and I think that is a clever designation if you consider their very peculiar, curly tails. I have used these designations for squirrels in my own fiction which I will discuss more in depth later in this blog.

One of the earliest works of fiction about squirrels was Arthur Scott Bailey's "The Tale of Frisky Squirrel" (published in 1915.) Much of the free and fun-loving aspects of the creature that we are accustomed to were represented in this book. It also portrayed the squirrel as curious and mischievous to a fault. The book was a well-written children's story that should still be read to this day.

A little closer to the present, there was a rather iconic scene in the Disney movie "The Sword in the Stone," where Arthur and Merlin were transformed into squirrels. They were very well drawn into the creature's minuscule universe and were subjected to various trials that squirrels must overcome on a daily basis. The segment was particularly striking when a female squirrel falls in love with Arthur. I encourage you to see the movie to see how it plays out.

Very recently, we had a squirrel movie come out called, "The Nut Job." I thought the movie was just brilliant and even quite relevant in narrative. It inspired me to make my own squirrel story entitled, "God and the Squirrels."

In my own fiction, I recognize these common tropes as valid points of interest. I enjoy that they are hard-workers and religiously do their best to survive. In my unpublished story "Rat," it actually was a religion. They worshiped an entity called The Great Acorn in which provided them with nuts that they must save diligently in order to survive the forth-coming winter.

In another one of my unpublished stories called "Tooth and Tail," I focused more on their duty and team efforts. I portrayed them as calm, collected, and driven to serve society as a whole. I gave them great heroes which represented the paragon of their society and called them Shadow Tails. I named their country Skiouros, and designed the towns and cities around forest life. I have spent this entire year carefully constructing this country as I wish, and someday, I hope there will be others who will appreciate the imagination that went into it.

Before I bring a close to this blog, I will take a short moment to mention a rather overlooked darker side of squirrels. I originally learned about this oddity while reading a Mouse Guard book. A bit shockingly, squirrels are omnivores. That's right, they do not mind eating meat. In fact, they are known to eat baby mice! I did not believe it at first, but there were several videos online that proved it. It makes you wonder what that squirrel is actually thinking while up in that tree. Nuts? Or maybe... something else. Regardless of the truth, the stereotype of nut-eating herbivores are still the most common perception, and I am fine with joining right in on it.

Thank you for reading this blog! If you liked what you saw, type in a comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Stay squirrely!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Capybara

Behold! The giant among rodent-kind: the mighty capybara! If you happen upon one of these large creatures, you might think they look something similar to a guinea pig, the funny thing is they are about the size of an actual pig. I think that if there is anything to be marveled about this creature it SHOULD be its size.

In my unpublished rodent fantasy "Tooth and Tail," I portrayed the capybaras as huge, lumbering giants with big clubs who were born for war. Somebody had to do it. I mean, if you are going to design a fantasy universe with nothing but rodents, who are you going to pick for that role? This is kind of where good, old-fashioned research worked out for the best in my case.

As much as I love the rodent, there is just so very little fiction written about them. It is a shame because they really look quite awesome. One thing in particular that has always stood out to me was their blunted nose. It just gives them a hard, intense look. I see them and WANT them to be a warrior race!

But if you read up on the critters, they are actually fairly docile. They are herbivores and are more known for being hunted themselves. It is a shame and could be one of the reasons they are not used much in fiction. Can you imagine what a difference in perception people would have if these giant rodents went around killing things?

In my story, I made the actual God of War a capybara named Bellum. I could see how he bonded with the mortal race whom he called his own and would lead them into fits of violence and death. I suppose this is where imagination seems to outclass reality. I liked my version of the creature more than the real animal itself. There is nothing wrong with that!

When you take a feral animal and give it the ability to think and feel as a human, you are already taking it out of the realm of reality. At this point, you have the freedom to take as much or as little as you wish from the encyclopedia as you need in order to make a fun story. I appreciated that the capybara was the world's largest rodent, and so I made them giants with a taste for war. And that aspect of them was really all I truly needed to bring them to life as people.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you like what you have seen here, please comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. TTFN.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"God and the Squirrels" has been published!

"God and the Squirrels" has been published on Smashwords for only $0.99! Robert was a simple insurance salesman who’s life did not really amount to much. He hated his job and spent his days wallowing in self-pity. One day, Robert tried to run a squirrel over with his car in anger, but to God, that was the last straw. The man had to be punished, and by punishment, he would be turned into a squirrel and sent to a cutesy cartoon squirrel village until he would learn his lesson.

This is a "bizarro fiction" which basically means an absurd idea taken as seriously as possible. It is filled with lots of fun and comedy throughout. You can find a link for it below. Also check out the totally awesome cover illustrated by Coy Fields II!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Hamster

Continuing with my spotlight series on rodents, I would like to bring up a species of which I have not yet written about. Hamsters are likely better known as popular pets, but there has been a few notable appearances of them in media. Likely, the most memorable would be "Hamtaro."
In "Hamtaro," a group of adventure-seeking hamsters run around trying to solve various unimportant problems for the sake of fun and friendship. It sounds boring, doesn't it? Well, it almost was, but there was something fairly hypnotic about it which kept me interested for far too many episodes.

I think what may have drawn to me to it was that watching an episode of "Hamtaro" was about as interesting as watching a real hamster explore his castle of a cage. It is not so important that he has a goal, but that he is fascinated by what he is doing regardless of the lack of plot. Besides, who is to say that there is nothing interesting around the next bend? There could be a fresh batch of sunflower seeds for all we know!

In a little-known cartoon series called "Capitol Critters," hamsters were portrayed as glutenous, needy, and even somewhat promiscuous. Without going into too much detail on that latter quality--after all, the show was likely canceled for it--it really gave me my standpoint on how a hamster might be properly portrayed in fiction.

Think about it. Hamsters really are selfish creatures, and much of this comes from how we pamper them. They spend each and every day engorging themselves on whatever food we toss in their cage, and are just as happy to crawl around in the plastic tubes and elaborate castles we provide for them. We go out of our way to keep them happy. They take advantage of us too. They leave pee and pellets all over their wood shavings and naturally expect us to handle the matter without complaint. If a hamster could talk, he would expect to be called His Majesty! They live the life of fat, little kings, and we encourage it.

When I was very young, I had my own pet hamster who I named Fuzzhead after a dog from a Disney movie I liked. Like many people, I built him a castle worthy of a tiny king. There were many tunnels that he enjoyed exploring, but his absolute favorite part was this lookout tower up on the top. It was a long tube that allowed him to get up high above the cage and look out across his kingdom (which was my bedroom.) He spent much of his time up there, and I rather enjoyed his fascination with the lookout tower vicariously.

Then came the day--that terrible day. Fuzzhead was to be my show-and-tell for school. I unhooked all the adventure tubes from the cage but left the tower on. As I carried the cage down the long flight of stairs to my house, something went wrong, and the lookout tower snapped free from the cage and fell down the stairs crashing about for the entire plummet. Poor Fuzzhead... was inside.

I paused in horror for a moment. Finally, I put down the cage and ran down to see if Fuzzhead was okay! I was crying in fear that I had done a terrible thing and had failed His Majesty in my duties to care for him! Fuzzhead was frozen stiff from shock as he lay upon the ground... but he was alive. Sadly, the incident was never fully out of his system, and he never once went back up into his precious lookout tower again. No amount of reinforcement would be enough. No. I had failed him, and he would make me aware of it every day thereafter.

In summary, I see hamsters as representative of glutenous high society or royalty. But they also have an odd fascination for adventure even if they do not really know what the adventure is really about. That is why we love them. They live a simple kingly life in a little cage while the real world moves on around them. Treat them well, and they will provide you with fun and curious imagination.

If you like this blog, please comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Au revoir, Fuzzhead!