Archives For mythology

“It’s the Minotaur vs. Fenris”, I announce as the pair is selected from a name randomizer on the BarryFunEnglish website.

 Students look at their playing cards.
“Agility?” I ask.
“Fenris…a 4,” one student responds.
“Minotaur…a 3,” another student adds.

“Round One to Fenris!” we agree.

This monster smackdown game is taking place in the Hero & Monster English IV elective class. There are 16 students in the class, several of whom who petitioned our department for a class on mythology, monsters, and heroes this year. The class was created in response to their petition. During the first week of school, they wrote the essential questions they will be studying

  • What is the difference between a hero or monster?
  • What criteria do we use to determine who or what is a hero?
  • What criteria do we use to determine who or what is a monster?
  • Created Monsters (serial killers) vs. Monsters created (Boogey man; Monsters, Inc.)
    • Is there a difference? Why or why not?

In order to quickly provide them with a pantheon of mythological monsters, I devised this monster smackdown game where each student was first assigned one mythological monster. The monsters on the list originated in different cultures: Norse, Algonquian, Greek, Roman, Persian.

  • Minotaur
  • Wendigo
  • Scylla
  • Fenris
  • Medusa
  • Kraken
  • Sphinx
  • Charybdis
  • Cyclops
  • Furies
  • Basilisks
  • Sirens
  • The Hydra
  • Cerberus
  • Leviathan
  • Jörmungandr
  • Chimera
  • Manticore

Each student had to research the monster and create a trading card. We used the template on the BigHugeLabs website. The student had to rate the monster on five qualities: agility, appearance, intelligence, strength, and a “special” or “hidden” talent on a scale of 1-5. One the cards were made, I printed them out on on card stock using a business card template (12 on a page). This was the most costly part of the exercise (time & ink). Before we played the smackdown, each student had one minute to “sell” the monster to the rest of the class, an advertisement for the proceeding game, and pass out that trading card to each classmate.

To play the monster smackdown, I placed each monster’s name into a randomizer. I used a virtual dice creator to call out the competitive quality being tested in the smackdown. What I did not tell the students was that they would be battling on a different location. These locations were also randomly selected and included:

  • nuclear power plant
  • frozen pond in a wilderness
  • aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean
  • Wamogo High School’s senior parking lot
  • Drive-in movie theatre
  • Nevada Salt Flats
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Iceberg floating from the North Pole
  • Grand Canyon
  • Little Susie’s closet

Each monster had an opportunity to have his or her monster qualities tested against an adversary; students defended their individual monster’s abilities on different battlegrounds.

“Charybdis would so rule in the Grand Canyon,” yelled Jed, “He’s already a whirlpool!”
“But the Sirens would make him go mad with their singing,” Sam calmly replied, “he would swallow himself up.”
The class voted Sam’s as the better response.

There were contentious battles between Medusa and the Wendigo (malevolent cannibalistic spirit from Algonquian myths) and between the Scylla and the Kraken. My Sphinx was eliminated on round one (apparently being able to riddle is not all that great a monster power).

The winner of the monster smackdown was the Jormangandor, a “midgard” serpent that is so big he encircles the globe and holds onto his own tail.
“The world will end when he lets go of his tail!” proclaimed Eric.
“How can he fight then?” challenged Matt.
“I don’t know,” blustered Aaron, “but either way, he beats your Cerberus!”

The chief complaint about the game were from students who noted that some of their peers had not properly filled out their cards; spelling was not the only issue.
“This Medusa card is wrong. He has two ‘5’s rated -one for intelligence and one for appearance!” said Zach. He turned to confront the card-maker, “Look, if this game is going to work, you need to fill the card out properly.”
I said nothing; peer-to-peer correction is far more enduring than my suggestions.

There are a few changes I would make with regards to the scoring, but several of the students have offered to come up with a more complex system of rating and handicaps. I will also be investigating the Trading Card Creator on the Read,Write,Think website (NCTE) which allows for more detailed information on each subject; we still need to create our hero cards. Overall, the game received enthusiastic support, even from the principal who was found his way to the raucous activity that Friday morning. He left with a set of trading cards of his own.

We will be tackling “movie” monsters next. The list will include Dracula, the Balrog, Frankenstein’s Monster, Harry Potter’s Dementors, Godzilla, and King Kong. In keeping with that medium, students will make 30 second movie trailers using Animoto software. For that challenge, we will hold an Academy Awards of Movie Monsters.

The monster smackdown game provided students a quick review of monsters they encounter in literature, the allusions they need to comprehend complex texts. Already we have encountered the chimera in our reading of Frankenstein, “…because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical, under such circumstances I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented my imagination…” (ch 2).
“What does that mean?” I asked Steve, who had researched the Chimera.
“Changing and adding shapes to make something different? My monster changed shapes,” he replied hesitantly.
“Yes, to make something new and fantastic. Was your monster fantastic?”
“Of course,” he responded, “fantastic like me!”

These mythological monsters are the result of wildly imaginative stories from every culture; they are fanciful, fascinating, and fantastic…apparently, just like my seniors.

David Weisner’s Tuesday is one of the funniest picture books ever. Really. Watch the video. The funniest pictures, ever, hands down.  The few words in this picture book are only for context when an invasion of frogs floating on lily pads invade a small town on a Tuesday night.

I was so happy when I found a copy for $.25 at the New Milford Public Library book sale this summer. I have a well-worn hardcover of my own that I do not want to lose; this paperback will be perfect to share in class. Wiesner’s picture book is ideal to start the 9th grade mythology unit which leads up to students reading Homer’s Odyssey (Fitzgerald translation).

Our 9th grade curriculum centers on the idea that stories make us human, so our freshmen will spend the year studying the elements of stories and archetypes. For example, in each story they read, they will be able to identify the “call to action” and the moment the protagonist or hero “crosses the threshold”. They will recognize the “challenges” for the hero as being a repeated pattern, especially when the hero is confronted with “temptations”. The students will be familiar with the ideas of “redemption” and “atonement” as the hero travels on the journey from the comfort of the known world to the trials of the unknown world. They will develop an appreciation for the wisdom of the hero’s mentor and the importance of the “elixir” that helps the hero succeed.  They will look for these patterns in the stories they will read throughout high school.  They will review myths as traditional stories that are accepted as history which serve to explain a phenomenon. The flying frogs in Tuesday are most certainly a phenomenon.

We want the students to appreciate the “call to adventure” as demonstrated in the lily pads which lift the frogs from their “known” locale, the swamps and ponds outside the town to the “unknown” territories of living rooms. We want students to predict consequences as the  lilypads float the enthusiastic frogs literally “cross the threshold” of many of the homes.

We also want them to enjoy how Wiesner’s frogs cheerfully wave at disbelieving occupants or cavort using the lily pads as F-16s performing barrel rolls in backyard airspace, while other frogs sit comfortably and devise methods for changing channels in order to watch late night TV. We want them to note how all the frogs are “transformed” from their natural swampy state into comical caricatures.

The flight of the frogs is “challenged” by sheets hung on laundry lines or more directly by a slobbering guard dog. The frogs’ inexplicable journey is cut short when the “elixir” that made this incident possible mysteriously ends the spell. The frogs return to their “known” habitat. The mystery of the remaining lily pads scattered on the concrete roads and sidewalks all over town is wonderfully illustrated in the perplexed look on a detective’s face. Weisner uses a Orsen Welles look-alike in a rumpled raincoat who puzzles holding a dripping wet lily pad, a cadre of police officers and bloodhounds behind him ready to track down the invaders.

Tuesday, by David Wiesner (New York: Clarion, 1991)

Tuesday will provide the students an opportunity to “write  the myth” of what made the frogs fly. The student will need to reference the illustrations in the text as evidence in creating their own personal myth about the flying frogs. We are interested in the explanations the students will need to develop for why the lily pads floated so effortlessly from the pond.  How will the detective explain the limp lilypads strewn around the streets and sidewalks? What predictions do they have for the next possible phenomenon? Some early suggestions started in class are:

  • A new species of lilly pads grew legs and carried the frogs all over the town
  • The lily pads are lunar charged when the moon comes up, then when the sun comes up, the power wears off.
  • Lily pads were made radioactive when a battery fell off the space shuttle into their pond

David Wiesner’s picture book Tuesday provides my students an opportunity to identify universal story elements and create their own myths for the phenomenon of the hilarious frog invasion. This year is the year when they will recognize the elements of this story are the elements in all of literature.  Thus, the picture book Tuesday prepares students for the epic poem The Odyssey, where the equally magic flights and fantastic adventures of the hero Odysseus await their explanations.

But before we start out for Ithaca, we had to spend Tuesday with some frogs.