Friday, 12 September 2014

Creature Feature: Joyboy


In this column I talk about some of the more unusual fantasy creatures and/or creatures it would be cool to see in books.
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While flipping through my copy of The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were by Michael Page and Robert Ingpen, looking for a creature for today’s article, I stumbled upon this listing for Joyboy:

“The West Indian character who personifies the human need to dance, sing, and jubilate.” (p. 26)  He travelled to the Caribbean with West African slaves and has been cited as a source of inspiration by some jazz musicians. 

While he’s more of a god or a muse than a creature, it got me thinking that pantheons in the past used to be huge and often had a character whose job it was to inspire joy, revelry and - in cases of excess - chaos.  Probably the best known is Dionysus/Bacchus, the Greek/Roman god of grapes, wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre.

According to wikipedia Dionysus’ “wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful.” 

It seems like most fantasy books focus on the more modern, stern, repressive gods.  And even books that deal with Greek mythology don’t generally show the benefits or joys of following a god dedicated to letting things go.  The closest gods I can think of that do get used a fair bit are trickster gods, who, while having some similar attributes, aren’t quite the same thing. 

It would be cool to see a character like Joyboy used in a novel, a god that inspires dance and music - perhaps to excess, like the dancing mania that struck people in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries.  “It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children, who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion.” (source)  

But even just acknowledging that people need relaxation of some sort, joy, expressed in the form of a god, even excess in revelry, would be a nice addition to fantasy pantheons of the future.

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