Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bird Myths, Pt. 2: African Bird Myths

       When I was writing "The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars," (see the Prologue and first four chapters here), I made Capt. Robbin Nikalishin a birder. What better qualification for the man who will head up the mission that encountered the first intelligent lifeform known to humanity -- and who happened to be big birds? During the mission out, there was a lot of boring downtime and one way the crew entertained itself was by telling bird myths, each crewmember telling tales from his or her own culture. Now, this section will be cut or drastically emended if I ever get that monster ready for publication, but I did too much research and had too much fun writing it to let it all disappear, so what better place to display it than on a blog devoted partially to myth in literature?
       I'm sure there are a lot more African bird myths than these that I discovered in the course of my rather hastily done research, but these are a starter.  I'm keeping all the byplay among the crew in this section.  I think it's rather amusing and instructive about what the crew is like and what people understand about their world in the 28th century.  I think you can see, however, why I'm going to have to cut all this part out of the finished novel (supposing I ever finish it).  It simply does nothing to advance the plot.
       Note: Capt. Asante Kibwana (aka Kibby) is Capt. Nikalishin's Second in Command for the mission; he hails from Niroba in East Afrik.
Hammerhead Stork, in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Emmie Bonnet corralled Jon and Mosey and they headed off to the Galley to fetch hot gumby and muffins for the new arrivals, who were soon gorging themselves.  Then Kibby said, “I really should take the Bridge so Wally and Lea can come down.
       “Not until you give us your tales, Captain,” said Robbie.  “You said they were short.”
“They are; in fact, after this fine tale we’ve just heard, they may seem a bit anticlimactical.  The first isn’t really a story – it’s just a bit of Afriken folklore about a creature called the Lightning Bird.  It’s sometimes equated with the hammerhead stork … ”
“Oh, yeah!” exclaimed Robbie.  “There are all kinds of superstitions about that bird – harming one of them is supposed to bring bad luck and it’s considered an ill omen for it to fly over your house.  It builds these gigantic nests, and sometimes people will see a hammerhead fly in and then another animal, often a snake, comes out, so it’s gotten the reputation of being a shape-shifter, like our friend Garuda.  But in this case it’s only because other creatures often share a hammerhead’s nest.”
“Aw, Captain, you’re stealing my thunder!” said Kibby with a grin.
“Well, if it’s real birds we’re going to talk about, I’m likely to know something!  But I don’t know anything about this Lightning Bird business.”
“A folktale says that lightning is a magical bird that strikes down from the sky.  You can see where that comes from, considering how herons and storks strike down lightning-fast into the water with their beaks.  It’s said the bird only manifests its physical form to women; men see nothing but the lightning flash.  It’s been said to run up a woman’s hoe and scratch her body; certainly lightning might produce a phenomenon resembling that.  The bird is said either to enter the ground at the point of its strike or to leave its egg in the ground.  Its fat is the fuel of a lightning strike and was valued in folk medicine if you can dig it up.  Sometimes a shaman might very well have faked what he or she found at the site of the strike.”  Kibby looked apologetic.  “You understand, nobody in Afrik believes this stuff anymore, or at least nobody but the least educated and most superstitious remnant of the population.”
“Well, nobody in Ind really believes Garuda is out there flying around either,” said Nani, “but the tales are a rich part of our culture.”
“And the Mythmakers said, The closest humans can attain to deity is the symbolism of myth and art,” said Robbie.
Avi Oman added rather gravely, “And they also said, To achieve understanding of the unlike is a divine goal.  Isn’t that what we’re doing today?”
A voice came over the intercom.  Lt. Running had arranged things so the Bridge crew could observe the proceedings.  “Cmdr. Smallguard here,” said Wally.  “Captain, what’s this hammerheaded stork look like that would make people think it was the Lightning Bird?”
Robbie explained that the bird’s crest made its head appear in profile to extend on both sides of its neck, like a hammer.  “If I’d known Capt. Kibwana was going to talk about it, I’d have brought a picture.  I have a bunch of birding vids with me on this mission – you see how my tastes in entertainment run!  I’m daresay there’s a hammerhead in there somewhere.”
Ina Malope spoke up suddenly.  “In my part of Afrik we call them ‘hammerchops.’  It’s not because they chop down – it’s from the language that used to be spoken PDA by the Uropian settlers of Southern Afrik.  ‘Chop’ meant ‘head’ or something.  Isn’t that funny?”
“Um,” said Robbie, thinking that what he had read was ‘hammerkop,’ but he wasn’t certain enough of that to correct the Ensign.  “I tell you what – if I find something in my vids, I’ll display it in here for everybody to see.  Maybe I’ll put up the shoebill stork, too.  That one has a real primitive look.  What’s your second tale, Kibby?” 
 “It’s from a Shona myth … ”  Kibby glanced at Ina, who was looking suddenly distracted; Mark’s hand was slyly groping about beneath the table.  “ … about the Sunbirds, which are probably swallows.  Swallows migrate down to that part of Afrik in the spring, so they are linked with the strengthening of the sun.  The tale goes that the Mother-goddess Dzivaguru was challenged by Nosenga, the son of the sky-god, who was jealous of her wealth and wanted it for himself.  To combat him, she darkened her valley with fog and took the light away with her, so that when Nosenga arrived, he found only gloomy darkness.  He knew that she brought the sun out by luring in her pair of Sunbirds, so he devised a magical trap in which to catch them and so was able to bring back the dawn.
“But Dzivaguru wasn’t so easily defeated; she found a way to punish Nosenga and coincidentally all of humankind.  She decreed that the land would become parched; for every bad deed committed by the sons of Nosenga, she would withhold rain and send drought.  And invaders would come who would overthrow the worship of Nosenga.”
 Linna said, “That myth is another in a long string of pre-scientific explanations of natural phenomena, of why we have seasons and drought and day and night.  One greedy, fallible god being punished by another, and humans getting caught in the process.”
“With a moral twist,” added Avi.  “Be good or the goddess will send drought!”  
“Aw, well, I like it anyway,” said Robbie.  “The sun is a pair of golden swallows – who could object to that?  It’s beautiful!  Anything else, Kibby?”
“Well, only that on the continent of Afrik the stars and constellations are viewed a little differently than in Uropian-derived cultures.  The constellations have different names.  One of them is called the Flock of Birds.  It stretches from Capella in our constellation Auriga through Castor and Pollux all the way to Procyon in Canis Minor.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Robbie, “I can visualize the stars as an endless swarm of quelea birds!  Who knew?  I just thought the whole world saw the cosmos the same way!”
“And that’s it for me,” said Kibby.  “Lt. Running and I really had better go take the Bridge now.”
For sunbird myth: 
       Husain, Sharukh  and Bee Willey, “African Myths.” (I hand-copied notes on this from the Google Books version.) 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What You May Not Know about "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head"

       I just posted a piece on the Ruminations blog called What You May Not Know about The Termite Queen.  It occurred to me that most of the posts I wrote about my first novel happened way back in 2011 and weren't viewed extensively, so there may be people out there who needd a refresher course in what that book is all about.
       The same holds true for my "Labors" series.  The discussions of these books on this blog also haven't been heavily viewed.  So I thought it was about time for a recap.
       At the end of The Termite Queen, the Champion Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head and the Remembrancer (i.e., Bard) Di'fa'kro'mi announce their intention of setting out on an adventure.  Until Kaitrin and the other Star-Beings came, the Shshi didn't know the ocean existed -- it was only a Remembrancer's tale .  The concept of an endless body of water fascinates them and so they prepare to set out on an epic journey. 
       And how better to depict an epic quest than by having the questers relive Greek myths as well as certain other ancient heroic tales?  And who better to experience these adventures but a Hercules stand-in?  And which of my termites is a perfect fit to play Hercules?  Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, of course!  The series title "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" mirrors the Twelve Labors of Hercules, and several of these are re-enacted, although not all of them are suitable for termites culture.  But the primary myths that are re-experienced are the larger ones that are not really associated with Hercules, such as the topic of the first volume -- the Trojan War.
       How can one of the world's great love stories be retold within a termite culture where sex has no relevance except within the Holy Chamber of a fortress where the Mother and the King dwell?  Well, if I told you that, it would be a spoiler!  Suffice it to say that I came up with an ingenious way to make it happen!  And it should come as no surprise that a tale of war would fit well into the termite culture -- one-third of the citizens of a fortress are Warriors, after all.  And the themes of heroism and cowardice and betrayal, of friend turning against friend -- those are universal.
       The opening chapters of The War of the Stolen Mother establish the premise for the entire series.  We not only have to tie it to the end of "The Termite Queen" --  we must also dispatch Ki'shto'ba on a quest to accomplish Twelve Wonders.  And we need to identify Ki'shto'ba with Hercules by giving it the appropriate backstory.  Hercules was sired by Zeus who paid a clandestine visit to Hercules' mother in the guise of her husband.  Hercules had a twin and when they were both in the nursery, he wrestled with two serpents who were trying to kill the twin.   We can't skip those interesting facts, now can we?
       We also have to learn about certain prophecies regarding Ki'shto'ba that are spoken by one of the greatest Seers (a stand-in for the great Greek Seer Teiresias), and we have to provide the hero with its twelve  Companions for the quest.  By the time Ki'shto'ba leaves its home fortress of To'wak, it has acquired four of them.  The fifth soon appears -- one of the most important characters in the story -- Za'dut the trickster.  Terrific character -- I love it!
       Only then can we embark on the War of the Stolen Mother itself.  And how I accomplish that will not form a subject of this post.  Let me just say that even as in the Iliad itself, there is plenty of action, mass battles, heroic single combat, trickery, prophecy, betrayal, funeral games, and ultimately catastrophe -- everything you would want in an epic fantasy!  Any reader who enjoys a uniquely imaginative depiction of this sort of story would love reading this book!

       Now I'll quickly recap the rest of series, for those who never read my earlier posts.  Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer, who is the narrator of these tales, originally wrote three volumes, but they turned out to be too long, so Kaitrin Oliva (and me, by proxy) converted them into six.  They divided well because they're episodic, and they have undergone a few changes of title:

Volume One: The War of the Stolen Mother  
Already published on Amazon and Smashwords.
Volume Two:  The Storm-Wing
Ki'shto'ba earns the new surname: Monster-Slayer.  It kills five monsters in this volume and meets a new Shshi people who will have a profound effect on our hero and all the Companions.  This volume is almost ready to publish; I've formatted the CreateSpace template, drawn the map, and am trying to complete the covers (having trouble with Gimp and those pesky text-boxes again).  Probably will be published sometime in January.
Volume Three: The Tale of the Valley of Thorns 
The Song of Roland and its disastrous aftermath.  Enough said.
Volume Four: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear
Descent into the Underworld - oh, boy!
Volume Five and Six: The Quest for the Golden Fungus
This has to be split into two volumes -- just too long otherwise -- but I'm uncertain as to how to handle the individual volume titles.  This is how I would like to do them:
Volume Five: The Quest for the Golden Fungus: The Companions Reach the Sea (tentative subtitle -- may change)
Volume Six: The Quest for the Golden Fungus: The Revenge of the Dead Enemy
The problem here is the title length -- going to look horrible on Amazon and also on the title page.  If I drop the Quest part and use the subtitles as the main title, we lose the obvious reference to the Quest for Golden Fleece (I'm sure you guessed that was the reference!).  So I'll have to think about that some more.
And then I mean to write (someday) a seventh volume, because the end of v.6 leaves a lot of loose ends.  It will be entitled
Volume Seven: The Buried Ship at the End of the World.
Nothing to reveal on that one at the moment.

       Now all of this should make you quite eager to begin reading this series!  I promise you, if you like action and adventure, with great characters and some psychological angst thrown in as a bonus, you're going to love "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head"!
       I guarantee it! (as the gentleman on the Men's Warehouse commercials always says!)



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Conlanging for Beginners: Some Things to Avoid

       This is an addendum to the previous post. I wanted to discuss some bad practices and give some examples from a couple of my favorite TV science fiction series, as well as from a book I'm currently reading.  I'll put my summary first this time:
  • Don't gratuitously insert strange symbols or non-standard uses of Roman characters into your language in order to make it seem more alien or fantastic.
  • Always be aware that your language is not written natively in the Roman alphabet!
  • Try to devise names that carry weight.
  • Don't use words that suggest English words, even if that meaning is appropriate to the character.
        Here is an example of the first item above.  "We were taken into the presence of Ckatr F'ik the Xppelt of Ji'ma."  Your reader will not know how to pronounce these words.  You the author  may pronounce Ckatr as "Kahter" and Xppelt as "Ekspelt," but nobody else will know that.  They may interpret the words as Chahter and Zippelt. Better to spell as phonetically as possibly for English speakers (or for whatever language is native to the people who will most likely read your book). Simply write "Kahter" (The "c" has no function, and if you put "Kater" it's going to get pronounced like the English word "cater"); and to write "Ekspelt." (And why did you double the "p" if there was no reason?  And you turned "x" into a syllable of its own.  English speakers see an "x" as a consonant and they pronounce it "ks" or possibly "z.") 
       Of course, the best thing to do is to work out your phonology first, as I said in the previous post.  Then you can be consistent in your phonetic usage.  It may not look as "alien," but it will be more convincing.
       Keep the language as simple and unadorned as possible.  Let's consider the words F'ik and Ji'ma in the paragraphs above.  What is the purpose of the apostrophes?  In one case the marking comes before the vowel and in the other, after.  An apostrophe is sometimes used as the symbol for a glottal stop.  Did you intend for a glottal stop to fall in those words?  Probably not, because many readers will not know it's a glottal stop.  Are you using it to show something is omitted, as in English "it's" or "they're"?   That would be OK, but again you need to make rules. 
       I would suspect those apostrophes were inserted as another attempt to try to make the word look more "alien." So now you decide to change the spelling to Fiik and Jiima.  In that case how do you want the words to be pronounced?  Fee-eek? Or perhaps you intend the double i to represent the "i" sound in "like."  But nobody will know that, either.
       Now, if you've looked at my conlangs, you're going to say, "But you use lots of apostrophes, and you use a lot of strange, unpronounceable characters as well!"  That's certainly true, and I've been questioned for it, but I need to clarify what I said above: if apostrophes or any other characters have a function to play in your conlang, then they're OK.  In !Ka<tá (the Bird language), I use apostrophes to separate vowels, so the reader knows to pronounce them individually and not as a diphthong. Thus, if I wanted the words "fee-eek" and "jee-eema," I would spell them "fi'ik" and "ji'ima."  A word pronounced like English "like" would be spelled "laik" because when I wrote out my phonology I settled on the spelling "ai" for that diphthong.  But if I spelled the word "la'ik" it would be pronounced "lah-eek." There would never be a word spelled "fiik" because I have never assigned a pronunciation to the vowel combination "ii."
       As for some of the other strange characters in !Ka<tá, such as !, <, ^, and ♫, they represent sounds that aren't present in English, or indeed in any Earth language.  I don't have a lot of !Ka<tá in The Termite Queen and what does occur is largely for effect, I confess.  But what you do find there is constructed on some carefully worked-out rules.  If I ever get to the point in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars where the avians become speaking characters, I will include an appendix with a summation of those rules.  Right now you can find information here.
       Always remember that your language is not written in the English alphabet!  It has its own writing system, whether you create it or not. It could be alphabetical or it could be syllabograms or it could be ideograms, but it's not written in any form present on Earth.  An alphabet symbolizes sounds and so is the most flexible.  Syllabograms represent syllables, which would be combinations of consonants and vowels.  This sort of system produces more characters.  Logograms represent words; this requires even more characters.  Ideograms represent ideas. 
       If your language has an alphabet, you write what is called a transliteration; you make a direct correlation between the sounds represented in the alien alphabet and the same or similar sounds in English.  An alien "b" sound is represented by an English "b," and so fourth.  The sound "ks"could be transliterated as "x," but if your book were to be read by a Spanish speaker, she might interpret it as "h."  That's why I avoid "x" and use "ks," and keep "h" for the normal English aspirate represented by the letter "h."  The "j" and "g" create similar problems.  I always stick to an English sound system, so I use "j" for the initial sound of "jar" and "gem."  I never use "g" except for the initial sound of "give."   
       !Ka<tá is written in an alphabet and so I transcribe it using a transliteration scheme.  The waveforms of Shshi are comparable to syllabograms; Shshi has no vowels or consonants, which are phenomena of vocal speech.  Shshi also has no written form (in the early stages of my stories).  Putting this sort of language into Roman characters is called romanization, not transliteration.  Kaitrin transcribed the language as arbitarily assigned English syllables separated by vertical lines. 
       Now for some real-world examples of bad practice.  I'll start with the book I'm reading: Mary Doria Russell's two volumes, The Sparrow and The Children of God.  I don't know how fully the author constructed the two languages of the planet Rakhat (Ruanja and K'san), but I do know that her apostrophe use is not totally clear.  I can't tell whether she had a system or not.  One of the peoples is named the Jana'ata, which appears to use my method of separating vowels with apostrophes.  However, the name of one of the main Jana'ata characters, Supaari, doesn't contain an apostrophe between the two a's.  Does this mean that perhaps the word is pronounced "Supari"?  Or perhaps the doubled "aa" gives the vowel a different sound, making it Supawri or Supeiri.  Personally, I pronounce it "Supa'ari" when I read it, but there's no way to tell what the author intended.  Similarly, I don't know why K'san has an apostrophe. "Ksan" would be pronounced exactly the same way.
       Another thing she does is to render the Ruanja word for Jana'ata as "djanada."  My question here is why spell the sound of English "j" two different ways?  It appears to me she does that simply to make the Ruanja form appear different.
       On the whole, though, I have no quarrel with Mary Doria Russell's naming language.  It works well in context and doesn't distract.   The same cannot be said for some of the gobbledegook that turned up in the TV series, Stargate: SG1.
       Now, I'm a big fan of that series -- I viewed it a number of times because it was rerun at a time of day when I wanted to sit down and watch something while I ate supper.  I consider it a most imperfect series that was highly entertaining even so, because it constantly pokes fun at itself.  One time I saw one of those programs where the producers and directors and cast discuss a series, and the producers said one of the hardest jobs they had was to come up with the alien languages.  And it shows.  They definitely could have used the services of the Language Creation Society!
       Here are two examples: the words "Goa'uld" and "Teal'c."  The first is the parasitic race that winds itself around peoples' brainstems and takes control of them.  If you have a villainous race, you should give it a name with a punch. Goa'uld has no punch; it's hard to enunciate and gets mispronounced all the time in the series, mostly as Goold. And if the apostrophe is meant to separate vowels, then you need one between the "o" and the "a" as well.
       But "Teal'c" is even worse.  This is the name of the powerful Jaffa warrior, a sometimes sinister and always intimidating presence.  And yet he's given a name that sounds like a little bell tinkling!  It's pronounced "Teelk," which is also hard to say, so it becomes "Tilk" a lot of the time, rhyming with "milk."  And what in the world is the apostrophe doing between the "l" and the "c"? It doesn't replace a vowel -- they never say "Teelik" or such.  Talk about giving a big, strong, formidable character a weak, ridiculous name!  I can't imagine what those writers were thinking ! 
       Just imagine if Darth Vader had been named Tink Ellia!  Would that have intimidated anybody?  That sort of character needs a name with strong, dark vowels that can be bellowed!  "Teal'c" can't even be pronounced without drawing your lips back in a smile!
       Goa'uld also has a word "kree."  The online dictionary of the language cited at the end of this post gives the meaning thus: "a military order. Loosely translated as attention, listen up, concentrate. Also appears to mean attack, retreat, move out, fall back, fire, cease fire, attention, stand down, etc."  They are constantly bellowing: "Jaffa! Kree!"  I can remember one episode where somebody asks Daniel Jackson what "kree" means, and he says, "Just about anything," and that certainly seems to be the case!  Stick it in front of any other word and it seems to create the imperative form.
       You could say that Goa'uld suggests the word "ghoul."  That's what I thought when I first heard it.  But that brings me to another thing to avoid in constructing a naming language.
       Don't model your words on some English word even if you feel that meaning fits the character.  My examples here are from Farscape, a much more ambitious and well-thought-out series and one of my favorites.  The heroine is named Aeryn Sun.  Remember, she is an alien from a distant galaxy, and she's not a delicate character, especially in the beginning.  But she gets named this romantic-sounding English name (Erin), with the spelling changed to make it seem far, far away.  Of course, you don't how it's spelled when you're watching the series.  "Sun" gets pronounced different ways -- sometimes like the English word "sun" and sometimes with the vowel in "book" or as "soon." 
       Similarly, the beautiful blue priestess had the exotic name of Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan, but "Zhaan" is pronounced simply "Zan."  It was a long time before I knew how it was supposed to be spelled.  Why spell it "Zhaan" if you're not going to pronounce it "zhahn" or "zha-an"? 
       Aeryn belongs to a race called the Sebaceans.  I found this one particularly strange.  Before I knew how it was spelled, I visualized it as "Sebatian" because I couldn't imagine how any writer would want to suggest that a sebaceous gland had formed the basis for a people's name! 
       The name of "Scorpius" of course suggests scorpion, which certainly fits the character.  Rygel was obviously inspired by the constellation Rigel, which I can overlook.  But nevertheless I would prefer to see a writer of a naming language avoid suggesting English or Earth meanings in their alien words. After all, you're not in Kansas any more!
       Here are a couple of references if anyone is interested in learning more about the names and languages in Stargate: SG1 and Farscape:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Conlanging for Beginners: Building a Naming Language for Your Fantasy Novel

[Follow this up with an addendum: Conlanging for Beginners, Some Things to Avoid]       

As a member of the Language Creation Society and of the Yahoo conculture forum, I've been discussing world-building and conlang-building lately.  I've also joined the forum at the excellent website Mythic Scribes, which is subtitled "The Art of Fantasy Storytelling."  They have many resources available, including a thread on building conlangs for your book.  Since I've composed two conlangs and several naming languages for my writings, I thought a post drawing upon my own experiences as a beginner might help out other beginners.
       First, let me stress that you don't need to be a professor of linguistics to write a conlang.  A lot of the members of the LCS are just that; they know every subtlety of language and they know  the lingo.  They're so learned that they can be a little intimidating, I'll confess.  I'm not a professional linguist, but I have studied Spanish, French, and German (French is the one I pursued the most deeply) and when I was cataloging books as a librarian, I dabbled in several other languages, including Russian, other Slavic languages, and Swedish (catalog librarians have to be able to handle any language -- there are manuals to help you do this).  I also investigated Hebrew a little bit at one point.  I've always been fascinated by languages and syntax.  If you find these subjects tedious and you never took a beginning language in high school and you barely squeaked through high school English and can't remember a thing about its structure, you may not be very successful at writing conlangs.  It's possible to get somebody else to write one for you if you're serious.
       However, if all you need is a naming language (a minimal conlang that consists simply of sounds thrown together, without contructing any syntax), you can still manage to do that convincingly.  Let's assume you're setting out to write a fantasy laid in an imaginary world where nobody ever heard of English.  You may have several different countries and several different peoples.  These peoples probably speak different languages, but you can have them all speak a common language -- a language of diplomacy, say -- in which case you can just render everything in English and be done with it. 
       But even then, you will have many names that remain in the languages of those countries.  You need names for the countries themselves and their citizens, for some of their cities, and for other places like rivers or mountain ranges.  You might also find yourself needing names of foods and flowers and minerals and gods and philosophical concepts. You can just unsystematically make up nonsense words for these, or you can try to systematically diffentiate the several languages of your countries.
       One way to do this is to make up a system of phonology for each language.  Just some notes will serve (I'm avoiding the International Phonetic Alphabet here):  Let's say the country of Talasu speaks Talasian.  So you decide that what makes the language different is that it has no voiced fricatives. 
       What is a voiced fricative, you say?  In a voiced consonant the vocal cords vibrate, in an unvoiced consonant, the vocal cords do not vibrate.  Here is a list of voiced fricatives in English (with examples): v (as in van), th (as in then), z (as in zip), zh (as in pleasure).  The corresponding unvoiced fricatives are f (as in fan), th (as in thin), s (as in sip), and sh (as in pressure).   Say them out loud and you'll hear and feel the difference.
       Thus you would be able to milk a little comedy by making a name (e.g., Zazavi) in a language that uses voiced fricatives.  A native of Talasu would pronounce the word "Sasafi" and might get teased about it, or he might be discriminated against because his speech patterns reveal where he comes from, thus becoming a shibboleth.
       From the rules, you know that the word "Talasian" will not be pronounced "Talazhian" but "Talassian."  But this introduces another point.  If you make the language "Talasian," you are making use of an English suffix -ian, which we use frequently in words like Italian, Indian, Canadian, Australian, etc.  Suffixes and prefixes like -ian  or -ed or un- are called morphemes (an indivisible basic particle, a building block for a word).
       Your imaginary people would never build their words using English morphemes, so you might want to call your language Talasunta (where the suffix -nta means "speech" or "language.")  Or you could call it Nis-Talashu (where "nis" means "language" and "Talashu" is a genitive case, thus making the word mean "Language of Talasu."  In your other countries' languages, if you needed a genitive case, you would construct it differently. 
       For my purposes here, I'll call the language "Talasunta."
       I find I can't write even about a naming language without getting into some minor linguistic terminology. But I hope you get my point -- set a few phonetic rules, make them vary among your languages, and don't use any morphemes (basic word particles) that are found in English.

       Now, I'll confess -- I have usually violated the rule of devising the phonology first!  I've always just thrown a bunch of sounds together to start with.  And I've gotten in trouble, too.  When I started writing "The Termite Queen," I had to name my dying termite right off (see sample chapters 1 and 2 on my other blog, Ruminations of a Remembrancer.) because the first line in the book is "My name is ... "  So I blithely thought, "What would be a good name?  I know!  Ti'shra!"  And I wrote "My name is Ti'shra." Then when I got to working out the details of the language, I thought, "So what does 'Ti'shra' mean?  I know!  Sweet Flowers!  Lovely!  Perfect name for this harmless little creature who gets abducted by aliens!" 
       But then I thought, "So 'flowers' is plural.  What element of the name makes it plural?  I know!  In the Shshi language, prefixing sh- makes a plural, just like with the word 'Shshi.'  You have one Shi, two Shshi."  And I stuck myself with that system.  Unfortunately, in English the combination of sh plus certain consonants doesn't occur and so leads to difficulties of pronunciation.  When we get the Shshi word "shza'zei|" for example, which means "little ones," you're likely to spit all over your computer trying to pronounce it!   Other tough combinations are sh+f, sh+d, sh+h, sh+j ... you get my point. 
       So another rule is, try to think about the consequences of a rule before you set it in stone!

       Names often mean something, like my "Ti'shra," and all words derive from older roots, so you have to decide -- do my names of people, provinces, cities, mountains, rivers, etc., have meanings apart from themselves?  If so, you need to decide how the component parts fit together.  Maybe the country of Talasu has a range of mountains called the Black Jaws (obviously you're going to make something sinister happen there!)  "Jaw" becomes "frago," "black" is "nat."  You decide that in Talasunta, the adjectives follow the modified word, as in French or Spanish, so your mountain range becomes the "Fragonat." 
       At that point you should begin making a vocabulary list -- extremely important, because there is no way you can remember every word you've used, and as your book gets longer and you create more words, you'll never be able to find them again.
      You should also write out every decision you make regarding syntax, like the rules for placement of adjectives, for how to construct plurals and genitive case, etc. 

       What if you want the people in your world to sometimes speak privately, not using the common language?  You want someone to overhear a few phrases in Talasunta.  You can construct just a few rules and usually you can come up with something that will work.  That's what I did in the beginning with !Ka<tá, the Bird language spoken by my Prf. A'a'ma, the avian alien that plays such an important role in "The Termite Queen."  Mostly what I constructed were expletives (birds apparently curse a lot!) but there are some full sentences, too.   In Chapter 2, he says, "Prf. Jerardo ali ♫hi ♫ko’ó∙wa gi !i po∙atré]” and Kaitrin humorously upbraids him, "Tió’otu!  That’s not nice!  But what’s going on?  You surely didn’t go to all the trouble to contact me just to make fun of one of our colleagues.”
        I don't tell the reader of the book what Prf. A'a'ma's insult meant, but I'll reveal it here: "Prf. Jerardo has dung beetles in his head."  When I first wrote the book, I decided on the English of what I wanted him to say and then I just cooked up some words that sounded like birds might twitter them -- I had done nothing on the phonology yet.  I did come up with some non-English sounds and some characters to represent them, like ∙, which is a cough, and ♫, which is a warble and, as a prefix, makes words plural.  
       But this remark did require devising a third person singular present tense form of the verb "to have."  In English, "to have" is an irregular verb.  Most languages have some irregular verbs, but I decided that in !Ka<tá, "to have, to possess" is regular.  I don't remember whether at that point I decided on a form for the infinitive, which would be "khe'ali."  I think I just  said, "OK, 'ali' sounds good for 'he has'" and went from there. 
       But again, I kept careful notes on what I'd done -- I made a little table of verb forms and started by filling in the 3rd person singular masculine present tense.  At first I had just two or three entries, but later it grew to include all possible forms and tenses and aspects and moods ...  So I stress again, keep records on all grammatical decisions! 

       Now I'll construct an example of Talasunta: The hero hides behind the curtain and he overhears two men talking in that language, which he doesn't understand.  You could just write, "so the Prince rushed off to find the Ambassador, who spoke Talasunta, and repeated the words as near as he was able.  The Ambassador was horrified at what he heard ... "
        But it would be much better this way: "The Prince overheard two men speaking in Talasunta, but all he could catch was "Asolya dimerumu chinsa."  A few moments later, he was consulting the Ambassador, who spoke the native tongue.  And the diplomat was horrified.  "He said, 'We plan to kill her at dawn'!"  That enhances the realism of the story.
       In this language, the subject pronoun is suffixed to the root of the verb, so "asolu" means "to plan" and "asolya" means "we plan."  Infinitives end in -u, so "dimeru"  is "to kill" and "mu" is the objective case of the third person feminine pronoun, which is suffixed to the full infinitive.  "Chin" means "dawn" and the suffix "-sa" is a postposition (the language doesn't have prepositions) meaning "at the time of."
       As you can see, if a conlang, even just a naming language, is done right, there are multifold complications!  But you know what?  Writing a conlang is the most fun of anything in the world, for anybody to whom language is fascinating and not a tedious bore!  Actually, I got quite interested in Talasunta while I was writing this, but conlangs can be very time-consuming, and so I don't think you'll ever learn any more about that language!
Summation of How to Write a Naming Language
  • Set up a system of speech sounds (phonology) for each of your languages in order to differentiate them.
  • Never use any morphemes (basic word particles) that are taken directly from in English, or for that matter from any other Earth language. That is, you could use the syllable, but it can't have the same meaning as it does in Earth languages.
  • Try to think about the consequences of a decision before you make it (and that's harder than it sounds!) But this is important, because going back and changing a whole language structure is almost impossible.
  • As you construct words, make a vocabulary list, preferably in two directions, Talasunta to English and English to Talasunta.
  • Keep careful records of rules of syntax, so you won't put adjectives after nouns on p.6 and before nouns on p.300.  (And parenthetically, don't use the same grammatical structure for all your languages.)
  • And if you can work it out, use syntax that resembles English or other Earth languages as little as possible (that's one of the tougher rules to follow, unless you're more familiar than I am with all the languages of the Earth). 
       When I started this, I had intended to talk about the naming language in "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," but I got sidetracked.  Maybe I'll write about that in a later post!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Guest Post: Insects, Folklore, and Bugfolk, by Fel Wetzig

Fel Wetzig outdid herself on this post!  I hope you enjoy it!
There are references to termites here that I definitely will have to research!
       When I was asked by Lorinda to do a folklore segment on insects, I didn't really know where to start. I know a few scattered beliefs about insects. For example, a single cricket chirping in a house where a cricket has never been heard before is a sign of an impending death, and Vampires are associated with the death head moth ( But, folklore involving insects is varied and widespread.  
       Consider the fact that these creepy crawlies live all around us, and whether we realize it or not they impact human activity on a regular basis—competing for resources, carrying disease, serving scholarly scientific pursuits, and even providing resources. It's no wonder that some of them have captured our imaginations. In fact, a field of study, cultural entomology, is targeted specifically at studying the role of insects in human affairs.
       Most people who have read widely or watched movies or television are familiar with the use of insect behavior as a surrogate or symbol for human relationships. The literary use of insects as subjects of entertainment or bugfolk includes humanized insects that talk or dress like humans. Bugfolk appear in nearly every literary and art form and include Jiminy Cricket, as well as the characters of A Bug's Life and The Ant Bully. This mechanism allows writers to use insects in human-like roles, usually to make a statement about the human condition and to teach people something about themselves.
       These representations are nothing new, throughout history, insects have symbolized important aspects of the world, provided teaching examples through their behavior and traits and have been objects on which humans have projected qualities essential to the framework of human ideology and social structure.
       The most famous insect used in mythology is the scarab—Egyptian symbol of the sun god Khepera and also associated with the creator god Atum. The scarab was believed to be responsible for moving the sun across the sky, as well as representing the soul emerging from the body, which lent to its association with mummies. The scarab likeness was found almost everywhere in Egyptian art and jewelry.

Many creation myths involve insects:
The Hopis explained the origin through the Spider Grandmother
Yagua Indians of Peru attributed Amazon River to wood-eating insects
Jicarilla Apaches of New Mexico attribute fire to a mythical campfire ignited by fireflies
Cherokee and Cochiti creation myths include beetles
Hindus represent the force that created the transient world with a spider in the center of a web (a spinner of illusion)
Papago and Pima Legends mention termites in their creation stories
The mantis was a god of creation in Bushman legends

Insects played a major role in many important legends around the world:
Insects were mentioned throughout the Popul Vul—Yellowjackets were used as weapons by the Quiche and Fireflies were used by Hunahpu and Xbalanque who later became the sun and full moon. They used the insects as false lights to deceive sentries of the underworld.
The guardians of the four cardinal points in Warao cosmology include arboreal termites, 2 kinds of bees, and wasps
Xochiquetzal the Aztec goddess of beauty love and flowers; patron of domestic labor; and symbol of the soul and dead was represented by the swallowtail butterfly
Itzpapalotl the Aztec mother deity and goddess of human sacrifice, war, and travelers was represented by the saturniid moth
TschunWan was the Chinese insect lord over crop pests
Babylonian legend included scorpion men
The Hopi had several insect spirits which were personified in the form of Kachina dolls

       Observations of insect metamorphosis led many cultures to equate such changes to the life cycle usually equating an adult insect with the soul. Some believe this association led to the imaginings of beings in the afterlife with wings.
       Through other observations, cultures found other traits among insects that they admired or scorned. Some insects were adopted as totem animals, forging a strong link between the organism and human kinship.

Social insects like ants, termites, and bees represent desired qualities—unity, cooperation, and industriousness
Butterflies and moths are very commonly used, but in varied contexts—sometimes they symbolize spirits and souls
Moths are often used to represent the soul's search for truth because they are attracted to light
Flies most frequently play negative roles, symbolizing evil, pestilence, torment, and disease; as a result they have come to be associated with evil entities and devils
The emblem of the Roman city Ephesus was the honey bee—their "Great Mother" was also known as the "Queen Bee"
42 states currently have an official state insect—17 states use the honey bee
Insects have played an important role in almost every culture. Because of their wide usage and varied associations, it is difficult to adequately summarize their roles. If you're interested in learning more on the subject, the Cultural Entomology Digest ( is a wonderful resource.
About the Author
Fel Wetzig is a paranormal writer and folklore enthusiast who spends most of the day arguing with the “Peasants,” with whom she shares her blog, aptly named The Peasants Revolt (

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Woe Is Me! Giveaway Is Over! But ...

... the 99 cent price on "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" remains in effect through Friday, Nov. 16.  That's almost free!  After Friday, this particular piece probably will be set at $1.99 for a long time, so best to take advantage of this offer now!

       I also wanted to say that I'm working on a new post for this blog that will address how to go about writing a naming language for a work of fantasy or science fiction.  Actually, I've been so distracted by this promo that I haven't been able to get focused on the new post, but I promise I will!

       I'm also considering resurrecting a story I wrote back in the dark ages -- ca. 1978.  It's pure fantasy -- completely different from anything I write today.  But it's one of the best things I wrote back then.  It's only about 3800 words --  32 typed pages.  Yes, indeed, it's a typescript; those were pre-computer days.  Since I don't own a scanner, I'll have to type it into the computer, but for something that short, it's not a real problem.  It will require some editing.  The title is (unless I decide to change it) "The Blessing of Krozem."  (Hmm -- I just thought -- maybe "Gilzara's Blessing" would work better.)  I could envision publishing it on ebook only as one of those little 99 cent affairs.  Maybe I should try Kindle Select for it.  It'll probably sell better than my later, much more substantial and serious books!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Anniversary Special & Giveaway! "Monster" Is One Year Old!

My novella "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" was published on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11 -- easy to remember!) So Sunday is its first anniversary and in celebration I'm mounting a special on Kindle and on Smashwords. Starting Friday (November 9) and running through next Friday (November 16), the price will be reduced to 99 cents! I'd love to give you a lower price on the paperback with its pretty new cover, but that can't be done. However, for people who still prefer print (and I know there are many of you), the price is only $5.49.


If you would like to have a free Smashwords copy
of "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder,"
send me a Twitter Direct Message at any time
on Sunday (the anniversary) or Monday
(since Sunday is Veterans' Day)
Tell me "Yes, I'd like a free copy of Monster"!
If you're one of the first ten messages I receive,
I'll send you a return message with a coupon for a

I tweet @TermiteWriter


Here is a description of the book:
In this dark and edgy first-contact story, a team of anthropologists discovers a species of truly bizarre intelligent lifeforms called the Kal. The team consists of the leader, an experienced, highly respected female Professor of Xenoanthropology and Linguistics; a young female biomedical specialist; and a still younger male, an expert in alien artifacts. Each team member reacts in a different way to the Kal, building toward a disturbing climax and a conclusion with an unsettling twist of perspective.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bird Myths, Pt. 1: Garuda, King of the Birds

When I was writing "The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars," (see the Prologue and first three chapters here), I made Capt. Robbin Nikalishin a birder. What better qualification for the man who will head up the mission that encountered the first intelligent lifeform known to humanity -- and who happened to be big birds? During the mission out, there was a lot of boring downtime and one way the crew entertained itself was by telling bird myths, each crewmember telling tales from his or her own culture. Now, this section will be cut or drastically emended if I ever get that monster ready for publication, but I did too much research and had too much fun writing it to let it all disappear, so what better place to display it than on a blog devoted partially to myth in literature?
The following has been abridged.  I left in the Captain's preamble about Survivor because it ties in with the book’s “Prologue.”

       Robbie, coffee cup in hand, stood up at a vacant table at the front of the assemblage and banged his spoon for order.  “Your Captain cooked up this get-together today so he could inflict his fascination with birds on all of you.  It’s show-and-tell time, children! – and I’ve got the visual aids to prove it.”  He opened the big port hidden in the bulwark behind him and displayed a short vid of a martial eagle soaring over the savanna and swooping down to land on a branch and mantle fiercely.  “Later we’re going to hear fantastic tales of mythological birds, but I don’t know any of those, so I’m going to tell a tale that really happened – it’s become for me almost mythical in its implications.”
And he proceeded to speak of the martial eagle Survivor and how he was brought to the Islands for breeding purposes, only to escape and be shot in both wings for attacking newborn lambs in Kent.  And he told how a small boy had viewed that crippled but unbowed eagle in the Lunden Zoo and been spiritually drawn to him, and how, when his own wings had been clipped, an older version of that boy had re-experienced that kinship.  “And the odd thing is,” concluded Robbie, “two years ago, while I was visiting the Zoo right before I left Britan for the Phenix Project, I ran into the ornithologist who had rescued Survivor and he introduced me to the vet who had been involved, who now teaches avian surgery at NWQC.  I’ve become fast friends with both of those fine men.  If that’s not a strange coincidence, I don’t know what is!”
And Robbie added, “That’s the end of my own presentation …  please, please – no applause necessary!  But I have another visual aid … ”  And he tapped the remote programmer and displayed a scanned image of his Garuda picture.  Most of the crew stared in befuddlement at the bizarre representation.  “Lt. Cmdr. Das, the floor is yours!”

I have no idea if I'm violating copyright, since
I copied this some years ago from a Japanese website that's
no longer available.  However, since this is the picture
 on which I based the description, I'm presenting it here!
       The Captain handed the remote to his Ops Officer and took a seat.  A shyly smiling Nani sat down on the edge of the table.  “All of you know I’m from Ind, and some of you know I was brought up with remnant traditions of the Indu religion.  One time the Captain asked me if the Indus had any bird gods and one thing led to another until he found the picture you’re looking at here ...
“The bird-man on the port there is named Garuda and the blue chap with the four arms who’s riding on his back is Vishnu.  Vishnu is one of the three principal Indu gods and Garuda is his vahanam, or mount.  When I was home over the Midwinter holiday, I talked to my grandmother and one of my uncles, who are both more into Indu culture than the rest of my family.  They helped me work up my tale and they got me into what we call in Ind the Data Basement, certain underground links that EarthGov knows exist but chooses to overlook.  From that I got these additional pictures that I’m going to show you now.  Depictions of Garuda are quite common wherever Induism influenced the culture over millennia.  How do you like this one?”  And Nani flashed up a frontal view of a sculpted figure squatting on clawed feet, with a loincloth, impressive spread wings and man-arms, and a huge head with an intimidating beak.  He also had pointed ears adorned with large, round earrings and he was painted a fiery orange and red.

This work has been released into the public domain
by its author, GourangaUK at the wikipedia project.
 This applies worldwide.
 There was astonished laughter and Robbie exclaimed, “Holy cry, Nani!  That’s Garuda?  He doesn’t look a thing like the pleasant little fellow in my icon!”
“Well, Garuda can be benevolent, but he can also be really fierce – in fact, he’s considered the very symbol of fierceness and speed and martial ability.  Here’s another interpretation – a painted miniature from the 18th century.  The female figure there is Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, riding on Garuda along with her husband.”

From Wikimedia Commons
“Oh, so your gods are like the Griek ones,” said Robbie, “with spouses and families and all that.  In this one, Garuda doesn’t have the claws, but his head is pretty impressive.”
“Not all the iconography depicts exactly the same characteristics,” said Nani.  “I’ll show you one more – it’s a favorite of mine.  It’s from some ancient temple – I’m not sure which … ”
I copied this some years ago from
but the specific link is no longer available. My notes say,
"Picture source not given."  So I have no way of knowing
if it's copyrighted, and I don't know where the sculpture is
located.  But it's too great a depiction to pass up!
This image was a relief carving of a husky man-bird, with thighs like barrels, heavily girded loins, clawed feet, and a beaked head that resembled a snapping turtle more than an avian.  The figure’s huge arms were hoisting a giant snake above his head.  The wings and feathered headdress were intricately engraved. 
       "Yeah, that one really projects a sense of power!” said Robbie.  “Why is he shown with a snake in some of these?”
“You’ll find out as I tell my tale.  You understand, the story of Garuda has a lot of variations, so I synthesized my version out of elements my grandmother and uncle provided.  I’ve never really studied any Indu literature.  I can speak and read a little Indi, but Sanskrit is way beyond me.
 “Garuda came from an impressive family.  His father was Kashyapa, who was one of the great Sages and a grandson of the Creator-God Brahma.  Kashyapa had many wives – in fact, he married a set of thirteen sisters – but the two that concern us were named Kadru and Vinata.  Kadru asked the gods to give her many offspring, but Vinata wanted only a few as long as they were more powerful than her sister’s.  Now, it happened that instead of bearing live children, these two females laid eggs … ”
“Really?” interrupted Robbie.  “So they were birds, too?”
“Well, I don’t think so,” said Nani, obviously perplexed, “but as mythical beings, I suppose they wouldn't necessarity have to be like humans … ”
  “Anyway, however it was, Kadru hurried to lay about a thousand eggs, while Vinata laid only two.  Kadru’s soon began to hatch, and what came out of them were snake creatures.  We call them … ”
“The Nagas!” cried Lt. Chay in amazed recognition.  “I’m a Kampucheean – a Kemer – and we believe ourselves to be descended from a Naga king!  The Seven-Headed Naga was the symbol of our nation in the days before Unification!  The seven heads represented the seven races of Kemer.  Did you know that, Lt. Commander?”
“No, I didn’t,” said Nani.  “Like I said, I’ve never studied this very extensively.  And, yes, we call the creatures who emerged the ‘Nagas.’  They are sort of a serpent-human mixture.  They can be good or evil, depending on the story.
“Vinata was jealous of how fast her sister’s eggs were hatching while hers were still incubating, and she thought she would hurry things along by breaking one of them open.  And out came a shining, red-colored bird whom they named ‘Aruna,’ or ‘reddish.’  But there was a problem.  Because his egg had hatched prematurely, his body hadn’t completely developed and he had deformed legs.  Some say he had no feet and others say he had no thighs.  But just the same, he could fly, and in a whole different story he went on to become the Charioteer of Surya, the Sun God.
“When he first hatched, Aruna was very upset at what his mother had done to him and he cursed her, predicting that she was doomed to be enslaved.  But then he relented and said that if she would allow the second egg to develop for the proper length of time, the being who would spring from it would save her.  And Vinata was wise enough to follow his advice.
“Now here is how Vinata came to be enslaved.  Her evil sister Kadru engaged her in an argument over whether the celestial steed that had sprung from the churning of the primeval Ocean of Milk (and that is yet another tale) was completely white or had a black tail.  And Kadru made a bet with her sister – whichever one of them was wrong would be enslaved to the other.  Vinata had seen the horse before and she was positive its tail was pure white, and yet when they went to look, it did indeed have a black tail!  The truth was that Kadru had ordered her black Naga children to intermingle themselves in the tail and make it appear black.  And so Vinata became Kadru’s slave through deceit.
“In the meantime, Vinata’s second egg had hatched into an astonishing creature.  It was, of course, Garuda.  Some say he burst forth as a lightning flash and others say he showed himself as a raging conflagration big enough to consume the world.  It scared even the gods themselves, and so Garuda obligingly made himself smaller and took on a milder form.  Then he was seen to have a golden body, a white face, and red wings.  The beak, wings, and talons were those of an eagle but the body and arms were those of a man.  He was so large that men could hide in his plumage and he blocked out the sun when he flew; his wingspan was measured in kilometers.  He could fly faster than the wind; indeed, when his wings flapped, they made winds of cyclonic force, and his strength was such that he could tear up trees by the roots and carry them off!”
Everybody was hooting at this hyperbole, but Nani shook her finger at them.  “Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that myths tend to exaggerate things!  Besides, it’s said that before the hatching of Garuda Kashyapa was making a sacrificial offering for the purpose of increasing his progeny, and the King of the Gods Indra – another of Kashyapa’s sons – laughed at the assembled Sages, who were having trouble carrying in a log of wood that Indra could throw around like a toothpick.  So the Sages plotted to make a son of Kashyapa stronger and more powerful than Indra himself and, what’s more, to make him able to change his shape.  This scared Indra, who feared losing his kingship, and he begged his father to offer an apology on his behalf.  The Sages were mollified and decreed that the offspring should still be a King, but he would be King of the Birds.  And that is what we call Garuda today and why he is always depicted with a crown; and he was indeed born with a shape-shifter’s abilities.  And he had six sons himself, from whom all birds are descended. 
“Now, here is how Garuda came to be Vishnu’s mount.  Garuda sometimes didn’t have enough to occupy his spare time, so one day he flew up and seized the moon and hid it under his wings.  This act of vandalism annoyed the Gods and especially Indra, who still resented his sibling’s power.  The King of the Gods led an attack on the big bird-man, but Garuda was able to overcome them all except for Vishnu.  Now Vishnu had always admired Garuda’s power and speed in spite of the bird-man’s tendency to wreak mischief, and so after Garuda had agreed to restore the moon to its proper setting, Vishnu made him his steed.  After that, Garuda had no more problems with too much leisure!
 “Now I must return to the part of the tale concerning the curse on Garuda’s mother.  Even fearsome as Garuda was when he was first hatched, he emitted a loud, concerned chirp and ran immediately to his mother to see if there was any way he could help her.  She told him about how her sister Kadru had enslaved her through deceit and she asked him to help appease her.  Garuda agreed, but actually he was furious, and he resolved to do something to end this outrageous situation.
“Now I should make clear that this next adventure took place before the incident of the stolen moon.  It happened that one day Kadru wanted to take her serpent children for a holiday on an island, and she demanded that Garuda and Vinata carry them there.  Vinata carried Kadru while Garuda carried all thousand of the Nagas.  Yes, that does seems to imply that Vinata had wings, so maybe she was something like a bird.  But however that was, Garuda decided this was a good opportunity to kill all the Nagas and he flew up near the sun so that the cold-blooded snakes would be roasted to death.  But they cried out to their mother and she prayed to Indra for help, and the enemy of Garuda sent a torrential rainfall that cooled the Nagas and saved them.  Garuda was forced to set them down on the island.
“But once there, according to a prearranged plan with their mother, the Nagas seized Vinata and whisked her off to a demon-infested region called Patala.  There they imprisoned her and stood guard over her.  Garuda was enraged, but he could see that the curse was too strong for him to overcome the Nagas by physical power alone, so he decided to try negotiation.  He went to his Naga half-brothers and asked them what he had to do to free his mother from Kadru’s curse.  They told him that, if he would bring them a cup of amrita, they would release her in spite of their mother’s wishes.  Amrita is the elixir of immortality – what the Grieks call ‘ambrosia.’
“Garuda knew it would not be an easy ransom, because the gods jealously guarded this source of their own immortality.  But no amount of adversity could ever daunt the King of the Birds and so he set off for the celestial mountain where the amrita was kept.  The gods met him in full battle dress, but he scattered them all and arrived at the mountain’s gate.
“Garuda found this gate to be surrounded by a ring of flames that soared up to the sky.  He overcame this obstacle by taking the water of many rivers into his mouth and spitting it onto the fire to extinguish it. 
“Then at the gate itself, he discovered a great rotating wheel with sharp blades on its spokes that would cut to pieces anyone who tried to pass through.  Garuda solved that problem easily by exercising his shape-shifting abilities and making himself small enough to slip between the blades.
“And finally he reached the amrita only to discover that it was guarded by a pair of monstrous fire-spitting serpents.  These he defeated by fanning his wings and blowing dust into the serpents’ eyes, then attacking them and cutting them to bits with his sharp beak. 
“Quickly, Garuda seized the amrita in his beak, being careful not to swallow any of it, although surely he must have been tempted, for who doesn’t desire immortality and the status of a god?  He then flew as quickly as possible back toward Patala.  On the way he met Vishnu, who didn’t attack him, having been favorably impressed by the bird-man from the moment of his hatching.  Instead, Vishnu made a bargain with him; because Garuda had refrained from consuming any of the amrita, Vishnu would give him immortality as a gift on condition that Garuda should become Vishnu’s mount sometime in the future.  Vishnu also warned Garuda that Indra and the other gods were lying in wait for him on his return path.
“Garuda flew on, prepared for the confrontation.  As soon as he came in sight of the gods’ army, Indra hurled a thunderbolt at him, but Garuda was able to dodge it.  Then he called out to Indra that he would like to negotiate a truce.  If he were allowed to deliver the amrita to the Nagas, he would contrive a way for the gods to get it back.  If the plot that he and Indra would concoct was successful, then in return the gods would have to allow Garuda and his descendents to take snakes as their primary food source
“Indra agreed to this and Garuda continued on his journey.  When he reached Patala and came into the presence of the Nagas, he laid the amrita on the grass in front of the overjoyed serpents, but he continued to hover over it, saying that he would release the amrita to them only after they had set his mother Vinata free.  Quickly the Nagas released their prisoner, who ran to take refuge among her son’s feathers. 
“At that moment, Indra, who had followed Garuda, rushed in with his warriors, seized the amrita, and made off with it.  Garuda flew away with his mother, leaving the Nagas wailing in despair behind him.
“However, a few drops of amrita remained on the grass.  The Nagas licked it up and this was enough to add them to the role of Immortals.  The substance was so potent that it split their tongues, and that is why to this very day all snakes have forked tongues.  And Garuda and his descendants became the implacable enemies of snakes; that is why so many of today’s birds are snake-eaters. 
“This was not the end of Garuda’s adventures, but it’s the last I’ll say about him right now.  I’ll add only that Aruna, the deformed charioteer of Indra, himself had two bird-sons – Garuda’s nephews – who performed great deeds in their own right.
“They were called Sampati and Jatayu.  When they were young, they would compete to see which of them could fly higher, but Jatayu overdid it and flew so near the sun that he seared his wings.  His brother saved his life by spreading his own wings between Jatayu and the sun, but in the process Sampati’s wings were destroyed and he was forced to live flightless for the rest of his life, like the eagle in your tale, Capt. Nikalishin.
“And later in Jatayu’s life, he performed a selfless act of courage that is narrated in my people’s epic the Ramayana.  When Rama’s wife Sita was abducted by the demon lord Ravana, Jatayu engaged the demon in battle in order to save her, but by that time he was old and although he fought with supernatural heroism, he couldn’t win.  Ravana tore off his wings and then escaped with Sita.  Rama soon arrived, but it was too late.  The mortally wounded Jitayu died in the hero’s arms and was deeply mourned.
“And that really is the end of my presentation.”  Nani looked self-conscious.  “I just hope I haven’t bored all of you too much.

You may have noticed that the tale of Garuda employs elements of the heroic epic as well as folklore.  Garuda is both noble hero and trickster, he makes a descent into the Underworld, and he’s a shape-shifter.
Here is one more picture that I didn't use in the text, but it has such a nice look to it that I thought I ought to share it with you, too!
This work has been released into the public domain by its author,
DoktorMax at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.
"I made this picture myself and release it into the public domain.
It is a photo of a 12th century sculpture in the
Thap Mam style of Champa. " 
I was going to add some bibliographical notes, but I find that a lot of my research notes (made several years ago) may not be accurate as to sources (this piece would never pass muster as a Master's thesis - LOL!)  If you want to learn more, I would suggest googling Garuda and various other names and allusions within the above text.