Is it bloggiversary time already? Wow, hard to believe, but this month marks four years of ruminations and revelations. I have no idea how long this thing can continue. Blog frequency must needs grow more erratic, and more and more it will be a matter of new material coming to light or unexpected visitations by the Haunted Mansion Muse that determine when a new post will appear. Yes, I know I said something like that last time, and the time before that, and still we have had about one post per month, but let's face it, a slowdown is inevitably inevitable.
Bloggiversaries are appropriate occasions to pause, to reflect.
They're a time for sharing, for being with family. No, wait, that's Christmas.
Okay, enough with the pausing and reflecting. Don't want to overdo it.
As always, I hate to disappoint readers who came here for some actual Mansionological content rather than narcissistic calendar waving, so I attach a lightweight mini-post on these occasions. I figure the owls will do just fine.
The Owlallueia Chorus
Most of you are aware that there is a pair of owls perched overhead above the graveyard band. Their history? Well, there isn't really any "history" to report. They went straight from Marc Davis's brain down through his pencil and eventually to the AA figures in the ride with little alteration. And they've always been there. And they've never changed in any way. The only thing of note is the usual thing: Marc's creations were a little cartoony, but the final figures are realistic.
That's a fairly recent pic above. These below are from 1969, but you'd never know it just by looking.
A gorgeous recent pic:
(pic by Loren Javier)
WDW, about 1973:
You can compare those with Marc's concept artwork:
The scale model maquettes follow Davis closely, as usual:
They hoot like real owls, "in spooky harmony," according to the "Story and Song" souvenir record.
That's a Stretch
Something you may not have ever noticed is that the owls are animated in accordance with Marc's drawings. They stretch out their necks when they hoot. You never see this in the professional pictures officially published, because the figures have all been turned off for the photo shoots.
This Daddy B shot caught one of them in mid-stretch:
(pic by Brett Garrett)
Owls are Spooky
It's not hard to see why people find owls a little creepy. They have a more human-like face than other birds, they're active at night, and their familiar "whoo-oo" call sounds like a human vocalization. They're ubiquitous in Halloween decor, of course, and the classic Silly Symphony, "The Skeleton Dance" (1929), begins with the scowl of an owl that looks a lot like our Mansion examples:
That's probably as deep as we need to go to account for the owls in the Haunted Mansion, so we could quit right here, but it might be fun to look back a little further, so why not? If you have something more important to do and leave now, I understand.
Weird to the Wise
Both of the qualities we traditionally associate with the owl have impressive pedigrees. The owl was the sacred bird of the Greek goddess Athena, associated with wisdom and learning, so apparently people have thought owls look intelligent for a long time. The Romans, on the other hand, regarded the owl as a bad omen, so apparently people have also thought owls are eerie for a long time.
With regard to the brighter side, something you may not know is that the association with Athena made the owl a common figure on Greek coins minted in Athens. These were widely disseminated over a lengthy period of time, and they were so popular that even non-Greek cultures copied the owl designs on their coins.
Here's a nice Athenian silver tetradrachm.
The Athenian owl yet lives. This classic design is still
used on Greek coins and is also popular in jewelry.
Then there's the more sinister side. According to our old friend Émile Grillot de Givry, the owl is one of three animals associated with witches since Medieval times (the others are cats and toads), and the Harry Potter series has ensured that knowledge of this triumvirate continues into our own day. Demons take the form of these animals ("familiar spirits"), and you find artwork showing owls operating in this capacity, like this 19th century print by Ernst Seigneurgens.
"No no no! Stupid bird! That way, THAT way!"
But owls are also associated with the occult in more general ways. The twin associations (wise + spooky)
make the owl a natural mascot for people fascinated with the idea of esoteric knowledge.
1890's card game
Cosmopolitan Magazine, 1893 (hat tip Craig Conley)
The Raven and the Owl
There is a second variety of animatronic bird in the Mansion, of course, and at one point in the process Marc Davis was thinking about
presenting them together:
I guess Collin Campbell thought that there was only room for one bird species in this scene, and
he picked the raven. In his rendition, Marc's owls have been banished, a rare departure by Mr.
Campbell from Davis's artwork. In Collin's graveyard, the raven shares the arborial spotlight with no one.
But the end result was just the opposite, of course. It was the raven who
was evicted, and the owls have the treetop stage all to themselves.
I'm sure this never crossed the Imagineers' minds, but ironically, to imagine a sort of rivalry between the raven and the owl would actually be appropriate. The raven is a relative newcomer to the pantheon of spooky, Halloween-y animals. His inclusion is due to Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem, and if there is any doubt that this includes its appearance in the Haunted Mansion, recall that the raven escort was originally going to croak "Nevermore" all over the place. What many people don't realize is that Poe ousted the owl to make room for his raven. As we know, the owl is the sacred bird and constant companion of Athena. She's also known as Pallas Athena (meaning "Athena of the city," i.e. Athens. Pallas = Greek polis, "city"). In Poe's poem, the raven perches on a "bust of Pallas" (i.e. Athena) and remains there throughout the poem, thus usurping the seat normally reserved for the owl.
In other words, the raven isn't just there, he's there instead of another bird. Hm. What means it that the venerable owl has been displaced in the poem by an insolent newcomer? I don't want to get all English 101 on you, but I can think of two possible interpretations:
First, the poem makes much of the raven's shadow. The darkness of sorrow and uncertainty have blotted out the light of reason and knowledge. Athena stands for "wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill." With regard to all of that, the speaker in the poem is told in a single word, "nevermore." Mournful reverie displaces rational thought, night extinguishes day, death has defeated life, et cetera. For the speaker in the poem, the raven has indeed replaced the owl.
Second, we expect people to 'owl when they're ravin', but in the poem we've got a raven when we expect an owl. See? Ironic reversal.
Shut up, did I say the two interpretations were equally possible? No. Did I say they were equally profound? No, madam, I did not.
from a sketch by Édouard Manet
Never more shameless a pun has been spun.
Mercifully, thankfully, now we are done.