Monthly wrap: October

Day 29: The universal power of literature

Today we’re going back in time, to my Brit Lit I Survey Class at Capital University, fall of 2001.

Yes, that was a Big Fall for a lot of us. (9/11, me-almost-dying-and-spending-two-plus-weeks-in-the-ICU-scaring-everyone-to-death)

But before–and during, and after–that, there were classes.

My Brit Lit survey class was taught by my favorite English professor, Dr. Summers, and had one of my best friends in it. It was a full class–we had about 25, 30 kids–and we were reading literature from Beowulf to Shakespeare/the Restoration. (Brit Lit Survey II started with the Romantic poets and went to the end of the 20th century.) Not only was the reading great, but the discussions were awesome. There were a lot of smart, engaged kids in that class. We met every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m., so when class was over, Richelle and I would walk to the Main Dining Room and have lunch. It was pretty perfect.

The “quad” at Capital University, my alma mater

One of the things we talked about was the idea of universal experiences. Do universal experiences exist? Some students argued no; our lives are too different. What does my life and the life of someone in, say, Bangladesh have in common?

I argued that we do have a lot in common with each other: for starters, birth, death, and love. Each of us will be born. Each of us will die. Each of us will experience love–either receiving it, giving it, sharing it, falling in it, knowing the lack of it…in some way, love will touch everyone’s lives. It’s inescapable. Everything else may be negotiable, but not these three things.

Literature brings everyone closer. C.S. Lewis said, “we read to know we’re not alone.” Great books leave time behind and immerse us in the world of the novel, the poem, the play. We feel Cordelia’s despair when she cannot “heave [her] heart into her mouth.” We cringe with Elizabeth Bennet when her mother makes a fool of herself at the Netherfield Ball. We love Tiny Tim and rejoice in Scrooge’s change of heart. Voldermort’s death is celebrated, Dorothy gets to go home, and Scarlett reminds us that tomorrow is another day. We climb the turrets of Notre Dame with Quasimodo, and are swept into Russia by Dostoevksy’s incomparable epics. I’ve never been to Greece, but when I read¬†The Odyssey, I can imagine dawn’s rosy fingers rising over the wine-dark sea. I’ve never been in jail, but I can understand and know the despair and the pain from reading Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Books grow and change with us. I own a lot of books, and sometimes, when people come to my house and see all the books everywhere, they ask why. Why read a book more than once? You know the ending.

The book doesn’t change.¬†I¬†change. Although a good book is always good (C.S. Lewis again–a children’s book is only good if it speaks to adults and children alike), what I get out of it can change wildly. I hated¬†Wuthering Heights¬†the first time I read it. I thought the characters were awful. No one acts like that! But when I read it just a few years later, having been in that kind of passionate love, I liked it much better. I’ll never go out onto the moors and night and yell “Cathy!” while banging my head against a tree, but I can understand what drives Heathcliff to do it.

Words and stories can unite us and show what we have in common, which is so much more than what divides us. All cultures share stories, whether by mouth or by papers passed down through generations. Fairy tales are a great example of that–there’s a Cinderella, a Red Riding Hood, a Snow White almost everywhere in the world. The defeat of evil and the triumph of good are universally desired.

When we think of all the things that make us different–let’s look at the things that are the same. Literature is a great place to start.

Once upon a time…

Day 28: A book list

We’re winding down here in the 31 Days, and we’ve covered a lot! But now we’re getting into the randoms. I still hope, however, that you’ll find good things here.

I love a good book list, and since we’re getting into winter and staying indoors, it might be time to investigate some new reads. Along with the books we’ve discussed here, this is a list of books I wrote a few years ago that I consider must-reads. Give it a glance and add some of them to your reading list!

 

Day 27: Fairy Tale Poll!

OK, so now that we’ve discussed these tales, included how they’ve been changed, what version is your favorite?

Let’s have a poll!

Feel free to explain your answer  in the comments!

Day 26: Fairy Tale References in Popular Culture

As well as adaptations and re-tellings:

  • ABC’s¬†Once Upon A Time¬†uses characters from the Disney canon–not necessarily all fairy-tale characters (Mulan and Lancelot, for example)–and places them in the modern world. So far, some of the characters are: Belle, Rumplestiltskin (even though, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t shown up in a Disney movie) , Snow White and her stepmother, and her prince; Pinnochio and his father, Geppetto, and Jiminy Cricket; Maleficient; Cinderella; Captain Hook; The Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts; Hansel and Gretel; Aladdin’s genie; the Magic Mirror.
  • Disney’s¬†Lilo and Stitch references Andersen’s¬†The Ugly Duckling¬†to illustrate how lost Stitch, as an alien being, feels on Earth among humans.
  • Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s¬†Into the Woods¬†has been referenced many times in this series. The stories they use are: Jack and the Beanstalk; the Grimm Brother’s Cinderella; Rapunzel; Little Red Riding Hood; and Sleeping Beauty and Snow White (tangentially). The stories are tied together using the characters of a Baker and His Wife. The Baker is actually Rapunzel’s brother, and the Witch in the story is the one who took Rapunzel from her parents after the baker’s father stole the greens from her garden. The first act covers the stories as we know them; the second part covers “what happens after the stories ended?”
  • The British film¬†The Red Shoes¬†uses Andersen’s story and sets it in the world of ballet.
  • Sleeping Beauty became one of the greatest ballets of all time after its premiere in Imperial Russia in the 19th century. Music by Peter I. Tchaikovsky and choreography by Petipa. The role of Princess Aurora and the Lilac Fairy are highly coveted in the dance world.
  • The film¬†Ever¬†After¬†retells Cinderella as if the characters were real people in 17th century France.
  • Shrek uses many fairy tale characters, including Puss-In-Boots, a Fairy Godmother, Snow White and the Dwarves, Pinnochio, and fairies.
  • The Steadfast Tin Soldier is a part of Disney’s Fantasia 2000.
  • Thumbelina was made into an animated motion picture in the 1990s.
  • The Emperor’s New Clothes¬† was spoofed, in a sense, by Disney’s¬†The Emperor’s New Groove.
  • The Princess and the Pea¬†inspired the musical¬†Once Upon A Mattress.
  • Cinderella¬†has seen several versions in opera:¬†Cendrillion, by Massenet, as well as a version by Rossini.
  • Joyce DiDonato as Cinderella at the Royal Opera House

  • Hansel and Gretel¬†is also an opera, popularly performed during the holiday season as a “family” selection, since it’s in English and involves creative and funny costumes (like actors dressed up as fish in ties and tails!)

Man as fish! And scary cooks

  • The opera¬†Rulsalka¬†plays off Andersen’s¬†Little Mermaid,¬†but uses the Slavic idea of merwomen who lure men to their deaths with their music and tempting¬†appearance¬† Rusalka, like the Little Mermaid, falls in love with a prince and wants to become human. She also fails in getting him to marry her, and returns to her watery world, but the prince commits suicide in order to be with her.
  • Renee Fleming as Rusalka, making her deal with the Witch

     

Gothic and fairy tales and epic poetry! (writing projects update)

So I’ve been a bit AWOL here, I know, but that’s because I’ve been doing 31 days over at AYOLA.¬†

31 days is what it sounds like…you write about a topic for 31 days (the entire month of October.) This year I decided to try this and focus on literature. First, we looked at gothic literature, then fairy tales. I’m about done with fairy tales (final post on that tomorrow) so the last four days will be other elements of Lit.¬†

If you’d like to read the whole series as it stands, go here. I will also post the remaining entries here as well, so on Oct. 31 you will be able to read every post!

In November, I’m going to do NaNoWriMo. Yes, my friends, this year it is going down. Right now I have a sort of tenuous plot, and characters. I’ve still got a few days to firm these things up before I start writing on the 1st. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.¬†

Oh, and I also was interviewed by a national magazine earlier this month! More details on that as they arise…