Setting: Sweater Weather

October 28th, 2013

Chase walked up and over the sandy hill and made his way to the shoreline. He had lived here his whole life—he’d practically been baptized in salt water—but, to be honest, he wasn’t a fan of the beach. The sand between his toes, the spray of the sea, the burning sun, it didn’t delight him the way it seemed to delight all the tourists who swarmed here every summer. Chase looked back at the weather-beaten boardwalk, the one Gemma made him take a million pictures of. Closed down shacks and tourist shops haunted the horizon. Chase let the wind seep into his sweater and bite at his skin. He let his eyes follow the dirty blonde sand until the beach hooked around. At the edge he could see the stacks of the old power plant, just as bare and left-behind as the boardwalk.

He listened to the crash of the waves behind him and the screeching gulls overhead. They reminded him of flying rats. They circled above begging for a scrap of anything and if you took pity on them, decided it wouldn’t be so bad to feed these mongrels then they took everything.

The foam rushed toward his feet and he stepped back; that’s when he spotted the ridges of a shell, half buried in the wet sand. His fingers reached for the worn shell and let the freezing water wash away the debris. Holding it he pictured Gemma here, laughing at the heart he had drawn in the sand, teasing him about his “artwork”. He clenched his fist around the pink shell and hissed as the edges broke skin. It hadn’t seemed that sharp. He threw the shell back into the sea and watched it fall, watched it sink back into the ocean.

Journal 6- Something Wicked This Way Comes

October 13th, 2013

With Halloween coming up it is not hard to conjure an image of a cackling, green woman, one with a pointy hat and warts on her nose. There is also the beautiful enchantress, tall and strong, her magic seduces the handsome hero and distracts him from his obligations. And it would be remiss to forget the ugly, old hag who kills the young maiden for the magic of youth or beauty.  A witch, wicked or otherwise, is a common figure in literature. Though her appearances are many, her characterization has not changed all that much, and with very few exceptions she is always a woman. Modern authors, such as Phillip Pullman, have expanded the image of the witch in literature.

 

Witches first appeared in Greek and Roman epics, though they were referred to as a sorceress or enchantress. The quintessential ancient sorceress is Circe. Circe appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Homer’s Odyssey. Circe changes her victim’s form; in the Metamorphoses she turns her lover’s new love into a rock and Odysseus’s men become pigs under her magic. Generally ancient witches are depicted as seductive, immoral creatures; they selfishly use their magic to delay or keep the hero from his quest. However, the ugly hag also appears in mythology. For example, the Graeae, a prophetic trio, are depicted as withering, ragged creatures with only one eye between them. One thing the enchantress and the hag have in common in mythology is there lack of backstory. It is interesting that though the name Circe remains in literature, she is never a full character.

 

This pattern of witches without reason for their actions is repeated well into the modern era. It is as if the wicked witch does not need a story, she simply needs to be wicked. Fairy tale witches (in the traditional sense, not the Disney imagined characters) have no real motivation for their evil deeds. Rapunzel’s witch is merely angry with people stealing from her garden. Even Shakespeare’s witches in Macbeth, appear out of nowhere. Though they normally provide the conflict, and often drive the action of the story, witches in early literature serve no other purpose and disappear like magic.

 

The characterization of the witch has progressed much since then. Nathaniel Hawthorne in Young Goodman Brown made us believe that witches were not otherworldly creatures, but our neighbors and family. L. Frank Baum showed us that they were not all wicked. J.K. Rowling made children long to be witches (and wizards). Gregory Maguire revealed that not all wicked things were evil; perhaps they were just misunderstood and heartbroken. Gradually modern authors are fleshing out witches. They are expanding upon the traditional trope, playing with it, and at times turning it inside out.

 

In The Golden Compass Pullman toys with our understanding of good and evil. None of his characters can be clearly defined and the lines are drawn rather blurrily. When Lee Scoresby asks Serafina Pekkala what side he is on she simply replies that they are on Lyra’s side. Interestingly, Pullman shies away from describing the witches as good or evil. Each clan has their own individual interests and their own reasons for fighting in this war. Which side they are on-Lyra’s, Bolvangar’s, the Magisterium’s-are a product of their own free will. Pullman continues to expound on the witch’s character, adding to the ancient descriptions and making them more than their literary tradition.

Journal 5- Daemons

October 13th, 2013

The personification of animals is prevalent throughout literature. In early mythology and folklore animals were often the protagonists; they represented certain aspects of humanity. We frequently imbue animals with human characteristics: the sly fox, the wise owl, the loyal dog. Humans and animals have a natural connection. Ancient people made their gods animals. The Egyptians prayed to the jackal-headed Anubis and their most important god Ra had the head of a hawk.

 

When choosing a form for daemons (visible souls) in The Golden Compass, animals are a natural choice. Pullman could have created unique creatures to represent human souls, imagining ghostlike apparitions or traditional demons. Animals, however, already come with their own personalities. In choosing animals to represent a human’s visible soul Pullman has established characteristics that add to his characters. Mrs. Coulter’s daemon, the golden monkey, reveals aspects of her personality that would otherwise be hard to show. Monkey’s are often depicted as cute and curious animals, however when angered they display sharp teeth and a penchant for violence. The golden monkey exhibits a barely restrained sense of rage; similar to Mrs. Coulter it is also disarmingly, if fiercely, beautiful. The animal fits the human, and fleshes them out, as no unique creature could.

 

I’m a very introverted person; friendly but reserved. I am sarcastic, independent, and often distracted by my own thoughts. I’m also not really an animal person. Choosing my own daemon was a lot harder than writing the first part of this journal. I tried various online quizzes. At first I was told that I was a monkey: admired, detail-oriented, and full of curiosity. That doesn’t sound like me at all. I tend to not ask a lot of questions, I can be detail-oriented but I don’t pay a lot of attention to life, as for being admired you would have to ask someone else. The next test told me I was a wolf. I immediately dismissed it; I’m not a predator. My next step was to Google deceptively cute animals. I wanted an animal that didn’t seem harmful or aggressive, but could be if needed. I don’t speak my mind often, I have a hard time telling people how I feel, and I am relatively easy-going. But I am also quick to anger, though my temper doesn’t show in any traditional way. I’m full of plans and goals, but I’m slow to act preferring to plan and schedule- and frequently waiting till the opportunity passes by. I stumbled upon the slow loris. This animal is adorable, it moves at a careful, practically silent pace, and it produces a deadly poison.

Journal 4- The Characterization of Evil

October 13th, 2013

We have discussed, at length, the ambiguity of evil. Every act labeled evil is not wholly evil; we must think of a character’s intentions when judging their actions. This is especially true in The Fellowship of the Ring. In Tolkien’s world there exists no pure evil. Lewis takes a more simplistic approach to the characterization of evil.

 

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe it would be difficult to find a redeeming quality in the witch or any of her monster minions. She is driven by greed and pride and ambition. Her negative qualities have overtaken her- if there were positive qualities to begin with. The monsters in this book are unlike those in Tolkien’s novel; they did not begin as a good creature. The orcs were first elves, mutilated and reborn as grotesque monsters. Whereas the dwarves, the wolves, etc. in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe did not begin their lives with good, they have always been corrupted.

 

Edmund’s betrayal, an evil act by a good person, complicates the essential duality in Lewis’s world. However, if you consider the Christian message behind the novel it becomes clearer. Edmund is a sinner, who in the end realizes his faults and is redeemed by the Christ figure, Aislan. The center of Christian theology is the idea of salvation and redemption. The bible teaches us that we are all sinners and only through love for God may we be redeemed. Edmund, unlike his siblings, serves as an example of the type of sinner Jesus especially cared for.

 

When looking at the characterization of evil in these two works it is necessary to consider the audience they were written for. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written for children, whereas The Fellowship of the Ring was written for an older audience. Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment explains that children enjoy fairy tales subconsciously. They solve the inner problems that children are unable to articulate and offer meaning to them. Bettelheim asserts that evil is omnipresent in fairytales. There is a duality in life as well as literature but in fairytales there is no ambiguity: characters are good or bad, there is no grey area. However, evil is not present just so the hero has something to fight against. Bettelheim assures us that evil characters are present to show children that bad actions do not yield rewards. Children do not learn morality when the villain is vanquished. They learn when they see that the hero is rewarded for his actions and the villain doesn’t get the throne.

Journal 3- Tolkien’s Line Between Religion and Fantasy

October 13th, 2013

Jason Bofetti in “Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination”, reminds us that Catholic theology teaches that evil is “the absence of good.” No character is inherently evil; at some point they had some good in them or at the end they are somehow redeemable. The essentially “evil” characters are those that fall to their vices.

 

Pride and greed are two of the most common faults in The Fellowship of the Ring. The characters that recognize they cannot wield or carry the ring, despite their desire to, are saved. But even those who do not, such as Boromir and Gollum, are not wholly evil. Boromir does not understand the power of the ring and wishes to use it to help his kingdom from the doom they face at the hands of Sauron. He does not have selfish intentions, but his lust for glory and ultimately the safety of his people drive him to madness. Gollum was once a gentle creature, much like a hobbit, but over time the ring turned him into a monster. But even so Frodo and Bilbo find pity for him. (Let those who have not sinned cast the first stone.) They recognize that Gollum’s behavior does not stem from any inborn evil; rather his desire for the One Ring has blinded him to all other pursuits. As long as he does not possess his “precious” he will continue to seek it, to the detriment of our heroes.

 

Humility and sacrifice are themes throughout the Catholic Church and Tolkien’s literature. The most humble of god’s creatures are the ones that succeed. Frodo offers his service even though he knows he is not the most logical choice for the ring bearer, just as a Jew from an ignored corner of the vast Roman Empire was not the most powerful choice for the Son of God. The bible shows us that God does not desire the most powerful creatures for his service.

 

Bofetti also points out the accidental Catholic imagery throughout Tolkien’s work. Tolkien also presents us with a trinity of Christ figures: Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf represent different aspects of Christ. Gandalf is the wise and powerful Christ, Aragorn is God’s patient warrior, and Frodo is Jesus with his burden.

 

Sauron’s story, as explained in the Silmarillion, is very similar to the story of the devil. Both were once angels, close to god, and a force for good. Their longing for power, and in Sauron’s case an ordered world cause them to fall. In their respective narratives they then become the agent for evil and temptation. Those who desire power above all else, even those with good intentions, will perish.

 

J.R.R. Tolkien in his Tolkien Reader asserts that the bible is the ultimate fairy story. He says that Fantasy and the gospel both present the reader with a eucatastrophe. The end of the story offers hope or salvation for downtrodden heroes or weary readers. They both create a separate, larger world, in which there are many marvels, but these worlds touch on our own reality. Tolkien believes fantasy serves a greater purpose, one that is similar to the Christian teaching of Salvation. The reader, at the end, believes that though the hero may still continue to suffer and die there is an joy to look forward to.

Journal 2- Discussing Evil

October 13th, 2013

It is not always easy to identify the bad guys in our own world. People can easily hide evil behind a pretty face or a few clever lies. Certainly, my own enemies are not Black Riders or things that go bump in the night. In fantasy literature the evil characters are usually fairly recognizable. The presence of evil, while not always the main plot line, is an important tradition in fantastic literature. Without evil whom would the hero fight against? How would they prove themselves in this secondary world if not for evil? Good versus Evil is often the central conflict in many fantasy stories.

 

Evil, in some form or another, is necessary in most forms of literature. For every story there needs to be a conflict, whether it is Huck Finn trying to rescue Jim from slavery or Frodo attempting to destroy the ring. However, in most fiction Evil is not as overt as it is in fantasy. You will rarely encounter a character such as Sauron in realistic fiction. Fantasy tends to handle Evil in a much more fantastic and straightforward way.  Characters such as Sauron and Voldemort in works of Fantasy are described as pure evil, without a redeeming quality. This characterization of the villian makes the hero, even a flawed hero, seem more good. Frodo has his negative qualities, at times he is foolish and unwilling, but nevertheless he perseveres against this horrible force. Evil is necessary to flesh out the good characters and provide more contrast. It lets us appreciate even the bad characters in more nuanced ways because we have pure evil to compare them with. The defining characteristic of the good character is their ability in the end to resist evil.

 

Evil is more extreme and obvious in fantasy literature. In Fantasy evil beings are usually the personification of our baser sins and negative emotions: greed, lust, gluttony, pride, wrath, etc. The Black Riders were once men that have now become corrupted by their pride and greed. They could not resist the power the ring offered them and now they are irredeemable. Evil beings are also those humans or creatures that cannot see past certain extremes. They are the tyrant who believes that there is only one way to love, that life is black and white, and drive is only successful if it is single minded and blind. Sauron was originally an angel of sorts, but his need for an ordered world (and ordered in his own way) warped him into a purely evil being bent on destruction. He could only see his End and he was willing to destroy all that was to reorganize and reconstruct. Evil in Fantasy warns against extremism in all forms. As humans it is easy to give in to lust or envy, it is often admirable to pursue a single goal, but when we are blinded to all reason by these emotions we lose sight of the good in the world and we are halfway to Mordor.

Attacks of Color

October 13th, 2013

The quilt’s pattern is no longer distinct as the colors bleed over the bed onto the floor. Its patches blur at the edges and the colors begin swimming. These colors are the only remarkable part of the stark white room. The only red, the only green, the only yellow, the only art in a space crowded by monitors and tubes.

 

The room had been too white. This nothing color needed to be banished and the quilt was the only weapon available. Its color had helped disguise the now silent monitors. It had brought a bit of life to this room.

 

Never before had White been such a detestable color. White took no prisoners creeping across the room infecting his inhabitant with an awful blankness. He perfectly complemented the sterility of this room. He wouldn’t even let the weak rest in peace. The villain spread across their countenance helped by his minions.

 

Lying across his victim were coarse sheets. They were the first of his soldiers to attack, making their victim pray for warmth. The nurses piled them on, but it didn’t help. They provided no comfort; they deprived the occupant of sleep so they must always look at the white walls. They did not shield the victim from the icy touch of the doctor as he poked and prodded. The recycled air was suffocating. There was no relief from the burning smell of disinfectant. It carried with it the sounds of the hospital; telephone’s ringing, voices chattering, shoes smacking the tile, distorted screams, crying.

 

Even the sight of the various machines and tubes did not relieve the monotony of the white walls. They merely reminded the victim that this was not home. The plastic plant in the corner was White’s secret weapon. It swayed to the steady beep of the heart monitor as it pulled the life from this sanitary room.

 

This was White’s favorite room. Windows were usually nuisances to combat in his quest for emptiness. In this room White had no need to fight the view. He rejoiced in the view of the gray roof in the window. Occasionally the blue sky and yellow sun valiantly attempted to confront the gray and white lines, but the rain was a vengeful friend during this battle.

 

White was a brilliant foe. He believed he had won. His victim’s always succumbed to his colorless sword. They had tried flowers, those children of the yellow sun. Flowers wilted. Glossy photos mocked the victim from the side table, a reminder of the things that were missing. The walls taunted and teased. No color could touch them. No art would penetrate them.

 

The quilt was given to his victim as a gift. It was the last line of defense. White did not tremble in fear at the blanket. No, he was amused. Surely this too would fade in time and join his ranks.

 

The colors were pale and worn, but his opponent smiled. White paused in his game watching as his soldier sheets were tossed across the room. They toppled the plastic plant to the tune of his enemy’s laughter. The colors attacked immediately. They slashed through the weakened defenses of the villain. The red warmed their bones. The green gave them dreams of pleasant days: days unmarred by the gray and white, the wet and cold. The pattern streaked across White’s walls and reflected off the window, obscuring the morose view. All power White had wielded must submit to this threadbare work of patches. White was merely the absence of color… he had no influence against such a weapon.

 

His foe did not close blank eyes. Those lucky enough to be defended by the colors did not become shells for white to dance on in victory. They left the room cold and white in appearance, but White had not captured them.

Journal 1: Defending Fantasy

September 2nd, 2013

Fantasy is often mislabeled as simple kid-lit. Stories that are not challenging and they lack serious literary merit. I won’t argue that all literature is created equally, certainly Fifty Shades of Grey is not on par with Moby Dick, but all literature has value. It is ignorant to dismiss Fantasy as simple escapist fare. Escape is the main function of Fantasy, but it is not the only function. J.R.R. Tolkien in Tolkien Reader says that Fantasy has merit outside of Escape. He argues fairy stories also offer readers Consolation, Recovery, and Fantasy itself, and these are needed more by adults than children.

As a genre Fantasy opens readers up to a multitude of worlds. I would argue that it is far more difficult to “escape” into Narnia or Middle Earth than it is to go to New York or Mexico. As a reader you are required to delve into an unknown setting where little is familiar. Fantasy allows readers to stretch their minds and create new settings. However, this is one of the reasons Fantasy is derided as children’s stories. Some argue that submerging oneself in a Secondary World is akin to imaginary friends and playing pretend. Tolkien assures us that Fantasy is a truly rational activity. It relies on the knowledge that this world is not real; it is a genre that has to be based on facts otherwise it is only delusion. Enjoyment of Fantasy does not depend on a childlike belief in this other world; rather it is about the desire for the other.

Another facet of Fantasy is Recovery, or the “regaining of a clear view.” Successful Fantasy has the power to take a familiar setting and make it new again. We can become blind to the people and places we see everyday and imbuing those things with Fantasy calls fresh attention to them. Fairy stories often deal with normal or simple things, but the injection of Fantasy lets us see them at a new angle.

Consolation, the consolation of a happy ending, is a necessary aspect of most Fantasy. It is comforting to read stories that consistently offer a Happily Ever After. Even when everything has gone wrong, the dragon is defeating the knight and the princess is still stuck in her tower, Fantasy gives our hero a second wind, the dragon is mortally wounded, and the princess is swooning because she’s so happy. I believe this is where Fantasy draws most of its critics. They accuse the genre of being optimistic and unrealistic, apparently life does not guarantee a happily ever after. They don’t seem to realize that Fantasy does not deny the existence of tragedy, but offers hope for a way out of the sorrow of both worlds, Primary and Secondary. In the end many have died, hearts are broken, places are ruined, but whatever Evil there was in this world has been faced and conquered

Escape is simply the most obvious and arguably the most important function of Fantasy. It should not be looked at as a frivolous hope for children and some adults. Life is hard, we face very real problems daily, and when adults feel the pressure of the Primary World it is almost necessary to escape in some way.

Wandering

July 14th, 2013

Where is the road without brake lights?

The red and white ribbons

unravel before me.

A steady rhythm of stop and

go, greets me.

 

This is not what I wanted.

Where is the road without brake lights?

The one that offers freedom;

where I can let the wind

and the tinny notes of the radio

weave through my hair.

 

Where is the road that shows me an empty black top

instead of lines of painted boxes?

I have this urge to wander aimlessly,

take a left here, follow straight

through.

 

Can I get to a speed that leaves my head

behind and I don’t seem to mind that

I’m wasting time?

Bethany

July 14th, 2013

The minivan creeps along 4th street; the only relief from the sweltering heat coming from the ocean. The taunting breeze slips in through the open windows. It mixes in with the sounds of the radio: the latest country star wailing about her lost love or a good night at the bar. But my mind is on the shore line and the salt air.

Loaded down arms with coolers, and chairs, and towels, and umbrellas… we trudge up the hill. I shuck off my flip-flops as I make my way over the dune, following the crashing sound of the Atlantic.

I stand at the top surveying the beach. My eyes scan across the umbrella spotted sand looking for a bare space. I shed the beach tools and the constricting t-shirt, race my brother to the surf. The foam washes over my toes making me gasp. The sparkling liquid that looked so inviting from above delights in freezing my limbs. The ocean is not for the timid though so I plunge into the next broken wave.

Up, up, and over the crest. Immersed in the green sea I smile at the receding shore.

On my towel after my swim I close my eyes. Relishing the feel of my salt-crusted skin, the sun painting my body, the burn and grit of the sand under my toes. This place is home.

A Bed of Grass

July 14th, 2013

The prickly grass accepts me

the sun shines brightly, its rays

warming my bed of green.

 

My winter bleached skin welcomes this bath of light.

I could be easy here,

but the cool, damp earth underneath the hot blades

reminds me that the frost has only recently

departed.

 

I stretch myself  long

pointing my toes towards his bed

I don’t have time for you today

and then

my fingers brush the smooth stone.

 

I roll towards your resting place,

Elbows planted, feet in the air, fingers tracing

the gilted numbers of your days.

 

Here,

the only place that reminds me that you were once alive.

Twelve years is long enough to forget that I ever called you daddy.

I come to your grave,

I stare at your name,

and I force myself to remember.

 

Six feet below me

lying just as I am,

there you are.

 

An ant nudges my arm.

He tests me, weighs me as he calls to his army.

Tickling my skin he takes his measurements.

 

Can he carry me away?

Will he march me down into their deep, dark hole?

 

I watch his progress

mesmerized by his movements.

He runs suddenly from the water dripping off my hand.

I am distracted by the tears gathering at my chin.

 

I rise disturbing the circling black body.

I brush the dirt, the tears, and the pain away.

It’s Dark In Here

April 21st, 2013

Come to Your Senses

b. Go into a closet, close the door, let your eyes adjust, then, take notes on what you hear, touch, and smell. Turn your notes into a poem.

 

Soft cloth swats my face,

I have too much stuff.

Fingers grope at the dress that struck me,

it clings to my skin,

the hanger rings against the metal rod,

it clatters and with it falls the

stubborn fabric.

 

Stagnant air,

I inhale cotton and age.

 

Dust settles on my tongue,

when was the last time I…

a muffled thud, air hisses through my grimace,

sharp pain travels up my foot as

the little-used shoe rack attacks my toes.

 

My limbs protest the overcrowded space,

the curved way my back has fitted itself into the corner.

Time to get out of this damn closet. 

 

 

 

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