Friday, January 29, 2016

... appreciating required-Poe...

“Oh, outcast of all outcasts most abandoned!
—to the earth art thou not forever dead?”

Preparing to kiss the Poe statue in 2009-- which I didn't actually do because I don't want to ruin art with my lipstick!
As I’ve been discussing the *fun reads* that I have been catching up on prior to the semester, I started thinking that perhaps I’m giving the impression that what I teach isn’t so fun. That isn’t the case at all; it’s just not new-to-me.

As a professor, I tell my students that my syllabi are completely biased because I select the pieces that I want them to read; and, I love to re-read my favorite works. I think it’s important to have a great deal of enthusiasm about the pieces that I select. How else can I encourage others to love literature?!? 

Teaching the introduction to literature course is one of my favorites because not only do I get to teach Dracula by Stoker but I also get to select some of my favorite prose including the short story that I have my class read.

"William Wilson" is probably my favorite short story by Edgar Allan Poe. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here. It isn’t the most popular but even Poe believed it was “[his] best effort”, or at least when he wrote to Washington Irving asking for endorsement, he specifically requested a response to this short story.  

First published in The Gift, Christmas 1839, “William Wilson” is certainly one of his masterpieces even if it is not the most popular. It isn't a Christmas story! I just noted the publication date because, well, I'm still focusing on the Christmas season.

“William Wilson” is a first-person narrative narrated by a character for whom death is imminent and who is distinctly interested in controlling the impression he makes upon the reader.  The basic premise of the story is that the narrator who calls himself William Wilson begins school with another boy with the same name, the same birthday, the same appearance. In fact, they’re exactly the same except that the double appears to be good while our narrator does some pretty awful acts beyond the card-sharking, drinking and lusting that are noted within the piece. And, the double can only whisper.

While the story focuses on the doppelgänger, or the supernatural double, the motif of light and dark are throughout the piece. William Wilson sneaks into his double’s dorm room and takes a close look at his features while at Dr. Bransby’s school. “When the bright rays fell vividly upon the sleeper, and my eyes, at the same moment, upon his countenance. I looked;—and a numbness, an iciness of feeling instantly pervaded my frame.” This is the last time our narrator gets a good look at his double’s features. For the rest of the text, the double lurks in the shadows or hides his face. But I don’t want to discount the length that Poe goes to add obvious doubles. The character uses the name William Wilson (W-W… doubling) and if you sound out the name in English, the first letter W (double-you). Yeah, Poe was a smart, intentional fellow.

There are three German films based on this short story. All of the films are called The Student of Prague. I have my students watch the 1926 version even though the film isn’t that similar to “William Wilson”. The point is to compare the double in the story and in the film. The portrayal is quite different. You can actually view the film in its entirety, albeit you have to watch nine separate YouTube posts. They begin here and you should be prompted to the next clip in order. 

For audiobook fans, I'm including this version below:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

... book review: _Suicide Forest (2014)_ by Jeremy Bates...

Picture from Japan Times. Signage is used to discourage suicide attempts noting "all life is precious".

I recently mentioned that this time of year, right before the semester began I have been trying to read a ton of fun reads. I have been developing a dark tourism course for the fall 2016 semester. This novel, which is part of the RVA book club, goes right along with my theme. The other possible texts and articles I’ve been reading for the course are non-fiction; but, I’m thinking this horror novel by Jeremy Bates might be a nice way to break-up a sensitive subject. Instead of a real story, here is one that is based on the forest. 

Suicide Forest (2014) by Jeremy Bates
Just outside of Tokyo lies Aokigahara, a vast forest and one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Japan...and also the most infamous spot to commit suicide in the world. Legend has it that the spirits of those many suicides are still roaming, haunting deep in the ancient woods. When bad weather prevents a group of friends from climbing neighboring Mt. Fuji, they decide to spend the night camping in Aokigahara. But they get more than they bargained for when one of them is found hanged in the morning—and they realize there might be some truth to the legends after all.

What begins as an excursion to climb Mt. Fuji turns into an almost stereotypical horror movie nightmare when the group of friends enter Aokigahara Jukai. What I enjoyed most about the reading the book, aside from not being able to put it down, was that I felt like I was going along on a hike with a group of people I somewhat knew.

American ESL teacher Ethan Childs planned to climb Mt. Fuji with Mel, his girlfriend, and a few friends. A looming storm and meeting Israeli tourists Ben and Nina changes the plans of the group so that they decide to sleep overnight in Aokigahara Jukai. The forest, which is known for being a place where people take their lives, is also a vast forest with limited trails. It is incredibly easy for travelers to get lost.

What begins as a fun excursion suddenly becomes more than upsetting when one of the group members apparently commits suicide… or was it suicide?  The group becomes lost as they continue to hear strange noises in the woods. While I noted that this feels like a stereotypical horror movie scene, the author takes his time to build up fear in the reader. Are the strange noises in the forest human or are they ghosts?

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot but the visuals in the text are great. I could see the forest; and, I could see the characters and scenes that the author wanted me to see. The other parts I was purposely left in the dark. It's a little bit old school Blair Witch. It’s one of my recent favorite past-paced horror novels.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

... spooky Christmasy movie review: _Wind Chill_ (2007)...

As many of you know, I still have one more week to celebrate Christmas. Then comes Candlemas and our Christmas trees and decorations come down. The decorations have been helpful while being snowed in. Everything feels more fun and festive. January has always seemed so dreary. The only real gardening I’m doing is indoor gardening, and the hyacinth and crocus have bloomed. The only floral beauty in my home right now is the orchid.

While I’m Christmasing, I’m watching Christmas movies. Not to toss my gothy street cred out the door but I’m a Hallmark Christmas movie junkie to the point that my fella doesn’t even understand. But in my movie-going frenzy, I caught a non-Hallmark film called Wind Chill (2007) on the DVR and watched it the other night.

Wind Chill (2007)
Just before their university campus goes quiet for the winter break, a young woman (Emily Blunt) asks a classmate (Ashton Holmes) for a lift home. The two students set off on their trip and begin to get to know each other. But, when a reckless motorist drives them off the road, they find themselves stranded in the snow on a remote highway. As the night grows colder, the two are confronted by a horde of menacing apparitions -- and struggle to escape with their lives.

Director: Gregory Jacobs

Wind Chill is filled with eerie moments. It isn’t just the story of two college students driving home for Christmas break and then who become stranded in the cold. It’s the story of a girl who gets into a car with a guy she doesn’t know. She was going to take a bus home, but a friend urges her to look at the ride-share board that is posted on campus. Throughout the beginning of the film, the viewer is given subtle clues that reveal that accepting this ride-share was not the best idea. For example, in the very beginning of the drive the guy reminds the girl (oh wait! It’s probably important to point out that the characters do not have names. Throughout the entire film, they never mention one another’s name…weird, right?!? In fact, other than one character Lois, none of the characters are named.) of a lecture in their philosophy class about the difference between reincarnation and eternal recurrence. He’s a Philosophy major and she’s taking the class just because. Throughout their conversations there are a few *this-dude-is-a-creeper* moments, like when he mentioned that she looks good in her glasses to which she questions how he would know since she only wears them in her dorm room.

When a car, which leaves no tire tracks in the snow, runs them off the side road that the guy has decided to take as “a short cut”, the girl ends up locking him out of the car. He heads off to the gas station to seek help. While in the car, the girl sees a few strange people walk by the car in the snow. Only later in the movie did I realize that they didn’t leave any footprints in the snow. When the boy returns and she lets him back in the car, the two are trapped and begin to experience ghostly encounters including one highway patrolman who only shows up when some music plays on the radio. Oh, and the car battery died a while ago.

I won’t give away the ending. To me, the movie was a nice ghost story with a touch of Frozen (2010)—the one where they’re trapped on a ski lift, not the Disney animation in 2013. It wasn’t my favorite film (and it wasn’t super Christmasy at all) but it was decent enough to watch on a snowy evening, and as my fella noted “much better than a Hallmark Christmas movie.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

... a devil in the trees, Oh My!...

“The devil's most devilish when respectable.”
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The truth is I do not believe in the devil. I suppose as a Catholic I believe in demons but I haven't had to face any that weren't created by man. With so many complaining about the recent blizzard, I have to be grateful that we were safe, healthy, and pretty much happy. When we were shoveling, one of my neighbors mentioned that he was bored. Huh! I can think of a zillion things to do on snow days. Today I did some course prep and answered work emails. I shoveled and I also walked to get the mail which was a bit challenging. 

While I still have Christmas on my mind, I'm already planning for next year's season but I'll get to that in a moment.

Today is the Jewish holiday Tu BiShvat, also called "The New Year of the Trees.” While it is considered a minor Jewish holiday and I’m not at all Jewish, I have a profound respect for holidays and I love trees!   But this post is not about the holiday. It just so happens that today I have trees on my mind albeit in a materialistic way. 

But before I leave my discussion of the holiday, I want to note that in the Middle Ages, the New Year of the Trees was celebrated with a feast of fruits. By the 16th century, Tu BiShvat seder was established in which the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel were given symbolic meaning. The idea behind this was that that eating specific fruits and drinking “four cups” of wine (whoa, easy now! I hope they mean 4 oz.!) in a particular order while reciting a particular prayer would bring humans and nature closer to spiritual perfection. That’s kind of beautiful if you think about it. 

When I walked out to pick up my mail, the brooch that I ordered from the Czech Republic arrived. The brooch is described on the Etsy page as a cute brooch of a devil made in Gablonz around the 1970s according to original patterns from 1930s. The glass stones are hand-soldered with the legs and tongue completely movable. He’s completely adorable!

This little devil is going to be used in an amazing Kay Adams design for next year’s Krampus! (I know! I have a tendency to plan ahead.) Pictured above I have the new brooch sitting alongside the Weiss Christmas tree pendant that I purchased last year. It's another old piece that is new to me. 

My inspiration piece was Kay Adams’,
my favorite jewelry necromancer in Richmond, tree necklace. Swoon!

Now that I've written this post I realize that some may take it as completely sacrilegious.  I absolutely mean no disrespect by the juxtaposition of the holiday and my brooch. I simply love the idea of having a holiday where we connect with nature (outside of Arbor Day which is more about planting and caring for trees) AND this little devil reminds me of all the fun of Krampus events. I imagine my future necklace will have him frolicking in the woods (of a necklace, that is). So Yay to holidays focusing on our spiritual connection with nature; and, Yay to fun baubles. And, Boo to all the power and credit that some give to the ultimate scapegoat.