Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lord Byron is Haunting My Book Cover!

For the past two weeks, I've been reading Jane Austen's Emma in my Romantic Comedies class. This is the last of Austen's books I've had to read, and I was enjoying how well it was written and all the little bits with Mr. Knightly. However, I started to notice something odd about the actual edition we were reading from for the class.

We were reading from an Oxford World's Classic edition. My professor obviously chose it for the excellent notes and background information (including a comparison to Much Ado About Nothing, our first reading of the semester). The woman on the cover is not someone I could picture Emma actually looking like. Her chin is too round and strong, her cheeks too flushed, her look too manly. Not that Emma is a dainty creature. But this woman is not exactly right. While I happen to admit I am a picky cover art person, this one was bothering me more than I imagined it would. Picture us all in a board room type classroom, with one long shiny, wooden table for almost twenty of us to squeeze into, bumping each other constantly with huge leather spinning chairs. Now picture all of our books laid out on the table, all those Oxford World's Classic Emma's displayed at every angle - even reflected by the table.

There was another face I was seeing while staring at the multiple covers across from me. Upside down. And I gasped when I first saw that familiar face. I wanted to jump out of my chair, knocking the two people next to me, shouting, "Guys, did you notice this? Her face, when it's upside down, looks just like Lord Byron!" It was so obvious to me that I wanted to scream. To try and demonstrate the likeness to you, dear readers, I took a picture of the books side by side - Emma upside down and Lord Byron rightside up. If you can't see the similarities for whatever reason, imagine Emma at a distance (like, across a table). That might work better.

Lord Byron. One of the great Romantic poets. You might be familiar with him. Some of you might wish to have known him... perhaps in more ways than a simple hello (I mean, yeah, of course). If you don't know who he is, I suggest you search him when you have free time. I'm a huge Romanticism buff, which is why I say that, but it's an understatement to say that the Romantics have influenced us all. There. My tiny speech, haha.

And I found this bit from one of his long poems, Don Juan, that seems to me to echo the prank he was playing by showing his face to a tired grad student:

"Thus would he while his lonely hours away
Dissatisfied, nor knowing what he wanted;
Nor glowing reverie, nor poet's lay,
Could yield his spirit that for which it panted.
A bosom whereon he his head might lay,
And here the heart beat with the love it granted,
With - several other things, which I forget,
Or which, at least, I need not mention yet."

So I'm trying to imply, by his own words, that perhaps he was terribly bored and lonely. He could have left me alone to taking my notes on Emma in peace. But he reared his ugly (maybe) head just to get a reaction out of me. Maybe he hoped it was love, but I assure you it wasn't. I spent such an intense semester in my senior year of college studying the Romantics. When I see a picture or stumble upon a poem, I smile because it's like seeing an old friend. And, romantic wise, I'd probably sooner go on a date with Shelley or Keats (or even my favorite unknown Romantic poet, Thomas Lovell Beddoes) before ever putting my hand in Lord Byron's. He's just trouble.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unrequited Love and Russian Mermaids

Valentine's Day is finally over. I can come out now. I had my hands over my eyes, at least mentally, that entire day. But no one can really hide from it, whether they have the prescribed reason to celebrate or not. Finding little boxes of chocolate on my desk from sweet office mates brought a smile to my face. I discovered a heart drawn my attendance sheet and got a "Happy Valentine's Day" from a tardy, but well-meaning kid. I had three books lined up to read, papers to grade, and little writing assignments to finish. But, as it usually happens, the tricky feelings on this day can sneak into your heart even at its' busiest stages. I was not immune. I leaned back in my chair and stared up at the uninspiring ceiling when the feelings first surfaced. "Bah humbug," I muttered, but I couldn't say it with real conviction. I do love this Hallmark holiday. But it never fails to make me feel bad.

This year's V-Day special was a delightful, double-helping of unrequited love. The dish was made of china with delicate pink flowers as a border and the frustrated confusion that sat steaming on the pretty plate had a particularly strong oder. I'm no stranger to it, but the red balloons and stuffed chocolates seem to demand I face it head on with grim satisfaction. Well, so be it. I'm certainly no stranger to it.

It's always a comfort to think of something similar in such a situation - remembering that you're not the only one in the world going through such a trial is hugely effective. So when I tried to push the plate away yesterday, pinching my nose closed and squirming, I thought of Anderson's The Little Mermaid. More specifically, I thought of the Russian film version of it, Rusalochka (1977) by the Gorky Film Studio. It's sitting on my shelf even as I type this, just waiting to be watched again - but a huge portion of the film is on Youtube in clips. That's how I found it in the first place. If any version of The Little Mermaid has ever played up the unrequited love theme, it is certainly this one. And how our mermaid suffers.

What I like most about Russian retellings of fairy tales (and what makes it so easy to sit through strange acting and stranger dubs) is that you can tell how much love and care the crew put into the videos. The costumes are stunningly beautiful (as the actors/actresses can be) and each scene is crammed with little charming details and wonder. Rusalochka is no different.

The plot is essentially the same as Anderson's tale, but with a few surprising and creative changes. A list format for this would be best:

1. The little mermaid receives help from a traveling actor named Sulpitius.
2. The witch is a human who runs the local tavern and bargains for the mermaid's green hair.
3. The human princess (the one who finds the prince on shore) is a horrible, selfish creature.
4. The little mermaid can speak (and when she does, a little bell chimes - indicating the power and beauty of her voice).
5. The Prince participates in a duel to win the selfish princess' affection and actually DIES. The little mermaid and company band together and bring him back to life, at the cost of him never being able to know her.
6. Sulpitius sacrifices his life for the little mermaid so that she won't die after losing the Prince. She will take up a new occupation though, haunting the prince for the rest of his life. Woah.

Crazy, eh? If you don't believe me, you should definitely check it out. Youtube, as I said, offers most of the movie, but you wouldn't know you were missing a chunk unless, well, you read my list. The whole part where the Prince dies in the duel is sadly missing. Well, that's why I have the DVD. Strangely enough, the dubbing runs through the entire movie EXCEPT FOR THE MUSICAL NUMBERS. Whut. The music is pretty awesome because it is just plain silly. Silly and catchy. I feel like I'm missing out by having it suddenly switch back. I guess the dubbers didn't want to tackle the epicness.

Another thing: Prince Antoine is a very handsome young man, but extremely one-dimensional. When my friends and I watched it, we grinned with mirth and called him Stone Face, haha. He can't really get his face to morph into any particular emotion. But I applaud him for trying. Most of the Russian princely character have this problem (yes, I've watched a lot of these, haha).

Everyone knows that unrequited love is the key ingredient for any mermaid story (or any mildly interesting life). I'll finish this bittersweet post with the ending of Rusalochka; Sulpitius disguises himself in a silly mask to challenge the Prince to a duel, thus giving him the opportunity to die and save the little mermaid. You may notice that the sword fight it a little corny. That's okay. Obviously, the Prince isn't a vicious (or skillful) fighter:

Sulpitius: You've been looking for your dream. And you have overlooked it. It is the Little Mermaid!

If only we all had a Sulpitius to jump into action and speak the truth. And if not truth, perhaps announce a strong conviction of feeling that would have otherwise went unnoticed due to unfortunate circumstances. The story of The Little Mermaid continues to exist to sprinkle mermaid's salty tears upon our own wounds, upon the soft bruises of our hearts. Perhaps the sting will be the first sign of healing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure!

Rainy days, car rides, or sleepy afternoons are the perfect opportunities for adventure. There were days when I would crawl out of bed with my mother's hand-quilted covers wrapped around me like a cocoon. I would run my fingers along the spines of the few books I had collected in grammar school, already bent and dirty from too much love. I could hear by brother waking up in the next room. Smiling to myself, I plucked a particular book and dashed into his room, most likely to jump on his bed and pummel him (playfully, of course), until he agreed to play a game with me.

Even for my brother, who hated to read, there was a certain type of book he was loath to pass up reading. They're called, I think, Choose You Own Adventure books or simply gamebooks. Are you familiar with them?

These are books you can't read from cover to cover. You, the reader, are the main character of the story - meaning, the whole book is written in second person point of view (incredibly impressive). Your job is to follow the directions at the bottom of each page, telling you which page to turn to next, or, even better, making you decide between two different paths. You're in the forest a night and you hear a twig break behind you. Keep walking to the cabin and ignore the noise? Turn to page 26. Pull your baseball bat out of your backpack and go find out who made the noise? Turn to page 134.

My first exposure to these types of books was through R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series. My brother was the great collector of the series... by default. He hated reading The Boxcar Children, so relatives looking for a great gift would run out and buy Goosebumps books for him instead. He didn't read them, though, unless someone did it for him, haha.

When we did stumble upon the "Give Yourself Goosebumps" series, it was hard to say no to a tantalizingly new way to play with books. The holographic cover, with it's freaky pictures, were as appealing to our eyes as rare Pokemon cards. The two of us would park it on a couch or on one of our beds and take turns reading the pages out loud. We would often argue about what page to turn to when it came time to make a decision - it was always important to choose the right page. Making the wrong decision could result in a "bad ending," meaning that you'd find yourself either transformed, trapped, or most likely dead by unfortunate circumstances. In order to avoid the bad ending, I think everyone has cheated. At least once. Cheating, meaning, holding the pages with your fingers or bookmarks so that, if you get a bad ending, you can go back and choose the right one. I'm so guilty of this. When I opened one of books in order to write this post, I saw I still had post-it notes still stuck inside the front cover flap - at the ready! Haha!

My favorite bad ending ever is from book one of the series called Escape from the Carnival of Horrors. If you somehow end up on that side of the carnival (the one with the rides, not the midway), you may end up facing the Doom Slide. You are given a series of at least five or six choices on this one. You have no choice but to pick a slide - but which one? If you choose the wrong numbered slide, you might end up sliding for all eternity! Ahh! I won't tell you which one is the never ending slide, but I will give you an idea of what happens. This is an excerpt from that page; I typed it up because I really wanted indenting, haha (and I won't cite the page number for obvious reasons):

Whew! *shivers* I was wildly scared of this ending, every time. I couldn't image what it would be like to do anything forever. My grown-up brain is wondering exactly how long it would take for me to burn a hole through my pants, and if, since I'd be sliding all eternity, I would have a butt at all by the time I died. Painful. What would happen if I decided to end it sooner, or see if I could escape somehow by rolling off or propelling myself off the slide? Would the slide just double-back and catch me as I fell, or would I fall forever? If I got bored, could I have a conversation with the voice that told me I'm doomed? This may be why I love this ending so much - it makes me think.

In researching a bit for this post, I'm shocked to discover that Stine wrote forty-two of these books. Oh my gosh. I had always hoped to collect all of these books, but now my dream is dashed against the side of a craggy cliff. I guess I should be happy with what I have:

#1 Escape from the Carnival of Horrors
#2 Tick Tock, You're Dead!
#3 Trapped in Batwing Hall
#4 The Deadly Experiments of Dr. Eek
#15 Please Don't Feed the Vampire

Judging by the numbers, you can see that we must have gotten them around the time they were first being released. Why the jump to #15? Well, I just found Please Don't Feed the Vampire a few weeks ago at a small shop. It was very exciting, haha.

On a less spooky note, I found an old book that works the same way as these Goosebumps books do. It's called The Magic of the Unicorn by Deborah Lerme Goodman. The illustrations are beautiful; I'm looking at it right now, wishing I could read it for the first time. I'm actually two books away from finishing Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, so I'm banning myself from starting anything new before then (I'm a chronic multi-reader). Because if this delay, I'll type out the blurb for Goodman's book:

"Only a unicorn's horn can purify the water in your medieval village - so you set off to find a unicorn. After a long search you meet a sorceress who promises to help you. She offers you a choice between two spells. One will give you the power to speak to animals. The other will weave you a golden net for catching magical beasts. Which spell will you choose?

If you choose to speak with animals, turn to page 44. If you choose the golden net, turn to page 49. Take heed! The realm of the unicorn is perilous. You may be burned to a cinder in a dragon's fire or turned into a tree by an evil wood-witch. Or you may find the unicorn and bring it home in triumph!"

Take heed! These books are addicting! I wish I could say I've grown out of them, or that I've put these books up for sale or sent them to another loving family in a donation bin. I would be lying. I have plans for these books, most involving sitting down with friends and traversing the scary, quirky worlds these authors have created. Now this, ladies and gents, is a worthy adventure.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tea and Finger Sandwiches (Fingers Not Included)

This post is more or less about food. Food blogging is popular, isn't it? It's one of those extremely fruitful blogging trends, much like the ever-popular fashion blogs. At least, that's what my peek at Bloglovin' has revealed. It's disheartening to see that the most blogs under "literature" have an average of three followers. That's where I am - huzzah! Representin' in the lit category, haha.

I can understand why food is so popular. I actually watch way too much of the Food Network. Whenever a competition or some behind-the-scenes food history show comes on, I just can't look away. It's so fascinating. It must be the joyful atmosphere that naturally comes when people flock together to enjoy a good ice cream sundae that is so attractive.

I've been drinking a lot of tea lately. We have way too many in the closet, so my mom's plan is to make giant glasses of them to stick in the fridge. She's even been combining different teas to make some rather pleasant concoctions. The last one was a raspberry and chamomile tea combo. Delicious.

This is very important. My top three favorite flavors of tea:

Cinnamon Plum

My mom and I had some cinnamon plum tea the other day. We sat together, drinking from our very plain blue mugs in silence. Well, she was. I was grading and staring longingly at my steaming cup. She had asked me what I was waiting for, and I merely shrugged and said, "Well, I might as well finish one more paper. It's probably still too hot for me."

"But it's been sitting there for fifteen minutes already."

"I can't drink hot stuff too well. I always burn my tongue," I said. I jabbed my finger in her direction. "It still surprises me that you can just drink it right away. It's way too hot. I bet you could drink fire if you wanted to."

And I strongly believe she could. I can picture her as a female Dustfinger from Funke's Inkheart, playing with fire like no one's business. I comfort myself my knowing that I can down very, very cold drinks with a lot more enthusiasm that she can.

I've been ruminating on tea. It's a beautiful type of drink, for many reasons. It prompts thoughtfulness and relaxation. I found some great quotes I wanted to share that capture that softer spirit:

The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. ~George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecrof

We had a kettle; we let it leak: Our not repairing made it worse. We haven't had any tea for a week... The bottom is out of the Universe. ~Rudyard Kipling

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on. ~Billy Connolly

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~C.S. Lewis

And, of course, where would we be without special cups to drink tea out of? There are so many, and it's hard to say which ones are the best. For no reason other than being proud to have the knowledge, I want to be able to memorize popular brands of tea cups like Wedgewood of Ginori (hahaha, not Corelle). I feel like the knowledge might come in handy someday. And how? Well, I don't know. But it's got to be exciting. Here are some cups I wish I had to drink my tea out of (from We Heart It, again):

Pretty, eh? And they have humor to them. I confess I don't have any fancy tea cups. I just have some plain mugs I grab from the cabinets. I just dunk a tea bag in water and heat it up in the microwave. Hardly romantic, but at least I admit it. And have to have sugar. A lot of it, haha.

What teas do you like? How do you enjoy it? I haven't had a tea party in a while, I could go for some chicken salad sandwiches on a croissant, or cucumbers with cream cheese. Yum! Sounds like a plan.