Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I am an enormous fan of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. However, let me offer up another way to examine the hero figure. Northrop Frye’s description of literary modes in his essays collected in Anatomy of Criticism puts forward the idea that heroes can be divided into four types: mythic hero (man as a form of divinity, superior to all other men); the romantic hero (man as superior to other men, but not divine), the low mimetic hero (the hero as one of us) and ironic hero (the hero as lesser; the irony deriving from the idea of someone lesser taking on the role of hero).

There is no reason that this version of hero can't be used in conjunction with Campbell's vision, but it does offer an interesting look at hero for authors as we consider how to plot our literature and how to handle the role of hero in theme and plot resolution.

Consider Harry Potter (I've been re-examining these books of late). An essay by Kathleen Malu, an associate professor at William Patterson University in New Jersey, argues that Potter's success in children's literature is a represents something of a merger of romantic hero and iron hero. Her point of view is that while Harry has powers and opportunities that none of us may have access to, he is nonetheless an ordinary boy who struggles with common activities such as confusion over how to deal with certain interpersonal relationships, difficulty in mastering certain academic pursuits, and coming to terms with loss and identity. Indeed, while Harry may have access to supernatural abilities, the only time he seems to use these abilities is when he is presented with supernatural threats.

What about other figures in contemporary fantastic literature? Where would they fall in Frye's hierarchy. Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake? Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden? What about William Jones' Rudolph Pearson?

Does this reading change anything? Why re-examine literature at all? Maybe because it's a way to enhance our appreciation, to give us a different perspective and to offer us a deeper reading.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reader Response Theory and Writing

As a writer, it is interesting to look at different approaches to literature. Recently I’ve been reading Louise Rosenblatt’s work on Reader-Response Theory. Her interpretation of this concept posits that the reader takes an author’s work, examines it, runs it through a filter of past experiences, and creates his or her own text or "poem" of the work.

Rosenblatt and Reader Response theory has impacted American education. Instead of a rigid interpretation, students were given much more freedom in giving voice to their own views and creativity. Rosenblatt believed that teachers should approach literature without imposing pre-conceived notions to the text. The reader thereby completes the work by attaching his or her interpretation to the work and making it whole. Some people have criticized this, arguing that students became undisciplined thinkers.

Sounds a little high fallutin’? There’s truth to Reader Response Theory though. The writer can intuit it when reading his or her work aloud. Doing so, we try and impart a meaning to it, to influence interpretation; doing it in a way that would influence the reader. Makes you wonder if it isn’t a form of cheating.

So, how can a writer take Reader Response Theory and work with it? How can you know that the work will be reinterpreted based on context and the filter of reader experience? I’ll leave these questions sitting out here. I have more to say on this matter. I’ll pick up this thread of thought in a day or so and welcome your dialogue.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More Gore In Store

The goriest film I've ever seen? I pause and consider this question. Lord knows I watch a ton of hack and slash. Hmmm. "Turista"? Hardly. "Night of the Living Dead"? A walk through the park. "Hostel"? Yeah, that's definitely blood and gut territory. "Cabin Fever"? "Saw 2"? "The Devil's Rejects"?

All of these horror films are child's play next to "Rambo", directed by Sylvester Stallone. Seriously. In this most recent incarnation of the series, the story takes place in Myanmar as a rogue army of one hundred terrorizes innocent villagers. Rambo heads up river along with a group of mercenaries to rescue a team of missionaries. Using this plot as a frame we get the most realistic scenes of bodies being blown up, ripped apart, liquefied. Children are seen having their limbs blown off and holes ripped through their bodies. And unfortunately, this is the best example of special effects that I've ever seen. Absolutely believable.

I am sure that Stallone would argue that war is bloody. That may be true, but I would counter that in a Rambo movie, while one comes to the film with expectations that there will be violence and gore, one expects comic book or Hollywood action to follow. When this sort of gore shows up in a Rambo film, it is gratuitous and vulgar. This isn't "Saving Private Ryan" or "Platoon".

I know people have questioned the use of gore over and over and talked about whether or not it desensitizes an audience. That issue bleeds into videogames and music. I'm not necessarily raising that issue here. I obviously watch many films that are expectedly vicious. However, the Rambo series, while always bloody, never reached the level of gore that would make a horror film seem tame in comparison.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Computer Problems?

It's easy to forget. We may occasionally defrag or allow our virus checker to do its thing, but we need to be proactive regarding our computers. I'm guilty. I have allowed things to get so bad that I've had to reformat. I've changed my tune though, my anthem these days is "Maintenance". I'm not endorsing any programs, I'm not a computer expert, I just know that when I do certain things regularly my computer isn't attacked by virus or slowed to mud by adware, those pesky little bots that some bastards like throwing onto your system to track your browsing habits, follow your keystrokes, or redirect you to other sites. It's bad enough that our search engines try and direct us hither and non from time to time. are my top programs. They are all free. I use them all. I am not recommending any of them, but hey....again, I use them and I see results. In order of how they impress me:

1) Ccleaner---this one is a must for me. I can't believe all it does. It cleans everything and gives you two settings: easy (dummies) and advanced (less dumb).
2) Spybot-- A blessing. The newer version will sit in your tray like a watchdog and keep any nasties from making changes to your registry without your permission. Growwwlllll.
3)AVG- the free virus killer. To be honest, I have grown less in love with this program over the last few years. It seems more invasive these days and I suspect that it slows down the system. I actually allow spybot to guard things and only activate AVG when I do a full cleaning. In other words, unlike spybot, I won't let it sit in the tray and guard stuff.
4)Zonelab--a great firewall. I would even consider buying it and running it as a virus checker if I weren't so cheap.
5) Eusing Registry Cleaner---a nice program. Not sure I need it with Ccleaner, but again, easy to use and it runs smoothly.

These don't represent all the great stuff out there to keep your computer free and fast, I could have added lavaware's Adware, but these are a good start. If you have anything else you use that's wonderful and tested, let me know.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dear Diary

I've always been a big supporter of journaling. As a writer, I would force myself to make daily entries, whether it consisted of snippets of dialogue or decriptions. Perhaps even a three page scene or sketch which might promise to develop into something else. I remember being struck once by Steven King once writing that he wrote six titles, taped them to his refrigerator, and then forced himself to write a story using each one. Reading that, I immediately started adding possible titles to my journal entries along with one sentence outlines of where that title might head.

In 2000 though, I did something strange, I actually began a journal that recorded daily events and or thoughts. No writer's journal here. I recently found this journal while looking through the closet for a notebook to write in. Reading it over, I smiled as some memories were jogged and marveled at some of the things forgotten. I also was surprised by the emotional content. My therapist would have been pleased.

So, what about now? Has blogging replaced journals? Somewhat. But I am about to embark on a new experiment. A daily journal of the sort I made in 2000. I will be using the Star Message Diary program.Okay it sounds hokey, but the program is free and does what I want it to do.
I'll have to see how this process goes. Hopefully it will be as successful as the 2000 diary.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sniffing Glue

Some people won't understand. Maybe it's a babyboomer thing. But there was a time when sneaking copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland under the covers to read by flashlight was the best thing in late night entertainment. Flipping through pulp pages of black and white pictures of old horror films occasionally seen on Saturday afternoon television, or after school matinées, and reading Forrest J. Ackerman's corny copy was pre-adolescent Nirvana. And so were Aurora models.

Do kids still make models? I had an amazing collection. From The Addams Family House, loving painted and mounted on a wood base complete with miniature skeletal trees and cemetery, to the full host of Universal monsters. The best had to be Dracula, with Frankenstein's monster coming in a close second.

Gluing and painting, creating horrific panoramas, the experience fueled the imagination. If you're interested in exploring some of these creations, or jogging memories, follow this link to Bobby's Monster Models, "my macabre mausoleum of morbid monster mayhem"

My poor parents. "When are you going to outgrow this stuff?" The answer now is obvious. Never.

Friday, July 11, 2008

This Is The Way The World Ends....

I adore "Silly Season", that time of year when the stories that dominate a news cycle seem to be a bit sensational or odd. In my current surfing, I've been coming upon a good many postings dedicated to the end of the world. Now, I enjoy a good apocalypse. Who doesn't? Hollywood obviously does. Look at the end of the world tales that have been released in the last several years: "I Am Legend", "Mad Max", "On The Beach", "Desolation Alley", "Logan's Run", "Planet of the Apes", "Wall-E" , "The Last Stand", "Day of the Comet", "Armageddon", "Day After Tomorrow", "Night of the Living Dead", "Cloverfield", "Miley Cyris In Concert with the Hudson Brothers".

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Currently the most discussed alarm clock is the ongoing countdown to December 21, 2012. Apparently the Mayans made this prediction. Don't they get blamed for everything? Contributing to the building frenzy is a story that solar scientists are stating that solar storms are building in intensity and will continue to reach dangerous levels, culminating in a peak..when? 2012. This story has been confirmed by National Geographic.

Then there's the new atom smasher CERN is powering up. Doomsayers are concerned it will destroy the Earth by unintentionally manufacturing a black hole. And when is this supposed to go online? 2012!!!! Actually, no. The CERN device will be up and running later this year. But still.

Well..what about that Super Volcano we keep getting warned about? What about the event that scientists predict according to statistical probabilities? What about the prophecies decoded from the bible?

What about . . .

Oh, I love "Silly Season".

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say the world will end in ice,
From what I've tasted of Desire,
I hold with those who favor fire,
But if I had to perish twice,
I hold with those who favor ice.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


How many people have read Dracula or Frankenstein? How many have enjoyed The Incredible Hulk without stopping to consider the debt Stan Lee owes to Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? I find it interesting to pause and consider how popular culture picks and chooses from literature certain images and ideas, and how these parings become part of culture while the original work fades into the background and possible obscurity. An author is only a temporary guardian of his work. Once it is given to and accepted by a readership, ownership is surrendered and the work, like a living thing, continues through its life process. I'm not talking about copyright infringement. I'm talking about how perceptions of art change the art and make it into something else.

I recently read Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It occurred to me that probably most people’s knowledge of the original source is taken from the 1939 film version starring Judy Garland.

When people think about the wicked witch, they think of Magaret Hamilton’s over the top performance as a Halloween poster child, flying in the sky on her broomstick, spelling out the words: “Surrender Dorothy” (a scene that never occurred in the book) . Mention The Wizard of Oz and rather than the text, people will begin humming lines from “If I Only Had a Brain” or :”Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead”. And occasionally lines of dialogue from the film resurface in regular conversation or in film, or on television; lines such as “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” and “There’s no place like home.”

Time and culture continues to push us farther away from the original. The Wizard of Oz becomes urbanized in The Wiz. The witches develop more depth than Dorothy ever did in the updated book Wicked, which is pushed further from the source by the stage play.

It’s easy to imagine that by the time the audience returns to the book, their expectations have been set and the original is a let down.

As time and politics reshape culture, what once made a classic is often lost. No one reads Pilgrim’s ProgressLife On The Mississippi is a chore for the modern reader to absorb, and elements of culture which Samuel Clemens took for granted have shifted and transformed so that the modern reader will struggle with the work written in 1883 any longer.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What Is Literature?

I have been reading upon literary theory. This is a concept defined as a systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. At the core of this concept and at the core of discussions in this concept is the question: What is literature?

One definition available online holds that literature is "creative writing of recognized artistic value". No? What about
a humanistic study of a body of literature? Hmm. Then there's the profession or art of a writer.

While the definitions and focus tend to be on the written word, can't we, in the age of technology and variety of media,include video games? Can't literature be interactive? What about film? Can we bring that in under the cloak of literature? Music? If it is a creative art form, then why not?

If we hold with the beginning idea of literary theory, which is to come up with a systematic study, a paradigm, then if we can apply the areas of critique to expression, isn't any form of expression valid?

Let me start by probing the elements of fiction. You know, style, plot, character, setting, and theme. If we can apply these elements in critiquing a work, then why not embrace it as literature.

Perhaps we should start with the root of the word. If you examine the early attempts to define the concept, the etymology implies it's writing formed with letters. A later definition in the 1300's established it to be a
body of writings from a period or people.

That body of writing is of course a physical representation of the artistic expression of that point in time. Why written? Because there was no video equipment or computers in the time of the writing og the Epic of Gilgamesh or Beowulf. Perhaps if there had been, the definition could have been expanded.

So I argue, let's expand our concept of literature. Let's begin our adventure into critiquing literature by broadening it's scope and context.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

We, The People

I am always moved when I stop and reflect on the American Revolution. This event in history has come alive for me. I don't just hear the names or see the passage of events as a listing on a timeline in the pages of a book, instead I feel the passion, the self-doubt, and the determination that these merchants and farmers experienced. This was a human experience, one that should be taken out of context of any current debate regarding patriotism, religion, or politics, and instead framed as part of something larger, as a moment in history when a group of people came to a crossroads and chose a path, for better or worse, that would change their lives and shape the lives of a continent.

If the American Revolution hadn't occurred I believe we would still today be a republic. Enlightenment thinking, the onset of industrialism, the geography and nature of emerging capitalism guaranteed that. I also think that the Declaration of Independence would have emerged in some other form in some other place. We often forget the elements that brought about that document. It was part of an evolutionary process. We think of it as a single entity when we should be thinking of it in terms of the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, and writings of such thinkers as Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbs.

Still, the event did occur and so I reflect. I see the humid room where the First Continental Congress came together. I hear the debates that occured, the frustrated shouting of those who identified with the homeland, the equally passionate protestations of those who sought to step into the unknown realm of self-governance. I hear the southern contingent, eager to insure their economic security, making slavery an issue at a time when it surely wasn't ; these were the arguments of the rich and the entitled, concerned mostly with maintaining their wealth and an advantageous social structure. I hear the clashing of personalities. I see Dickenson casting a prejudiced eye at the irritating Adams; I see Franklin, sweltering, uncomfortable, stirring up trouble, often manipulating for the sake of his own vanity. I see Lee, restless, eager to get back to his land, friendly but superficial in his dealings with others. I see Jefferson and Hancock, standing in a corner, exchanging smalltalk.

Some take July 4th, the holiday, and use it to express their nativism, to justify their ideologies, to compete against their neighbor in displays of egoistical I reflect on the people and the ideas, appreciating this moment in history with a quiet awe at how moments swirl and coalesce into a nexus point. I then look up and down the corridors of history and appreciate the context and most importantly, the people.