Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Surprising Comedy of Poe

I've been rather busy this past week, as you can see from the general scarcity of posts. I'm in a musical with my sister and father, and we've had rehearsals every evening since the 22nd, and opening night last Friday. I get a little break for the next couple days, and then it's back on the stage! The show runs for two more weekends, if anyone in the Glenview neighborhood is interested.
Here's a post I wrote a while ago and then forgot to publish. Enjoy!


Poe is known for his horror. The Raven. The Telltale Heart. The Fall of the House of Usher. The Cask of Amontillado. The Pit and the Pendulum.

Quoth the raven - "Nevermore!"

I don't like horror. One bit.
Because of this, I have avoided Poe, even when my mother bought The Complete Works. I waited at least two years to pull it off the shelf and venture a peek.

My first story was The Telltale Heart, which we had listened to on Books-On-Tape a few years back, so I was fine with it. Then I tried the Dupin trio, which you can read about here. Finally, I picked a random story and plunged in.

Turns out, though Poe is most famous for his horror, I found a lot of his stories to be rather humorous. Take Xing the Paragrab, for example. With a name like that, how can that be anything other than comedy? It tells of two competing newspapers, and how one makes fun of the other for using "O!" so much, and how the other threatens to print an article so full of "o's" that it will burst, and how the one sneakily steals all the "o"-blocks from the other's printers, and how the other has to replace all the "o's" with the conventional "x," thus "x-ing the paragraph." (Paragraph is pronounced "paragrab" by the fellow who's job it is to X it.) The resulting publication is rather unreadable, to say the least.

Who would have though that story was written by Poe? Not a hint of anything terrible or horrible in it.
And there are many other examples. But what I found unites all of Poe's short stories is his love for all things utterly weird. The Man Who Was Used Up is an example of one that's just a head-scratcher. Not horrifyingly weird, just strange in a non-creepy way. Another example is The Angel of the Odd. It's just a weird, weird story. I don't want to give anything away - you're going to have to read them for yourself, which you could probably do in less than an hour, they're all rather short.

I must say, I do sort of like this funny side of Poe. He is, of course an excellent writer, and reading excellent writing is always nice. After viewing Poe as a dark, gloomy, creepy author, it was a pleasant surprise to find these funny short stories in the collection.

You may be wondering what my opinion on Poe's horror is now, being a little biased against the genre. (A little? That's an understatement.)
Well, I did end up reading a bunch of horror in addition to the others, and I must say that I absolutely adore them. They are so spectacular. They are frightening and yet not at the same time. Somehow, Poe manages to write in such a way that nothing is all despair or that the reader is left with some semblance of hope in the end. Usually (as in Telltale Heart or Cask of Amontillado) he does it by writing from the point of view of the murderer. We are so used to seeing it from the victims eyes, that this twist gives it so fresh a perspective that we almost sympathize with the murderer, before realizing sense and talking ourselves out of it..

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

All for one...!

Lifeline Theater is by far my favorite venue for straight plays. They always perform with the highest quality, and do most of their adaptations themselves. They have done many adaptations of my favorite books, and done them excellently, too. Some that come to mind are A Cricket in Times Square, Johnny Tremain, Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Mark of Zorro (though I haven't read the book that corresponds with the latter).
On Friday, my family and I went to see their latest production of The Three Musketeers. (You may remember my mentioning rereading the book.) What can I say? It was excellent, as always.
(If you're wondering, its d'Artagnan, Aramis, Porthos, and Athos, from left to right)

I must say that I highly commend the writers of this play for incorporating practically the entire book into two hours. Apparently this is one of the first versions of The Three Musketeers that does this. Others have only focused on parts of the story.

The actors were spectacular, as always. I couldn't have wished for a better d'Artagnan. He was headstrong, clever, a good swordsman, and yet had that innocent quality about him that sets him apart from the Three Inseparables. (And it didn't hurt that he was the most attractive guy on stage. No, of course I didn't notice when he took his shirt off, twice. Why would I?)
When I was younger, it was one of my dreams to play Constance Bonacieux onstage next to a handsome d'Artagnan. I now realize that my calling is not that of an actress, so the next best thing is to see an excellent, and most adorable lady as Constance next to an equally excellent and adorable d'Artagnan.
Aren't they so cute together?

You may realize that d'Artagnan is wearing a t-shirt. Not very period, is it?

It worked though, and marvelously. The white is to distinguish d'Artagnan as a King's Guard. The King's Musketeers had blue t-shirts (and bullet-proof vests) and the Cardinal's Guards had red t-shirts. They all had weaponry suited to the time period, though, and the t-shirts had an ornate design of fleur-des-lis. The ladies in the cast had simple, tunic-like dresses that fit nicely. Queen Anne of Austria had her share of bling, but it was tempered bling.
Here is a photo from a scene where they are defending a garrison alone (just four of them!). They made a bet that they could defend it for an hour. It was Athos's way of getting them some time alone to eat and to talk privately. Not my idea of a pleasant lunch and chat!

Lifeline, with its characteristic simplicity, had a set made of metal poles and beams. This set, with the movement of a few chairs and benches, became, over the course of the play, d'Artagnan's apartment, the place of M. de Treville, the King's castle, a roadside tavern, a fort, and various other locations. The actors slid down poles, climbed out of trap doors, and swung on monkey-bars. It didn't at all distract from the play - in fact, it enhanced it.

Milady - Lady deWinter - was not what I envisioned the character as, but she made it work. Milady is described as blonde, blue-eyed, and stunningly beautiful. The actress playing her was dark haired, dark-eyed, and attractive - though not stunningly so. But she made up for that with her sensuality and her portrayal of downright villainy. It just made me hate Milady even more - that's a complement to the actress!

There was a poster in the lobby that provided more information on the time period and on Dumas' life.
Fun fact: did you know that Dumas' paternal grandmother was black? His father was the first black general in French history! How cool. Dumas Sr. was born in Saint-Domingue, which is now a part of Haiti, and his mother was a native there.
I love fun literary facts like that.

Nadar - Alexander Dumas père (1802-1870) - Google Art Project 2.jpg
Dumas Jr.

Alexandre Dumas (1762-1806).JPG
Dumas Sr.

If you have the time, I highly recommend that you go see the show. Even if you haven't read the book, you will love it. But you should read the book - you'll love that, too!
(though you should get the translation by Richard Pevear)


Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Funny Little Story

Since my last post had to do with Prince Edward Island, I thought I'd continue with a humorous anecdote that involved one of the Islanders. Maybe I can tie it into the whole Rambling With A Purpose idea.After I wrote that post I tried to follow my own advice and do more RWAPing in my own journaling, so here is a small portion of the result. Mark you, it is coming straight from my journal....

We took the scenic route up to Cavendish, and on the way stopped by in a small fishing harbor. Sitting on a porch was an old man with a white beard, pure white, making some sort of netting. We got out to stretch our legs, and [my dad] walked over to the fellow, who was wearing an old baseball cap.

"Whatcha making?" asked [my dad].

"Oh, yaknow, shoppin' bags," said the old fellow, showing us one of his creations. It was basically a drawstring bag made of yellow netting.
"I'm old, and I got nothin' to do, so I make these shoppin' bags."
The old man looked so picturesque that my dad pulled out the camera.

"You mind if I take a photo?" he asked.

The old man immediately whipped off his baseball cap and pulled on an old sailor's hat - one of those black oily ones that fishermen wear. The result was a classic photo.

"Oho!" said my dad. "I see you're ready for the pictures!"

"We got lots of people comin' here, from all ova the bloody world," replied the man. "They take a picture with me, and then I never see them again... but no problem... no problem..."

We walked a little ways up a small dirt road that ran down the beach.

"Does that road go through all the way?" [my mom] asked.

"Oh yeah. You're fine there. That's a fine road. A fine road. I've driven on it for seventy years, and - no problem, no problem."

"But will it take me to the main road?"

"Oh no problem. It's a fine road. It'll take you any where you want to go, no problem."

He became contemplative, and said, "Yaknow this lake? When I was young, you could ride with a car on the ice, no problem, it was so thick. But now, even in the middle of winter you can boat out to the middle."

"It's getting warmer every year," said my mother.

"Yep, getting warmer. And in the summer, you could lay in the sun and you'ld get - yaknow, you'ld get - blisters - blisters from the sun," - here he rubbed his arm descriptively - "But now, you can lay out in the sun all day in the summer, and ya need to put on an overcoat. Ya need to put on an overcoat..."

"Well, thanks for the picture. Have a nice day."

"Ah, you too, have a nice day... no problem."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Green Gables in all its Glory

I, who read so many books during my childhood, managed to somehow bypass Lucy Maud Montgomory's Anne series. These books, some of the most classic in all of children's literature, strangely never made it to my library. Yes, I must have read Anne of Green Gables when I was very young - I have a vague memory of it - but somehow I never expanded into the rest of her books.

Finally, with a trip to Prince Edward Island looming, and the prospect of visiting the actual Green Gables in the near future, I decided to rediscover Anne. And boy, am I glad I did!
The character of Anne Shirley is forever going to be inspirational and appealing to readers of all ages. Good literature is timeless, and the Anne books are definitely good literature!
At Cavendish, in Prince Edward Island, we got to see Montgomory's homestead, as well as the actual Green Gables that the location in the book was based on.

Also in the area are the actual Haunted Wood and Lovers' Lane that Montgomory named as a child. It was fantastic to walk on the paths that Montgomory walked almost every day, and to visit the foundations of her home (the actual structure had collapsed). I was hoping against hope that there would be a real Echo Lodge, but that was only in Montgomory's imagination. (If you don't know what Echo Lodge is, read the books!)
There are numerous parallels between Anne's and L. M. Montgomory's lives. Both were extraordinarily imaginative. Both were schoolteachers. Both were writers, and both got rejected numerous times before finally getting published. In fact, the manuscript for Anne of Green Gables was rejected seven times! Montgomory was so disappointed that she put it away. Finally, after a while, she pulled it out again - this time it was published.
Anyway, here are some of my favorite quotes from the first three books (that's all I've read so far):
"What a splendid day!. . . Isn't it good just to be alive on a day like this? I pity the people who aren't born yet for missing it. They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one."
~(Anne) Anne of Green Gables

"Ruby Gillis says when she grow up she's going to have ever so many beaus on the string and have them all crazy about her; but I think that would be too exciting. I'd rather have just one in his right mind."
~(Anne) Anne of Green Gables

"It's always wrong to do anything you can't tell the minister's wife. It's as good as and extra conscience to have a minister's wife for your friend."
~(Anne) Anne of Green Gables

"Ruby Gilis thinks of nothing but young men, and the older she gets, the worse she is. Young men are all very well in their place, but it doesn't do to drag them into everything, does it?"
~(Anne) Anne of Green Gables

"There should have been a special commandment against nagging."
~(Marilla) Anne of Green Gables

"God's in his heaven, all's right with the world."
~(Anne) Anne of Green Gables

"You're never safe from being surprised till you're dead."
~(Mrs. Rachel) Anne of Avonlea

"Anyhow, there'll be plenty of jam in heaven, that's one comfort. . . . It was in that question Marilla taught me last Sunday. 'Why should we love God?' It says, 'Because he makes preserves, and redeems us.' Preserves is just a holy way of saying jam."
~(Davy) Anne of Avonlea

"I've been feeling a little blue - just a pale, elusive azure. It isn't serious enough for anything darker."
~(Philippa) Anne of Avonlea

"I think, perhaps, we have very mistaken ideas about heaven - what it is and what it holds for us. I don't think it can be so very different from life here as most people seem to think. I believe we'll just go on living, a good deal as we live here - and be ourselves just the same - only it will be easier to be good and to - follow the highest. All the hindrances and perplexities will be taken away, and we shall see clearly."
~(Anne) Anne of the Island

"The woods were God's first temples. . . . One can't help feeling reverent and adoring in such a place. I always feel so near Him when I walk among the pines."
~(Anne) Anne of the Island

I'm looking forward very much to Anne of Windy Poplars. The Anne books have definitely made it to the list of my favorite books that give me that awesome feeling I'm not sure how to characterize
Highly, highly, highly recommended to everyone.


Monday, June 17, 2013

(A small addition on Mondegreens)

Hullo folks!

We interrupt our regular program to bring you this small diversion.

I posted recently about mondegreens, which are when we mis-hear the lyrics to songs.
On MSN this morning there was a slideshow on. . . mondegreens! Check it out here.


Our regular program will continue shortly - a longer post on a completely different topic is coming tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Weird Literary Terms Part 3

My sister said that Echophonesis was her favorite Literary Term, so I thought I would do a quick post on it.
It's not really used nowadays. I first discovered it in Shakespeare. It is the expression "O!"

"O!" may look like "Oh!" but they are not the same (at least when reading them out loud).
"Oh!" is pronounced exactly how you would think. "Oh!"
When you see "O!" however, it means you have the freedom to make whatever sound you want:

Take your pick :-)

"...the rest is silence./ O! O! O! O!" 
~Hamlet's last words (Hamlet 5.2.395-6)
(Note: These last O!'s are often omitted by editors, as they are just an indication for the actor to make sounds appropriate to dying.)

Hamlet's death

Do any of you know of any weird literary terms? Let me know in the comments and I'll do a post on them!

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Weird Literary Terms Part 2

What is a Mondegreen? I'm sure you all have experienced it at one time or another.
Wikipedia defines it as:
...the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. It most commonly is applied to a line in a poem or a lyric in a song.
For example - "Gladly the cross I'd bear..." becomes, "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear."
And - "There's a bad moon on the rise," becomes, "There's a bathroom on the right."

I did some research and discovered the etymology and origin of this interesting word. Apparently, Sylvia Wright, an American writer of the 1950's, wrote an essay titled: The Death of Lady Mondegreen. In this essay, she writes:
When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
Turns out, this poem is the 17th century ballad, "The Bonny Earl O'Moray," and the line is actually, "And laid him on the green." Further in the essay, Wright decides:
The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.
I realized that I had some of these gems in my own experience - which, as you will soon see, prove my "classic" education and literary nerdiness.

Firstly, when I was about twelve-ish, I heard the song Dynamite. I thought it had a reference to an Italian astronomer in it. When I learned the real lyrics, I was quite disappointed.

The actual words are:
I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, singing eh-oh, gotta let go.....
 My version:
I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, singing eh-oh, Galileo.....
Isn't that so much better? :-) In fact, it's so much better that I've decided to write a parody.
I cast my eyes up to the stars sometimes, singing eh-oh, Galileo...

Maybe not.

Anyway, I have another one, and a little more recent. A certain song which everyone was singing last year made me wonder what sort of dance moves a lawyer would have - and why this song considered them so... sexy.

The song is Moves Like Jagger.

"Who is this Jagger, anyway?" I ask my friends.
They all look at me, horrified.
"Mick Jagger. You don't know who Mick Jagger is!?"
I change the subject.

But no, I didn't know who Mick Jagger was. (I do now, by the way.)

The closest thing to a Jagger that I knew was Mr. Jaggers from Dickens' Great Expectations. He's a lawyer. And he seems rather stiff - he definitely has no impressive "moves."

Or maybe he does, as these old engravings reveal:

He looks like he's disco dancing in that one! And what about this:

Though I am rather curious to know who that other guy is, looking under Mr. Jaggers's coattails.
(I haven't read Great Expectations in a while. If you can elucidate this picture, please do so.)

So there you go - you see how shielded my childhood was.

Though personally, I would prefer Mr. Jaggers to Mick anyday.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Weird Literary Terms Part 1

"O villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this!" 
-Dogberry, Much Ado About Nothing

Dogberry "respects" the villains (i.e suspects)
The word "Malapropism" comes indirectly from the French phrase mal a propos, which means inappropriate. It is defined by when a person uses an incorrect, but similar sounding word. Richard Sheridan's character, Mrs. Malaprop, is where the word comes from, and she uses malapropisms in abundance.

Here are some examples. 

"Oh, he will dissolve this mystery!"  -i.e. resolve

"It gives me such hydrostatics to such a degree!" -i.e. hysterics

Dogberry, from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, is probably the most famous user of malapropisms. Here are some of his gems. See if you can figure out what he actually means, and post your guesses in the comments!

"Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons, and we would have them his morning examined before your worship."

"Is the whole dissembly appeared?"

"Only get the learned writer to set down our excommunication, and meet me at the jail."

Have any of you heard (or used yourself) any malapropisms in everyday speech? Please share!
Next up is a unique type of malapropism called a mondegreen. Stay tuned!


Post Script: I am going on a family vacation to Quebec tomorrow, and won't be returning for ten days. However, I will have blog posts scheduled to be published for every few days, and Weird Literary Terms Parts 2 and 3 will be coming soon!