What Are You Currently Reading?

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Reading is both of one the greatest pleasures of life and one of the necessities for writers. It gives readers the chance to escape from the outside world and immerse themselves into a completely fictional place for a while, and it serves as a foundation upon which to learn and draw for writers.  To me, reading is one of the essential components of life. It is more than mere recreation; it is a central part of my being.

I do, however, read for pleasure as well as for learning and for my profession as a teacher.  I count reading as one of the essential joys of life.

I am currently reading several books: Paris In The Present Tense by Mark Helprin, the author of the magnificent A Soldier Of The Great War and Winter’s Tale. Like his other books, this one is dense and beautiful, but it requires time to digest sections that have been read before continuing. I hope more people read Helprin’s novels. I am also reading We Three: The Mythology of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters by Laura Shamas, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, and Death At La Fenice by Donna Leon, the first book in her Commissario Brunetti mystery series.

My question to those who are reading this post: What book are you reading now or have recently read?

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Gallows Hill can be found here in ebook.

Gallows Hill in paperback can be found here.

An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

32570160

Please follow the following links to find my novel:

ebook

Print book

Thank you!

The book trailer:

Maledicus:Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

My radio interview:

interview

FOE_Cover_French

 

Available on Amazon

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Who Are Some Of Your Favorite European Poets?

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As I continue this series about favorite writers, I am trying more and more to narrow each grouping. I am not sure this is narrowed enough, but since this is not an academic project, I will go with these groupings.

Here are a few poets, among the many possible, who are some  of my favorite European poets:

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William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is not only the greatest playwright, but he is also among the best poets. I have the honor this semester of teaching his poetry, and we are focusing on his sonnets, in my Renaissance Imagination class at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. If you have not read his sonnets, then I recommend them highly. He deals with intensely personal issues that resonate throughout much poetry, of life and death, aging, time, and love.

 

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was a brilliant poet, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature and whose work ranged from the deeply personal to that which dealt with contemporary issues in Ireland, including the Troubles to his extraordinary translation of Beowulf, the one that I use when I teach the ancient English poem.

 

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Dante Alighieri

Dante is someone whom I think all people who consider themselves to be educated, formally or self-educated, should read. His work spans the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and his extraordinary The Divine Comedy, consisting of Inferno, Hell; Purgatorio, Purgatory; and Paradiso, Paradise is one of the most crucial poems ever written. This narrative poem takes the reader through Dante’s vision of the afterlife, and he is guided by the Roman poet Virgil and then his perfect woman, Beatrice.

I ask all of you–who are some of your favorite European Poets?

Dining With Character, Part 3 — Revisited

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To continue this series, I wanted to invite major characters from British mythology.  As before, I am imagining what it would be like to invite a few fictional characters to a dinner and have conversation with them.

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https://en.wikipedia.org

(This is the first page of the extant original copy of Beowulf, written in Old English.)

 

Today’s guests are Beowulf, King Arthur, and Aragorn, all kings from British epics: Beowulf by an unknown poet, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. These books range from the Dark Ages, circa the mid 800s to the Middle Ages, circa 1485 to the contemporary world in the mid 1900s. These texts are all important to me, both as a reader and as a teacher, because I have used all of these books in different college classes, primarily in the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. While covering a very long historical range, they all deal with the difficulties faced by leaders especially when the fate of their kingdoms rests in their decisions and actions.

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(King Arthur and his knights)

For this entry, we would dine again at a traditional British pub, and we would be seated around a fairly large, wooden, round table.  This seems appropriate, given the attendees.

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“Aragorn300ppx” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aragorn300ppx.png#/media/File:Aragorn300ppx.png

I would like to ask these three kings what it was like to lead soldiers actively into combat. Unlike the leaders of contemporary armies, they faced death directly with their fellow fighters. I would also ask them what they see the main responsibilities of leaders to be. I would also like to ask them if they consider fate to be real, or are they in control of their own destinies?  Given the variation in optimism and pessimism that ranges in their attitudes, their approaches to facing the difficulties of life and death would be fascinating to explore.

I would certainly be curious to see how these three warrior kings spoke with each other. I think a checking of the swords at the door might be a very good idea.

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What questions would you ask these leaders or other leaders in mythology?

What Is Your Favorite Horror Film?

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October is my favorite month of the year. Not only does Fall typically make its full appearance, complete with painted leaves in a wide palate of colors, but October is also the month of my favorite holiday–Halloween!

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The history of Halloween is a subject that I will cover in another post, but I also have a life-long affinity for the Gothic and Horror, including in movies and books. For the purposes of this post, I am interested in hearing from you what your favorite horror film is. I will address the question of favorite horror novels in the near future.

It would, of course, be completely fair to ask me the same question. If I pose such a question to my students in college classes at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA or the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, I always make it clear that they may turn the question on me.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

If I had to choose just one horror film, among the many possibilities, it would be It (2017) based on Stephen King’s brilliant novel. I was prepared to dislike this movie, because I am typically very critical of adaptations of books, but this time I was very pleasantly surprised. The film deals well with the narrative dilemma of two intertwined time periods in the novel by presenting them in two separate movies. The movie not only shows the supernatural horror clearly, and much better than the made for TV version, but also the film shows, in the most powerful manner, the fear and horror that children can experience from bullying.  This is a theme King often incorporates in his writing, and this movie shows this disturbing reality that many children face very well. If you have not yet seen It, then I recommend this movie highly!

Once again, what is your favorite horror film?

 

GallowsHillFinalCoverEbook

Gallows Hill can be found here in ebook.

Gallows Hill in paperback can be found here.

An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

32570160

Please follow the following links to find my novel:

ebook

Print book

Thank you!

The book trailer:

Maledicus:Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

My radio interview:

interview

FOE_Cover_French

 

Available on Amazon

French On English: A Guide To Writing Better Essays by Charles F. French–Part of the Lehigh University Celebration of Authors

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I was honored to have been included in a lovely event this week:   Harvest of Ideas: A Celebration of Lehigh Authors reception hosted by the Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries.

This was an annual recognition of Lehigh University faculty, including adjunct faculty, who have had works published and placed into the library collection. The event itself occurred in Linderman Library’s  Bayer Galleria, which is a room of stunning beauty. In the photograph, I am standing in front of a fireplace that was once a functional heating system. The wood paneling and bookshelves that fill the large space complete the extraordinary atmosphere of the room.

In addition to a wonderful spread of food and drink, the faculty books were put on prominent display on tables along the main wall of the room. I am honored to have my book on writing essays included.

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I was also delighted that a jazz combo of Lehigh undergrad students performed during the event, and they were excellent! These young adults sounded like they had been performing jazz for many years. I closed my eyes, and I imagined an old, smoke filled room with such musicians playing!

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It is always a wonderful feeling to receive recognition such as was given here, so I offer my thanks to the Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries, the staff who prepared everything, and the wonderful librarians! Thanks to all!

GallowsHillFinalCoverEbook

Gallows Hill can be found here in ebook.

Gallows Hill in paperback can be found here.

An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

32570160

Please follow the following links to find my novel:

ebook

Print book

Thank you!

The book trailer:

Maledicus:Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

My radio interview:

interview

FOE_Cover_French

 

Available on Amazon

 

Who Is One Of Your Favorite Authors?

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I have asked about specific books and movies before in my blog, but I thought I would offer a different question this time. I have many authors whose work I both love and admire. Answering the question I am going to ask, therefore, is difficult for me, but it is fair that I answer before anyone else.

Who is one of your favorite authors?

To answer this question today, I will choose Stephen King.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

I first started reading King with the novel Carrie, and I have read everything he has published since then. I hold Mr. King to be not only one of the most successful writers of our time, but also he is one of the best. I do believe that he will be remembered in the future as a great writer. Let me emphasize that  I am now speaking as a member of the Academy, as a Professor of English Literature.

Among his absolute best works are The Stand, The Dark Tower Series, and Hearts in Atlantis.

I ask again: who is one of your favorite writers?

GallowsHillFinalCoverEbook

Gallows Hill can be found here in ebook.

Gallows Hill in paperback can be found here.

An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

32570160

Please follow the following links to find my novel:

ebook

Print book

Thank you!

The book trailer:

Maledicus:Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

My radio interview:

interview

FOE_Cover_French

 

Available on Amazon

 

A Reposting of “5 Twilight Zone Episodes That Influenced Modern Horror Film” by Dawn Keetley

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I am honored to repost this essay from Horror Homeroom by Dawn Keetley. Horror Homeroom is a site that examines horror movies, television, and books.  I have to say that Dawn Keetley is not only the author of this post and one of the editors of this site, but she is also one of the best English professors I have had the good fortune of knowing and taking classes with.

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5 Twilight Zone Episodes That

Influenced Modern Horror Film

The Twilight Zone (1959-64) is not only one of the most acclaimed TV series but also one of the most influential on artists of all kinds, but especially on the creators of horror. The list below identifies five episodes that in my view powerfully shaped some of our best modern horror films. There are undoubtedly more, but this is a beginning.

  1. “Mirror Image” (s. 1, ep. 21; February 26, 1960) and Psycho

Written by Rod Serling and directed by John Brahm, “Mirror Image” stars Vera Miles as Millicent Barnes, a 25-year-old unmarried woman who is waiting for a bus to take her to a new job. She is clearly an unencumbered woman who is looking out for herself, not for a man. In one of the most enigmatic of Twilight Zone episodes, however, she soon catches a glimpse of her double in a bathroom mirror—and then on the bus to the new job. A would-be fellow passenger in the bus depot strikes up a conversation with Millicent, but gets so concerned about her wild talk about doubles that before long, he has her carted off by the police.

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Millicent in “Mirror Image” and Lila in Psycho (both played by Vera Miles)

Despite the fact that Millicent is played by Vera Miles, who will soon star as Lila in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), she more closely evokes Lila’s ill-fated sister Marion (Janet Leigh), a character who is similarly traveling, trying to improve her life, not securely ensconced in marriage and domesticity. Marion also has a troubled relationship with her mirror image. After she steals the money, she is unable to look at herself in the mirror–her reflection detached. Her mirror image becomes, like Millicent’s, an uncanny double, one that prefigures her doom despite her decision to return the stolen money. Lila, too, almost becomes alienated from her mirror image, catching herself unawares in Mrs. Bates’ bedroom mirror and momentarily horrified by her “double.” In the end, though, Lila recognizes herself and retains her singular selfhood.

 

  1. “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” (s. 5, ep. 26; March 27, 1964) and Night of the Living Dead

The relationship between “I Am the Night” and Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a little more oblique than some of the other connections I’m making here. This season 5 Twilight Zone episode, written by Rod Serling, concerns a town’s dark desire for vengeance against a man who was convicted (unjustly) of killing a bigot in self-defense. A minister (played by Ivan Dixon) preaches mercy to the townspeople, but they become one of those irrational mobs, driven by hate, that features more than once in The Twilight Zone. One shot of the mob closing in on the condemned man visually anticipates George A. Romero’s mob of ghouls, and it’s hard not to believe Romero wasn’t influenced by this episode in his shots of ghoul violence–as well as by the angry mob in the season 1 episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (1960).

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(Mob scenes in “I Am the Night” and Night of the Living Dead)

With the mob scene in “I Am the Night,” the episode shifts into the supernatural as the dawn fails to come and the town is plunged into an unnatural darkness that is clearly metaphorical, embodying the townspeople’s hate; the episode then cuts to a scene of people huddled round a radio listening to reports of a similar “darkness” breaking out in other towns. It is stunningly evocative of the scenes in Night of the Living Dead in which the survivors in the farmhouse listen to reports on the radio of outbreaks of “mass murder” and cannibalism.

 

  1. “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” (s. 5, ep. 15; January 24, 1964) and The Stepford Wives

“Number 12 Looks Just Like You” is a classic Twilight Zone episode written by John Tomerlin and based on a 1952 Charles Beaumont story, “The Beautiful People.” It follows the struggles of Marilyn Cuberle against her society’s decree that when she reaches adulthood she must undergo a transformation, becoming a specific numbered body type. (The episode also clearly influenced Scott Westerfeld’s 2005 novel, Uglies.) As in many Twilight Zone episodes, this plot device highlights conformity, as Marilyn vehemently insists she does not want the transformation: she doesn’t want to look just like everyone else, and she thinks she looks fine as she is. Marilyn’s alleged “choice” to undergo the transformation is an illusion, however, and she is chased down a corridor and forced / coerced (we don’t see how it actually happens) to endure the process. The change is not only physical but also mental: after the transformation, Marilyn gazes mindlessly and happily in the mirror at herself. (There may be an interesting contrast here with the alienating experiences that independent, rebellious women like Millicent in “Mirror Image” and Marion in Psycho enjoy with their mirror images.)

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(“Number 12 Looks Just Like You” and The Stepford Wives)

The parallels with The Stepford Wives (1975) are obvious, although the experience is gendered in Ira Levin’s novel and Bryan Forbes’s film: the struggle for autonomy is not the individual’s struggle against society but women’s struggle against men. The film’s penultimate scene ends with the newly “transformed” Joanna staring blankly at the mirror brushing her hair—an evocation of Marilyn’s final adoring and yet empty gaze at herself. Women who conform—to societal dictates, to men, to normative standards of beauty—enjoy a vastly more untroubled relationship with their mirrors, it seems.

  1. “Stopover in a Quiet Town” (s. 5, ep. 30; April 24, 1964) and The Cabin in the Woods

Written by Earl Hamner, Jr., “Stopover” is in my view a seriously underrated episode and should rightfully appear in any top 10 list of Twilight Zone episodes. It opens with a young married couple, Bob and Millie Frazier, who wake up in a small town with no memory of how they got there. They wander around the town, which is utterly deserted, trying to figure out where they are, why no one is around, and how they can get away. They find and board a train with relief but, minutes after leaving, discover that the train has just circled back to the point of departure. At the end of the episode, a gigantic hand descends, revealing that the couple is merely a toy in the games of others. There is a reality behind their own reality of which they were profoundly unaware.

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(The endings of “Stopover in a Quiet Town” and The Cabin in the Woods)

It is this ending of this episode in particular that marks its undeniable parallel to Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods (2012), which similarly ends with a giant hand that utterly shifts the frame for characters and viewers. All the characters in Cabin in the Woods are—and always have been—pawns in another’s drama. There is an earlier moment in “Stopover,” too, when the couple sees a squirrel on a tree only to discover that it, along with the tree and the grass, are fake—just like the simulated  nature in Cabin in the Woods. (This scene also evokes the uncanny moment in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening in which the fleeing group encounter a house filled with plastic plants and fruit.)

As another aside, at one point in “Stopover,” Millie and Bob wander into the empty town church—a scene that anticipates the moment in Children of the Corn (1984) when Vicky and Burt arrive at a similarly deserted town and enter a similar eerily empty church. Both Vicky and Burt, like Millie and Bob in “Stopover” and the characters in Cabin in the Woods, will be sacrificed to forces greater than themselves.

  1. “The Trade-Ins” (s. 3, ep. 31; April 20, 1962) and Get Out

I have written elsewhere on the connection between the season 3 episode “The Trade-Ins,” written by Rod Serling, and professed Twilight Zone fan Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). (Peele is slated to helm an upcoming revival of the series for CBS All Access.  The entire premise of the episode, which follows an elderly couple, John and Marie Holt, as they explore “trading in” their aging and sick bodies for new lifelike robot bodies, anticipates Get Out’s Coagula procedure, in which aging white people hijack young, healthy African American bodies. Reading “The Trade-Ins” back through Get Out reveals the power and privilege inherent in such body-swapping technologies (something The Stepford Wives also puts front and center). Systemic power and its abuses is not what preoccupies The Twilight Zone, which focuses instead on love and the ethical choice John Holt confronts about whether he should enjoy a young pain-free body alone or remain in his aging one along with his wife. Institutional power and oppression shimmers into view, though, in light of Peele’s revisionary film.

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(The Holts look at the replicas in “The Trade-Ins” and the Armitages party guests scrutinize Chris in Get Out)

I’m definitely interested in hearing about what other Twilight Zone episodes you think influenced modern horror. I did write a post a little while ago about how the season 3 episode, “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” uncannily anticipates the trope in recent horror film of characters waking up in a strange room with no idea how they got there—Cube (1997), Saw (2004), and, especially, Circle (2015).

Once again, thank you to Dawn Keetley and Horror Homeroom !