One of the reasons that I love to read, in addition to experiencing other worlds, walking in the path of other characters, learning about the world around us, and escaping from reality for a short time, is to enjoy the beauty of words. Some writers are able to elevate their writing to a level of poetry and beauty that is exhilarating and joyful to read.
One writer, whose use of words, reaches poetic levels is Ray Bradbury. He is a writer not easily confined to one genre and whose work is defined by love of story. I have taught his work in several college classes in both The Department of Graduate and Continuing Education at Muhlenberg College and with traditional students at Lehigh University, and his writing has been an influence on me as a novelist.
I will offer two passages from his brilliant novel Dandelion Wine, a BildungsRoman or coming-of-age story, set in late 1920s in Green Town, Illinois. These passages are from the perspective of a boy who is beginning to see possibilities in life, both the external world and in himself.
The first passage is the opening of the novel:
“It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed.
Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing
of the world was long and warm and slow. You only had to rise, lean from your
window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living,
this was the first morning of summer.
Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its
early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall
power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At
night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from
this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple.
Now . . .” (1).
That is an extraordinary opening to a novel. It pulls the reader into the story with a seemingly simplistic prose, but within that simplicity is beauty and the poetry of the world being seen through young eyes.
Another passage shows Douglas at night time:
“Douglas sprawled back on the dry porch planks, completely contented
and reassured by these voices, which would speak on through eternity, flow
in a stream of murmurings over his body, over his closed eyelids, into his
drowsy ears, for all time. The rocking chairs sounded like crickets, the crickets
sounded like rocking chairs, and the moss-covered rain barrel by the
dining-room window produced another generation of mosquitoes to provide
a topic of conversation through endless summers ahead” (33).
Both excerpts, in my view, are beautiful, compelling, and poetic. All writers should read and study Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury, Ray. Dandelion Wine. New York. Avon Books. 1999.
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!
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 Department of Graduate and Continuing Education of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, I always make it clear that they may turn the question on me.
If I had to choose just one horror film, among the many possibilities, it would be It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019) based on Stephen King’s brilliant novel. I was prepared to dislike these movies, because I am typically very critical of adaptations of books, but this time I was very pleasantly surprised. The films deal well with the narrative dilemma of two intertwined time periods in the novel by presenting them in two separate movies. The movies not only show the supernatural horror clearly, and much better than the made for TV version, but also the films show, 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 (both parts), then I recommend these movies highly!
Once again, what is your favorite horror film?
The next installment in this series is what I consider to be one of the very best horror films ever made: The Bride of Frankenstein.
I also want to mention that I have taught this novel, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus several times at both Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and the Department of Graduate and Continuing Education at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.
It is also interesting that the sequel The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) to Universal Studio’s Frankenstein (1931) is a far better film and more faithful adaptation to Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel than was the original movie. James Whale directed and Carl Laemmle Jr. produced this film.
(Richard Rothwell, 1840)
The movie opens with a sequence in which Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley appear, which is a nod to the summer of 1816 in which the three writers shared time together and decided to writer ghost stories. Mary Shelley’s contribution was a short story about a young doctor who reanimated a corpse, and which she later expanded into the famous and deeply important novel. In this scene, Mary explains that the story did not end, as shown in the first movie, with the death of the creature in the burning windmill.
Whale imbues this film with both highly religious symbolism, as when the creature is captured and tied to what looks like a crucifix and to references to important sections from the book. The creature famously finds a friend in the blind man, who is able to befriend the creature because he cannot see his deformities. This is a clear reference to stereotyping and bigotry.
In the novel, the Creature demands that Frankenstein create a mate for him, so that his loneliness can be alleviated. In this film, Elsa Lancaster, who also plays Mary Shelley in the opening scene, plays the bride. But as would be expected, it does not go well when she rejects the Creature’s advances, and he says the powerful line, “We belong dead.”
As with Frankenstein, there is a heavy influence of German Expressionism in the cinematography.
Jack Pierce again did the famous makeups, and Boris Karloff starred again as the Creature.
This movie was successful financially and critically. It is, in my opinion, a cinematic masterpiece!
If any of you have interest either in horror or cinema, this is a film that you should see.
(Cover of 1897 edition)
I have read many books over the course of my life, and books have become a central part of who I am. I read books for pleasure, for study, and for examination. I teach books in my literature classes at Lehigh University and Muhlenberg College, I write about them in scholarly work, and I write novels. As I was considering the topic for this post, I started to think about what books I consider to be the most important horror novels. Certainly, I must begin this series with a book I consider to be of extraordinary literary value, a great horror novel, and a book that has influenced my life.
So many come to mind and are possibilities for discussion, especially when I think of some of the books I read as a youngster in high school. Among these novels are Dracula, The War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Haunting of Hill House. Certainly, there were many more books that I read at that time, and I have always been a voracious reader, but these books, in a variety of ways, help to shape my interests and some of my directions in life.
Now, I will focus on Dracula and what its influence on me was and is. This was the first Gothic novel I had read, and its power caught me immediately. I was drawn to the images of dark castles, terrible villains, and the supernatural. That I love Gothic is still clear, because not only do I teach Gothic literature, but also I write it.
Dracula, however, had a much deeper impact on me that simply the horror aspect; I was drawn to the idea of the need for good people to oppose evil. It is a theme that, on the surface, might seem simplistic, but a person need only look at the history of the 20th Century into our contemporary time to see that evil does exist, especially in the form of people who would oppress, torment, exclude, and bully others. Of course, I am not making an argument that the supernatural evil in this novel exists, but that human evil certainly does. The Nazis demonstrated that human horror in its full capacity.
In this book, a fellowship of human beings is created, and they decide to fight a creature that is far more powerful than anything they could have imagined, and they do so at the risk of their lives. This act of defending others, even if the people do the battle are put at risk, became a central part of my ethos. There will always be those who would bully and oppress others, and they must always be opposed. While in early high school, Dracula helped to form that idea in my mind.
I was also highly influenced by the Gothic nature of the book, and when I first read this novel as a youngster, I was terrified by it. This book stands as the best and most important vampire novel that has been written. I am not arguing that other excellent books on vampires do not exist; certainly they do. I am saying, though, that Dracula is the best and the cornerstone of all of them.
In addition to being a deeply important book, Dracula is also the foundation for a myriad of movies. In fact, the characters of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes are the two most portrayed in TV, film, and theater.
I leave with this thought: if you enjoy horror, Halloween, and the Gothic, and you have not yet read Dracula, you certainly should. It is excellent.
I am again asking for those who would like to join the U.L.S., the Underground Library Society, to join and write a guest post. I put this request out several times over the course of a year, because I hope to have more people join in the cause.
In an earlier First Year Class at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society — was created. It is in the spirit of the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel, all books have been banned, and a few people “become” books by memorizing them, in the hope that, one day, books will be permitted to exist again.
In that spirit, I am putting out the call once more for like-minded people to join The U.L.S. All that is needed is to choose a book you would memorize if the need ever arose. The type or genre of the chosen piece does not matter. There is no restriction on what you would become. You do not, however, actually have to memorize the book now. If you wish to join, simply write a guest post in which you say what book you would “become” and why.
I have had several other bloggers join the U. L. S. Join the movement!
I hope many of you choose to join.
If you are a member and wish to add another book that you might become, you are welcome to do another post!
In the past, I have mentioned that I would become one of the following books: The Lord Of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
If you do wish to do a post, please email me at email@example.com and write a guest post as a Word doc. Thank you.
Charles F. French
I am looking forward to hearing from new members!
Please, come and join in the fun!
I am a teacher, a writer, and a lover of books. I cannot remember a time when I could not read, and the simple act of reading a book is one of the best pleasures in life. So, I was thinking today about a book, one of my all time favorites: The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, that I have taught often, both at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. This novel is brilliant, funny, witty, Gothic, romantic, and deeply engaging. Can you tell I love it?
Here is a quotation from the back cover of the paperback:
“Wondrous . . . masterful . . . The Shadow Of The Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero.”
— Entertainment Weekly, Editor’s Choice
So, I ask you: what is one of your favorite books?
Get The Draft Done! is available here: Amazon.com
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I want to welcome Ashley Clayton as the newest member of the U. L. S., The Underground Library Society. This is an unofficial organization dedicated to the preservation of books, and it was created in one of my First Year College Composition Classes at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. It is based on the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrentheit 451. To join, a writer creates a post about a book he/she would become if they needed to in order to save it. They do not actually have to memorize it though.
When I first watched Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë several years ago, I felt I had stumbled upon a pearl necklace left on a tree branch. I had never heard of the novel before, surprisingly—and I still wonder why it wasn’t included on my school reading lists, alongside The Scarlet Letter and Crime and Punishment. Jane is a protagonist I closely relate to, while still finding her differences complex and intriguing. We’re both introverts and artists, we tend to observe humans from afar and would prefer our own company over most people. Jane is also compassionate and does not let her circumstances overcome her fortitude—qualities I greatly admire in other people.
Jane is orphaned as an infant and grows up in an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive home. Her Aunt Reed is jealous of the girl and tends to overlook her plights while doting on her three spoiled and vindictive children. After Jane is struck by her older cousin John and she defends herself, she is sent to the red-room in the mansion—a scene which introduces the supernatural theme found throughout the novel. This is the room reportedly haunted by Jane’s dead uncle, and she begs to be released. Abandoned and injured, she falls ill and faints from her panic.
An apothecary is called to the home to see to Jane. Actual physicians, you see, were reserved only for the immediate family—Jane and the servants only saw the apothecary. The man recommends Mrs. Reed to send Jane away to Lowood Institute—an act disguised as charity while tidily securing the girl’s education and ongoing care, and thus eventual livelihood. This is the turning point of Jane’s young life.
Lowood was a harsh and cold place, the food poor and scant, but here Jane is given a chance to learn and develop her talents and abilities. Jane would adapt well and excel in her studies, while learning to survive within the austere school. Jane was already a resilient child from living with her aunt and cousins, and this trait became sharper at Lowood. After her classmate (and only friend) Helen dies, Jane is left alone to navigate the rest of her years at the school.
After Jane finishes her education and teaches at Lowood, she advertises for outside employment and is accepted to work at Thornfield Hall as a governess— “a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps” as Jane is told. Here she meets the estate’s proprietor, her master—a Mr. Edward Rochester. His life parallels in some ways to Jane’s: he lost a parent (his mother) early in life, his now deceased father was distant and neglectful, and he only inherited the estate after his elder brother’s untimely death. He is also the ward of a Ms. Adèle, a young French child who becomes Jane’s pupil—the third central orphan of the story.
Jane Eyre is a story of injustices, sorrows and resiliency—a story filled with complex moral decisions and vulnerabilities. It is a story of characters struggling along in unfortunate circumstances, trying to find an existence where some sliver of hope and light might be found. Mr. Rochester and Jane find this hope in each other, but only after fire, tragic death and mutual forgiveness. The ending of Jane Eyre is not perfect—the author does not allow for a perfect ending. But the reader is left with a glimpse of a hopeful future and a sense of redemption for mostly everyone involved. And Jane considers herself “supremely blest” at the close of her story.
Jane Eyre is often categorized as a romance novel. While romance is a central theme of the story, I do not believe that is all Jane Eyre should be considered as. And perhaps that is why the novel was not included on my school reading lists. No, Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece is, I believe, one story about what it means to be human and to find yourself in imprisoning circumstances, and ultimately how to live through continued suffering, albeit imperfectly. Charlotte knew these things well herself—her mother, too, died when she was a child and two of her elder sisters died from tuberculosis contracted at school, just as Helen did at Lowood. Jane Eyre is a story of one woman’s strength as she discovers what love, grace and forgiveness truly entail. It is a novel I want alongside me in my life, preserved always for future generations. It is, by no exaggeration, one of the greatest works of literature ever written, and greatly appreciated by myself.
Thank you for reading.
 Specifically, the 2006 BBC miniseries starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens.
 It is unclear who Adèle’s father is and whether he may still be alive. Her father may be Mr. Rochester, or more likely, another man who Adèle’s mother was involved with during (or shortly after) she was Mr. Rochester’s mistress. Either way, I still consider Adèle an orphan, if not legally, then spiritually.
Thank you to Ashley Clayton for joining the U. L. S.
Please be sure to visit her website A. R. Clayton.