Happy Halloween: Monster Legends Gallery from Merriam-Webster

It’s finally here–Happy Halloween, dear readers! My soul is aglow like a candle inside a Jack-o-Lantern!

What are your plans? Handing out candy to trick-or-treaters; curling up with a ghost story; terrorizing the town? I will post some stories and pictures after today, but I’ve already been lucky enough to attend multiple Halloween celebrations (it’s never enough). Tonight, I am going to a masquerade!

I am floating like a ghost over the combination of two of my great loves: Halloween + Merriam-Webster Dictionary. That’s right, folks, it’s not just any dictionary, but my FAVORITE dictionary (instilled into me by rigorous grad school standards of this being the ultimate go-to source).

Besides Merriam-Webster’s level of detail and accuracy, they are my favorite because of the kooky and fun things they do to celebrate holidays in the wordiest way possible (A.K.A., the best way).

If, for some strange reason, you haven’t been following their website every day leading up till Halloween, I invite you to view their gallery of monsters–the origin of the legend, their word etymologies/origins, and their evolving definitions. I promise, it’s lots of fun and good trivia, so you know exactly what you’re dealing with when you hear something go BUMP in the night.

Counting down to Halloween, we bring you the strangest, most elusive beasts in the dictionary.

Source: Chupacabra – Monster of the Day (Final Update!) | Merriam-Webster

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Great Moments in Gothic Fiction: A History in 13 Books

This season puts me in the mood for some Gothic fiction. Some of you may prefer true horror stories–and indeed, I will post a list of your most chilling favorites in the coming days–but as for me, I’ll take a sweeping, gloomy story with just a hint of terror in it.

As it is the witching hour, it seems appropriate to share some Halloween story history with you, dear readers. I found this reflection on horror stories from Flavorwire fascinating. It’s amazing how the grotesque stories were a commentary on how hidden evils/transgressions in society will emerge, no matter how people try to bury them. One tidbit I learned:

The end of the 18th century led to a mini-boom in Gothic novels, which were divided by critics into two categories: horror, which is fear of gore you see; and terror, which is fear caused by the suggestion of something sinister. As a wise professor once explained to me, behind the curtain in horror is a decaying body. Behind the curtain in terror is another curtain.

Isn’t that interesting? I guess that makes me a fan of terror stories, rather than horror. My friend Alex offered to wear a rain coat when seeing horror movies with me at the theater, just in case I lose my mind or other things. (That sounds like a horror story, itself–let’s keep those thoughts away before bed.)

But because it is Halloween week, and because spooky dreams are the most intriguing kind anyway, I suggest you read this list from Flavorwire about 13 (I see what you did there, Flavorwire) influential horror/terror stories and how they both reflected society and advanced the genre. Who doesn’t like to wake up bolt upright in bed, in a clammy sweat, anyway?

Flavorwire’s List: Great Moments in Gothic Fiction: A History in 13 Books

What did you learn? Did you see any of your favorites on this list?

I hope you are having a fun, festive, and frightening (in a good way) Halloween season, dear readers. I’ve been diving into the more innocent side, with pumpkin everything (food, attire, crafts, decorations); but these stories are getting me into that perfectly haunted mood, too.  <|🙂

Join me later this week for more Halloween fun!

Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare

Today was Shakespeare’s 450th birthday–and perhaps no wordsmith has achieved immortality as well as he.
The real reason I wanted to repost this blog entry is I found it fascinating and timely, a great tribute to a great author. A coincidental big stretch is that this would also satisfy my next “A-to-Z,” since the blog’s name starts with an “I”…and NaPoWriMo because Shakespeare was one of the best poets of all time, and he is quoted herein…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this trivia as much as I did. What is YOUR favorite work by Shakespeare? It’s hard to pick, but for me, I’d have to say it’s the tragicomedy “A Winter’s Tale” (a different story than the similarly titled movie that just came out with Russell Crowe, which I still need to go see).

Interesting Literature

As tomorrow, 23 April, traditionally marks the birthday of the most famous poet and playwright in the English language, we thought we’d celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday by sharing five facts about him. We’ve tried to steer clear of the very obvious, partly because we’ve already written about Shakespeare several times before (see below for one example), but all of these facts have a Shakespeare link and are … well, facts.

1. He appears to have invented the girls’ names Jessica, Olivia, Imogen, and Miranda. Jessica is Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice, and the name was quite probably Shakespeare’s coinage (the idea being to create a Jewish-sounding name). Olivia appears in Twelfth Night, and Miranda is Prospero’s daughter in The Tempest. (The name Amanda was probably formed off the back of Miranda, so Shakespeare indirectly gave us that name, too.) Imogen was probably the result of a misprint:…

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Down the Rabbit Hole: Lewis Carroll’s Birthday & Wonderland

Happy birthday to Lewis Carroll and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, two wonderful artists whose work has been celebrated long past their lifetimes. It’s interesting that two artists I have so much interest in have birthdays on the same day, which I never knew, just like in my last double-artist tribute to Bradbury and Debussy, another author and composer duo. 🙂 However, I have much to say about both artists, so this time, I will split up the birthday posts and just focus on the author for today.

According to The Literature Network: “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on 27 January 1832 at the parsonage in Daresbury, Cheshire County, England…His stories for children remain the most popular, but not only was Carroll a prolific author of highly original fiction he also wrote essays, political pamphlets, short stories, poetry, and mathematical textbooks.”

My relationship with Lewis Carroll over the years has been interesting. Like most people in my generation, I daresay, my first exposure to him was through Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland movie.

It was…goodish. I watched it several times as a kid, but it was never one of my favorites. My next introduction was during a voluntary lunchtime reading circle (Junior Great Books) in elementary school that Kara, Lindsey, and I did together. We read a long excerpt from the book, but none of us really enjoyed it. It was really, really silly–absurd. And aren’t kids supposed to like absurd things? We were missing something.

Then, a couple of years ago, Disney and Tim Burton came out with a live-action sequel:


I LOVED it! This was everything I thought Alice in Wonderland should be: majestic, sweeping, epic, passionate, dark, soul-searching. The danger and stakes were more real, with the terrifying Jabberwocky brought to life:

And oh, the Strong Female Character that was Alice in a FULL SUIT OF ARMOR…

I loved it so much, in fact, that I decided to give the book another go.
Immediately, I was hit again by the overwhelming absurdity of it all. There really is no better word to describe it. It’s silly, yes, but in such a satirical way that it’s a wonder to me that it’s considered a children’s book at all. I realized I had to read only a few pages at a time at most, because while it was funny, every single word was part of a joke with a two-fold–at the least–meaning. Never before had I read something so dense in humor. I am still stalled partway through Through the Looking Glass, which it seems Disney also incorporated into its animated movie.

Besides the layers of humor, though, I uncovered something else in my adult reading of the book: that those emotional and epic elements I loved so much in the sequel movie were still present in the original, still ripe kernels wrapped in complex prose. It is one case–maybe the ONLY case–where I find the language is in danger of distracting from the story.

However, considering the Alice stories were originally oral, told to entertain some friends’ children during afternoon outings, perhaps the language itself is meant to entertain as much as the story. It seems that children often delight in riddles and tricks, so the turns-of-phrase rampant on each page remind us adults to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, even if we do recognize deeper commentaries on life and society. The Alice stories continue to be a hallmark of English literature and cinema–spreading to worldwide art–constantly inspiring new books (like the Splintered trilogy, the second of which I listed in my post on the most-anticipated books of January 2014),

Splintered (Splintered, #1)

…movies, TV shows (like ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland), video games (like American McGee’s Alice), songs, etc. It’s hard to imagine many other texts that have inspired such a creative response. There’s some magic that resonates through the centuries with Carroll’s Alice, and just like we can derive different meanings throughout our own years, surely, we have done the same collectively in our culture. However, if we strip it down, we can still find those basic elements of adventure and wonder that are so exciting to people of any age.

Me as (a more modern) Alice with my (slightly more gentle) Jabberwocky, Chad, for Halloween a few years ago

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at 170

Good evening, dear readers. I hope your weekend was lovely, and, if you’re lucky (like my sister, for instance), your break may continue through the holidays. Mine will not, but Marianjoy has been doing so full of festive celebrations the last couple of weeks, that work has been extra fun. 🙂

I wanted to share this wonderful history a fellow blogger (“Interesting Literature”) posted about the history of “A Christmas Carol,” which just celebrated its 170th birthday a few days ago. Not only is it timely, but it’s especially relevant to my family. This is a tale we have enjoyed ever since I was little, and it’s become as integral to our thoughts of Christmas as it has to worldwide culture. In fact, my dad has watched different versions of the movie three times in the last three days–I kid you not. I watched it with him today, while we drank holiday-blend coffee. 🙂

Please enjoy this fascinating account of the timeless tale and the history that surrounds it.

Interesting Literature

The surprising story behind Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’s classic Christmas tale A Christmas Carol was published over 170 years ago, in 1843. Since then, there have been countless stage, screen, and radio adaptations of the classic story. The first film adaptation was a short silent movie version in 1901, titled Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost. There have been opera and ballet versions, an all-black musical called Comin’ Uptown (1979), and even a 1973 mime adaptation for the BBC starring Marcel Marceau. The Muppets, Mickey Mouse, and Mr Magoo have all featured in adaptations of the book.

It wasn’t the first Christmas story Dickens wrote. It wasn’t even the first Christmas ghost story Dickens wrote. He’d already written ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’, featuring miserly Gabriel Grub, an inset tale in Dickens’s first ever published novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836-7). The tale shares many…

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Top Ten: Friends’ Favorite Scary Stories

I couldn’t resist going with a festive theme for this week’s Top Ten: Scariest Stories. Since I, myself, am a scaredy cat (seasonal pun intended), I turned to my friends for their suggestions. Several brave souls responded with their selections–some, with many! The list below will show both their choices and who chose them. I got such a good response that there will be more than ten; however, since I haven’t read most of these, some will have less description than others. I broke them up into categories of stories: classics (pre-1960), legends, and modern/contemporary. A special thank-you to all who helped me, and a special group huddle for those who were more faint-of heart-like me. 😉 (All images from Amazon unless otherwise noted; click to buy or read summaries.)

The Classics

1. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell Tale Heart - Edgar Allen Poe

Image from Barnes & Noble; click to buy. Recommended by Jennifer, Andrea, and me.

Maybe it was my weakness for the properly punctuated title, or maybe it was an adolescent sense of invincibility, but for whatever reason, I did read this short story. Boy, did this one scare me! I still shudder looking at the cover, although to be fair, it is pretty to-the-point. This was also the #1 choice of Jennifer, as well as my writer friend, Andrea. This one is more a psychological terror than slasher-gore, if memory serves, but if memory does not serve, I still refuse to reread this. Or to read about it. *shudder* But you should. >:] boooohahaaaaaaaa

2. “Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe

Recommended by Jennifer, Andrea, and me.

I can’t remember which of these Poe classic I read first, but somehow, I made it through both, probably looking something like this.

I remember the thud of my heartbeat more than the exact details of the story…but I still remember the gross important ones. This one, more than the first, had more than its fair share of gore. It probably pales in comparison to modern books, but, since I personally have nothing to compare it to, I can still claim these are the two SCARIEST books I have EVER read! (Jennifer and Andrea also listed these as tied for top-scariest).

3. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Recommended by Kate

Though I’ve never read this book, I’ve seen the classic movie once and modern movie twice, and they gave me chills each time. (This is the same author who wrote The Lottery, by the way, which I have read, and which could almost be on this list.) This supernatural novel plays on our darkest fears of losing control. My friend Kate went above and beyond with recommendations; you’ll be seeing a lot from her on this list. “Can you tell this is my favorite genre??” she asked. 🙂

The Legends

4. The Tailypo, a Ghost Story, North American Appalachian Folklore/Galdone

Recommended by Misty

I vaguely remember this one from my childhood. Apparently, it’s a North American folk tale that has been told and retold, particularly in the Appalachian region of the USA. This is a favorite recommended by my friend Misty, who is a fellow blogger and kindergarten teacher. This is what she says about the book: “I teach a little lesson on urban legends around this time of year. Explain to the little ones k-2nd grades what an urban legend is, then read The Tailypo. Kids LOVEEEEEE this story! I have teachers/parents/brothers & sisters all ask what in the world is this tailypo that everyone is talking about in the days/weeks after I read it. And the kids beg to hear it again the next year. In my lesson I don’t let the kids see the book or any pics, I just tell the story…and students have to create a picture of what they think the tailypo looks like in their mind. Then, after the story they get to draw what they think the tailypo looks like!! And of course I play spooky music as they draw and color! It is one of my fave lessons.”

5. Urban Legends

Recommended by Kate.

This is another collection of stories recommended by my friend Kate. It’s a “top 20” compilation of urban legends that haunt us in modern times, but some are variations that go back centuries. I made the mistake not only of Googling an image for this item, but also reading the list she posted. I don’t have the taste for horror that Kate does, but I have learned through this research that I’d definitely want my well-studied friend Kate on my team in case of zombie apocalypse or other such horrific disasters. She’d know exactly what to do! If you’re feeling brave, take a peek at some of these popular urban legends. You may even have seen some of them circulating in chain emails (remember those days?) or on Facebook.

6. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Folklore/Alvin Schwartz

Recommended by Kate

More folk tales recommended by Kate. “I would always read this book a kid, and it scared me to death! It was so good.” Kate has nerves of steel. I also remember reading this as a kid, always with a group of friends or classmates. Bravery in numbers, right?

Modern/Contemporary

7. Still Missing, by Chevy Stevens

Recommended by Lindsey.

My friend, Lindsey, has been a lifelong fan of this genre. In fact, she was usually the one pulling out that #6 book to read it aloud to us (with voices, of course), or she would invent her own stories to scare us. She is also a writer, and this is her favorite genre to write, too. So for her to pick this book as her all-time favorite horror story, it must be good. From the description, it looks to be an escape story.

8. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill

First published in 1983, this book doesn’t technically qualify as a “classic,” but it’s become so popular and so often-adapted that it’s often labeled as such. Helping its case is the fact that it’s written in the style of a traditional Gothic novel. From what I understand, it’s essentially a child-ghost story. I wanted to see this movie, but I chickened out and asked Jeremiah’s sister to tell me about it instead. I was still shuddering from her summary, so I think I made the right choice. It’s probably why the book is on Halloween-fanatic Kate’s recommendation list. 🙂

9. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Recommended by Michael.

This grim post-apocalyptic novel won the Pulitzer Prize and was recently adapted into a movie. I’ve been curious about it, but also scared of it, which is why I’ll just have to take my friend Michael’s word for it that it’s a good one. 😉 Although it falls into my usual genre of choice, the horrific elements I’ve heard it has keep me at arm’s length.

10. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Recommended by Kate.

I’ve heard this book mentioned a lot, but the details have been out of my radar. Apparently, Tim Burton is rumored to be doing a movie on this book. “This is in my top 5 all-time favorite books,” says Kate. “It’s amazing. I can’t recommend it enough.” I may actually read this one, if she promises it’s not too scary. 😉

11. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton 

Recommended by my dad.

I’ve only read a few pages of this book, but I’ve seen the original trilogy many times. I’m surprised the gore didn’t bother me when I first saw it as a tween, versus now where I can’t watch a lot of it. The idea of dinosaurs coexisting with humans is pretty scary. It’s an interesting exploration of the dangers when humankind messes with evolution.

12. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

Recommended by Kate.

“This is my all-time favorite scary/creepy book,” said Kate. That means it will be too scary for me, which is a shame, because this archaeological mystery delving into centuries-old historical secrets looks really interesting. Maybe I can ask Kate to black out the scary parts for me. 😉

13. The Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Recommended by Kate.

Another archaeological mystery, this favorite of Kate’s takes place in a museum. It looks like it may have some supernatural elements, too.

14. The Shining, by Stephen King

Recommended by Amy and Jeremiah’s mom.

This novel really stuck with people. I mustered up the courage to see the movie, but I don’t know if I could make it through the book. (Isn’t your own imagination always more terrifying?) Even from the movie, I could see that this story was quite well-written, deserving of its fame. “I’ve never read anything scary since this,” said my friend, Amy (whose creative genius you can see here). I don’t blame you, Amy!

Recommended by Susan

This Stephen King novel was recommended by my fellow blogger friend, Susan. “Towards the end, I actually couldn’t sit alone and read it; how bizarre is that?!” she said of this novel. I’m probably the wrong one to ask, Susan, but I don’t blame you one bit for needing company to get through a Stephen King novel. 😉

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Again, a BIG thank-you to all the people who helped me compile this list. Since there was a unanimous vote on my last post to extend the Halloween celebration, perhaps you should continue the festivities by reading one of the selections on this list. I, myself, am more likely to paint a pumpkin, but do let me know if you find a new favorite from this list–or if your own favorite wasn’t listed here!

Happy Halloween: Memories of Halloweens Past

Happy Halloween, readers! I hope you’re enjoying the holiday. I’m having a rather spooky experience at the moment: our phone line is going in and out, and since it’s on Halloween, that means it has to have a sinister cause.

But perhaps the scariest thing about this is that I can’t “save draft” as often as I’d like, so I may lose my work…

It’s actually the very first year I haven’t worn a costume, and it fills me with a Victorian Halloween-appropriate melancholy, complete with gloomy fog rolling through the moors of my mind. Our friend (pictured below, as Marilyn) who usually hosts the Halloween party had to be in Canada for much of the month for two separate weddings, one of which she not only participated in, but planned. A more than adequate excuse, I think, but we’ll definitely have to make up for it next year with a *huge* celebration. I still got to be festive at work yesterday, as you can see from my last blog post. Annnnd I’ll still get to be a princess at our gala, and so will my sister, but I am so happy we subvert fairy tale tradition by not being evil to each other. 😉 Oh yes, you can expect a flood of pictures after this weekend.

Speaking of flood of pictures, tonight, you’ll be seeing some snapshots of my childhood. Halloween has always been special to me, my absolute favorite holiday. From a young age, our parents encouraged Jennifer and me dress up and be creative, and we’ve never grown out of that. Halloween has always been about the costumes for us, not the candy (though I wouldn’t turn that down, either).

I believe this was my very first costume ever. My mom sewed this dragon costume for me; I think I was three years old here.

Amanda in dragon costume, pointing

Making some important dragony point, I think. You can see I was assertive, even back then. 😉 (Sorry for the blurriness.)

After that, I believe I was a teddy bear, and then mostly various princesses all the way up until college, when I alternated between strong female characters. (Spoiler alert: next year I am going to be BOTH, as Daenerys from Game of Thrones.)

Our friends group in 2003. Left to right: Megan is a black cat (I think Figaro, from Pinocchio; Jon is a rugby player; Jennifer is Tinkerbell; Lindsey is Marilyn Monroe; Alex is that guy who caught that baseball at a Cubs game, causing the team to lose that year; Kara is Arwen from LOTR; and I'm in the front, as--who else?--Belle. :)

Our friends group in 2003. You may recognize several of these faces from other posts. 😉 Left to right: Megan is a black cat (I think Figaro, from Pinocchio; Jon is a rugby player; Jennifer is Tinkerbell; Lindsey is Marilyn Monroe; Alex is that guy who caught that baseball at a Cubs game, causing the team to lose that year; Kara is Arwen from LOTR; and I’m in the front, as–who else?–Belle. 🙂

Another special tradition to us was reading our favorite stories all together. You might’ve seen this in my previous post about the history of storytelling and reading aloud, but I think this one bears a repeat:

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. <3

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. ❤

My family’s done a lot of organizing this year, and we unearthed our two favorite Halloween books EVER. We reread this one right away when I spotted it.

Image courtesy of Amazon; click to buy.

This is a charming story that opens with this line: “Once, there were two mice who fell in love with the same pumpkin.” While this seemed perfectly normal to me the first time my dad read it to us, 20 years ago, now, it makes me feel like this:

I think I feel this way because I cry at adorable things. I’m so overwhelmed by the cuteness factor that it has to spill out of me in tears. As an adult, I think this is a great book to teach children to cooperate and work together to achieve your goals–that even if you have different goals, you can both get what you want by helping each other. So much of the value is in that bond you form while striving together. In fact, maybe this is a good book for adults, too. 😉

Image courtesy of Amazon; click to buy.

This other Halloween favorite was a lot of fun for us, starting 21 years ago. That button in the upper-right corner was quite exciting, as it let out a sound mimicking the title. My dad would always say the title while the button was playing, too. Jennifer and I would take turns getting the privilege of being the Important Button Pusher, except when we would *accidentally* forget who pushed last. Honestly, I don’t remember much else about this book, and I don’t want to spoil it for myself, because we’re planning to read it tomorrow.

Other story news for tomorrow: you should finally have your Top 10 list I owe you for this week. I’m going to blame the internet flakiness for the delay on it tonight, but the other reason it’s taking so long is because it is so long. People had many favorites, which will make it not a top 10 but rather more, which takes out the requirement of its being posted on Tuesday…right? I promise it’s worth the wait. 😉 Also, I am planning to post a flash fiction horror piece I wrote in grad school–it may go up tomorrow or sometime in the near future. I vote for extending the Halloween celebration past tonight; what do you think? 🙂

Readers, what are some of your favorite Halloween memories? I’d love to hear them.