Novel Reviews

Washington Irving- “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820)

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is without a doubt a well known story. Most people know the tale of Ichabod Crane and his encounter with the Headless Horseman. However, I’m sure many of those people know this story from the multiple adaptations of it. The 1999Sleepy Hollow book film, Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod, or the made-for-tv-movie, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or even most recently the television show, Sleepy Hollow, that premiered last year.

Initially, I had only been familiar with the film from 1999 and had little knowledge about what the story was actually about. It wasn’t until I watched the television show (which I highly recommend) did I sincerly find some understanding of this small town and its residents. Albeit, the television show takes places in present day and Ichabod and his wife Katrina are the only ones who come from the time period the short story takes place in. That being said, there are plenty of things that are changed and added for the television show to work and keep people interested. After all, the story of Ichabod Crane is a short one indeed.

When I finally did read the actual short story, I was surprised at how truly insignificant Ichabod Crane was. He was just a simple man who attended a party, hoped to win the heart of the lovely Katrina Van Tassel and was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he encountered the Horseman. I admire Irving’s ability it get straight to the point. He gave enough back story on the superstition of the Horseman that the audience would be intrigued and would wonder if the tales were actually true. In fact, Irving made it seem as though the encounter with the Horseman wasn’t really all that important. It was just something that happened in this small town and choosing to believe in him or not was one’s own business. Ichabod was the real story and his fate was just that, his fate. Whether we ever find out what truly happened to him that night is whole different story.

Verdict: 11/12

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H.P. Lovecraft- “The Outsider” (1926)

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“The Outsider” is a short story by American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Written between March and August 1921, it was first published in Weird Tales, April 1926. In this work, a mysterious man who has been living alone in a castle for as long as he can remember decides to break free in search of human contact. – Goodreads

Now, I’m not one who would put the horror genre at the top of my “Most Read” list on the account that the imagination can be more horrifying and scary than seeing actual “horror” played out on a screen in front of you. That being said, I’m also not one to completely dismiss the genre simply because I don’t like being scared. The Outsider

Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” is a strange story indeed. It was one that I found slightly jarring simply by his zealous descriptions of the protagonists surroundings. There was times when I wasn’t fully aware of where the protagonist was or what exactly it was that he was seeing. There were also times when I felt as though I couldn’t fully understand the protagonist as he struggles to understand the world and the people around him. But I find, now, that this misunderstanding is the entire point.

Lovecraft writes:

Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness. Wretched is he who looks back upon lone hours in vast and dismal chambers with brown hangings and maddening rows of antique books, or upon awed watches in twilight proves grotesque, gigantic, and vine-encumbered tress that silently wave twisted branches far aloft. Such a lot the gods gave to me–to me, the dazed, the disappointed; the barren, the broken. And yet I am strangely content, and cling desperately to those sere memories, when my mind momentarily threatens to reach beyond to the other.

When he leaves the castle and searches for long sought after human contact, what he comes across is not what he expects. Which is exactly what I, as a reader, discovered when I finished the story. Nothing was as I expected it to be and neither was the protagonist. I took nothing in this story and came out with more than I bargained for. All in all, this story will throw you for a loop.

Verdict: 10/12

Rainer Maria Rilke- Letters to A Young Poet (1929)

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So once again it’s been a while. But I’m back and ready to discuss Rilke.

For those of you who don’t know, “Letters to a Young Poet” is a collection of 10 letters that Rilke wrote to Franz Xaver Kuppas, a young cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. These letters are in a sense the advice Rilke gives this young man as Kuppas goes through his time at Military school and tries to make sense of the things around him, all the while trying to improve his writing skills as a poet. Letters to a Young Poet

What’s so special about these letters is their deep personal connection that derives from them, and the strong words that help this young man, and every reader, to come to terms with their own life, our mortality, our fears and understanding of love.

Rilke writes:

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

Rilke speaks to Kuppas in a way that does not put him down for feeling certain things but instead builds him up for having these exact feelings. Reading these letters gave me a sense of understanding about things that I didn’t even realize I was questioning. He speaks to the idea that although we may not have a complete understanding of certain things that happen in our lives, this “not knowing” is what helps us to grow. It helps to bring us closer to ourselves.

Rilke writes:

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend

Coming to terms with our own selves is a hard thing to accomplish. But Rilke speaks to this feat in a way that makes it seem slightly less daunting. He shows us that although we are connected to each and every person, in one way or another, we can never truly know a person without knowing ourselves first. We all have doubts and uncertainties just as much as we have faith or joy. But as Rilke says we cannot always assume others understand this about our nature. They have their own nature to contend with and we mustn’t burden them with our own.

Rilke writes:

only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being

He speaks about relationships and love in a way that made me rethink the way I look at the world. If we want love, we must be ready to extend our hand out to it. We must be ready to take it all in; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Once we are able to do so, this relationship with another person becomes, in and of itself, a whole new being. One that will help us to know ourselves, just as we learn to know each other.

I see these letters as a great and vast way of thinking about life. Although Rilke is speaking to one man in particular and in response to the woes that this young man goes through, his writing and response speaks to everyone and all things. I see this a guide to finding oneself. The self that is hidden underneath the fear and the unknowing. The self that is just waiting to be set free.

Verdict: 12/12

Allen Ginsberg- Howl (1956)

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It’s been a while. I’ve been busy overseas for the past 2 weeks and have returned to right where I left off in my semi-satisfying world of the workplace. I may have neglected this blog, but I have not neglected my brain. Ginsberg was on the brain and the brain was on the Beat Generation.

For those of you who didn’t major in English or who just weren’t taught anything about the Poets of the Beat Generation, then here’s a little nugget of knowledge for you. The Beat Generation consisted of a group of Post World War II American writers who became huge icons around the 1950’s. Elements of this “Beat” culture included rejecting imposed standards, creating new innovations in style, drug experimentation, alternative sexualities, rejection of materialism and portraying the human condition in an more explicit fashion.

The best known examples of this generation included William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch (1959), Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956). But other writers such as Lucian Carr, Carl Soloman, Neal Cassidy, David Kammerer, and others, were also very prominent figures of this generation.

History lesson behind us, let’s talk about Howl. Keep in mind that most poems have meaning that comes from not only the words but also from the form in which the poem is written. My quotations are not done in the original form and I have no intention of squandering Ginsberg’s vision in any way. These quotes are also only from part I of the poem. HowlAllenGinsberg

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro street at dawn looking for an angry fix,

What’s interesting about Howl is the complete rawness that comes off the page. This poem talks about a filthy, disgusting world full of drugs, exploitation and uncertainty. Of how one simple thing, something that you thought would help lift you up out of your own poverty and shame, is the very thing that will drive you mad. Ginsberg saw a world that was so strong and so impregnated with grime and pain that there was no way for anyone to escape their own fate.

Who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their public beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York

Every image in this poem is so deeply graphic that you cannot help but envision it. You cannot help but see the seedy underbelly of a city that in reality hides nothing. Ginsberg portrays a world that has no secrets. One that is completely open and honest about its grotesque desires. One that has taken so many victims before this and will continue to long after. Howl depicts the world seen through the looking glass but reminds us that what we see is real. It is not an alternate universe, it is ours and we have been kidnapped, pulled down by it, forced to watch as the world and everyone in it destroys themselves. It shows us that no one is safe.

ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in an animal soup of time—and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,

Howl, in my opinion, is a visionary. A vision of a world we must try to destroy but one we must never forget existed.

Verdict: 12/12

If you’re looking for a film about the Beat Generation, go ahead and take a look at Kill Your Darlings. It surrounds Ginsberg, Lucian Carr and William Burroughs and a murder investigation.

J.M. Barrie- Peter Pan and Wendy (1911)

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“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease to be able to do it”- Peter Pan

With every fairy tale told to us as children, we develop our own perception of what these characters are like. We seem to always believe that unless a character is directly deemed “evil”, then they are inherently good. I always thought that about the fairy tale world and believed that there was a simple divide between good and evil. The Evil Queen was on one side while Snow White was on the other. The queen only did bad things and made things worse for other people, while Snow White did everything Peter Pan Wendy 03good and only wanted to help others. However, I do not think this is always the case.

For example, I do not trust Peter Pan. I may have when I was a child but I don’t anymore. His first appearance to the Darlings is not one that is particularly nice or friendly. The only reason he was at their window in the first place was to listen to the stories that their mother told them as the 3 siblings fell asleep. He also rummaged around their room, throwing things about at will, while looking for his shadow. He even tricked the Darling siblings into coming with him to Neverland and all the while he did not even seem to care about them. He thought himself to be the greatest, had the best flying ability, and was the only one who really knew what was going on. He never told them what was going to happen to them when they got to the island and he also made games out of their misery. He makes jokes at their expense and does not try to help them in anyway unless it is of benefit to himself.

My view of Peter Pan may have also come from the amazing portrayal of him on the show Once Upon a Time (airing Sundays on ABC) by 18 year old British actor Robbie Kay. He did such an amazing job portraying Pan as a conniving, cunning and downright evil person. But Kay did it in such a way that you couldn’t help but love to hate him. What I loved most about this portrayal of Pan, and Kay’s superb acting ability, was that you found yourself loving Pan despite his flaws. He didn’t try to be anyone but himself. He didn’t try and pretend that he was a good person. He tricked and trifled wRobbieKayPanith you and as an audience member, I couldn’t help but be on his side. I was always on his side, no matter what.

I found this portrayal of Pan to completely accurate, especially learning about his true nature when reading this story. Although I do not trust Peter Pan, I respect him. I understand why he is the way he is. He is a child who has never had to grow up. He has never learned the difference between right and wrong and so he simply does what he wants. He thinks he does things for the right reasons. If he even knows what “right” means. Peter Pan is many things and like many of us wish to be, always a child at heart.

Verdict: 10/12

C.S. Lewis- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)

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Of all the great classic novels out there, there is that wonderful bunch of classic children’s tales and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia is no exception. Of all the fairy tales out there, this has to be one of my favorites.

C.S. Lewis wrote the story for, and dedicated it to, his god-daughter Lucy, for which one of the main characters is named after. He says in the dedication:

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,

C.S. LewisNarniaWardrobe

This fairy tale, like all fairy tales should, has action, adventure, learning right from wrong, finding ways to make up for ones mistakes and learning to forgive. C.S. Lewis takes us into an enchanted land where animals talk and men rule. Where, despite the 100 year winter, the inhabitants have never lost hope or belief in a free Narnia and are willing to go to extreme lengths to make their home beautiful again. For hope is the only thing stronger than fear. As future Kings and Queens of Narnia, the four Pevensie siblings learns lessons of bravery, kindness, justness and fortitude and find the ability to overcome their own self-sabotage.

Lewis writes a simple, yet endearing, tale that children of all ages can enjoy and I believe him when he says that we will all be old enough to read fairy tales again one day. I know I certainly am.

Verdict: 12/12

Ernest Hemingway- The Old Man and The Sea (1952)

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This story is my first experience with Hemingway and I picked it to be my first because, not only, was it the shortest but it was also a story that I didn’t think I would relate to that much and I wanted to prove that no matter what a story is about, it can still be relatable. However, it is a story about fishing. I am no fisherman, I have no desire to be a fisherman in the future and altThe Old Man and the Seahough I love seafood, I have no desire to kill and gut my own food.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I did relate to this story. Hemingway not only depicts a great adventure of a seasoned fisherman, but he also depicts a story about the strength of perseverance and that there are some things in life that you are better off letting go of.

The Old Man, who finds fishing to be a calming and peaceful exercise, finds himself in the midst of the battle against a great fish and by his simple desire to bring this fish in, he finds himself pulled out to sea. Then begins the show of the powerful strength that comes from the simple desire to survive. Both man and fish go through great hardships to keep going and to keep persevering despite the odds being stacked against them.  The great fish is hooked, while the old man suffers bodily injuries.

I love a good story about the fire the fuels the overwhelming desire to live. It shows just how precious life is and that you cannot take your life or anyone else’s for granted. I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

Verdict: 10/12

Have you ever been in a situation where all your instincts took over and contributed to your survival?

Why do some people value life while others do not?

What types of situation warrant letting go or holding tight?