29 April 2010

My Ten Favorite Literary Villains

So . . . I forced a few tagged followers on my second blog--Grammatically Motivated--to list their favorite fictional villains. *nefarious snicker* I love a good bad guy, or should I say an effective bad guy, so that led me to start thinking about my own personal favorites, whether it's because they are just so cool or just so evil. Considering I haven't read anything this week (Curses upon whomever invented finals!) and am running horribly behind schedule (Sorry!), I decided to post my list of the top ten literary characters I love to hate, or, in some cases, hate to love. :D

1. Count Dracula (Bram Stoker's Dracula): *cue organ music* I have a certain standard when it comes to vampires: I like my vampires mean. None of this mamby pamby sparkly crap. I want an honest-to-goodness bloodsucking vampire who sports a shiny black cape and has no problem with sinking his fangs into helpless victims. The venerable villain Count Dracula meets all of my requirements and is the main reason I adore Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel, the aptly named Dracula. The Count also gets bonus points for the cool Romanian accent. (Please tell me I am not the only one who reads his lines with a Bela Lugosi voice.)

2. Iago (William Shakespeare's Othello): The Bard has given us many great bad guys, but Iago is, in my opinion, Shakespeare's best villain. True, he isn't one of those scary axe murderer type villains; Iago is actually much worse. Instead, he's an insidious, deceitful scoundrel who worms his way into friendship with Othello and wages a ruthless (but absolutely effective) war of mind games with the sole intent of bringing Othello down. Give me a choice between confronting a crazed ax murderer and an Iago, and I'll take the axe murderer. You may at least be able to outrun him. Good luck getting away from the seemingly charismatic and loyal Iago.*shudder* And, if Iago has no other redeeming personal qualities, he is at least good with hilarious Elizabethan insults and putdowns. :D

3. Mrs. Danvers (Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca): Who says maniacal rogue scientists have a monopoly on being evil? Creepy British housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who is hellbent on tormenting the young second wife of her employer for having the audacity to replace her beloved mistress, is about as nightmarish of an opponent as you can get. The fact that Du Maurier keeps comparing her to a skeleton in a formal black dress doesn't help matters . . .

4. Bill Sikes (Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist): Fagin may be the main villain in Oliver Twist, but the unhinged Sikes makes Fagin look as docile as a tranquilized guinea pig. A burglar, thief, murderer, Sikes isn't literature's brainiest villain, but he is certainly one of the most remorseless vagabonds to appear in fiction. Whenever I read about Cockney crooks, Sikes always comes to my mind.

5. Heathcliff (Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights): Pop culture perceives Heathcliff as the brooding British heartthrob of Victorian literature. And, I must confess, I have always pitied Heathcilff, what with his troubled childhood and thwarted romance with Cathy. That being said, Heathcliff's personal sufferings do not in the least negate the malicious, sadistic revenge campaign he unleashes upon any and all who dare anger him. Heathcliff is a puzzling character with no rhyme or reason to much of his behavior, which is one reason he's so disturbing.

6. Vito Corleone (Mario Puzo's The Godfather): This is sort of a cheater's pick on my part. I like the film version of this story better than the book (The movie has my boy Brando!), but Vito is still one of my favorite bad guys. Vito Corleone is a loving father, husband, and friend. Vito is loyal, generous, and wise. Vito is also one of the most feared Mafiosi in New York. When he, ahem, makes you an offer you can't refuse, you better take it, if you get my drift. *wink wink*

7. Anton Chigurh (Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men): This is a pick where I adore the film version of the villain, but I also like the original literary portrayal, too. I am not really quite sure why I like Chigurh so much. He's a quirky, coldblooded hit man who is prone to philosophy. I think I like him so well, because he's so unusual...and has so many catchy lines. What's it to you, friendo? Whatever it is, it makes me forgive his questionable taste in hair styles.

8. Roger (William Golding's Lord of the Flies): Yes, Jack is the leading meanie in this classic tale of British school boys gone wild, but Roger is the major psycho. Roger is a creep not because he is the brains of the outfit, but because he enjoys whatever he's tasked with doing far more than is mentally healthy. If you don't believe me, check out the part where he starts rocking his classmates before Jack forms his tyrannical choir regime.

9. Nazguls (J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings): Sure, Sauron is the villain and the nazguls are the minions. But they're such cool minions! The scene where they enter the Shire hunting for Frodo always struck me as the scariest scene in the Rings trilogy. They get bonus points for the intimidating cloaked appearance. If I ever get minions, they are so wearing cloaks! ^^

10. Roger Chillingworth (Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter): You guys have probably noticed I prefer villains who aren't stereotypical and the more psychological ones. Chillingworth definitely falls in both categories. Puritan physician isn't the most insidious occupation that comes to mind when casting villains, but there is no doubt from the moment Chillingworth appears that he is a most dastardly fellow. If holding grudges were a team sport, Chillingworth would be my first round draft pick. If he doesn't have you cringing, especially in that creepy scene when he tells Hester he knows exactly where she's going and that it isn't happening, I am not sure who will.

Who are your favorites?

By the way, due to finals, I won't have a book review up next week, either. How do you guys feel about a list of my favorite hereos to balance this list out?

21 April 2010

The Eyre Affair

Imagine the year 1985 in a world where the Crimean War still rages on, time travel is possible, book worms exist (Get it? Get it?), and the British public can't get enough of literature and art. Rabid Baconians stalk the street, proselytizing that Francis Bacon wrote the amazing plays attributed to Shakespeare; militant surrealists are murdered by rogue impressionists on the streets of London; and the novel Jane Eyre ends with Jane marrying that twit cousin of hers and leaving Mr. Rochester to a sad life all alone. (How dare she! Poor lonely Eddie...) In this chaotic world, a market exists for bootlegged manuscripts of classic novels, which is exactly what SpecOp agent Thursday Next battles on a day-to-day basis. The brainy but troubled Next is used to hunting down forged copies of Johnson and Austen. What she is not used to is maniacal criminals like Acheron Hades entering into books to kidnap and murder beloved literary characters. When Hades kidnaps Jane, it is up to Thursday, her partner, and Mr. Rochester himself to rescue Jane and make the world safe for classic literary characters everywhere.

My coworker Darcie recommended this delightful book--The Eyre Affair--to me; when I hinted at reviewing this book last week, Serena not only correctly guessed the title, she also recommended the book as well. When one reader with great taste in books suggests a book to me, I always get excited. When two readers with great taste in books suggest a book to me, I cannot resist. Thank you both so much! I loved this book and can't wait to read the rest of this series.

One reason I loved this book was the pithy British sense of humor that author Jasper Fforde brings. His witty style and outrageous plots remind me of some weird fusion of Terry Pratchett, Monty Python, and Lynne Truss. (It also reminds me of my beloved TV show Pushing Daisies. It has the same darkly funny mix of humor and escapist fantasy. Random Zella tangent: I will never, ever forgive ABC for cancelling Pushing Daisies. If ABC is reading this: I have not forgotten that retaliation riot I threatened. Consider yourself warned.) I am especially impressed with the skill that Fforde handles a plot that could very easily be dismissed as too silly. Instead, he crafts a gripping thriller and a sharply humorous alternative universe that is not so very different from our own, yet is worlds away, in a good way. The characters are likeable, quirky, and complex, especially Thursday, who is a truly wonderful heroine. She's neither a pathetic damsel in distress nor an over-the-top action heroine stereotype, both of which I despise in fiction. I also enjoyed the twisting plot that features elements of several genres. Sci fi, fantasy, mystery, alternative history, and humor fans will all find something to love here. Fforde puts clever twists on timeworn cliches from each genre, which helps add to the inventive tone.

However, the real draw will be for those who love classic literature. That's not really a prerequisite to reading and enjoying this book--it certainly stands alone--but this book will definitely be more appealing to those who have read and loved Jane Eyre and those who recognize all of the literary allusions that Fforde inserts within the text. (My favorite is Thursday's Uncle Mycroft. I named my laptop after Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother, a couple of years ago. I had a moment of extreme nerdy happiness when I read Mycroft's name in this book..)

If you're looking for a light-hearted, clever, and highly original read, of either the spec fic or literary variety, try The Eyre Affair. Jasper Fforde is a talented writer with a highly original outlook on fiction. Beware, though: You may find yourself scrambling to find his other books, just like Darcie, Serena, and myself.


Next Week: Um, I have no idea. Maybe some Cormac McCarthy. Or a YA thriller set in World War II. Or Treasure Island. I have no earthly idea. Don't look at me! *hides in corner and cries*

14 April 2010

As I Lay Dying

Addie Bundren has one dying wish--she wants to be buried in her hometown, miles away from the dilapidated farmhouse she resides in with her volatile husband, Anse, and their dysfunctional brood of children. Her family agrees, thinking they will give the long-suffering woman some peace and comfort by fulfilling her request. Truth be told, Addie could care less about returning home. She just wants to punish the family she always despised by tasking them with a grueling quest, which the Bundren journey ends up being, what with raging streams, burning barns, crazy relatives, family secrets, and enough drama to fuel a soap opera.

I haven't been able to read for pleasure lately, so I had to go digging through my archives of reviews. After throwing Kafka at you last week, I hesitated about posting about Faulkner, but it was that or Samuel Beckett. As trippy as Faulkner may be, I assure you Beckett makes Kafka and Faulkner combined seem relatively normal, so I decided to post this review of my favorite Faulkner novel.
I adore Faulkner. One reason is I love his elaborate style, but his work with stream of consciousness and multi POV have greatly influenced me as a writer, and led to a few disastrous Faulknerian writing experiments as a teenager. (Let's not discuss it...) In this novel, Faulkner pieces together the voices of fifteen very different narrators to relate Addie's journey back home, including the dead woman herself. The result is a complex, fascinating work that reads like a puzzle. One is never quite sure what is going on until the very end, so it reads almost like a detective story, yet the solution is learning all about this family wrought with conflict and turmoil. The characters--especially the selfish Anse, stubborn Jewel, sensitive Darl, and enigmatic Dewey Dell--are vivid and memorable. Faulkner employs stream of consciousness technique superbly and crafts a hauntingly realistic portrait of one of literature's most dysfunctional families. I especially love the twist ending. I think it is one of the best ending lines ever written. ^^

Now, as much as I love Faulkner, I will admit: This kind of experimental fiction is certainly not to everyone's taste. As much as I enjoy it, I have to be in the right mood for it. I think it's a mistake to approach this with the same mindset you would a breezy beach read. If you're not willing to process all of the subtle clues Faulkner is giving you, you're going to be extremely confused. And that's the point. You cannot understand the book until you have completed it, so you must be willing to soldier through the whole work. If you look at it like a brainteaser or a puzzle, you'll be in a better frame of mind to appreciate what Faulkner is doing. That being said, I find this book more accessible than Faulkner's other stream of consciousness masterpiece The Sound and The Fury. Once you realize who all the characters are in As I Lay Dying, it's just a matter of following the action, as opposed to The Sound and The Fury. (I had no idea who anyone was until 3/4 of the way through that one.) It also helps to read the book a second time. Then you can concentrate on Faulkner's technique...rather than stumbling through wondering what the heck is going on.

Again, I know this sort of book isn't for everyone. But I highly recommend As I Lay Dying for anyone who likes experimental fiction. If you have never sampled any of Faulkner's stream of consciousness work, this book is not quite as intimidating as some of his other pieces. Give it a chance and tell me what you think. (I will still be friends with you if you throw the book at the wall and curse me for recommending it.)

Next Week: I am so sorry, but I just have no idea. I am trying to get something read for you guys! My coworker recommended a literary, alternative fantasy series about a book detective. I would like to try that, but I make no guarantees. I'll find something!

Also, Scott and Serena made eloquent pleas for mercy for "The Unblogged Chronicles". I still haven't made up my mind, but I am not entirely considering axing it now. I will make some changes, but for now, they will still be posted.

One more thing! Shmoop posted a book link in honor of Yom HaShoah--Holocaust Remembrance Day. Those of you who know me know I am very proud of my Jewish heritage. And, as a history major who plans to specialize in Nazi Germany, I am a firm believer in the old refrain: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I know the Holocaust is not a very pleasant event to remember, but it is something that can't go unmentioned. I would have posted a book review of an appropriate read but, alas, I didn't have time. But, still, read Elie Wiesel's Night or Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl or Markus Zusack's The Book Thief or Richard Glazar's Trap with a Green Fence this week. Maybe next year, I'll have an appropriate review, like Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place or, if I can ever get a hold of an English translation, Lovely Green Eyes. Thanks...and shalom. :)

07 April 2010

The Metamorphosis

I am sure we've all had one of those mornings where nothing worked out right: Your alarm doesn't go off, your car won't start, and your breakfast ends up on your only clean outfit. (Please tell me it's not just me with the crazy mornings!) Well, as crappy as all of our days can be on occasion, we can at least take solace in the fact that we've never awakened to discover that we've turned into a gigantic beetle overnight (or at least I hope we can take solace in this), which is exactly what happens to Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of Franz Kafka's eerie classic The Metamorphosis.

I adore Kafka's work, especially his short stories, and this novella is one of my favorites. As a reader, his recurring theme of alienation has always struck a chord with me; as a writer, his superb craftsmanship has always been an inspiration to me. I also find his personal story one of literature's most quietly tragic (Poor lonely Franz...), but that's a story for another post. I love the way Kafka combines mundane reality with out-of-this world fantasy, which is certainly showcased in The Metamorphosis. One of the main reasons I love this story is that Kafka never explains why Gregor is turned into a bug. I think that would have ruined this story, because, really, the fact that he is a bug is one of the least of his problems, though it does complicate things. Kafka, instead, focuses his attention on the fall-out from Gregor's change, and the result is a tragic, absurd, disturbing allegory, though exactly what Kafka is allegorizing is fodder for endless debate.

Gregor is a somewhat pathetic character that I can't help pitying, but his dysfunctional family and their reactions to his state are also key components of this story--ones that are both amusing and heartbreaking. Their vain attempts to cope with Gregor's transformation forms a vital crux of this novel, particularly the ever-present alienation theme. The tragicomic interactions between Gregor and his relatives, and the world around him in general, are the highlight of this story, precisely because they ring true. I also love the surreal atmosphere that Kafka creates with his droll, meticulous style. This novella amuses me, saddens me, and creeps me out all at once. I never can read it without getting that creepy-crawly feeling I get when a bug crawls on me. (I have to read this several times this week for lit. to prepare for quizzes. This is making my homework sessions memorable...)

Though I love this story, I will admit: It's weird. It may be a bit too weird for everyone's personal taste. (I once read a comment on Sparklife that said certain things just should not be thought up. And Kafka's The Metamorphosis was one of them.) I disagree with the aforementioned sentiment--obviously. I love the originality of Kafka and think the uniqueness of his work is the point. But I can't deny that his work, and this story in particular, won't freak you out.

I highly recommend Kafka's The Metamorphosis, if only because the premise is so innovative and the execution of it is so masterful. Kafka is one of the premier voices in modernist literature...and for good reason. If you've never read Kafka before, this thirty page novella is the perfect introduction.


Next Week: Not sure. My schedule is going to get crazy. Maybe a review. Maybe a list. We'll see. If it is a list, it will probably be a list of the books I'd want with me if I were shipwrecked.

However, as busy as I will be, you can catch up with me at my second blog: Grammatically Motivated. I have been meaning to start a second blog, to post non-book related articles, but haven't had time. My faulty logic is that now that I am going to have limited time, it may be easier to write articles that don't require me to read ahead of time. Tis the theory, anyway...

Also, I am thinking about ending "The Unblogged Chronicles". I have been disappointed with this series. I think they're too long without being in-depth enough and lack a unifying theme. Therefore, I am considering halting that series. Any thoughts? Want me to kill the "Chronicles" or do you request mercy?

Don't forget: I can pester you on Twitter now. :D