By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
November is Native American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than to read a book! Here are 20 great titles by Native American authors available here at WCPL:
My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith (J E SMITH)
What brings you happiness? This warm, joyful board book celebrates family and heritage, and serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to cherish the moments in life that brings us happiness.
Little You by Richard Van Camp (J E VAN CAMP)
With gentle rhymes and simple illustrations, this board book is a tender celebration of the potential of all children, sure to resonate with readers of all ages.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie (J E ALEXIE)
Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. Just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name sure to light up the sky.
Wild Berries by Julie Flett (J E FLETT)
Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother in this quiet, rhythmic story written in both English and Swampy Cree dialect.
The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo (J E HAR)
Some cats are good luck. You pet them and good things happen. Woogie is one of those cats. But as Woogie gets into one mishap after another, everyone starts to worry. Can a good luck cat’s good luck run out?
Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk (J E KIRK)
John Cloud’s father is in New York City, far away from their Mohawk Reservation, building sky scrapers. One day, Mama takes John to New York City and he sees his Papa high on a beam, building the Empire State Building.
When We Were Alone by David Robertson (J E ROBERTSON)
When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (J E SMITH)
Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared by generations of women in her family, and she hopes to dance at the next powwow. But she has a problem: how will her dress sing if it has no jingles?
SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (J E WAB)
Two Ojibway sisters set off into the winter night to see the SkySpirits’ midnight dance. After an exhilarating walk and patient waiting, the girls are rewarded by the arrival of the SkySpirits—the Northern Lights—dancing and shimmering in the night sky.
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac (J F BRU)
Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? There’s one thing Molly does know: she needs to find some answers before it’s too late.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (J F ERD)
Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. With The Birchbark House, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, seven-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by James Marshall III (J F MARSHALL)
When Jimmy McClean embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson (J F ROBERTSON)
Hiawatha, a Mohawk, is plotting revenge for the murder of his wife and daughters by the evil Onondaga Chief when he meets the Great Peacemaker, who enlists his help in bringing the nations together to share his vision of a new way of life marked by peace, love, and unity rather than war, hate, and fear.
Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (J F SMI)
What do Indian shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins or hightops with bright orange shoelaces? Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes, like the time they are forced to get creative after a homemade haircut makes Ray’s head look like a lawn-mowing accident.
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle (J F TINGLE)
A Choctaw boy tells the story of his tribe’s removal from the only land his people had ever known, and how their journey to Oklahoma led him to become a ghost with the ability to help those he left behind.
Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache by Greg Rodgers (J 398.20897 ROD)
Deep in Choctaw Country, Chukfi Rabbit is always figuring out some way to avoid work at all costs. When Bear, Turtle, Fox, and Beaver agree on an everybody-work-together day to build Ms. Possum a new house, Chukfi Rabbit says he’s too busy to help, but this greedy trickster will soon learn that being this lazy is hard work.
Trickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki (J 741.5973 TRI)
In the first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, twenty four Native storytellers were paired with twenty four comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac (J 796 BRU)
In 1999 the U.S. Congress recognized Jim Thorpe as “Athlete of the Century,” a marvelous achievement for anyone, let alone a Native American kid born in a log cabin. In this picture-book biography, readers learn about how his boyhood education set the stage for his athletic achievements.
Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness to Light by Tim Tingle (J 973.0497 TIN)
Spanning fifty years, Saltypie describes the problems encountered by the author’s Choctaw grandmother—from her orphan days at an Indian boarding school to hardships encountered in her new home on the Gulf Coast.
Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story by S.D. Nelson (J 92 HAYES)
This biography tells the story of Ira Hayes, a shy, humble Pima Indian who fought in World War II as a Marine and was one of six soldiers to raise the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima, an event immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Fall comes around each year, and the air becomes chilled and the leaves change colors, and it’s time to remember November as Native American Heritage Month. We remember how Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, assisted the settlers of Plymouth and how Pocahontas and her father, from the Algonquin tribe, assisted in helping the settlers in Jamestown. Both were kindnesses of friendship and food that unfortunately later came back to bite them.
Since the history of Native Americans is so broad and diverse, during this month of holiday feasting and heritage, we’ve decided to focus on a brief survey of Native American food and cuisine. Today, few of the Native American tribes eat the same diets that their ancestors ate, but much of the indigenous foods are now incorporated into the cuisines of almost the entire world.
Starting in the northeast, where contact first began with the English, we’ll work our way across the nation. While there were some common staples and practices, such as corn being a very important dietary staple across most of the nation, the first thing we should realize is that all tribes did not eat the same things or cook the same way. (Keep in mind though that I am a Caucasian woman, and may get some things wrong.)
The Northeastern tribes staple foods were corn, beans and squash. These foods were often called the “three sisters” because they were planted together: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the maize, while the squash spread out at the base of the corn and beans which provided protection and support for the roots. They also enjoyed the bounty of wildlife, including deer and turkey, along with other birds.
The Southern tribes were serious farmers, using irrigation and crop rotations. They ate corn, cornmeal and also hominy— interestingly, you can make hominy by adding ashes to the corn, which helps the corn cook faster, and brings out more nutrients. And of course, with hominy you can make grits. Other foods that we are still eating today were introduced to us by the tribes in the Southeast: potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash and beans. Their dies was also supplements by wild berries and grapes as well as peppers and sassafras; making teas and ginger like drinks. They were also manily small game hunters (rabbits and turkeys).
On the Great Plains midwestern Native American tribes were mainly hunters and gatherers. These tribes were big game hunters for bison and caribou, and many tribes would work together to capture these large animals. There was limited farming, and many tribes could only grow a couple of crops so they relied on a trade system.
In the Southwest deserts, animals were more scarce. For meat, they often ate wild turkey, but they mainly relied on their farming. Of course, one of the most important foods they grew was maize (corn), they even had 24 different types. They also grew beans, squash, melons, pumpkins and fruit.
On the Pacific Coast, Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit. These tribes were mostly hunter-gatherers. Since the weather as mostly good all year round, they could rely year-round on the abundant foods in the region. In some areas, acorns were ground into flour. These groups, along with almost all tribes, prepared dried or salted meat to last through the winter season.
Most of the foods we eat during the holidays came from Native Americans. In 1621, the first Thanksgiving recorded that the feast included deer, water fowl, turkeys, shellfish, eels, squash, corn, and beans, and according to one legend, a native American named Quadequina brought a bowl of popcorn. The traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas foods, including turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and mashed potatoes were adopted by us white people.
Grits, cornmeal mush, cornbread, succotash, and fried green tomatoes are all uniquely southern foods that we learned about from Native Americans. Some people in the South still hunt raccoons, opossums, and squirrels, as did the Native Americans; venison is still eaten throughout North America. And what would life be like maple syrup. Southwestern and Mexican foods were also heavily influenced by Native Americans. The food sharing was so important that there is a term, the Columbian Exchange, which explains the sharing of Native American foods with the while settlers, as well as around the world. They, on the other hand, got many of our diseases as well as some of our foods and weapons.
Over 4 million people have tried Native American food for the first time. It’s entertaining and you can also see what a few dishes look like. The consensus is that the food is good, and people want more.
And now for some recipes, because we can’t talk about native American foods without showing some basic recipes… Read the rest of this entry
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
Williamson County is home to many artists whose creative efforts enrich our land. We naturally think of musicians (Music City everyone), but not to be overlooked are the many who spend their greatest efforts creating visual art. The library offers two areas where visual artists are able to display their works for a month at a time. These are the Meeting Room Gallery Hall and the Grid Row of the Rotunda, both on the first floor as patrons enter the library. Our local artists showcase a wide range of art media to the delight of many visitors. Just last year alone the library recorded 465,445 patron visits. That’s a lot of exposure for those looking to share or create awareness of their work.
When visiting the library, why not take a moment to enjoy the many creative visual expressions on hand? If you are an artist, why not share your work with our patrons by a display at the library? The Grid Row Gallery is sponsored by the Arts Council of Williamson County, but local artists in all media are invited to exhibit their work in the Meeting Room Gallery. The exhibits change monthly and there is a waiting list, but that just means that you have time to get your art display together. For information about exhibiting their own works, artists should call (615)595-1250, ext. 1.
The varieties of art displayed over the last two years include watercolor, acrylic, and oil paintings of many subjects involving landscapes, portraits, still life, and the surreal. There are ceramics, mosaics, art masks, as well as many interesting fine-art photographs. Samples from each month’s artist on display are penned to the library’s pinterest page under Art@WCPLtn.
A representative sample from the last few years of exhibits is shown in the photographs included here.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
The library celebrated Halloween Day by creative decorations in every department topped off with offers of candy to patrons young and old throughout the day. With the festive atmosphere, it is easy to overlook the important event of 500 years ago by a young monk named Martin Luther, who started a cultural transformation known as the Protestant Reformation. But just how big a deal was Luther’s courageous act of pinning 95 theses to the Wittenburg Church door? No one, especially Luther himself, foresaw the far reaching results.
Years have since revealed the significance of what some have called Luther’s “accidental revolution.” PBS explained it this way with their documentary on Luther released just last month entitled, “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World:
The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of one on the most important events in Western civilization: the birth of an idea that continues to shape the life of every American today.
In 1517, power was in the hands of the few, thought was controlled by the chosen, and common people lived lives without hope. On October 31 of that year, a penniless monk named Martin Luther sparked the revolution that would change everything.
He had no army. In fact, he preached nonviolence so powerfully that — 400 years later — Michael King would change his name to Martin Luther King to show solidarity with the original movement.
This movement, the Protestant Reformation, changed Western culture at its core, sparking the drive toward individualism, freedom of religion, women’s rights, separation of church and state, and even free public education. Without the Reformation, there would have been no pilgrims, no Puritans, and no America in the way we know it.
Luther’s contributions started out in the religious realm but quickly impacted many areas of everyday life. Because of this, even the nonreligious may offer their genuine appreciation. One atheist mentioned to me how glad he was that Luther introduced to the West “the priesthood of all believers,” thereby giving legitimacy and impetus to human individuality. The leveling effect of Luther’s emphasis began to transform society such that the common people, often excluded from important discussions, were able to read primary documents like the Bible, which Luther masterfully translated into the people’s own local language. Luther gave millions of people a voice. There is a sense in which Luther democratized the faith, an impetus that would later on translate into full blown governmental democracy.
Luther’s continuing work soon also abolished the rigid distinction between clergy and laity. This meant that the concept of work as vocation applied to everyone, thereby exalting all types of work as important. Luther explained, “It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the ‘spiritual estate’; princes, lords, artisans and farmers the ‘temporal estate.’ . . . . All Christians are truly of the ‘spiritual estate.’ …. A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and everyone by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other …”
We take for granted many of the innovations set in motion by Luther that presently form western society. It is appropriate that we give Luther this small moment of recognition.
- Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (2007)
- Andrew Pettegree, Brand Luther (2015)
- Scott Hendrix, Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer (2015)
by Dorris Douglass, Special Collections Librarian
Use of Ancestry.com is free In the Special Collections Department and to help you use it, here are some very important tips to remember.
- Pay absolutely no attention to spelling! Census takers couldn’t spell. This researcher has seen the name Jacob spelled “Jacup” on the census.
- Pay close attention to extra people with a different last name in a household. Frequently those listed as “boarder” were aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and especially mothers-in-law.
- Pay close attention to who is living next door. The guys either married the gal next door or their first cousin. This researcher looked for an ancestor for 10 years only to find him living next door to a grandson by a different last name.
- Be aware that ages recorded in the census can be 2 to 3 years off. However, usually the younger the closer to the truth. By the time one got to their 80’s either he or his family members had forgotten how old he really was.
- Know the abbreviations for Men’s first names: Alexr= Alexander, Benj = Benjamin, Geo =George, Hy=Henry, Jas = James, Jno =John ( Why I have no idea), Patk=Patrick, Robt= Robert Thos=Thomas, Wm=William. The last letter of the longer abbreviation are usually written as a superscripts, so that you might see only the Tho for Thomas unless you look carefully for the little tiny s. Periods were usually omitted after the abbreviation.
- Know common nicknames and know that nicknames often rhyme. Some are very tricky.
- Belle=Isabel, Mable, Sybil;
- Beth, Betty, Betsy, Bessie =Elizabeth;
- Biddy, Bridey= Bridget;
- Bill = William, rhymes with Will;
- Cal=Caleb, Calvin;
- Cate (old spelling) =Catherine;
- Carrie= Carololine;
- Carey= Charles (modern nickname Chuck);
- Daisey = Margaret ( for a Queen Margaret whose favorite flower was a daisy);
- Dick = Richard, rhymes with Rick;
- Dollie, Dolly, Doll = Dorothy;
- Ed, Ned, Ted =Edward, Edmond;
- Elsie= Elizabeth:
- Ella, Ellie, Nelly = Elle , but also Helen;
- Etta, Nettie = Henrietta;
- Fee = Felix;
- Hi = Hiram,
- Jack = John;
- Kit = Christopher,
- Lois= Louise,
- Lottie = Charlotte;
- Ky = Hezekiah;
- Mae, May, Molly, Polly =Mary;
- Mag, Maggie, Meg, Peg, Peggy = Margaret;
- Mattie, Patty, Patsy = Martha;
- Maud =Magdalene,
- Maude (male) = Mordichi;
- Neil, Connie,=Cornelius;
- Sallie, Sally = Sarah,
- Stella = Estel, Esther;
- Sukey ,Susan, = Susannah (Suckey, African American 1870/ 80 = a former slave midwife who took care of the sucklings);
- Ted = Theodore (but can be = Edward).
Come join us to hunt for your ancestors!
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
You probably already know about the huge quantity of great, nonfiction history books at the library. But when you get to wanting something a little different that still scratches that historical itch, where do you turn? I’d like to suggest that Historical Fiction is the genre for you. Whether you’re a voracious reader of historical accounts, or a fiction lover who prefers facts taken with artistic license, this long-established genre is broad enough to hold something for everyone.
Historical Fiction has a few debated definitions, but it is not a work written around the time of the book’s events. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, though now over 200 years old, is not “Historical Fiction,” as it takes place around the time Austen wrote it. (Some critics disagree on that anti-definition.) Wikipedia does a great job of defining the genre in this article, and from it I’ve compiled a working definition for us:
“An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions[,] and other details of the period depicted,” and is “written at least fifty years after the events described,” with “the author … writing from research rather than personal experience.”
Why read Historical Fiction? Why mess with facts? (Assuming the facts as we know them were recorded accurately and without bias in the first place.) Simply put, a good work of fiction can illuminate real-life truths. Fiction allows the freedom to process real issues in an abstract way, while maintaining distance from real, multi-faceted, potentially overwhelming events. A work of Historical Fiction can explore the thoughts and emotions of larger-than-life heroes and villains – those who have become so lauded or reviled, they no longer seem human – , and obscure commoners – forgotten by history, but transformed into composite characters who demonstrate the state of the world in the time they lived. For some readers, this is the best way to make an emotional connection to the past and gain fresh insight.
Let’s look at some great examples of historical novels you can find at the Williamson County Public Library. Because I love classics, I’ll list some classic examples first; then we’ll move on to more modern selections.
Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) deals with characters and events in England and France around the time of the French Revolution of 1775. Dickens often included members from all strata of society, but he did not necessarily sketch them in black and white. Wealth did not always equal virtue; poverty did not always equal ignorance; and the powerless did not always stay that way. A Tale of Two Cities features sympathetic characters, diabolical villains, and some of English literature’s most well-known passages. The description of the storming of the Bastille left me breathless with its intensity. In addition to the book, you can find READS eBooks and audiobooks, children’s adaptations, and DVD versions.
Other classic, historical works available in a wide variety of adaptations and formats are Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (set around Scotland’s 1715 Jacobite uprising), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (taking place during the 1757 French and Indian War), and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (though we don’t carry the chocolate adaptation of that one at our library – sorry!).
The Middle Ages
A popular setting for Historical Fiction is medieval Europe, which covers the 5th to 15th centuries AD. Series abound, which means plenty of reading material in your new favorite genre! Here are some popular medieval historical series to check out. Series titles are in bold. The first novel in the series follows in italics. While not every book in a series may be available at this library, you can always request books through the Inter-Library Loan program!
- Paul C. Doherty, Hugh Corbett, Satan in St Mary’s. Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, The Nightingale Gallery (under pen name Paul Harding). Doherty is a highly regarded historian, educator, and writer. He uses various pen names. He has also written about ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, first century Rome, and more.
- Ken Follett, Kingsbridge, The Pillars of the Earth.
- Margaret Frazer, Dame Frevisse series, The Novice’s Tale.
- Philippa Gregory, The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, The Other Boleyn Girl (first published) or The Lady of the Rivers (first chronologically). Gregory’s popular novels have inspired controversy in historical circles.
- Michael Jecks, Knights Templar Mysteries, The Last Templar. The Medieval Murders series, The Tainted Relic.
- Sharon Kay Penman, Welsh Princes, Here Be Dragons. Plantagenet, When Christ and His Saints Slept. When researching for a book, Penman keeps in mind the saying, “History is written by the victors.” She scours new and alternate sources and uses deductive reasoning to come up with versions of events you may not have heard before, but may yet approach the truth.
Selections from Other Periods
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun — Nigeria’s struggle for independence in the late 1960s.
- Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord — The life of King David from the prophet Nathan’s point of view.
- Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See — Occupied France during WWII.
- Emma Donoghue, The Wonder — Mid-1800s Ireland, shortly after the official “end” of the famine.
- Robert Graves, I, Claudius — A pseudo-autobiography of misunderstood Roman emperor Claudius.
- David Liss, The Whiskey Rebels — Post-revolution America.
- Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove — 1870s Texas: the Wild West.
- Toni Morrison, Beloved — An escaped slave’s memories and experiences after the Civil War.
- Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine — A Japanese-American family is held in an internment camp during WWII.
- Shyam Selvadurai, Cinnamon Gardens — 1920s Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
- Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl — A light-skinned African-American woman has to make choices about her identity as she tries to become a pilot in WWII-era America.
- Markus Zusak, The Book Thief — Germany during WWII.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest, or given you some new authors to check out. Is your favorite book missing from this list? Leave a comment below!
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
It’s October, and what better time of year to pick out a book that will give you the creeps? Today we’re going to look at five works of fiction that feature terrifying creatures. (Sticklers may feel that some of these descriptions contain spoilers, but I’ve tried not to include any details that aren’t already well-known by horror buffs or pop culture aficionados.)
When it comes to monsters, what frightens me most is a sense of inevitability. A monster doesn’t have to be hideous or enormous to cause you to lose control: think the fatal allure of Dracula, or the overwhelming numbers of a zombie invasion. And what about a creature that can cause you to descend into madness, living — perhaps eternally — after having lost the essence of who you are?
“The Call of Cthulhu”
“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
One creature with such terrifying powers is Cthulhu, first introduced in horror writer H. P. Lovecraft‘s short story “The Call of Cthulhu.” Portrayed as an ancient, dead-but-waiting god, his giant form a strange combination of octopus, bat, and human, Cthulhu embodies a powerful evil. One look at him will drive anyone insane, simply because the human mind cannot comprehend such terror. Unsurprisingly, he is a favorite subject of death metal bands! And you poetry scholars might recognize that Lovecraft seems to have been inspired by Tennyson’s sonnet, “The Kraken.”
Lovecraft’s knack for capturing dread has inspired an entire genre known as “Lovecraftian horror,” described by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (and in some cases, unknowable) more than gore or other elements of shock.”
The Hound of the Baskervilles
“I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog.”
Sherlockian scholars consider this Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s perfect novel. The tale has been adapted, riffed on, referenced, and parodied dozens of times, taking new forms in every kind of media, including comic books, plays, radio dramas, video games, and more.
How has this story stood the test of time? Sherlock Holmes is, of course, one of literature’s most fascinating characters. But the spectral hound is the real draw. Tied to local legend and a family curse spanning generations, it is an unearthly beast that glows in the dark, pursuing members of the Baskerville family across the moors until they drop dead from fright. But the hound leaves the dead bodies alone. Therefore, the beast doesn’t hunt for food, making its motives inscrutable, but undeniably evil.
Life on the moor is full of secrets and intrigue, both stimulating Sherlock Holmes’ mind and hampering his investigation. Holmes, a man of science, remains skeptical about the supernatural hound’s existence, but he can deny neither the enormous paw prints left in the sodden ground, nor the chilling howls heard in the night. Doyle perfectly paces this novel, increasing the suspense until the climactic moment: the terrifying appearance of the hound!
“Then he saw them. The gulls. Out there, riding the seas. What he had thought at first to be the white caps of the waves were gulls. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands…”
You’re probably aware of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film The Birds, but did you know he based it on a short story by Daphne du Maurier? While not a “monster story,” this is one of my favorite works of suspense. For me, the premise is all the more terrifying for being within the realm of possibility, especially as we see a growing occurrence of natural disasters in real life.
In remote, rugged Cornwall, a wounded war veteran named Nat becomes increasingly aware of flocks of restless birds. The flocks increase in number, and the birds grow more violent and daring. At first, Nat attributes this behavior to the unusual weather, but takes the threat more seriously than do his neighbors. Soon, however, the entire country is under siege, and it’s no longer safe to go outdoors. The tension mounts beautifully, as the narrator gradually comes to understand the enormity of the event: the birds are inescapable, and this isn’t a fight he can fight alone.
What I love most about this short story, as opposed to the film version, is how it activates my imagination. (The same could be said for every good book, I suppose.) Visualizing the growing threat, the brutal attacks, and the despair of the survivors leaves me breathless and full of adrenaline.
“It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.”
For a more modern look at the toll horror takes on a human mind, we turn to Bird Box, Josh Malerman‘s debut novel. No one can say what the creatures in this story look like, because anyone who glimpses them is driven to immediate, deadly violence, culminating in suicide. The victims lose their minds, as well as their humanity, before losing their own lives. A mother and her young children have survived by covering the windows in their isolated house, and learning to navigate blindfolded when they go outside. Now, they are driven to leave their home behind, and they set out on a blindfolded quest to find other survivors. Who can they trust? And what is following them?
Be warned: this intense novel doesn’t shy away from the disturbing, graphic descriptions of the victims’ deaths.
“Want a balloon?”
When you think “scary clown,” you probably picture Pennywise, the creature Tim Curry played in the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel, It. The thought of a creepy guy in white makeup who wants to eat children is sufficiently scary for most people, but IT is more than that: the clown is only one of the forms IT takes.
Ancient, malevolent, and powerful, IT comes from an unknown dimension. It lies slumbering until atrocious acts of human violence awaken it (unfortunately, this happens fairly regularly). When it comes to earth to feed, IT can take the shape of anything it chooses, in order to lure its victims. Sometimes IT appears as a victim’s loved one; other times, IT appears as a victim’s worst fear. But, as with Cthulhu, if a person were to see IT’s true form, the absolute horror would so baffle his mind, that he would go insane.
In 2015, British costume company MorphCostumes voted Pennywise the scariest creature in literature. The clown trumped Dracula, The Lord of the Rings’ Nazgûl, and Harry Potter’s Dementors, among other classic horror standards, based on “appearance, powers, and evil intent.”
Did your favorite creature make my list? Leave a comment below! And if you’re looking for history on some of the most famous undead creatures, check out this blog post from last year, “How Monsters Are Born,” by reference librarian Sharon Reily.