Daily Archives: October 27, 2017

Mind-bending Monsters in Literature

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.”

“Cthulhu and the Ninth Wave,” by DeviantArt user “fantasio.”

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.”


“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” by Adam Burke.

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!

“The Birds”

“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…”

Book cover for Pan Books edition of The Birds and Other Stories, artist uncredited.

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.

Bird Box

“It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.”

Promo photo for Bird Box, from Harper Collins Canada.

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.

IT

“Want a balloon?”

Tim Curry as Pennywise in ABC’s 1990 miniseries, IT. Owned by Warner Bros.; photographer unknown.

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.

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The Writing Process: NaNoWriMo

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

NaNoWriMo: a silly word with quite an impact. It’s short for National Novel Writing Month. That’s exactly what it sounds like: on November 1, thousands of writers across the globe – representing all skill levels and genres – embark upon the task of writing a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. It’s a worldwide network of strangers working towards a common, yet deeply individual, goal.

Maybe that idea stirs the coals of a latent creative passion in your soul. Perhaps November isn’t the month for you to start, but you’d like to know what writing resources are available. Whatever your situation, your library can help you achieve your writing goals.

About NaNoWriMo

First, a few words on National Novel Writing Month. 2017 marks the 18th year of this “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.” Their mission statement says, “National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.” A little accountability goes a long way when it comes to starting, and completing, your novel. It can be as private a process as you like, but knowing that you have a daily word count to achieve might be just the impetus you need. Learn more, and sign up, at www.nanowrimo.org.

Before You Start

Writers are avid readers. So read! Read everything you can by your favorite authors. Figure out why you find them so irresistible. Is it the setting, the characters, the humor, the dialogue? Is it the fantastical atmosphere, the well-researched facts, the philosophizing?

Go deep, and branch out. Ask teachers, friends, and librarians which authors they enjoy, and why. Do Google searches for “books like [insert your favorite here].” Check out genre collections on Goodreads.com. Scour lists of literary prizewinners, and bestsellers. Spend an afternoon at your library, and pick something intriguing that’s outside of your preferred genre.

There’s a world of great writing out there, but don’t let the options overwhelm you. Above all, read for curiosity’s sake and for pleasure. In doing so, you will internalize the subtleties that distinguish compelling writing from something you don’t aspire to.

Resources for Writers

Once you have a sense of the writer you’d like to be, where do you start? Again, the library is your great friend here. Below, I’ll list of some of the books we have on our shelves, dealing with the art and craft of writing. They cover everything from the finer points of vocabulary and grammar, to genre writing specifics, to publishing tips, to the collected wisdom of respected writers – and everything in between!

Explore these vast offerings for yourself by visiting the non-fiction department, and browsing the shelves starting at call number 808. You’ll find valuable advice, no matter your objective.

Helpful Library Books

  • Baty, Chris (founder of NaNoWriMo). No Plot? No Problem!: a low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days.
  • Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
  • Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.
  • Clark, Roy Peter. Help! For Writers: 210 solutions to the problems every writer faces.
  • Cohen, Kerry. The Truth of Memoir: how to write about yourself and others with honesty, emotion, and integrity.
  • Edwards, Jane. Travel Writing in Fiction and Fact.
  • Field, Syd. Screenplay: the foundations of screenwriting.
  • Gioia, Diana, and R. S. Gwynn, editors. The Art of the Short Story: 52 great authors, their best short fiction, and their insights on writing.
  • Gutkind, Lee. The Art of Creative Nonfiction: writing and selling the literature of reality.
  • Hanley, Victoria. Wild Ink: how to write fiction for young adults.
  • Johnson, Charles. The Way of the Writer: reflections on the art and craft of storytelling.
  • King, Stephen. On Writing: a memoir of the craft.
  • Lerner, Betsy. The Forest for the Trees: an editor’s advice to writers.
  • Percy, Benjamin. Thrill Me: essays on fiction.

(With thanks to my writer friend, Joshua Cook. His top recommendations are underlined.)

Starting to Write

Do you feel equipped to start writing yet? Great! What are you going to write about? Your personal observations and experiences are all you need to get started. Inspiration for all styles of writing will crop up in the most ordinary or unexpected places. For example, writersdigest.com says George Orwell “watched as a young boy steered a massive cart horse along a narrow path, and … was struck by an unusual thought: What if animals realized their own strength?” That idle thought grew into his novel, Animal Farm.

Creative inspiration works in surprising ways. Be open to new ways of viewing your daily life.

Keep Writing

Start writing, keep writing, and don’t give up. Some days might feel like a slog: as the saying goes, “Crawl, but don’t quit.” It’s easier to maintain momentum than to keep stopping and restarting!

Everyone can benefit from an outside opinion. Check in with a loved one every now and then to see if what you’re writing is coherent and relatable.

Find a friend who enjoys proofreading and editing, and see if they can help you towards the finish line. (Note: proofreading and editing are essential services. Be prepared to offer some kind of compensation, even if your friend is not a professional.)

Now What?

Eventually, you’ll have a finished work you’re happy with. Now to decide what to do with it! If you want to self-publish, the library is once again at your service.

On Williamson County Public Library’s homepage, under eLibrary, there’s a link called “SELF-e for Authors.” SELF-e, provided by Library Journal, “is a discovery platform designed to expose your ebook(s) to more readers via public libraries locally and nationwide.” Find out more at http://self-e.libraryjournal.com/author-faqs/.

You’ll also find “Pressbooks Self-Publishing” under eLibrary. It’s a great formatting tool to get your book ready for digital and physical publishing. Both of these services are available to you, free, with your WCPL library card number.

Good luck!

We hope you feel empowered to start writing, knowing that your library is here to help you along the way! Enjoy NaNoWriMo. Maybe we’ll see your finished work in our collection someday soon.

 


References

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