Author Archives: WCPLtn
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
- National Novel Writing Month, www.nanowrimo.org
- George Orwell anecdote, www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-ideas-that-inspired-the-hobbit-animal-farm-8-other-famous-books
- Williamson County Public Library eLibrary page, http://lib.williamson-tn.org/e_library
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
“Eight more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween . . .” OK, maybe not the most appropriate way to lead into a blog about scary-but-not-too-scary creatures who live in children’s books, by invoking a jingle used in the classic horror film “Halloween,” starring the fabulous future kid-lit author Jamie Lee Curtis, but with that tie-in, how could I not?
The Wild Things
First in our no-particular-order list of creepy creatures: the Wild Things inhabiting the island where Max sailed his private boat in and out of weeks and almost over a year in Maurice Sendak’s fabulous classic Where The Wild Things Are. Being the King of all Wild Things was a blast for a while, what with having no homework, no bedtime, and no rules, but Max became terribly lonely “and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” So he abdicated his throne and sailed back into the night of his very own room, to find his still-hot supper waiting for him. The lesson here, in my opinion? Those who truly love you will forgive your occasional monstrous behavior, and maybe even make you a grilled cheese sandwich.
“You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch/Your heart’s an empty hole/Your brain is full of spiders/You have garlic in your soul.” Hence, the next monster in our Monster Mash-Up, that grouchy green grump who lives on Mount Crumpit. Yes, friends and fiends, the antagonist-turned-protagonist of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is next in the roster of scary-not-scary monsters. Let us ponder for a moment the classic literary juxtaposition of Good vs. Evil. After a busy night of animal abuse, cosplay, and totally highjacking all the boxes and bags and the last can of Who-Hash from Whoville, yet waking up to the sound of Cindy Lou Who and all her friends and relatives singing and celebrating anyway, the Grinch has an epiphany. “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” The Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day,” making him not so monstrous after all.
I implied at the beginning of this article that the monsters listed here wouldn’t be too ghastly. Darling Reader, I lied. You should now take the opportunity to fortify yourself with some chocolate before proceeding onward, because the Dementors from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and subsequent books in the series) are making their sinister presence known in our melange of monsters. According to Professor Remus Lupin, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” According to the website Pottermore.com (and if you don’t know about this marvelous site, you must visit as soon as you finish reading this delightful and not frightful blog), Dementors are the true scary beasties of the mystical realm. Oh, it is also imperative to note that Dementors cannot be destroyed, but only driven away temporarily by using the Patronus Charm.
Yikes. Okay. Let’s flee the darkness of the Dementors and continue onward in our odyssey of oddities. Do you know the gruffalo? No? Oh! The Gruffalo is a children’s book written by Julia Donaldson that was inspired by a Chinese folk tale in which a fox borrows the terror of a tiger. In Donaldson’s story, a mouse is taking a walk in the woods and encounters several creatures—a fox, an owl, and a snake– who would like to make a meal out of him. The clever mouse declines the “invitations” to their homes by telling them that he already has lunch plans with his friend the gruffalo, who is a monster-like hybrid of half grizzly bear and half buffalo, whose favorite snack happens to be whichever animal that the mouse is trying to evade. Terrified by the description of the fictional beast, each animal flees. Mousie is so proud of himself, and taunts them: “Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn’t he know? There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!” But here comes the plot twist! The mouse is shocked to encounter a real gruffalo, who threatens to eat him. Again, Mousie’s cunning saves the day. The mouse tells the gruffalo that he is the scariest monster in the forest, and proves it by leading the gruffalo past each creature that menaced him earlier, causing them to run away again when they see them walking together. The gruffalo is increasingly impressed by this, and is apparently clueless that *he* is the scary one, so the sly mouse further presses it to his advantage by threatening to eat the gruffalo, who then hightails it into the forest. Personally, I find this to be an excellent instructional tale for those among us who are physically diminutive (I’m 5’2”, Darling Reader) but make up for it in confidence.
So there you have it, Darling Reader, some charming-and not-alarming (well, with the exception of those foul Dementors) monsters who inhabit the pages of children’s books, and now your own imagination. Have a frighteningly good Fall, and don’t be afraid to keep exploring the vast forest of literature that is available to you at WCPL. Happy reading–
***The opinions and viewpoints expressed here are, as always, solely a product of the sometimes-disturbing contents of the author’s head and are in no way representative of the employees of WCPL, their families, or their Halloween-costumed housepets. The author also wishes it to be known that while the nickname “Scary Stacy” was bestowed upon her by some sorority sisters in college, she really is trying to mellow into a kinder, gentler sort of modern monster.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Fairy tales come from many places; mythology, folk legends and even news headlines of the day. Hansel and Gretel may have hearkened back to the great famine of the fourteenth century when parents abandoned children and cannibalistic old ladies were not unheard of. The Pied Piper of Hamelin refers back to the children’s crusade when thousands of children left for the holy land to convert the Muslims. Cinderella has elements from the original King Leir folk tale (evil sisters who steal a throne) mixed with the myth of Rhodopis, a high class escort whose sandal is stolen by an eagle and dropped on a prince’s head causing him to search the kingdom for the owner of the mysterious footwear. Snow White and Rose Red hearkens back to the mythology of animals turning into gods. Snow White and her sister help a bear and an ungrateful dwarf. The dwarf tries to get the bear to eat the girls but is himself killed. The bear turns into a prince and the girls marry him and his brother respectively. Interestingly, in the original German folktales there are two different snow whites; Schneeweißchen has the sister, while Schneewittchen has the dwarves.
Time has removed the darker parts of many fairy tales. Many of the events of early versions of the fairy tales we know and love would be unfit for children (and some adults).
- In a very early version of Sleeping Beauty by Giambattista Basile the princess is raped by a king and then gives birth to twins that revive her. She tracks down the twins married father only to have his queen try to eat her babies. It’s all happily ever after though, the king has the queen burned alive for her attempted infanticide so he can marry sleeping beauty.
- The Grimm Version of Snow White is truly grim. The queen isn’t her step mother, it’s her mother. The prince finds her dead and she is woken when he is carting off her body and the poisoned apple falls from her mouth. I don’t care to speculate as to why he is carting off a beautiful, dead girl. Finally as punishment for what she’s done, the queen, who in this version asks the huntsman to bring her Snow’s liver and lungs to eat, is made to wear iron shoes that have been kept in a fire all day and dance until she dies.
- Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm don’t bother to take out the gory details of Cinderella. Their version has the step-sisters cutting off toes to fit their feet into the slipper, and when Ella is finally proven to be the prince’s one true love, they get their eyes pecked out by doves.
- In early versions of Little Red Riding Hood, prior to the polish and lightening of the Brothers Grimm, Red is fed bits of her grandmother before being eaten by the wolf. Oh, and there’s no passing woodsman to rescue her so she just gets eaten. She doesn’t learn her lesson, only the reader does.
- Ariel, not her name in the original Little Mermaid, didn’t always end up with Eric (not his name either). In the original Hans Christian Andersen version, the mermaid was given legs but every movement felt as if swords were impaling her extremities. As she truly loves the prince, she dances, despite the pain, to win his affection, but he marries a princess from the neighboring kingdom. In one last grasp at gore, the little mermaid’s sisters bring her a knife and tell her to kill the prince and let his blood drip on her feet so that she becomes a mermaid again. She declines and, brokenhearted, dissolves into sea foam. So much for the Disney ending.
According to a study by Durham University anthropologist, Dr. Jamie Tehrani, many of these tales are thousands of years old, going back to before the indo-european langauge family began to split. Tehrani believes that this is why so many of these tales are found in multiple cultures. But Fairy Tales are finding themselves pushed to the foreground once again. Television, film, books, and comics have all revived classic tales with new twists. Disney’s revived princesses are seeing a further recreation into live action movies and their show, Once Upon a Time, has brought these characters into the real-ish world of primetime soap operas. Bill Willingham’s Fables series has done something similar with the characters of our children’s stories living in modern Manhattan and a farm upstate for those less human and more anthropomorphic. New books are written retelling old tales all the time. Anne Rice, writing as A. N. Roquelaure, wrote a series of erotically charged sleeping beauty tales in the mid-1980s with a follow up that came out in 2015. Jasper Fforde turned the nursery rhymes into nursery crimes with his books The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear. Neil Gaiman has taken elements of fairy tales and made them even darker. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked went from best-selling novel to Broadway where it joined Into the Woods in modern retelling musical history. All of this shows the endurance these tales have and the future traction for their continued popularity.
Perhaps the most fascinating question of all this is, where our great x8 grandchildren will find their fairytales. Will their parents lull them to sleep with the tales of diminutive people trying to destroy a magic ring? Will their grandparents recall nights listening to the story of the beautiful girl who fell in love with the handsome vampire? Will their dreams be peppered with stories of magical children in a sorcerous school making the world safe for everyone? Histories suggests that they will; that the tales of our modern pop culture will traverse the ages, slightly bent, occasionally warped and find themselves sitting on the nightstands of children for generations to come, probably with some of the darkest parts edited out right next to the copies of Jack the Giant Slayer and Cinderella.