Archive for the Classic literature Category

AWESOME-tober-fest 2020: Devilish origins for modern popular fiction

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, books, Classic literature, Halloween, holiday, monsters, pop culture, The Devil with tags , , , , , , on October 1, 2020 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2020

Welcome to Day 1 of AWESOME-tober-fest 2020!  I think this will be a fun month!  The theme for this year’s Halloween celebrations is The Devil! I’m going to talk about movies, comics, TV shows, and cartoons that feature Ol Scratch as a character.

There are many depictions of the Devil in popular culture and many of these depictions are based on very early writings.  Before I start digging into some of the more modern and fun versions of the devil in popular culture, lets take a look at some of the beginnings of his appearances.  These are the classic depictions of Satan or the Devil that many of the things I will be looking at this month will be based on.

One of the earliest appearances of Satan in popular writing was from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

In this epic poem, Satan was the original bad boy anti-hero.  He is the most beautiful of all of God’s angels.  It is here in Milton that Satan declares that it is better to “reign in Hell” than to “serve in Heaven”.  Satan and his followers are expelled from heaven.  Satan argues that God rules as a tyrant and the angels themselves ought to rule as gods.  He also argues that since angels are self raised, they deny God’s rule over them.  Satan is portrayed as very charismatic.  He continues to persuade angels to follow his cause even after his group is soundly defeated in the first Angelic War.  This particular Satan is a classic character and i really enjoy Milton’s epic poem.  This particular Satan could be considered to be the basis for much of what will follow.  Specifically, DC Comic’s version of Satan, Lucifer Morningstar, is based on Milton’s version.

The next classical depiction of the devil in fiction that I want to bring up is Mephistopheles from Goethe’s Faust.

Written in the late 18th Century, Faust is also a classic devil in fiction tale. It’s even become terminology for a deal with the devil (Faustian bargain). Many deal with the devil stories are traced directly back to this gothic tale.  German doctor Faust is unsatisfied with his life.  He wishes to possibly end his suffering.  Mephistopheles, bored with ruling Hell, asks God (yes, they actually have a semi-regular gossip session in the story), well, he actually bets God that he can corrupt Faust and make him turn away from God.  God says sure because he is absolutely positive that even someone so disillusioned with his life as Faust seems to be, wouldn’t turn their back on Him.  So Mephistopheles appears to Faust and makes him a deal; he will be Faust’s servant on Earth, but when Faust dies, he has to do the same for Mephistopheles.  In this story Mephistopheles, like Milton’s Satan, is also portrayed as very charismatic.  He is cunning and easily convinces Faust to go along with whatever idea he can think of until ultimately Faust can’t see how far he has gone down the path of damnation.  It’s a very good classic story, but if you’ve never read Goethe, it can be a little melodramatic.  Faust is kind of emo about his despair.  It gets a bit old and I’m sort of glad Mephistopheles comes in to put him through the ringer.  Many versions of this story exist.  FW Murnau, who directed Nosferatu, directed a movie version of Faust in 1926.

Next up is a story by Washington Irving called The Devil and Tom Walker from 1824.

The story was originally published in Irving’s 1824 Tales of a Traveller collection.  The story starts off telling us about the notorious pirate William Kidd who made a deal with the devil to protect a large treasure of gold. Kidd died before he could reclaim his riches so the devil has been protecting it ever since.

The story then shifts to Boston, Mass around the year 1727. Tom Walker meets this version of the devil, Old Scratch, in the woods. The devil tells Tom that he knows where Kidd buried his loads of treasure and he’ll reveal it under certain conditions. Tom eventually goes back out and strikes a deal with the devil for the gold. One of the devil’s conditions was it had to be used in service of the Devil. So Tom agrees to become a money lender and loan money for exorbitant fees. He opens a shop a few days later and becomes very wealthy off the backs of the people he’s lending money to.

Needless to say, things don’t end well for good old Tom.  The end of the story tells us that people often see a spectral rider on a black horse in the woods of Boston.  I originally wondered if that was a call out to Irving’s Headless Horseman, but Sleepy Hollow arrived four years after this story.  As for Irving’s Old Scratch, he appears as a woodsman, or lumberjack, chopping down trees.  He’s also called “The Black Man” in the story, which I believe is referring to all the black ash on his skin from the fires of Hell.  He’s cunning and persuasive, as he needs to be, to convince people to do his bidding.

One last story I want to talk about today.  It’s actually inspired by the previous story, but it’s very well known by it’s own right.  I’m talking about The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet.

This story was first published in The Saturday Evening Post on October 24, 1936. It takes place in New Hampshire.  The story opens up by telling us about Daniel Webster.  Benet’s Webster is based on an actual lawyer named Daniel Webster.  The story’s version of Daniel Webster is made out to be this hugely hyperbolic man.   It says that when he spoke, “..stars and stripes came out of the sky.”  When he walked in the woods with his fishing rod (of course named KillAll), trout would jump out of the streams into his pockets because they knew it was no use putting up a fight with him.  On his farm, the chickens were all white meat down to the drumsticks, and he owned a big ram called Goliath that had horns that could butt through an iron door.  It’s really funny how much the story builds up Mr Webster.  It reminds me of those Saturday Night Live skits about the exploits of the greatest salesman alive, Bill Brasky.

Anyway, the story is about Jabez Stone, who’s farm is not doing well.  One night, after being so frustrated he yells that he’d sell his soul to the devil for good luck, he is met by a polite, refined man in a dark suit going by the name Old Scratch.  Jabez makes a deal with Old Scratch for good fortune for the next four years after which, the black suited gentleman will return to collect.  For the next 3 years Jabez enjoys fabulous wealth and luck, but during the fourth year, he becomes so anxious about the end of his deal, he can’t enjoy his fortune.  He writes to noted New Hampshire attorney Daniel Webster who visits Jabez, listens to his story and agrees to take his case.  Webster tells Jabez that “…there’s a jug on the table and a case in hand. And I never left a jug or a case half finished in my life.”

This is when Old Scratch arrives, and Daniel must use all of his lawyerly wits to argue for Jabez’s, and ultimately his own, soul.  To combat Webster, Scratch calls in a murderer’s row of jurors to try the case including  Blackbeard the pirate, an American Indian scalp hunter and a judge from the Salem Witch Trials.  It’s a fun story, I enjoyed the tall tale and the ultimate conclusion.  The Devil is a soft spoken but cunning adversary in the story.  You’d be surprised how many other stories, movies, and TV shows are based on this particular tale.  Most recently in Shortcut to Happiness, Alec Baldwin did a turn as the Jabez Stone character, Anthony Hopkins was Daniel Webster, and Jennifer Love Hewitt was the Devil.

So these stories are the bedrock of fiction featuring the Devil.  We will come across many stories, movies, and books this month that are based on or derive inspiration from one of these stories.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Cavalcade Comics #15 – The Headless Horseman vs Ghost Rider

Posted in books, Classic literature, comic books, Halloween, holiday, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

Normally I do my new Cavalcade Comics cover reveal in the “Greatest Hits” section of AWESOME-tober-fest but the cover I have for today fits the ghostly theme perfectly.

Today, the appropriately themed cover I have features The Headless Horseman vs Ghost Rider.

Cav Comics #15

I love this battle. Undead flaming skull vs undead flaming skull. Here are the covers that mostly make up the above.

Headless Horseman Ghost Rider

The Headless Horseman comes from Marvel anthology series Supernatural Thrillers, issue #6, 1973. As a matter of fact, this is the same anthology series that birthed The Living Mummy in issue #5, which I talked about last year.  Ghost Rider comes from his own title, issue #5, 1974.  April, 1974, to be precise, which means this very issue of Ghost Rider *could* have been on store shelves the day I was born in early May 1974.  But it just as likely could have been issue #6 that was on shelves.

Check back tomorrow for a ghostly movie review and the final “ghost” related article of the month!



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Casting the Runes and other Ghost Stories by MR James

Posted in books, Classic literature, Genres, ghosts, Halloween, holiday, horror, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , on October 4, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest banner

Doing research for ghosts I looked up scariest ghost stories to see what popped up that I want to cover. The name M.R. James kept showing up in lists.

MR James

He’s a very well respected author from the late 19th-early 20th century.  Most of his work with ghost stories shows up in the early 1900s.  James began what is now called “antiquarian ghost stories”.  James abandoned the high “Gothic” cliches of what was then the presiding style of ghost stories and set his stories in a more contemporary setting.  He also generally used a protagonist that was a naive or very reserved scholarly gentleman who had found or come into possession of a mysterious object that drives the crux of the story.

There have been several collections of James’ ghost stories, so I picked one that had the most variety but also one that included several that were generally considered his best.  Hello Oxford World’s Classics edition.

Casting the Runes cover

In this collection, the main ones I wanted to read were Casting the Runes, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, and A Warning for the Curious. I also planned to cherry pick a few others depending on how much I liked what I read first.

So, I read the stories, what do I think?  Honestly, the stories just didn’t grab me.  There’s some interesting things James is doing, but none of them connected with me.  I read the story, liked the setup, but nothing ever creeped me out or scared me.  I came in fully expecting to be terrified of these stories but…nope.  Nothing.  I think James is a good writer, but for whatever reason, these just didn’t punch those specific creepy buttons for me.  I was more scared when I reread those old Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books than I ever was here.

This is a shame because I really was excited to read these stories for some good creepy fun.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

Dorothy Must Die Stories Volume 1 (2014) by Danielle Paige

Posted in books, Classic literature with tags , , , , on February 16, 2017 by Paxton

inspired_by_oz

A week or two ago I reviewed Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die. It’s the first in a series of books that take place several years after the original Wizard of Oz book by Frank Baum.  It reimagines Oz as a place in serious peril where Dorothy has returned but she’s changed.  She’s become obsessed with magic and has essentially usurped Ozma as the ruler and with the help of Glinda starts literally strip mining Oz for magic.  It’s an interesting enough premise and the author really digs in and reuses characters from the books in very interesting ways that made me want to continue the journey into this Oz.

Aside from the main books in the series, Paige has written a series of novellas that act as prequels to the books.  I went to my local library and I found the very first collection of novellas called Dorothy Must Die Stories Volume 1.

DMD Stories 1

This book contains the first three prequel novellas; No Place Like Oz, The Witch Must Burn and The Wizard Returns.  I didn’t really know anything other than the titles going into these but I was intrigued. Mostly by The Wizard Returns since that character is very cagey in Dorothy Must Die so I was very interested to hear how The Wizard got back to this particular Oz and what his agenda may be.

No Place Like Oz
The first novella, No Place Like Oz, is very Dorothy-centric.  It’s also the longest one by about 100 pages.  It picks up with Dorothy a few years after her original return to Kansas from Oz.  It’s her sixteenth birthday party.  We see that Dorothy is sort of unhappy as many people think she’s crazy with her ramblings about a fairy magic land with talking lions and people made of tin.  Even some of her friends don’t believe her.  Plus, Dorothy is finding out that life on the farm in rural Kansas is not as exciting as it was in Oz.  Once you’ve encountered magic, nothing else can really live up to it.  So we see this Dorothy, who’s become a little bitter because no one believes her about Oz, even her friends.  Plus she sort of enjoyed the fame that her disappearance caused in Kansas and once that started to fade she began resenting her life there.  After her birthday party ends embarrassingly bad, Dorothy shuts herself up into her room and opens a mysterious gift to find a pair of red, high heeled ruby shoes.  She puts them on, clicks them together just as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry walk into her room and transports all three of them to Oz.

This is the gist of the story.  Dorothy is back in Oz, this time with Em and Henry. She meets Ozma and reunites with her old friends.  And being back in Oz, instead of making her happier, starts to enhance some of her feelings.  You see her obsession with magic really take hold.  It’s a really good story.  I feel like Paige made the reason that Dorothy sort of turns bad believable.  It’s not a 180 with no explanation.  It makes a bit of sense.  And you get to see the setup for Dorothy as we find her in Dorothy Must Die.

The Witch Must Burn
The next story, The Witch Must Burn, is told from the point of view of Jellia Jamb, the head house maid in the Emerald City.  She plays a fairly big (and ultimately important) part in Dorothy Must Die.  And Jellia’s story here is really a vessel to tell the story of Glinda and her possible future plans for Oz.  You also get to see a bit of just how horrible Dorothy has become, but it all leads to Glinda “borrowing” Jellia from Dorothy and what happens to Jellia because of this.  I was not expecting this story but it was a good read.

The Wizard Returns
Like I said, the third and final story is really the one I was most interested in.  The Wizard Returns starts off with the Wizard leaving Dorothy at the end of the original Wizard of Oz.  The hot air balloon he’s in crashes and we see him land in the very same poppy field that Dorothy was trapped in.  Fast forward twenty five years and The Wizard is awoken and he has no memory of himself or his past actions.  This particular story started off a bit slow, but the back half really saved it.  You still don’t really 100% know The Wizard’s agenda by the end, but you know what happened to him before the events in Dorothy Must Die.

All three of these stories are honestly good and do a great job of setting up the world we see in Dorothy Must Die.  However, I thought my favorite story was going to be The Wizard Returns, but honestly, I think it turns out being No Place Like Oz.  I’m glad I read this collection.  There is another set of prequel novellas that take place after this.  They are about Dorothy’s friends; Heart of Tin, The Straw King and Ruler of Beasts.  However, I’ll probably get the full sequel novel The Wicked Will Rise and read it before delving back into these prequel novellas.

I guess the ultimate question with these prequel novellas is, should you read them before or after you’ve read Dorothy Must Die.  It could go either way but I’d recommend reading them after DMD.  They fill in the world of the books and I feel like you may want the basis of the full novel first before the novellas.  But I think if you did the prequels first and then DMD, it would honestly still work.

I return to an alternate Oz with Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Posted in books, Classic literature with tags , on February 3, 2017 by Paxton

inspired_by_oz

From time to time I’ll read stuff that isn’t part of the established “Oz canon”, but is directly inspired by Baum’s Oz works or it takes Oz and re-interprets it in an alternate way. The 1985 movie Return to Oz would be an example of this.  Or Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series.  Whenever I read this stuff I’ll try to throw a review up to add to my ever growing Oz review archives.

Recently, after watching Return to Oz for the Cult Film Club podcast and reading its novelization, I decided I was ready to try another “alternate Oz” story so I pulled the trigger on a book I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about; Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige.

dorothy_must_die_book_cover dorothy_must_die_book_back

I wasn’t for sure what to expect from this book when I started to read. Was it a reboot of Wizard of Oz? A sequel? A sidequel? I had no clue.  So I loaded it on my iPad and hoped for the best.

It starts off a little slow.  Amy lives in Kansas.  Her father left her and her mom.  The mom has become an addict.  Life is not good.  And we sort of get beat over the head with this for the first 75-80 pages.  Amy’s life sucks.  I get it.  This early building of character angst for Amy is sort of tiring and why I no longer read as many YA books as I used to.  That being said, the fun begins when the freak tornado hits and Amy wakes up in Oz.

What this book turns out to be is a sequel to The Wizard of Oz.  I’d like to definitively say it’s a sequel to the book or the movie, but, like Return to Oz, they sort of hedge their bets and use iconography from both.  Mainly, of course, it’s the damn slippers.  But Paige is a little bit more ambiguous about the slippers.  She mentions that Dorothy wore silver slippers, however there are statues in Munchkinland featuring Dorothy in ruby slippers and when we finally meet her, Dorothy is wearing ruby slippers.  She never takes them off actually.  But it’s honestly a minor thing, there’s a lot more going on than the slippers.

The biggest strength of this book’s story is the world building.  The events in this book seem to take place many years after the original Oz book/movie.  From context clues in the story it seems like events in the first two Baum Oz books (Wizard of Oz, Marvelous Land of Oz) happen as normal.  It’s Dorothy’s return in the third book (Ozma of Oz) that events seem to “take a turn”.  Many years before the events in this book, Dorothy returned to Oz from Kansas and Ozma made her a princess.  Those events basically happened in the Baum books, but over the years Dorothy sort of becomes obsessed with magic.  This obsession changes Dorothy’s behavior.  It makes her more erratic.  And with this change, her closes friends, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and the Lion sort of change with her.  Dorothy supplants Ozma as the ruler of Oz and conscripts Glinda to enslave the Munchkins to start mining Oz for magic.  Oz’s magic lies deep within its land so everyone is busy strip mining Oz and hoarding magic for Dorothy.  And like I said, Dorothy’s friends sort of follow her lead. Scarecrow becomes obsessed with getting smarter.  He starts experimenting on Oz citizens like a mad scientist.  Studying their brains and creating weird monster hybrids. The Tin Man is in love with Dorothy and becomes the captain of her guard.  The Lion goes savage and starts just indiscriminately eating people and drinking in their fear.  It’s a very interesting idea that the gifts bestowed upon Dorothy’s friends (brains, heart, courage) are the very thing that are driving them mad.  It can be dark and frightening, but I’m enjoying the world that Paige is building up.

Wanted: Dorothy

So Amy shows up in the middle of all of this.  We slowly learn all the backstory stuff I just talked about.  Amy is put in a dungeon by Dorothy but is saved by The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.  The Order is a group of the witches of Oz that have banned together to stop Dorothy’s tyrannical rule.  They include Gert, the former Good Witch of the North. Glamora, the twin sister of Glinda.  And Mombi, the witch that originally secretly held Ozma in captivity from that second Oz book.  The Order trains Amy to go undercover in Dorothy’s court in the Emerald City in order to get close to her and hopefully assassinate her and allow Oz to once again be free.

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