Archive for the Classic literature Category

AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: What Was It? A Mystery (1859) by Fitz-James O’brien

Posted in books, Classic literature, Genres, Halloween, holiday, horror, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2015 by Paxton

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And we are off! So, I had planned on beginning AWESOME-tober-fest 2015 on October 1, but I got excited and I’ve decided to start one day early. Today. So, enjoy everyone, my discussion of all things invisible man begins NOW.

Usually with any discussion of invisible men, ground zero is assumed to be HG Wells’ 1897 story, The Invisible Man. And yes, that is probably the most important work on invisibility to date. And yes, I am going to review that book (check back tomorrow). However, Wells’ story wasn’t the first to feature invisibility, or an invisible man.

harpers-weekly

In 1859 Harper’s Weekly published a short story by Fitz-James O’Brien titled What Was It? A Mystery.  O’Brien is considered to be one of the forerunners of science fiction.  And this particular short story is considered one of the earliest known uses of invisibility.  It predated HG Wells’ story by nearly 40 years.

I was doing research on invisibility for this month and discovered an anthology from the 70s that included stories about invisibility.  It was called Invisible Men and it’s edited by Basil Davenport.

invisible-men-anthology

I looked through the list of stories included. There is one from Wells himself, but not the titular Invisible Man.  It’s another story entitled The New Accelerator. O’Brien’s short story was also included. Doing a little more research I discovered the history behind O’Brien and this particular story and decided that I should give it a read.

It’s a very interesting and atmospheric story.  It’s based in an old apartment building and features several of the renters.  One of them is attacked by an unseen force one evening.  The unseen force is captured and tied to the bed.  The renters try to figure out what it is and even take a plaster cast of it.  But the invisible being dies before they can discover what it is.  That’s the long and short of it.

It’s structure is very similar to a lot of Lovecraft’s early stuff.  The story is told by a narrator from the present who is relating events that happened in the past.  The events are never really fully explained and it leaves you with an uneasy, creepy feeling.  Another similar story that comes to mind is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short and creepy The Ring of Thoth as well as Lovecraft’s Out of the Aeons.

And that is What Was It? A Mystery, one of the first uses of invisibility in literary fiction.  It was a fun and interesting read.  Especially to set the table for the movies and books to come this month.


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

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Making 7 Literary Classics More AWESOME

Posted in books, Classic literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by Paxton

Bad Ass Book Report

I’m a reader. I love to read. And I sometimes enjoy reading classic literature. However, some of the old stuff is just flat out boring as balls.  I mean, have you actually read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Frank Norris’ McTeague or anything by James Joyce?  Snoozeville.  Population…YOU.  I had to read those in high school and I needed to drink a case of Jolt Cola to get through just one chapter.

So, being the helpful guy that I am, I thought I’d take some boring classics you may have had to read in high school and college and make them better.  More AWESOME.  And easier to read.

So now, here are seven ways to make classic literature a lot more AWESOME. You are welcome, literature.

Don Corleone Quixote
Don Corleone Quixote – Old guard crime boss Don Corleone Quixote sets up shop in an old windmill with trusty right hand man Pancha.

Little Haunted House on the Prairie
Little Haunted House on the Prairie – A family is brutally murdered in their secluded old farm house.  Twenty years later, an unsuspecting couple purchases the old farm house looking for a serene retreat from their hectic lives only to find skin crawling terror and wheelbarrows of blood.

Grapes of Wrath of Khan
The Grapes of Wrath of Khan – The Joad family pick up a hitchhiker on their way to California.  Little do they know their new addition is a genetically enhanced super being from the future looking to overthrow and rule the human race.  Wackiness ensues.

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Review of Oz Book 15: The Royal Book of Oz (1921)

Posted in books, Classic literature, movies, Wizard of Oz with tags , , , , , , , on September 5, 2013 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

L Frank Baum died in May 1919. Baum’s final Oz book, Glinda of Oz, wouldn’t be published until 1 year later in 1920. With Baum now gone, Reilly & Lee, decided to continue the Oz series with a new author. They selected Ruth Plumly Thompson to write the fifteenth book in the series. John Neill would return to illustrate the book as he had the previous thirteen books. However, Baum would get author credit on the cover and not Thompson.

Royal Book of Oz

It has been said that this book was written off the final Oz notes Baum left in his typewriter after he died.  It has never been proven without a doubt that Baum even left final Oz notes.  Regardless, it is pretty much a given that this book is all Thompson.  Thompson trying a bit to write in the style of Baum, but still 100% Ruth Plumly Thompson.  I really love Neill’s cover for this book.

The story itself is interesting.  HM Wogglebug, TE gets the idea that he is going to chronicle the royal lines of Oz in a book called, of course, The Royal Book of Oz.  While pitching the idea to Ozma, Wogglebug insults Scarecrow (former ruler of Oz and current Emperor of the Winkies)  by saying he wasn’t born from a royal family and, in fact, has no ancestry.  It is interesting to note that this is the first time that we see outright annoyance and dislike towards HM Wogglebug.  In earlier books, characters would imply that he’s tiring to listen to, but nothing outright.  In this book, the characters effectively come right out and say, “We don’t f**king like you.  Go away.”  Especially after he insults the Scarecrow.

So the Scarecrow runs away from the Emerald City back to the pole on the farm Dorothy found him.  He slips down the pole to the Silver Islands that exist way below Oz (and far enough down to not be considered a part of Oz).

scarecrow1
Scarecrow tumbles down the bean pole to the Silver Islands

We learn the background of the Scarecrow and how he is the vessel for the spirit of the leader of the Silver Islanders.  We meet his family and learn how he came to be on the pole when Dorothy found him.  However, as these things tend to do, events turn sour and Scarecrow is trapped in Silver Islands and Dorothy and company must set out to find him.  And we learn other cool things like Oz characters CAN die if they are taken out of Oz.  It’s Oz’s magical fairyland properties that are keeping its citizens effectively immortal.  And we get to meet Sir Hokus of Pokes, an elderly, valiant, well-meaning knight who would show up in three more Thompson Oz books (one with the character center stage) and one of John Neill’s books.

Like I said, on the surface, I like this plot.  I like learning back story to a main character.  We see a similar back story for the Tin Man in The Tin Woodman of Oz.  However, and I hate to say this, but the entire endeavor feels hollow.  It feels like Thompson is mimicing Baum’s style but can’t replicate his heart.  There is so much sincere, heartfelt innocence and imagination in Baum’s books, you can’t help but love them.  This book felt like a shallow copy.  Thompson used less of the puns and clever dialogue Baum was known for while simultaneously using multiple plot threads that Baum rarely used.  So I guess, in a way, she didn’t really follow Baum’s style at all.

Overall, I was just bored with this book.  I wasn’t engaged in the story and for the last half just wished it was over.  This is the first time that has happened in my reading of the Oz books.  There were one or two Baum books I didn’t fully enjoy, but I was never bored or wished it to end.  So, no, I can’t really recommend this.  However, John Neill’s artwork is again the centerpiece.  Truly great illustrations.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy anyone following in Baum’s footsteps.  And this was Thompson’s first effort.  Thompson eventually wrote 18 more books after this so I assume she gets better the further she moves out of Baum’s shadow.  Looking at the list of her books, a few of them do look interesting; The Cowardly Lion of Oz, The Yellow Knight of Oz and maybe Pirates in Oz,  We’ll see how many I actually get to.

Continuing my journey down the yellow brick road…

Posted in books, Classic literature, movies, Wizard of Oz with tags , , , , , , , on February 20, 2013 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

On January 31, 2012, I made a resolution to read all of the original L Frank Baum Oz books in 2012. I completed that goal on Dec 20, 2012, just under ten months later.  You can visit my Oz Archive to see the reviews of all 14 of those books.

Oz checklist

It was a fun ride and I’m really glad I finally did it.  I have such an affection for the original movie, which led me to read the original book and even through reading these 14 books, I have kept that love.  The books were mostly good.  Yes, there was some bad, but nothing was just terrible.   I would have thought that by the end of this challenge I would be a little “Oz’d out” if you know what I mean.  But, honestly, it’s just kindled that flame a little bit more.  I think I don’t want this column to end.

While I don’t plan on making another year long resolution, I do plan on reading more Oz and L Frank Baum books.  After Baum, Ruth Plumly Thompson took over Oz for another 19 books.  Will I read all of those?  Maybe.  Eventually.  But not next year.  There are also other movies like 1974’s Journey Back to Oz and the upcoming Oz the Great and Powerful which will be released in March 2013.  I will continue to consume this media and review them under this banner.  I’ll even continue to read some of Baum’s other non-Oz writings like The Sea Fairies, Dot and Tot in Merryland and Father Goose: His Book.

I just have enjoyed myself so much experiencing this challenge that I want to keep it going.  And I plan to.

Thank you for experiencing it along with me.  Stay tuned for more to come.

Review of Oz Book 14: Glinda of Oz (1920)

Posted in books, Classic literature, movies, nostalgia, pop culture, Wizard of Oz with tags , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

L Frank Baum’s fourteenth and final Oz book was published the year after his death in 1920. It was called Glinda of Oz.

Glinda of Oz

It has been said that Baum only barely finished the manuscript for this book before his death. I’ve also read where he didn’t finish it and either an editor at Reilly & Lee or one of his daughters finished the book. It is unclear which is the truth. But the majority of the book was indeed written by Baum before he died. The very next book, The Royal Book of Oz, was actually originally credited solely to Baum with the publishers saying it was written from Baum’s final notes. However, this isn’t true, The Royal Book of Oz is entirely a story written by Ruth Plumly-Thompson and this book was Baum’s last.

In this story, illustrated again by John Neill, Ozma and Dorothy travel to some of the outlying lands of Oz to settle a dispute between two peoples, the Skeezers and the Flatheads.  Both people are set to go to war and Ozma wishes to stop it before it gets to that point.  However, Ozma and Dorothy are trapped by the Skeezer queen in her glass covered city which is magically submerged under the lake on which it previously sat.  A group of Oz’s greatest citizens band together to figure out how to raise the city and save Ozma, Dorothy and the other trapped Skeezer people.

There are parts of this story that are pretty good, and there are parts that aren’t very good.  One of the things that seemed completely ridiculous were the amount of people that traveled to help Ozma and Dorothy in the end.  There were like 20 people traveling over land to try to raise the submerged city.  The only people that absolutely needed to go were Glinda and The Wizard.  That’s it.  They are the only two people in Oz who can legally work magic and since the city is, you know, magically submerged, they are the most logical ones to go.  Woggle Bug didn’t need to go.  What the hell was he going to do?  And Shaggy Man?  Was he going to use the Love Magnet to make the city love him so much that it raises above the lake’s surface?  Absurd.  The whole of the Oz council went.  Jack Pumkinhead was there for some reason.  Why did all of these people need to go?  They didn’t.  Glinda and The Wizard wound up needing help from three other ancient wizards to fix the entire mess anyway.  Just seemed a little excessive to me.  Like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly.

Glinda of Oz art
(Via My Delineated Life)

While I only kind of liked the book, it’s a bittersweet ending knowing that this is the final Baum Oz book.  After this Ruth Plumly-Thompson writes like 19 or 20 books in a row.  All illustrated by John Neill.  So while this isn’t the best of the books, it’s still an okay read.  I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed reading this entire series.  I hate to see it end.  But, it doesn’t have to end there.  There are still some other Oz goodies I can read/watch/review.  I may even start delving into Plumly-Thompson’s archive.  I honestly would love to read John Neill’s three Oz books that he wrote and illustrated, but they are long out of print.

Below is my checklist of Oz books.  I’ve crossed off all of the books.  I was able to finish all 14 of the original L Frank Baum Oz books in 2012, which concludes the challenge I set for myself and started back in February 2012 with the very first Oz book.

Oz books checklist

Review of Oz Book 13: The Magic of Oz (1919)

Posted in books, Classic literature, pop culture, Wizard of Oz with tags , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

The thirteenth book in Baum’s Oz series was called The Magic of Oz.  It was published in 1919, one month after L Frank Baum had died due to complications after having a stroke.

Tin Woodman of Oz

This story begins with a magician who discovers a simple magical word for transforming anything and anyone into anything and anyone he wishes. The word is complex and must be pronounced exactly, but once learned is very easy to execute. After Ozma declares that only Glinda and the Wizard are able to perform magic in Oz, the magician retires but writes down his discovery in a secret compartment in his magical laboratory. Years later the magician’s son happens upon the secret word, figures out how to use it and escapes his village to do wicked things across the land of Oz. The son, Kiki Aru, joins up with the original Nome King, Ruggedo, who was exiled in Book 3 – Tik-Tok of Oz, to exact revenge on the denizens of The Emerald City, most notably Ozma and Dorothy.  The plan involves tricking the animals of Oz to revolt against the Emerald  City by convincing them that the people of Oz are going to attack and enslave the animals first.

Meanwhile, everyone in Oz is preparing for Ozma’s birthday and Dorothy and like 8 other people travel out into the Oz country side to find Ozma the perfect birthday present.  Yeah, I’m not too thrilled with that part of the story.  Trot and Capt Bill spend most of their time trying to obtain this magical flower that is floating in this island in the middle of a river in the northernmost part of Oz.  Just not very compelling.

However, the scenes with Ruggedo and Kiki Aru convincing the animals to attack the Emerald City are pretty good.  However, while out looking for presents, the Wizard and Dorothy stumble upon the plan and do their best to stop it.  All while Capt Bill and Trot are magically stuck on the island with the magical flower.

Oh, and, spoiler alert, Dorothy and the Wizard train a monkey to jump out of Ozma’s cake and dance.  That is their gift to her.  On  her birthday.

This is an oddly disjointed book.  I liked about half of it.  The rest is sort of silly, but in a bad way.  Normally Baum is able to make the silly parts endearing, but this time, not so much.  I’m not really going to recommend this book, even though we see the return of the original Nome King, one of my favorite Oz characters.  It just seems a little pointless and dull.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of imagination and cool stuff to see, but by the end of the book I was a little disappointed.

Only one more L Frank Baum Oz book would be published after this.

Below is my checklist of Oz books.  I’ve crossed off the ones I’ve currently read.  Next up is the fourteenth and final L Frank Baum Oz book, Glinda of Oz. Oz books checklist

Review of Oz Book 12: The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918)

Posted in books, Classic literature, pop culture, Wizard of Oz with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2013 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

The twelfth book in Baum’s Oz series was The Tin Woodman of Oz and it was published in 1918.

Tin Woodman of Oz

This was a surprisingly good book that actually has a very relevant title as opposed to a few other books in this series (I’m looking at you, Tik-Tok of Oz).  And the book’s plot fills in a lot of back story to the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Ol’ Nick Chopper and The Wizard (he actually has no name and is only ever called The Wizard or Little Wizard) are telling tales in Chopper’s palace in the Winkie country.  A wandering Gillikin boy named Woot arrives at the palace and begins asking how Tin Man became tin.  Nick tells his origin in more detail about the witch Mombi cursing his axe and having his limbs cut off one by one.  After each limb is cut off, he goes to a tinsmith friend of his named Ku-Klip to replace the limb until he was entirely made out of tin.  After his accidents, Nick felt it wasn’t fair to marry his sweetheart, Nimmie Amee, since he didn’t truly love her any more due to not having a heart.  So he leaves.  This reminiscing causes Chopper to wonder what Amee is doing and to realize that he really should have married her like he promised.

So Nick Chopper, the Scarecrow, the Wizard and Woot travel to Munchkinland to see if Amee will still marry the tin woodman.  They meet lots of adventures on the way and even come upon another tin man in the munchkin forest.  This new tin man was a soldier named Capt Fyter who also fell in love with Nimmie Amee and had his sword cursed by Mombi in the exact same way as Nick Chopper.  Which of course led him to Ku-Klip.  He was caught in the forest many years ago and rusted in a rain storm.  Obviously shocked by the similar circumstances of their creation this leads the group to seek out Ku-Klip the tinsmith to discover the whereabouts of Nimmie Amee.  They also discover that Ku-Klip used the cut off human body parts of Nick Chopper and the Tin Soldier to create another person, Chopfyt (combination of the two names Chopper and Fyter).

From there they travel across Oz to where Nimmie currently resides to see if she wants to marry one of the tin men.

Aside from the copious amounts of back story we get on Nick Chopper, we also get a lot of back story about the Land of Oz itself.  We learn that Oz wasn’t always a magical fairyland in which no one ages or dies.  We learn that a fairy queen named Lurline bestowed upon Oz the fairy status and left one of her fairies to be its guardian.  That fairy is Ozma.  This sort of flies in the face of the second book, Marvelous Land of Oz, in which it was said that Ozma was just a long lost royal who was rightly returned to her family’s throne.  Regardless,  I really like this new back story.  It was interesting from the beginning and Baum had a few nice surprises in store.  I also really liked meeting Ku-Klip, the tinsmith who created the Tin Woodman.

From what I’ve read, the Oz books had begun to decline in popularity right before this book, but it became a huge hit and started a resurgence in Oz popularity.  It even carried over into some of Baum’s other non-Oz books like John Dough and the Cherub.

Below is my checklist of Oz books.  I’ve crossed off the ones I’ve currently read.  Next up, The Magic of Oz. Oz books checklist