Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

The Country of Wolves by Neil Christopher is based on an animated film adaptation of a traditional Inuit story. While the film seems to have garnered positive response, including awards, reviews of the graphic novel adaptation have been more mixed. I’m of the same sentiment about the book. I disliked the stereotypical depiction of wolves, but otherwise the story makes for a quick read and could result in a lot of conversation in a classroom.

Let me get my negative reaction out of the way, so that I can focus on the positives of The Country of Wolves. Throughout time, wolves have been portrayed as bloodthirsty, cruel, and evil. And while this conception of them might be how Native myths and legends depicted them, I dislike seeing this cliché perpetuated. In The Country of Wolves, the instant that wolves smell man they’re on the trail and the warning is given that they’ll hunt until they kill. In fact the only way to stop them is to destroy their leader. Yet wolves can form emotional attachments, show aversion to fighting, and possess intelligence. Wolves are also a necessary part of the ecosystem. So, while The Country of Wolves might make for a terrifying horror story, it’ll also sadly encourage young people to view wolves as bad. Any educator who uses this book should also combine it with lessons such as this one: Stereotyping and Bias.

The back pages to The Country of Wolves explain that the stories are sacred to The Inuit, they link them to their ancestors and to the land. And versions of this particular tale have been passed on for generations in communities across the Arctic. I did look at many summaries of Native myths and legends, but couldn’t find this one. However, there were plenty which featured the wolf as evil. Also, the author certainly should know the tales, having moved to the region many years ago as an educator. Near the end of Country of Wolves, I learned that there were several references included in the story itself to the spirit world such as Northern Lights and Watchful Moon. Some reviewers suggested this information would have better placed near the front. I’d encourage educators to supplement this tale with materials about Inuit folklore, such as an intermediate graphic novel study which according to Goodminds is provided online at The Nunavut Arctic College.

CountryWolves_Inside

You’ll notice that I’ve referred more than once to educators. Despite my concurring with the mixed reviews, I did find the plot to be haunting and action-packed. It also included a morbid twist. The graphics were also visually pleasing and adequately enhanced the text. The Country of Wolves will no doubt appeal to many boys, as well as folklore buffs. Beyond that, I’d  recommend it for use in the classroom to stir discussions about stereotypes and about Native culture.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

The story of atomic-war survivors, Lord of the Flies tells how a group of young boys struggle to reestablish civilization and their tragic reversion to savagery. An established modern classic, Lord of the Flies has sold over 100,000 copies and become required reading in many American colleges and universities. Author William Golding also received the Nobel Prize for Literature for producing “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. In this post, I’ll discuss why the fictional elements work, including that of theme.

Apparently, one reason that Lord of the Flies didn’t immediately gain critical attention is that reviewers originally dismissed it as just another adventure story. Certainly, elements of adventure exist, in that the boys explore the island on which they’ve crashed, figure out how to start (and control) a fire, and learn how to hunt. From the beginning, however, there is also foreshadowing of the conflicts to unfold. The boys vacillate between a desire to view their new home as an idyll coral island and a realistic recognition that they alone must orchestrate their rescue. Conflict ensues over a conch, which quickly becomes “no longer a thing seen but not to be touched”. Upon the union of two groups, younger boys and older boys, betrayal happens when Ralph unthinkingly reveals Piggy’s nickname. When a select group explores the island, they reveal their need for power, both in the toppling of a rock and their attempt to kill a piglet. Finally, there is the issue of who should lead, how they should lead, and what will most help the boys survive. All of these seemingly minor conflicts occur in the first chapter and foreshadow the major ones that will develop throughout the remaining chapters, making Lord of the Flies a natural choice to study in literature classes.

I remembered the novel mostly as a story about innocent boys who turned on one of their own. In reality, there are multiple lines drawn. Even at the first meeting, the older boys resist accepting the responsibility of caring for the younger ones. Those who fall into the middle actually end up taking on leadership roles, with Ralph receiving the most votes and Piggy serving reluctantly as his advisor. While those in the middle acknowledge the little ones, they soon dismiss their duty to them by neglecting to count their numbers or learn their names. While the older boys do recognize the importance of fire to being rescued, their hearts from the start lay in being explorers and hunters. Those in the middle then find themselves tasked with the challenge of having to reprimand the older boys when a ship comes into view while the smoke signal has been allowed to die out. They also find themselves having to make the unenviable decision of whether the little ones are correct to fear beasts or are simply having nightmares. All these lines are blurred one night, when the boys as a whole claim an unintentional victim, who ironically holds the secret to identity of the so-called beast.

Golding has said that the novel’s theme is, “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” Initially, the conflicts between Ralph and Jack seem relatively innocent. They both want to be in charge. Jack feels embarrassed to lose to someone younger and smaller than him. Later, Ralph begins to fear the calling of meetings and especially that of a re-election for fear that he will lose his authority. As the two continue to struggle, soon it becomes obvious that more significant issues are at stake. Ralph stands for rules. He also believes that sustaining a smoke signal is key to survival. Jack stands for anarchy. He also believes that hunting is just as essential, for everyone needs to eat. Which position is right? Or is neither right, but a balance? In what is perhaps the most poignant moment in the novel, the boys find out just how capable they are of evil, but also how much they wish to deny this side of them. Except in convincing themselves that their act of passion was an accident, they open themselves up to even darker crimes. That’s a lesson that we all would do well to learn from, instead of falling into the same trap as the boys.

Obviously, there are other fictional elements I could cover. For example, while the sections describing the island sometimes dragged, they also brought the world where the boys had landed alive. Lord of the Flies well-deserves the attention and respect it has received. As with many classics, I look forward to reading it again and again in the future.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

WilliamGoldingWhen William Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983, the Nobel Foundation cited: “…his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today”. Along with writing twelve novels in his lifetime, Golding also wrote essays and reviews, several essays, some poems, plays, and a travel book about Egypt. The novel for which he is most famous is acclaimed classic Lord of the Flies, which I’ll review tomorrow. Save the date: October 1!

PERSONAL LIFE

Born in 1911 in England, Golding was raised in a 14th-century house next door to a graveyard. He attended Marlborough Grammar School, where his father worked as a schoolteacher. His mother was an active suffragette who fought for women’s right to vote.

A frustrated child, he found an outlet in bullying his peers. According to Notable Biographies, William would later in life describe his childhood self as a brat, even going so far as to say, “I enjoyed hurting people.”

Since the age of seven, Golding had been writing stories, and at the age of twelve he attempted to write a novel. His favorite authors in his youth included H. G. Wells, Jules Verne , and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Many of his attempts at other works still exist in manuscript or typescript. The William Golding website notes that he seems to have known from childhood that he wanted to be a writer.

He enrolled at Brasenose College, Oxford to study Natural Sciences. Biography shares that Golding’s father hoped he would become a scientist, but Golding remained an enthusiastic writer, and changed his major to English Literature after two years. In 1934, he received his B.A honors in English Literature, as well as saw his first literary work published. The collection of poems was largely overlooked by critics.

Following graduation, Golding worked in settlement houses and the theater for a time. He also married Ann Brookfield who was an analytical chemist. They had two children. A year after their marriage, Golding followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a schoolmaster. His experience teaching unruly young boys, observes Biography, would later serve as inspiration for his novel Lord of the Flies.

The outbreak of World War II interrupted Golding’s teaching career. He served five years in the British Royal Navy, during which time he fought battleships at the sinking of the Bismarck, fended off submarines and planes, and even commanded a rocket launching craft. Except for a seven-month stint in New York, where he assisted Lord Cherwell at the Naval Research Establishment, Golding spent the better part of this military years on a boat. Biography shares that this led to a lifelong romance with sailing and the sea.

Like his teaching experience, Golding’s participation in the war would prove to be fruitful material for his fiction. Biography offers this quote from Golding about his World War II experiences, “I began to see what people were capable of doing. Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.”

WRITING LIFE

With the end of the war, Golding resumed his teaching career. Nearly a decade later, and after twenty-one rejections, Golding also published his first and most acclaimed novel. Initially, Lord of the Flies received mixed reviews and sold only modestly in its hardcover edition. When the paperback edition was published in 1959, believes Notable Biographies, the novel began to sell briskly because of its accessibility to students. Teachers began assigning Lord of the Flies to their literature classes. As the novel’s reputation grew, critics reacted by drawing scholarly reviews out of what was previously dismissed as just another adventure story.

In 1963, resigned his teaching post, having decided to devote all his time to his writing career. Golding spent the rest of the years as a writer in residence at Hollins College in Virginia. The year after Golding retired from teaching, Peter Brook made a film adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel. Then again, in 1990, a new film version of the Lord of the Flies brought the book to the attention of a new generation of readers.

After the success of Lord of the Flies, Golding wrote eleven other novels. He also wrote short fiction, plays, essays, and a travel book. Golding also had some works that were unpublished. These included an account of the D-Day training whilst sailing on the south coast of London. At the age of 73, Golding was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1988 he was knighted by England’s Queen Elizabeth II. The Times included him in the list of ‘The 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945’.

Golding spent the last few years of his life quietly living with his wife at their house near Cornwall, where he continued to toil at his writing, until dying of a heart attack in 1993. A year after his death, The Double Tongue was released, published from a manuscript Golding completed before he died. At his death, Golding left behind numerous volumes of daily journals, recording his innermost thoughts and trying out all kinds of ideas.

The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor is one of the more unique multicultural selections I have read. Taylor blends European vampire lore with modern Aboriginal culture to create a deliciously creepy tale.

Many multicultural stories are often set in the past so that authors can educate readers about a culture. When set in the present, multicultural stories instead tend to tackle discrimination. It’s rare then for a multicultural author to explore genre such as Taylor does with The Night Wanderer. The result is an unusual tale, rightfully labelled as a native gothic romance. True to gothic form, The Night Wanderer contains supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events and a curse. The secretive stranger who lodges at the Hunter home, unknown to anyone in the First Nations community, has existed for over three hundred years. One minute Pierre can be speaking to a character, the next minute he has disappeared without a trace. What’s just as mysterious is that he never shows himself in the daylight and makes a great effort to avoid eating and drinking with others.

True to romance form, The Night Wanderer also utilizes overwrought emotion and a female in distress. Tiffany Hunter’s mom has deserted the family, leaving Tiffany rebellious against her dad. Tiffany gets involved with a white boy named Tony, lets her grades slip, shuns her friends, and acts in other irrational ways. As Taylor begins to provide clues to the background of Pierre, my nervousness continued to build. Is he the one killing old-timers and young people? If so, will he kill Tiffany’s grandmother? When Tiffany runs away from home, and is followed by Pierre, what will happen when Pierre catches up to her? While vampire lore and romantic angst might seem like typical teen fare, Taylor blends them together to create a unique moralistic story that, thankfully, does not involve vampires and humans falling in love.

Normally, young adult literature is written in first person and, as such, provides immediate and personal connection to the narrator. At times, I missed this feeling in The Night Wanderer. However, there’s also a valid reason for using such a style. A prime example of the third-person omniscient style in young adult literature occurs in The Body in the Woods, where April Henry successfully intensified the suspense in her crime mystery title by switching seamlessly between various viewpoints. Similarly, by allowing readers to see inside the heads of both the peculiar stranger and the Hunter family, Taylor creates tingles. We know that Pierre has killed even those whom he loved. What is his motive in returning to the village of his childhood? We also know that the Hunter family is just distressed enough to have let down their guard. Will this be a mistake?

Although not set in the past, The Night Wanderer also does educate readers about modern Aboriginal culture by appropriately depicting a conflicted mix of old and new lifestyles. Tiffany’s family lives on Otter Creek Reserve, but she learns about Nazis and Bolsheviks at school. Her mom had been part of a traditional Native dance troupe but, at the same time, her dad drowns his sorrows over his divorce by watching television. Tiffany’s grandmother still speaks mostly Anishinabe but at the same time has a fondness for pickles. In addition, she relies on plant roots to cure illnesses while also shopping at Walmart for shoes. Even though Aboriginal families have been granted status cards for necessities, Tiffany uses it instead to impress her boyfriend with luxuries such as jewelry.  Finally, native mythology is full of mysterious creatures such as wendigoes, but Tiffany and her friends find more relevance to the monsters they battle in video games.

One of the members of the diversity committee to which I belong borrowed The Night Wanderer before me, but then returned it saying that she didn’t like to read scary stuff. While The Night Wanderer did cause goose bumps, I appreciated that my apprehension arose from bump-in-the-night chills rather than bloody and gory descriptions. If you enjoy old-fashioned horror, this coming-of-age novel is worth checking out.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

The Boy Who Couldn't DieWe are all familiar with the zombies of movies, television, and books: reanimated corpses that feast on human brains and spread the zombie plague through their bite. But there is another kind of zombie– the zombies of folklore and witchcraft. The Boy Who Couldn’t Die, by William Sleator, is about the second kind.

Most teenagers do not think about death, but after Ken’s best friend died in a plane crash he becomes determined to avoid it. It’s not difficult to find psychics in New York, but it takes a bit of searching before Ken can find someone who can help him with his particular need. He finally finds an ad that offers “Freedom from Death” — at the bargain price of fifty dollars. Cheri Buttercup says she can make Ken invulnerable. He just has to die first. Then she will take his soul and hide it, and then bring him back to life. And with his soul hidden, nothing will harm him. Simple.

Ken has misgivings. But he really doesn’t want to die, so he goes through with the ritual. But did it work? He soon finds out. A hot dish doesn’t burn him. The punches of a beautiful girl’s enraged boyfriend feel like feathers to Ken and a brick wall to the boyfriend. Ken doesn’t quite feel himself, but he enjoys knowing that nothing can hurt him.

Ken talks his parents into taking him to the Caribbean so he can learn scuba diving and swim with sharks. Well, he leaves out the part about the sharks. The week-long vacation in St. Calao begins with a day of scuba training culminating in certification. On the following day the scuba instructors take their six students out to a reef to put their new training to use. Ken sneaks away with he can to go looking for sharks. He finds one, but discovers that he was followed by Sabine, the sixteen-year-old assistant  trainer. And the shark has his eye on both of them. Ken is forced to put his invulnerability to the ultimate test, offering his body to the shark to save Sabine.

Now that Sabine knows Ken’s secret, he tells her everything. But the ritual he experienced in New York is familiar to the Caribbean girl. Sabine tells Ken that by giving his soul to Cheri Buttercup, it is now under her control. This explains why Ken is having disturbing dreams in which he sees himself helping to reanimate his friend Roger, and killing a man on the streets of New York. Sabine tells Ken that he must reclaim his soul.

Back in New York, Cheri buttercup is only happy to oblige–for the less-than-bargain price of $50,000. There’s always a catch, isn’t there?

Sleator grabbed my attention early and held it throughout his 162-page book. The Boy Who Couldn’t Die is obviously a very different kind of zombie story, and as such is a welcome change of pace. It reminded me of Stephen King’s Thinner, which is about a man who is cursed by a gypsy. Both stories are about someone who races to reverse a supernatural spell. Sleator has a streamlined writing style that is suitable for younger teens and up. Any lover of the macabre will enjoy this creepy tale.


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September

This past spring, I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog. At the same time, I promised that I’d pop back occasionally to participate in memes and to share some reading gems. In that spirit, what lays ahead for this month are reviews of some of my summer reads.

  • three Newfoundland picture books
  • three religious books
  • more pet magazine reviews

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