Why Be a 21st Century Librarian?

July 30, 2007 at 2:23 am | Posted in awards, librarian, websites | Leave a comment

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animation1.jpgFind out why being a librarian is one of the top 10 career choices today. Librarians are not only smart and tech savvy. They know all about social networking and can be very  funny ..really.

Please visit my interactive website at http://www.eden.rutgers.edu/~hauckmah/MMProd/exercise2/home.html

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Midtown Comics Rules

May 12, 2007 at 3:40 am | Posted in comic books, fantasy, pop culture, SCI FI | Leave a comment

yellow-line.jpgThe Reading Interests of Adults course at Rutgers for MLIS librarians-in training ended the semester with a NY field trip. I’ll blog about the bookstore visits in the next few entries. 

Midtown Comics Times Square(Comics, Collectibles, Manga)200 W 40th Street, 7th Ave., New York, NY 10018
Phone: 800-411-3341 or 212-302-8192 
(Mon-Sat: 11AM – 9PM, Sun: 12-7PM) http://www.midtowncomics.com 

Our store tour guide was Jerry, one of the founders of Midtown Comics. Its two locations and website sales have been going strong for over 10 years. Midtown is so well-known and respected that Entertainment Weekly reprints their website’s weekly bestseller lists. Comics and graphic novels are exploding in popularity thanks to movie/video game/comics tie-ins with media events such as Spiderman 3, the death of Captain America and the launch of the last Harry Potter book all in 2007  

Hot Releases New comics are issued every Wednesday. Midtown added a “do not cross” yellow checkered line on the floor to manage the midweek crowds. New issues are shelved by publisher (eg. DC,Marvel…,) with the last 4 weeks of issues on display.  Midtown is a strong supporter of Indie comic presses too manga2.jpg 

Mangadominates left wall space on the main level. Titles are shelved alphabetically but Jerry notes “there’s a raging debate about this”. Some of the staff are lobbying for shelving it by type (eg. shonen jump vs. shojen jump). The hottest trends are manga from China and Korea. Midtown stocks only English-language translations of manga.

Back Issues and CollectiblesMidtown has a Queens warehouse for back issue storage and order shipping. The store’s upper level features comic book, sci fi and fantasy collectibles like action figures. Midtown is proud of the “certificate of authenticity” it offers with its signed copies. Jerry noted that they charge a “fair price” for these, and often see the items resold on EBay at higher prices.   

rare-comics-wall.jpg Age Range Midtown Comics’ customers are “about 98%” adult males in their 20s and 30s although manga is attracting more female buyers. The store enforces comic book codes : M titles can only be purchased by adults with ID. The upper level has an “adult only” titles section. Midtown offers a “Young Readers” section where you’ll find kid-appeal comics like Calvin & Hobbes or Bone. Jerry noted that http://www.tokyopop.com  has a new age/content code for manga as of 2007.

The Enquiring Minds of Tabloid Readers

April 25, 2007 at 12:57 pm | Posted in celebrity, pop culture, romance, tabloids | 1 Comment

180px-sunpict.jpgBird,S. Elizabeth (1992). For Enquiring Minds: A Cultural Study of Supermarket Tabloids. Knoxville, TN:University of Tennessee Press.  

Radway, Janice (1984) Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill,N.C.:Univ. of North Carolina Press

 Here’s a front page shocker– Why do more than 50 million weekly readers pay big money ($3.29 + cover)for tabloids, when free online information on everything is available 24/7?

For more than a century, tabloids have been maligned as publishing’s seamy underbelly. They’ve been universally panned as national-examiner.gifjournalistic sleaze–sensational claptrap calculated to pander to our baser instincts. Yet, tabloids are not only holding their own in 2007, but one could argue that their “cult of celebrity” approach has moved from street cred to legitimacy in popular culture. Skeptical? Over the next week, count how many more entertainment than “hard news” stories are served up on the average TV and radio news show. While the CBS News doesn’t share the Enquirer’s obsession with Brangelina, they too have gone over to the dark side-the age of infotainment. 

 As Professor Bird (1992) observed, “The tabloids clearly offer millions of Americans something they don’t find in other media”. Bird explored tabloids’ enduring appeal by interviewing this genre’s readers and writers, as well as analyzing the thematic content of major American tabloids.  

200px-batchild.jpgWhy do people read tabloids ? There are those, like Agent K from Men in Black(1997) who claim they abe-lincoln-world-news.jpgoffer the “best damn investigative reporting on the planet” (especially on celebrity shapeshifters). Despite the quip’s absurdity, it resonates with those who feel disenfranchised and suspicious of social institutions.  For these readers, it is an act of defiance. They affirm their individuality by embracing what the popular culture rejects as trash. For others, it is an act of play, to revel in tabloids’ preposterous excess. The Weekly World News offers the most “amazing oddities” stories of the “Ripley’s Believe or Not” tradition. It is also an acknowledged parody publication (http://www.weeklyworldnews.com/bat_boy/ ).

Most of Bird’s readers don’t literally believe what they see in tabloids.globe-tabloid.jpg They selectively filter content into credible stories (celebrity gossip), inspirational stories (rags to riches, heroic pets..)and fun stories (lose a ton overnight).  

Bird’s tabloid readers enjoy their genre for many of the reasons expressed by romance readers( Radway,1984)  For both, the act of reading was empowering and exhilarating. It was one part of their lives that they could control, and this realization filled them with a guilty pleasure. Tabloids and romances offer the allure of escape–to experience vicariously fame, glamour and an exotic life. They’re both reassuring, but for different reasons. Since 80%+ of tabloid stories stress the downside of celebrity (Bird, 1992), it makes us feel a whole lot better about being anonymous and financially-challenged. For romance the reassurance is that love will find you and conquer all.  

 enqirer-5.jpgBoth genres are populist, upbeat and express traditional, family-centered values. They have strict conventions and a “horizon of expectation” but are not religiously conservative overall. Romance values the monogamous, committed relationship. The role of tabloids is to judge and punish the corrupt (-homewreckers, liars and thieves) by public exposure of their evil. Tabloids have expanded their tolerance for diversity since Bird reported their homophobic, white, lower middle class tendencies in 1992. In April 2007, two cover National Enquirer stories were about a secret gay lover and about a fired black Grey’s Anatomy actor. While tabloids and star.jpgtraditional newspapers are both moving to the popular culture center, tabloids are no impartial forum for political and social commentary. How can they be, as long as they pay informants for exclusives?

Both create an intimacy or rapport with their readers. Tabloids achieve this intimacy through shared secrets interwoven with heart-warming human interest stories. Finally, romance and tabloid reader expressed embarrassment about being seen publicly with their genre.  After all, if what they’re reading is trash, then does that make the readers trash too?

Sidekicks in Boneville Comics

April 24, 2007 at 5:35 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, sidekicks | 1 Comment

out-from-boneville.jpgSmith, Jeff (1991,2005). Bone: Out from Boneville.New York: Scholastic.

“Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures! “n. Exclamation of disapproval, Bone Comics –CYBERSPEAK, Random House Dictionary of online phrases (1997)

How did I know Bone was an excellent choice for comic book analysis?  Because I was introduced to the smiley.jpgseries by an impeccable source: word of mouth from tween boys. I was struggling to find graphic novels in my library system’s catalog. Morris County public libraries do collect some soft and hardcover comics. Yet, subject and keyword searches for “manga”, comic books”, “anime” and “graphic novels”were fruitless. Then, a fifth grade boy requested a Bone book while I was on the reference desk. When I figured out he wanted a comic, not a science book , I tracked down the author on the internet. Voila– eight Bone volumes surfaced in the catalog with holdings at multiple locations. This search experience demonstrated the need to display comics prominently in the juvenile/YA section. The kids are not going to find them through our catalog.

dragon-fone-bone.jpgBy coincidence, my 10 year old son brought home Out from Boneville a few days later. His school library did have a Bone display, and the boys were jostling to see who’d get to check them out first, like they had with Captain Underpants in third grade. When I asked my son why he liked Bone, his first response was “they’re cool and funny”. His favorite parts were the characters of Smiley and Phoney Bone as well as the fantastic rat and red dragon creatures which he described as”weird but not too scary”. He liked the adventure storyline and that scheming Phoney Bone gets tricked back by his fed-up cousin.

 In Out from Boneville, the three Bone cousins,  Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone, are run out of town when Phoney’s scheme to become mayor backfires. They are separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert. They each find their way into a foreboding valley filled with bizarre beings, some friendly (red dragon and possum) and some evil but  stupid (rat creatures). The cousins are reunited at a farm run by tough Gran’Ma Ben who races cows with her feisty granddaughter, Thorn. At the book’s end, Phoney is secretly conniving to fix the cow race and stalling the Grim Reaper.

Bone comics were written, drawn and self-published by Jeff Smith from 1991 to 2004. Bone is notable as one of the first comics published on the internet. It was also one of the longest-running self-published comic book series created by a single author. Smith hyped the series through unique publicity stunts such as drawing jams at comic conventions. His comics were originally black and white drawings, serialized in Disney magazine in the mid-1990s. 

 Bone’s popularity surged after 2004 when Scholastic released color versions of the 9 volume, 1300 page series. Like Trekkie fans, fans collect a wide array of Bone merchandise by visiting the official site, http://www.boneville.com/ . There are two popular video games, but Smith vetoed plans for a movie with kid actors doing voiceovers.  

pogo.jpgfone-bone.jpgBone has won numerous honors, including ten Eisner Awards and eleven Harvey Awards. The series is appealing because of its unforgettable characters, its fresh, witty writing that resonates on many levels, and its epic fantasy storyline inspired by Lord of the Rings. Smith’s characters have been compared to those of Walt Kelly’s comic strip for social commentary. The hero, Fone Bone, is a little guy with a big head and feet who bears a striking resemblance to Kelly’s Pogo.

One of the hallmarks of Smith’s illustration style is his versatility. In Volume One, his drawings convey the shift in mood from the flat, comic appearance of the Bone cousins to a dark, detailed illustration style for battle scenes between Thorn, Fone and the rat creatures.thorn-and-creatures.jpg

There are several sidekicks who serve as foils to the level-headed, honest hero, Fone Bone. There is irresponsible, affable Smiley Bone, the perennial follower. In contrast, there is his scheming Phoney Bone, who must be rescued in each episode by Fone Bone.  Our  hero’s vulnerability is revealed by his comical crush on Thorn, the beautiful “princess in disguise”.  The sidekicks are foils who mock Fone’s intellectual fervor and earnestness. Even sweet Thorn goes unconscious when Fone drones on about his favorite book, Moby Dick. The first episode hints at dark secrets about the charactersand their journey. Like all good comics ,  it introduces the cast of players in the first volume: villains, allies, sidekicks and heroes.  Nevertheless, it  leaves the reader in suspense about what will happen next.     

American Born Chinese

April 21, 2007 at 4:53 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, genre fiction, monsters | 5 Comments

american-born-chinese.jpgYang, Gene Luen. Color by Lark Pien (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second Press. 

 I discovered American Born Chinese in a display of manga, comic books and graphic novels near the YA section at my local public library. Based on the book’s cover, I picked it up with mixed feelings. The title ABC is derogatory slang familiar to 2nd generation+ Chinese-American families such as mine. (Fresh Off the Boat–FOB— is retaliatory slang for recent Taiwanese and mainland immigrants). I couldn’t dismiss the novel as inflammatory junk though, because the graphics were artfully rendered and the cover featured 2 book award medallions. Once I opened the cover and saw the words “Monkey King”, I had to read it. The Monkey King is one of the most famous characters in Chinese folklore, but I haven’t been able to get my kids to slog through a full translated text.   abc_monkey1.jpg

American Born Chinese has three storylines. The first is a comical retelling of the Monkey King legend, with kung fu and Chinese fable elements for authenticity.  The second story features Jin Wang, a Chinese-American teenager in a white neighborhood. Jan perms his hair and rejects his Asian school friends to win a date with a redheaded honor student. The final storyline is an over-the-top paper sitcom featuring Chin-Kee, the ultimate Oriental student stereotype. Chin-Kee has a pigtail, wears a kimono, eats strange animal parts for lunch, is the class know-it-all and oblivious to his social gaffes. Yang deftly interweaves the three separate stories to a surprising, but satisfying end involving the mischievous Monkey King.

 082806_americanbornchinese03.jpgI was blown away by this book! I can understand why American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel nominated for a National Book Award and was Amazon’s “#1 graphic novel pick of 2006”. Writer-illustrator Yang also won the ALA Printz award. His novel is both hysterically funny and brutally honest in its exploration of image, identity and self-acceptance. Although the characters represent different Asian stereotypes, the story will resonate with readers from age 10-adult who are struggling to define themselves and to belong. There are story elements of teenage romance, Chinese folklore fantasy, supernatural monsters, spirituality, and hidden clues for a mystery relevaled in the climax. The only genre missing is the western, though there are elements of adventure, a long journey and the hero’s lone battle to conquer a harsh environment.    

 There are books by Laurence Yep, Amy Tan, Allen Say and other Asian-American novelists who’ve written serious novels about their experiences. What makes Yang’s book different is its iconoclastic, hip approach to the issue of cultural identity. In a December 2006 interview with The Trades, Yang speculates on why he’s seen as blazing a new path in fiction. Growing up in San Francisco, Yang was told to “Keep your head down, study hard, and make a good life for yourself. Don’t make any waves.”  The idea of writing caustic social commentary is new and frankly scary for many Chinese who lived through the upheaval of the Communist regime.

Yang’s content takes risks in confronting prejudices and misconceptions about American Born Chinese. In contrast, his illustration style is skillful but abcmeeting325.jpgconventional, even conservative. Each page contains 4-5 panels which read left to right. The book is read as an English-language text, from front to back (the opposite of the manga page pattern). The text is conveyed through standard thought bubbles. Characters are 2-D rendered in flat colors, with the visual style of an Archie Comics. His Asian characters, aside from Chin-Kee, are visual amalgams of Western and Eastern features, reinforcing his message of assimilation. This message is hammered home on page 194, as Yang shows a freeze-frame transformation from black haired Oriental Jan to blond, blue eyed Danny as the teenager’s wish to be like his classmates comes true–briefly.  

American Born Chinese was originally presented in serial form as a web comic self-published by Yang. This is his fourth published graphic novel, and his first published with a promising new graphic novel press which debuted in 2006, First Second.  For more information about Yang’s works, visit his website, Humble Comics or check out Comic Book Resources.

Seagulls and Spirituality

April 16, 2007 at 2:32 pm | Posted in christian fiction, genre fiction, new age, pop culture, sidekick | Leave a comment

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  “Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect”. new-age-heelas.jpg

         “The gull sees farthest who flies highest”.  

Bach, Richard. Photos by Russell Munson (1970). Jonathan Livingston Seagull.New York: Macmillan.

 Heelas, Paul (1996). The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity.Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.   

 Richard Bach’s 1970 allegory about the self-actualizing seagull is a spirituality classic of new age fiction. It is a three-part fable about the rare individual/bird that refuses to accept the limits imposed by nature and society. Jonathan Livingston Seagull seeks perfection from within, with da-vinci-flight.jpgultimate mastery of flight as the metaphor for attaining the highest purpose in life.  Whereas, his cohort is preoccupied with basic survival, Jonathan denounces the traditional gull path to explore new ways of flying.

Jonathan’s actions represent the first step to enlightenment presented in most new age works, This element is described by Heelas (1996) as the acceptance that “your lives are not working. You’re brainwashed”. The high-flying Jonathan later discovers from his teachers, Chiang and Sullivan, that each being is born with the innate ability to attain perfection. However, it is up to the individual to find the desire and take the steps to reach it. This message– perfection is the responsibility of the individual, not of an external supreme being–conveys another defining element of the new age philosophy (Heelas, 1996).

Bach’s text embraces the mystical eclecticism of many new age texts, interweaving religious beliefs from the East and West with empowerment messages from popular psychology. Hellas, in The New Age Movement, dubs this “Perennialism”. This theory contends there are unifying truths spanning diverse religions which must be discovered to attain wisdom.  In Jonathan Livingston Seagull, there is the Buddhist concept of reincarnation as our hero awakens at the start of Part 2 in a remote land. The seagull is changed, imbued with new insights and enhanced flying ability.

seagull-flight.jpgOr, you can read the tiny tract as a Christian fable reflecting the life of Jesus. Jonathan is born and lives like any other bird until he accepts his unique gift. Then he’s banished by a mob for being different, ascends to a heaven-like state, forgives his tormentors and returns to help guide the repentant flock. The roles of leader and teacher are accepted reluctantly by Jonathan, who sardonically refers to himself as the “Son of the Great Gull”, to chide his skeptical flock. This strong spiritual leader role is present in most texts and communes following new age principles, despite the theoretical exhortations that “you are your own authority” (Heelas).

 Jonathan reminds the flock that they must lead themselves, setting aside any law or ritual which restricts their freedom to become their “true self”. The message that “freedom is valued” is another new age cornerstone (Heelas). This 10,000 word fable presents Hindu, Muslim and Quaker communal messages of pacifism and love as thematic undercurrents at the book’s end. The teacher Sullivan’s last words to Jonathan are to “keep working on love”. The challenge is to see the good in every creature. This sentiment is another of the 7 new age elements outlined by Heelas : the self is intrinsically good.   

Finally, there are those who read Bach’s work more literally as a tale about the rewards of dedication and self-sacrifice. At this level, it is the classic self help message conveyed in “The Little Engine Who Could”: if you believe it, you can do it. “Nothing is impossible”.  

There is a sidekick in Bach’s work, “rough young Fletcher Gull”, an Outcast who becomes Jonathan’s first and best student disciple. Fletcher is 4-gulls.jpgan eager daredevil, who gives voice to the doubts Jonathan battled pre-transcendence. In the group of gulls, Fletcher is the first to conquer barriers of speed and time, yet he does so in a stumbling, dazed way. Fletcher represents the reader, with his challenge to Jonathan: “How do you manage to love a mob of birds that has just tried to kill you?”  Although Fletcher is flawed, he remains loyal to Jonathan when others accuse his teacher of being a demon. 

 I would recommend this book for inclusion in a public library collection of new age works. It offers an excellent introduction to some defining new age concepts, such as Perennialism, self-actualization, brainwashing, and the importance of freedom and individual responsibility. I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the first time in 2007. I warmed to the book’s gentle simplicity and was impressed by its innocent yet earnest tone. Bach’s work was totally lacking in artifice. In contrast, today’s self help or new age books are so slickly packaged and marketed, I often feel like the author came up with the promotional hook before he or she wrote the first draft.  

Trekkies Way of Life

April 5, 2007 at 12:25 am | Posted in genre fiction, new age, science fiction | Leave a comment

trekkies.jpgTrekkies (1997) A documentary film. Directed by Roger Nyland. startrek_logo_2007.jpg

It’s been almost 40 years since the Star Trek TV show’s cancellation set off shockwaves, catalyzing distraught fans to mobilize in protest. The series’ appeal evolved rapidly from its initial cult status into a multi-billion dollar franchise of today. It is a fan-driven industry which encompasses feature films, TV spinoff series, websites, clubs, conventions, retail outlets, books and a staggering array of collectible merchandise. The franchise was a perennial TV presence until the prequel Enterprise series ended in May 2005.  For the first time in decades, no Star Trek series is in production. This event was so significant that it was a lead news story worldwide.  yar.jpg

 The 1997 Roger Nyland documentary, Trekkies, attempts “to boldly go where no man has gone before” (Starship Enterprise Mission) by exploring Star Trek’s appeal from the perspective of its fans . The host of Trekkies, Denise Crosby aka “Ensign Tasha Yar”  of Star Trek:The Next Generation is a bemused, convivial host and guide navigating through dozens of interviews with trekkie fans, fanatics and Star Trek cast members. 

 I have long been aware that Star Trek is more than a classic TV series: it is a cultural phenomenon. It has enriched our lexicon, contributing catch phrases and visual icons to the pantheon of American popular culture. To illustrate Star Trek’s sway on consumerism, note how similar the  2007 flip cell phone is to the circa-1960’s Enterprise tricorder . The meaning of Star Trek expressions such as 1) “putting your shields up”, 2)”beam me up, Scottie” or the curt dismissal  3)”illogical” are so familiar that people use them as conversational shorthand to convey emotions respectively  of 1) defensiveness, 2)frustration and 3) contempt. 

After watching Trekkies, the most surprising realization is that Star Trek represents much more than a hobby and “casual enjoyment” for some enthusiasts. For these fans, Star Trek constitutes a “way of life”, delineating beliefs and practices grounded loosely in  humanistic philosophy. The series was a model of racial diversity, tolerance and cooperation; its mission stressed altruism and non-interference with alien civilizations.  It was one of the only TV series to celebrate the positive potential of technology, with scientists and engineers as heroes rather than geeks or psychos. In Trekkies , Nichelle Nicholes (Lt. Uhura) tells the anecdote of the young black girl astounded to see a black woman on TV  “who ain’t no maid”.  Lt Uhura served as role model for this child, who grew up to become Whoopi Goldberg.   

How the Star Trek message and world view are embraced by some, however  can crossover into fanaticism from fandom. One example of a fanatic in Trekkies is barbara-adams.jpgCommander Barbara Adams. The Commander gained notoriety as a Whitewater Trial juror who came to court daily in a full Star Trek uniform regalia. She considered herself to be first and foremost a Star Fleet officer with an obligation to adhere to the Academy code. Her Arkansas co-workers noted the Commander always wore her phaser and insignia, expanding to full dress for formal events. The Commander explained: “My officers should never feel ashamed to wear their uniform. We’re like anyone else in the military “.  It’s the fact that we’re speaking of an imaginary alternative relative with Star Trek military, that shifts Ms. Adams from the fan to the fanatic category 

Another example of a fanatic versus a fan occurs in the Trekkies interview  with two pleasant female hosts of the “Talk Trek”  radio show. They choke up as they confess: “People don’t realize how important a show can be”. The documentary reveals the show’s transformative power with a call-in fan who testifies that watching Star Trek helped him cope with his father’s death. The fan reported that the show’s holographic images held a promise of redemption and afterlife that fanatics.jpgoffered him solace .He spoke with religious fervor about Star Trek’s philosophy. The Star Trek message of tolerance was mentioned often by the trekkies interviewed.

Even those who are fans versus fanatics are attracted by Star Trek’s promise of a new, better world.  It offers a safe environment in which to cut loose, don alien costumes and role play an alter ego identify.  Klingons are one of the most popular alien cultures emulated at Star Trek conventions because, in the words of a fan “It lets us express a part of our personality that’s not acceptable”.   

The Star Trek philosophy is not a New Age philosophy. New Age stresses the spirituality and actualization of the self. In contrast, the Star Trek philosophy stresses collaboration and the good of the group, although it does respect the individual. There is also the Star Trek adherence to community principles such as the Prime Directive and the ruling of the Council. Such automatic deference to higher authority would not be appropriate for a New Age movement offshoot.  klingon.jpg

So how do you define a Star Trek fan versus a fanatic? The guy who wears a Klingon costume and can quote Star Trek trivia may be just a fan. The guy who speaks Klingon and pays $1500 for “speedbumps”(Klingon furrowed headgear) has probably passed over to the realm of the fanatic. For the latter group, Star Trek is the context of their life.              

Demon Sidekick: Frankenstein

April 2, 2007 at 4:06 am | Posted in genre fiction, horror, monsters, sidekick | Leave a comment

frankenstein-movie.jpgCameron, Ann (2002). Sidekicks in American Literature. Series in American Literature . Volume 55:  New York:  The Edwin Mellen Press.  

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1818). Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. New York: Random House.             

The Oxford dictionary declares that “sidekick” was derived from “side-kicker”, 17th Century gambling slang for a “strong card held in reserve”. Thus, it is the sidekick’s role to serve as support or backup for a fictional hero. The sidekick assumes subservient status because of his inferior intelligence, class or power (e.g. Sancho Panza and Don Quixote). Despite this subordinate position, the sidekick represents a powerful force for good. He personifies integrity and the voice of reason, tempering the hero’s idealistic exuberance. The sidekick serves as a mediator between realms of good and evil, shielding the hero from danger.             

Although the sidekick is typically a positive character, there is also the literary tradition of the “demon sidekick”. As Cameron (2002) explains in Sidekicks in American Literature, the demon sidekick has a threefold role: “probe for the truth, punish the guilty, and call into question the established order”. The demon sidekick can run the emotional gamut from prankster or mischievous sprite (like Shakespeare’s Puck) to evil incarnate (like a fallen archangel). According to Cameron, the demon sidekick is an outcast, morally corrupt and physically repulsive. Like all sidekicks, these characters provides insight into hidden aspects of the hero’s scarlet-letter.jpgpersonality. What the demon sidekick reveals are the hero’s dark side, weaknesses and perhaps a flawed alter ego. This revelation will provoke a power struggle between hero and demon, as illustrated by the confrontation in The Scarlet Letter between Reverend Dimmesdale and evil Roger Chillingworth.              

Within the horror genre, the monster in Frankenstein is the classic demon sidekick. The monster transforms from yearning innocent to vengeful villain after years of abuse from humans. What twists the monster’s instincts from good to evil is Dr. Frankenstein’s failure to accept the horrid creature as his own. The monster’s external physical deformity spreads to a deformity of spirit when faced with the truth: the scientist will not accept responsibility for his selfish violation of nature’s laws. At first, the monster is just a stalker, lurking close to where Frankenstein is living. Next, the monster taunts and threatens his creator.When the sidekick is still ignored, the monster seeks revenge, punishing Frankenstein by murdering his loved ones. Murdered first is the scientist’s young brother, then his guileless bride Elizabeth and finally Henry, his dear friend and exemplar of the “good sidekick”.  

mini-me.jpgThe creature challenges the established order by trying to coerce Frankenstein into creating a female monster as a mate. When the scientist rejects its proposal, the monster goes on a rampage of death and destruction that can have only one end. The novel’s climax reflects the standard fate described by Cameron (2002): the hero/master dies, and with him, dies the demon sidekick. What does vary is whether either character expresses remorse for his actions. In Frankenstein, the monster reacts to his creator’s death with surprise, anger, satisfaction, remorse and finally self-loathing. 

Frankenstein:Horror Archetype

March 14, 2007 at 2:17 am | Posted in horror, monsters | Leave a comment

frankenstein-lightning.gifSaricks, Joyce G. (2001). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction.Chicago: ALA. 

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1818). Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. NY: Random House (Knopf, 1992).    

 Horror fiction differs from other genres in that it does not have a defining plot or exhibit unique themes and conventions. Instead, horror’s purpose is to create a visceral, emotional response of fear in the reader. Subgenres vary in the pace and intensity of the horror story’s emotional rollercoaster ride.   victor.jpgvictor1.jpg

At one end of the goosebump continuum lie spooky but restrained horror classics such as Turn of the Screw or Frankenstein; at the other extreme lie  gory borderline pornographic novels such as “splatterpunk” :

Abstract fear    Terror and revulsion —- Graphic Excess 

 (Frankenstein)          (Carrie)                 (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

Saricks (2001) proposes some intuitive guidelines for identifying horror fiction (p. 107)

  • Produces emotions of fear and foreboding in the reader
  • Dark menacing mood conveyed by setting, violence, sex, strong language
  • Usually includes supernatural elements, such as monsters
  • Endings are ambiguous or unresolved, suggesting the “horror lives on”
  • Fast-paced, action oriented plot with unexpected twists
  • Protagonists may be psychologically scarred, and the antagonists are evil 

Frankenstein spans horror and speculative fiction genres, since it explores the consequences of attaining forbidden knowledge: of challenging accepted science/technology to make the “unknown known” (Diabello lecture). Within horror plot structures, Frankenstein illustrates the over-reacher plot” : 

  1.  Preparation–Victor Frankenstein devotes years of secret solitary research to discover how to breathe life into cobbled together parts from human corpses;
  2. Experiment–After Victor creates a sentient superhuman monster, his scientific pride dissolves into shock and horror at the grotesque being he wrought;
  3. Boomerang– Frankenstein rejects the creature by running away, refusing responsibility for nurturing his monster. In response, the monster’s naturally open, inquisitive nature is twisted by human cruelty until the monster is driven by anger and a desire for vengeance upon his heartless creator;
  4. Confrontation–When the monster first confronts Frankenstein, he attacks only with words, leaving his master physically unscathed. After the monster’s pleas are scorned, it tries negotiation and threats to spur the scientist to sympathetic action. As the novel proceeds, the confrontations between creator and creation spiral to extremes of rage and vengeance. The “mortal conflict” culminates as Frankenstein chase the demonic monster across the Arctic until the human is on the brink of death;
  5. Resolution/Ambiguity– Frankenstein dies a broken soul since he is unable to kill the monster. After revelling in the scientist’s death, the monster is overcome with remorse and disgust, but denies that it is evil. The monster maintains that its creator is responsible for all the death and destruction resulting from his meglomaniacial drive to create life. In a single final paragraph, the monster jumps out of the boat, with an implication of suicide. However, in classic horror fashion, there is some ambiguity whether the monster is truly gone forever. 

Oke: Christian Fiction

March 12, 2007 at 2:25 pm | Posted in awards, christian fiction | 7 Comments

oke-janette.jpgOke, J. (2000). Like Gold Refined. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.

Canadian author Janette Oke is one of the most popular and internationally acclaimed writers in Christian fiction. In 1979, her first Christian novel, Loves Come Softly, was published by Bethany House. This title has sold over 1 million copies and Oke’s work is credited with pioneering the inspirational fiction market. She received the 1992 President’s Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, the 1999 CBA Life Impact Award and the Gold Medallion Award for fiction. Several of Oke’s novels have been translated into made-for-TV movies by Hallmark. For details about her books and movies, visit http://www.janetteoke.com

In the last 15 years, Oke has created more than 75 novels which feature pioneer or farming life on the prairie, cohesive families and stronglike-gold-refined.gif female protagonists. Her bibliography spans 6 series:

  • Song of Acadia with co-author T. Davis Bunn (5 titles, 1999-2002)
  • Prairie Legacy (4 titles, 1997-2000)
  • Women of the West (12 titles, 1990-1996)
  • Canadian West (6 titles, 1983-2001)
  • Seasons of the Heart (4 titles 1981-1989)
  • Love Comes Softly (8 titles, 1979-1989) 

The book Like Gold Refined, represents the fourth and final volume in Oke’s Prairie Legacy series.  It explores how Virginia and Jonathan Lewis, their four children and extended family struggle to cope with significant changes and to reconcile life’s challenges with their steadfast Christian faith. The book cover shows Virginia embracing “daughter” Mindy with their farm and the girl’s beloved colt Buttercup in the background. (The time frame is mid-20th century).  After 10 years, the Lewis’s parental rights are legally challenged when the absentee birth mother returns and asserts her rights.The family agonizes over other life decisions, such as moving frail grandparents from their homestead, and supporting nephew Slate who longs to leave to build a life of his own.  

The common theme in Jeanette Oke’s books is that love and devotion to God and family will provide the strength to overcome hardship. Through her stories, Oke demonstrates that God has a plan for everyone’s lives, although it’s often not the plan the individual has envisioned. As Jeanette Oke explains in her website   Faithful Reader , she views writing as “..an opportunity to share my faith.. . If my books touch lives, answer individual’s questions, or lifts readers to a higher plane, then I will feel that they have accomplished what God has asked me to do.” 

As a Christian but not a reader of Christian fiction, I found this work by Oke to be preachy, stylistically flat and unrealistic. The birth mother Jenny is the only non-believer in the book, and she is a painfully unsympathetic character. Jenny’s a sullen, swearing chain smoker who has a sleazy lawyer uproot Mindy to tend to her last months as she dies from lung cancer. The children are perfect little angels–they never complain, talk back or fight except over who gets to help do chores. The happy ending is that Jenny asks the forgiveness of God, friends and family on the eve of her death. Not my idea of fiction entertainment reading! 

While Oke’s reviewers laud her strong female characters, I regarded Virginia as a submissive even clueless protagonist.  When Jenny demands her child back, it is husband Jonathan who calmly takes control, without discussing his plan with Virginia. Similarly, it is the strong male figure, nephew Slate, who saves the Lewis family farm by contributing part of his inheritance. This is the first genre work I’ve read for this course which lacks an obvious sidekick. aside from trusty Slate. The world of the Lewises and grandparents Davises is a world of family, and neighbors, teachers and other community ties were not explicitly drawn into this world.

The strength of Oke’s work was in its depiction of how evangelicals practice and articulate their faith. It was enlightening to read descriptions about morning devotions, weekly scripture competition and evening prayers.

ECPA lists annual winners of the Gold Medallion (now Christian Book Award) from 1978  to 2006  at http://www.ecpa.org/goldmedallion/gm2005.php

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