The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Another classic I checked out from the library this summer. This book for sure is the most well-known piece of work of Stephen Crane. It talks about Henry Fleming, a soldier fighting in the Civil War in the Union side.

Unlike some of the other war novels, this book employed succinct and vivid language to portray the brutality, fear, cowardice, and bravery in wars. It explored the main character Henry’s flight from the war, the despicable excuse he found for himself, his gradual awakening of conscience, and finally his change into a courageous soldier who transformed into an unselfish and devotional citizen willing to die for his country.

Although it was relatively short, but every detail in a battle was explained. Such as the way how the soldiers fire using their rifles, how they travel on foot from one regiment to another, how they charge forward reluctantly and in horror when their lieutenant orders them to. It doesn’t really name any battles specifically, but it does a fantastic job of expatiating everything that could occur in a battle. My favorite character is surprisingly not Henry Fleming, the main character but his friend Wilson, who was a minor character without too much of a dimensional personality. But I was deeply touched when Wilson was willing to share his bed with Henry and feed him when he fled from the battle and came back later. There was a possibility that Wilson knew Henry was lying when he said he got shot in the head, and yet his altruism melted my heart. I believe that we all need a friend like this who understands our mistakes and forgives us silently whether we admit it or not.

-Coreen C. 

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Authors We Love: H.P. Lovecraft

Although many people do not know Howard Philips Lovecraft, what many people do know is his works. His stories precede him and are a staple in pop culture.

Born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft was born the only child to Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susie Philips Lovecraft. Throughout his childhood Lovecraft was shown to be remarkable and intelligent, being able to read and write at the age of 3.

Lovecraft did not begin to write actual stories until the early 1900s, with his first short story “The Alchemist” being published in 1916. Soon after, “The Tomb” and “Dagon” were published. “Dagon” is considered to be the first of Lovecraft’s works that would eventually be grouped in a collection called The Cthulhu Mythos, coined by a close friend, August Derleth.

This mythos, meant to encompass Lovecraft’s stories which focused on the terrifying unknown and the capricious nature of the universe, includes a pantheon of terrible god-like beings called The Great Old Ones. This is partially inspired by the Greek pantheon, albeit a twisted, nightmarish vision of gods that watch over the universe and earth.

Stories such as “The Call of Cthulhu”, “At The Mountains of Madness”, “The Dunwich Horror”, and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” are the most popular of Lovecraft’s. He is also considered the pioneer of cosmic horror, a subgenre which emphasizes the insignificance of human’s actions because in the grand scheme of the universe we are nothing but playthings to horrors that lurk just beyond our solar system.

Other items from Lovecraft’s stories, such as the fictional city of Arkham, the nefarious Necronomicon, and even the great Cthulhu himself have been referenced in pop culture despite many people not knowing the true origins from which these staples come from.

Lovecraft’s stories as a whole are extremely well written and do a good job of sucking the reader in and keeping hold of them until they finish the story. Although the dialogue occasionally comes off as somewhat stilted and unnatural they are nonetheless excellent, terrifying stories. They are unsettling and they leave the reader with a looming sense of dread unlike any other.

The idea of an uncaring universe, with beings that we cannot even begin to comprehend existing just outside of our peripheral vision, brings out that instinctual, deep fear of the unknown, and the fear of being all alone.

The works of H. P. Lovecraft are available at the Mission Viejo Library. 

Films, Animation, and Literature (oh my!)

The reason we study so many older works of literature in school, so we’re told, is so that we can get an idea of the popular media that influenced the culture of that time period.  Stories like The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Hamlet have had a significant impact on the development of both America and western culture as a whole.  These stories were either a significant part of America’s identity as a literature and cultural powerhouse, or greatly affected the public both inside and outside of America.  Many of these writers weren’t known until after their deaths, but their works became influential long before some of us were even born.

But stories are nothing new to the human race.  Oral tales, fables, and ancient religious texts are some of the oldest records of stories we still have. These stories, too, shaped the course of human development, and some are still well-known to this day.

But what about today’s great, influential works?  What kind of media shapes the culture of America today?  What kind of creative works will people in the future be studying?

Thanks to the advancement of technology, new creative works are shared with the world every day.  Many of them can be found by other authors on this blog, in fact!  But clearly there are far too many now to read them all, so how do we determine the most influential ones?  It’s simple, really; ask yourself, what media did you consume as a child?  Movies, TV shows, or books?  Many of us reflect fondly on the animation from Disney, or J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  These are the what shaped us, and shape many children growing up today.  Of course, something doesn’t have to be for children to be influential to our culture, but many of the most fondly looked upon pieces of our modern media are from the YA rating section of books, or are for even younger audiences.  Disney has been a driving force behind the invention of new animation techniques and basically created the animated industry as we know it – and recently, they’ve purchased more and more influential franchises to put under their name.  Harry Potter has introduced a whole new wave and understanding of magic and alchemy, and has shaped generations into viewing magic in a very different light from their predecessors.  Characters like SpongeBob and Mickey Mouse are as recognizable if not more as Gatsby from The Great Gatsby.

It’s interesting to think about a generation in the distant future that may learn about our cultural icons like how we learn about old literature nowadays in school.  People may groan about having to study Pokémon all day, like how we groan about having to study Shakespeare’s plays.  Imagine a world where people who enjoy SpongeBob are labeled “theater nerds” and people who enjoy Shakespeare are labeled “history buffs”. That may very well be what our distant future is like!

-Leanne W.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Image result for the phantom tollboothIn this story, Milo can’t focus on leaning like the other kids can. One day, by accident, Milo drove his electric car and was transported to the Land Beyond where he met Tock, a dog that has a clock on its stomach. Together, they planned an adventure to explore Dictionopolis, the world of words.

I am a student who feels like being decapitated when I go to school, it’s real torture. And I really wish that I can enter this type of fantasy with my dog. But it’s also unrealistic, only recreational because a kid needs the care of his parents and without going to school, he can’t survive in this cruel society.

King Azaz, who presides Dictionopolis, assigned Milo and Tock a new mission, to rescue the two princesses Rhyme and Reason. When they left, a new companion joined them and he is the helpful but querulous Hombug. From their they will head to Digitopolis, there will be many dangers lying ahead waiting for the advent of Milo and his companions. But righteousness will also vanquish evilness.

-April L

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Image result for the grapes of wrathThis is a story about Tom Joad and his family immigrating to California. Their homeland in Oklahoma is being cultivated by tractors from the bank and the police officers beat them to hell more often than breathing.

In this miserable and harsh trip, their grandparents died, and Tom’s sister’s husband ran away. His brother wasn’t able to move with them so he stopped at a desert in the middle of the trip. The government camp provided hot water and the protection away from the deputies. But other times, people are treated akin to pigs, but without the slosh their owner pour in the mange every day. The people craved for slosh but found none.

To me it’s really inscrutable why people separate from their family, it’s like the fear will devour you into the black hole in the galaxy and the entire world fades away from your fingertips. And the bank in this novel sounds brutal to me, just because they want to expand some business land, the people and tenants living there are forced to leave their beating hearts on the land and left with their inane corpse. Ma is the person that resonated with my emotions and logic because she was like the leaves of the family tree. Sometimes, when autumn comes she turns yellow and shrivels a little, but her greenness brushes the entire forest with freshness and was the food and shelter to a lot of people when spring emerges. Without the oxygen, we won’t survive. The animals and the oxygen is the buttress of the inveterate root to keep stretching. And that’s Ma.

-April L.

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

eastofeden_johnsteinbeckI have always been a fan of John Steinbeck’s novels, and his descriptive language and relatable characters never cease to draw me in. At relatively 600 pages, East of Eden certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s not just a book; it’s a complete saga that powerfully chronicles the generations of two families. It isn’t just a retelling of the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel; it’s a story about the capacity of the human soul and heart.

As with many of Steinbeck’s works, East of Eden is set in the beautiful Salinas Valley of California. The plot involves the intertwined destinies of the Trask and Hamilton families, but mainly focuses on the development of Caleb and Aron Trask, from birth to adulthood. Although they are twins, they are complete opposites of each other, in both appearance and personality. Each brother is faced with different obstacles throughout their childhood, but both share the struggle of coming of age and accepting their individuality. Cal and Aron’s journeys to overcome this struggle and embrace their inner selves ultimately depict the strength of love and the human spirit, as well as the power of human beings to break free of their apparent destinies and choose their own paths to follow.

I absolutely love the characters and themes that Steinbeck masterfully conveys , especially through his use of metaphors and allusions. Buried within every page are countless allusions, and finding them is like a treasure hunt, attempting to uncover every single hidden meaning. Even the title is an allusion to the land of Nod, just to the east of the Garden of Eden, where Cain is punished and banished by God. The themes are also endless, but some of the most evident are good versus evil, rejection, whether or not we are our brother’s keeper, and timshel, or free will. Unlike many novels, East of Eden doesn’t focus on a single protagonist; instead, Steinbeck develops multiple complex characters, from the benevolent, virtuous Sam Hamilton, to the ruthless, malicious Cathy, to the insightful, compassionate Lee. Each character is relatable in their own ways and convey how even though we may all be human beings, we all possess different qualities that make us each unique. We may all be our mother and father’s sons and daughters, but what we make of our lives is ultimately determined by only our decisions and our will-power to exemplify timshel.

-Kaylie W., 12th Grade

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Beowulf

beowulfMany have heard of Beowulf, though many know nothing of it. Many actually believe that Beowulf is the monster in the tale. That certainly is not the case – at least, not a literal monster-in this tale. It’s one of the oldest fantasy tales ever written, and quite possibly the most and important as it had a heavy influence on modern day powerhouses such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

The story takes place in Europe, describing a great beast known as Grendel, who was said to be the descendant of Cain. He was in constant pain, while the Danish people were always happy and celebrating. One day, his anger and desires got the best him. Calling that which follows “gruesome” would be an understatement. Word gets out, and a famous warrior named Beowulf shows an interest in slaying the beast. I wouldn’t want to spoil the rest, but it is quite a tale.

Though I only read a shortened version of the epic in school, I was quite impressed with its deep symbolism and rich attention to detail. I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed at first, simply because the story can seem quite shallow and generic if merely looked through. But if looked through carefully, and with proper research, you can see the depth. For example, Grendel represents an outcast or an outsider, and since he is linked with the Bible, many also link him to the devil. It is symbols such as these that provide new layers of context to the tale, and sheds new light on the characters and their characteristics.

Also, being a fan of the medieval genre, I appreciated the world that the author created, with all of the traditional aspects that make a great fantasy story, from monsters to magic, kingdoms to knighthood. Beowulf is quite an impressive story, and a must read for any fantasy genre fan, since this is what truly kicked off the entire genre. There are different versions of Beowulf, so best to choose the one that suites your time and interest.

-Ahmed H., 12th grade

Beowulf is available, in various translations and critical thought, for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download on Overdrive and Hoopla