Literary Connections

This blog category is a running record of literary examples encountered daily by the author, who wants to document they exist. Comments are welcome, but this is a supportive website, so please be polite. Read the About Literary Connections page for more information.

Today, with my son, I watched the Disney and Tim Burton movie Frankenweenie. The connection I’ll make is, of course, to the Frankenstein novel written by Mary Shelley.  My son was home from school with a sore throat, so I tucked him in the couch with the covers around him and together we watched this story unfold via pay per view.  As an English teacher, I appreciated that the name of the little boy protagonist in the movie was actually Victor.  So much of modern culture has transformed the name of the creature himself into Frankenstein, when in reality, Victor Frankenstein is the creator (which I made sure to tell my son).  Since this is not a movie review, I don’t intend to comment more on the movie; but instead, I’ll comment on our culture’s fascination with this book and the book’s creature through the ages.  Think of all the movies, TV shows, comics, costumes, and other Frankenstein paraphernalia you’ve seen.  Almost none of it bears any true resemblance to the original book, whose other title is The Modern Prometheus; but that doesn’t stop us from interacting with the idea of Frankenstein in all its forms because that idea has become infinitely famous. Instead of lamenting about this fact, I will rejoice that literature is not extinct! Literature still affects us today, even if we are not aware of its original intent right away. I choose to think that the vast multitude of loose references to the novel Frankenstein, is a serious testament that somehow, somewhere, somebody has understood the importance of the questions young Mary Shelley evokes in her novel and maybe the rest of humanity will too, eventually.  Who is the monster, really? And why should we care? Those are important concepts that affect the present just as much as the past.

Oh!  I heard the words bildungsroman and picaresque narrative today as I was watching my recorded version of last night’s most recent Pretty Little Liars.  Yes, you heard me right, I really did say Pretty Little Liars, which, as you know is that show on ABC Family geared for teens, but also based loosely on the original book series by Sara Shepard. I have to reluctantly admit that Teen TV is sort of a guilty pleasure for me.  As an adult person looking in, I thought it was really interesting that those particular literary words were used in the academic decathlon battle scene with Spencer and Mona. For me, it sort of brought to mind Huck Finn, and I wondered if those words were picked to appeal to a large number of teens who might actually have read that popular high school book.  Or maybe, since it was academic decathlon, they were picked just because they are weird, fun, and confusing words to say all on their own.  In my own experience, my former students took great joy in saying bildungsroman out loud over and over because it was probably the strangest word they’d encountered up to that point in their literary experience.

Something interesting to note is that someone could probably make a case for Pretty Little Liars itself to be a bildungsroman of sorts;  and maybe some really adventurous person might try to reveal the activities of the characters in general as picaresque, but I am not sure that would be entirely appropriate.  In any regards, it was fun to hear those words as they flashed by the screen, and I felt glad to know that somewhere out there somebody literary noticed and appreciated the effort.

If  you for some reason are not familiar with the terms bildungsroman or picaresque narrative, you should look them up!  The title of this blog might be a hint for one of the words, but if you look it up yourself, you will probably remember it better!

I really never thought I would hear an Emily Dickinson reference on the Food Network, but thanks to Alton Brown on the most recent release of Iron Chef America this evening, I have now heard it with my own ears.  Mr. Brown begins the show by reading Dickinson’s lines that say “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers — / That perches in the soul . . .” and then he embellishes the fact that such serene things are competitively “crushed” by the powerful and awesome Iron Chefs in their Kitchen Stadium.  Actually having some experience reading this poem made the laugh even bigger for me as I listened to Mr. Brown’s version.  Literature is not extinct!

Hobbits are my heroes! I finally saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my family.  Despite the criticism of blood and gore, and the qualms about length, the entire family found something to enjoy.  I love those furry-feeted guys. I realize this is a rather obvious literary connection, since the movie is based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien and pretty much everyone is aware of that, but I thought it needed to be said.  To me, on my quest to show that literature affects what we do in the modern world, this movie franchise is a terrific example of the appeal books — and their transformations on screen, canvas, and whatever — can have on audiences over and over again.  What a fantastic world Tolkien created; it’s intricacy is pretty astounding.  Before I saw the movie, a family member mentioned to me that she heard some people were upset because the movie doesn’t just imitate The Hobbit story itself, but tries to incorporate some of The Silmarillon, also by Tolkien. Because I am so fascinated with the way director Peter Jackson has brought this world to life for all of us to see on the big screen, I personally thought any connection to the lore of The Silmarillon could prove interesting.  My family enjoyed talking about the literary and non-literary connections as we drove home after the show.

One of my favorite things about the holidays is listening to all the many forms of music people create based on this time of year. As I was reflecting on some of the songs I’ve downloaded on my various technological devices, I noticed many carols that mention “bells” of some kind.  I know there are literary references of various sort that include bells, so now I’m kind of curious if I might like these songs because of some strange subconscious connections I’ve been making to the literary world. Nah, I probably just like the way the music sounds; or better yet, I like the words (I guess that’s literary too, though).  Truthfully, my favorite carol of all time — one that I have purchased in its many musical forms —  is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” which is based on the poem “Christmas Bells” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  In fact, I caught myself singing along when I heard the tune play today; I was reminded that the song makes a good literary connection for this website, because of the link to Longfellow, one of America’s great poets. In addition, the words of the poem inspire me and make me think. If you don’t know the words, or the story behind them, take a quick look on the internet, I’m sure you will find something there.  Perhaps you will be inspired too. What other holiday songs do you find inspirational?  Do any of them have anything to do with bells?