Friday essay: trees have many stories to tell. Is this our last chance to read them?


Unsplash/David Clode, CC BY

Gregory Moore, The University of Melbourne

As tree scientist, I am fascinated by the magnificent biology of trees. I also find it enthralling and encouraging that trees are being appreciated by writers around the world right now.

Three fresh books (chosen from a wider field of titles on the topic) exemplify how trees can be written about as more than just background or an incidental part of a landscape, but as integral to meaning.

My Forests: Travel with Trees by Janine Burke, The Heartbeat of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and Tree Story, a collection curated by Charlotte Day and Brian Martin — are mixed in style and content. But all make clear the close relationships between people and trees and the vital importance of those connections.

It is not surprising that at a time of significant climate change, where natural ecosystems around the world are being devastated and after 18 months of a global pandemic, books on trees are proving popular.

There is an air of desperation in these three titles. Things are changing fast, trees and forests grow slowly, we are wasting time.

Hardy annuals

book cover trees

Abe Books

Books about trees are published every year. Some are beautifully illustrated with photos or hand-drawn images of special trees in large coffee table formats. Some, like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, have trees and forests as characters. Tolkien told a fan that his magnificent Ents were “either souls sent to inhabit trees, or else were folk who slowly took the likeness of trees owing to their inborn love of trees”.

Tolkien’s writing, including a story collection called Tree and Leaf, reminds us of the differences between tree time and human time — we humans are hasty folk. This is something I dwell upon often.

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton was one of the first books I can recall reading where a tree played a major role and it helped set me on a path of lifelong reading and interest in botany.

That childhood favourite connects to Richard Powers’ The Overstory, which draws together a disparate fictional band of tree protectors. After his book became a hit, Powers recommended 26 other titles for tree-loving readers.

This library of tree books has served a wide and varied readership well and sustained those of us who despair at the wholesale clearing of forests and trees in our cities and suburbs.




Read more:
Friday essay: how many climate crisis books will it take to save the planet?


Legacies lost

In most Australian cities we are losing trees and canopy cover at a rate of about 1-1.5% per year. I’m still saddened by the loss of a lemon scented gum (Corymbia citriodora) that grew at the city end of the Tullamarine Freeway in Melbourne. I miss its shade in summer but also the delicious scent that wafted through the car window at certain times of the year.

In October last year, protesters mourned a sacred 350-year-old Djab Wurrung Directions Tree, cut down along Victoria’s Western Highway.




Read more:
An open letter from 1,200 Australian academics on the Djab Wurrung trees


There has been a growing disconnect between people and trees and vegetated spaces, particularly for those living in cities. Many people have become so focused on urban survival they have become distanced from the essential and intimate dependence that human beings have on plant life.

Earth as we know it, and the lifeforms it sustains, depend upon and have been shaped by plants and their evolution. Human beings can only survive on our planet because of the ecosystems made possible by plants and trees. If these systems are put in jeopardy because people fail to appreciate the importance of plants, then entire ecosystems are put in peril with profound consequences for humankind.

Climate change is giving us a glimpse of how these important relationships are affected by bushfires, stronger winds from unusual directions and more frequent storms with heavy rainfall that can lead of the loss of grand old trees that have stood as silent sentinels for decades and centuries.

All plants in an ecosystem are important to its function, but the large size and long lives of trees explain why they are often focused upon as representatives of their communities. Their size makes them obvious and contributes to the ambience of any landscape, but can also inspire a sense of awe and in some urban-dwellers, fear.

Their long life spans provide a sense of certainly and continuity in uncertain times of rapid change — their presence can link several human generations, when other connections have been lost. They also provide a tangible prospect, if they are left alone or are properly managed, for links to future generations. All of this can be very reassuring for people who feel vulnerable and oppressed by rapid change.




Read more:
An act of God, or just bad management? Why trees fall and how to prevent it


A fresh crop

All three of the new books selected tend to anthropomorphise trees and aspects of their biology, attributing to them distinctly human qualities. Sometimes they are described by a mood, such as an upbeat growth in spring or by a willingness to share resources with other species. While this may be annoying to some scientists, it allows many people to relate or even identify more closely with trees, especially when there is complex biology and ecology involved.

book cover. trees

Black Inc.

Peter Wohlleben’s bestselling 2016 book The Hidden life of Trees, took readers on a voyage of discovery with a blend of science, philosophy and spiritualism.

Like that first book, his latest — The Heartbeat of Trees — can be enthralling and annoying almost in equal measure. But the author clearly relates the importance of using our senses when we are in forests to explore the complexity of tree biology. By doing so not only will we achieve a better understanding of trees, but also of ourselves and the importance of trees and vegetated places for human development, our physical and mental health and the sustainability of our societies. It will surely resonate strongly with readers after the pandemic lockdowns of the past year, which saw people flocking to parks, gardens and forests.

book cover trees

MUP

A personal and professional travelogue woven together by trees is the framework of My Forests: Travel with Trees, by Janine Burke. As an art historian Burke weaves her own experiences with trees with those depicted in paintings, ancient mythology and historic and literary texts.

It is a set of idiosyncratic connections that may not resonate with all readers, but the strong cultural links between trees and ancient human history are undeniable. The reader can learn a great deal about people but relatively little about trees themselves — they remain illusory, almost furtive.

book cover trees

Monash University Press

Tree Story, curated by Charlotte Day and Brian Martin catalogues a recent exhibition at Monash University Museum of Art. It is an eclectic mix of style, content, form and media. Some of the images and text do not do justice to the works, but the book does provide a permanent and curated record of what was offered.

The book makes it clear that people see and connect with trees in different, varied and curious ways. While the works may look at the past, there are clear implications, messages and lessons for the present and importantly for the future. Indigenous voices and perspectives speak loudly, longingly and desperately. The works plead that we cannot go on treating trees in this way: for our own health and sustainable futures we must recognise that ultimately all earthly life is essentially one.

Strengthening the bond

The three books, in their own and different ways, challenge how we think about and interact with trees. They broaden the relationship that exists between trees and people and encourage an active and positive interaction. There is a unifying theme that healthy relationships will benefit both people and trees.

Authors and artists recount their personal stories of trees benefiting their own physical and mental well-being. Research shows that trees along streets and roadways have a traffic calming effect that results in slower speeds and more courteous driver behaviour. In a huge study of women’s health in the United States it was shown that green spaces (parks, gardens and trees) significantly correlated with many aspects of improved health.

Plants and trees are not passive participants in ecosystems. They actively contribute to the complexity, resilience and survival of these systems and while the environment affects and changes them, they also modify the environment. Shade from trees cools the understorey and soils, making it possible for a more diverse range of species to thrive. Shade on creeks and rivers helps native fish survive and breed.

Felled trees
Great Otways National Park.
Unsplash, CC BY



Read more:
Friday essay: this grandmother tree connects me to Country. I cried when I saw her burned


These books highlight the complexity of the relationships that many of us have with trees – relationships that can bring change to both us and the trees.

Wohlleben asks that we use all our senses when we interact with trees and forests. There is more going on than meets the eye. Burke reminds us that culture and tradition influence our perception of trees and forests. The works exhibited in Tree Story help us to explore these influences and their meaning.

Tree in forest
The stories trees tell …
Unsplash, CC BY

We are far from knowing all there is to know about plants, trees, forests and ecosystems. The scientific approach is but one method of questing for truth. The open-minded approaches explored in these books could stimulate new discoveries.

The books remind us of the pace of change being wrought on trees and forests by climate change and that the stakes, if we don’t reverse this decline, are very high.

Scientists should never dismiss what they don’t understand. Neither should readers. As climates change, the presence of trees and green space will be recognised as a priority. Trees will be a part of our futures no matter where we live because we cannot have economically viable, environmentally sustainable or liveable places without them. The Conversation

woman reading under a tree
Books can remind us what we have, and what’s at stake.
Shutterstock

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Five haunted house stories to read during lockdown



Netflix’s series The Haunting of Hill House was inspired by the book of the same name by Shirley Jackson.
Steve Dietl/Netflix

Daniel Cook, University of Dundee

England is facing a second lockdown and with days getting shorter and colder we are spending more time than ever inside. A recent survey of how reading habits changed during the first lockdown found that people were reading more – and that trend is sure to continue this time round.

While you hunker down in the seeming safety of your home, how about picking up a book about houses that aren’t quite as safe? We’re talking about places where the floorboards creak, the staff are creepy and there’s something not quite right about the children.

The haunted house has been making a comeback on the screen, as we’ve seen with the recent successes of the BBC comedy series Ghosts and Netflix’s adaptations of The Haunting of Bly Manor and Rebecca. It seems our fascination with unsettling places continues to grow.

Many of these stories started in books so here are five classic examples to keep you company this lockdown:

House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Danielewski

Presented as a found document, this is a unique book featuring copious footnotes on some pages while others contain hardly anything at all. This story follows a family as they move into a new house on Ash Tree Lane. As they enter the property they discover that it is somehow bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

The children, as they tend to in these stories, begin talking of a creature and soon they all hear a growl coming from deep within the house.

Burnt Offerings (1973) by Robert Marasco

Desperate to get away from their apartment in Queens, the cash-strapped Rolfe family rents a summer home in upstate New York.

Front cover of Burnt Offerings featuring a door knob with a face on it partially turned.

Wikimedia

The place is a secluded haven, with a pool and private beach. This seemingly perfect summer home, however, comes with a curious stipulation in the rental agreement, which insists that the elderly mother of the homeowners stays with them.

Bizarre, catastrophic events ensue. Burnt Offerings is known to have been model for Stephen King’s 1977 bestselling novel The Shining as both narratives deal with abrupt personality changes.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson

If you’ve watched the Netflix series you should read the book that inspired it – they’re pretty different. The short novel is considered one of the finest examples of horror writing and Jackson a master of the haunted tale.

The story follows Dr Montague who wants to prove the existence of the supernatural. Renting Hill House one summer, he invites various people who have reported paranormal experiences. The house has been the site of many violent deaths and suicides so there’s hope one of those unhappy souls will make themselves known.

Unsurprisingly, when you go looking for ghosts in a novel, you will find them. There are bumps in the night, cryptic writings on the wall and a whole load of unexplained coincidence, what more could you want?

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier

The unnamed young woman who narrates the novel falls in love with an older, wealthy man, Maxim de Winter, and moves into his isolated estate in south-west England, Manderley.

Front cover of Rebecca, all text.

Wikimedia

The house is practically a shrine to the memory of his first wife, Rebecca, who died the year before in mysterious circumstances.

Malevolent forces are at work in this house as the young bride’s attempts to start a new life with her husband are foiled at every turn by the housekeeper and Rebecca’s confidante Mrs Danvers.

The book is far more spooky than recent Netflix adaptation, which presents viewers with a thoroughly modern and far more empowered protagonist.

The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is an agonising first-person tale of creeping mental and physical decline.

Summering at a colonial mansion, the narrator is confined to an upstairs nursery with ominously barred windows and scratched-up floors. She becomed fixated on the sickly yellow wallpaper covered in “”an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions”.

The longer she stays in the room the more the walls seems to move and the more it seems like there might be someone moving it from within.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe

The Fall of The House of Usher cover featuring a gothic house.

Random House Vintage

This short story recounts the terrible events that befall the last remaining members of the once-illustrious Usher clan and the house’s last visitors.

Arriving at the home of his reclusive friend Roderick Usher, our narrator is intrigued by the decaying house, particularly a thin crack extending down the front of the building and into the adjacent lake.

Usher’s mind is disintegrating and he is falling deeper into a madness. Things are not as they seem in the suspenseful tale of horror.The Conversation

Daniel Cook, Senior Lecturer in English, University of Dundee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pet Names Writers Have Given Their Pets


The link below is to an article that takes a look at some names (and the story behind the names) that writers have given to their pets.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/the-stories-behind-15-of-the-best-names-famous-writers-gave-to-their-pets/

Do authors really put deeper meaning into poems and stories – or do readers make it up?



Many books, like ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ contain symbolism.
Dmitriy Os Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

Elisabeth Gruner, University of Richmond

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com.


Do authors really put deeper meaning into poems and stories – or do readers make it up? Jordan, 14, Indianapolis, Indiana


One of my favorite novels is “Charlotte’s Web,” the famous story of a friendship between a pig and a spider.

I often talk about this novel with my students studying children’s literature. At some point, someone always asks about “deeper meaning.” Is it really a story of, say, the cycle of death and rebirth? Or the importance of friendship? Or the significance of writing?

Or is it just a story of life in the barn, with talking animals?

In a way, it doesn’t matter. Because every writer is also a reader, and that means that whatever a writer puts into a story probably came from somewhere else, whether it’s another story, or a poem, or their own life experience.

And readers, too, will bring their own experience – of other stories, other poems and life – and that will direct their interpretation of what they absorb. We can see one example of this if we look at the spider in “Charlotte’s Web.”

The meaning of character

That spider, Charlotte, is based on a real spider. We know this because E.B. White drew pictures of spiders, studied them and made sure to be as accurate as he could when he wrote about them.

‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E. B. White.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

But, to a reader she may also represent Arachne, the talented weaver who challenged the goddess Athena and was changed into a spider for her pride. Or she may be the “noiseless patient spider” of Walt Whitman’s poem, who flings out thread-like filaments as the poet flings out words.

She may also be the spider who weaves “the silken tent” of Robert Frost’s poem. Maybe we’ll think about how the spider, like a human storyteller, generates something seemingly out of nothing, which makes her web miraculous.

Each of these spiders symbolizes different things. When we read about her, then, we may think of all those other spiders. Or we may just think about the spider we saw on our own front porch that morning, weaving her own web.

As the writer Philip Pullman said, “The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader’s mind.”

The reader is in charge

What Pullman is suggesting, then, is that it’s up to readers to make the meaning they want out of the stories they hear and the books they read.

It’s a powerful statement: We are in charge.

This doesn’t mean that anything goes. Meanings come from context, from convention, from older stories and from previous usage. But it’s up to us to interpret what we read and to make the case for how we’re doing it.

Or, as the novelist John Green writes of his books, “They belong to their readers now, which is a great thing – because the books are more powerful in the hands of my readers than they could ever be in my hands.”

What we do with the books we read matters, Green tells us. It’s up to us to make the meaning and up to us to decide what to do with that meaning once we’ve made it.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com. Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.The Conversation

Elisabeth Gruner, Associate Professor of English, University of Richmond

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Christmas ghost stories have such enduring appeal



A modern Christmas Carol.
BBC/Scott Free/FX Networks

Sally O’Reilly, The Open University

Our fascination with ghostly tales around Christmas time goes back thousands of years and is rooted in ancient celebrations of the winter solstice. In the depths of winter, pagan traditions included a belief in a ghostly procession across the sky, known as the Wild Hunt. Recounting tales of heroism and monstrous and supernatural beings became a midwinter tradition. Dark tales were deployed to entertain on dark nights.

Ghosts have been associated with winter cold since those ancient times. According to art historian Susan Owens, author of The Ghost, A Cultural History, the ode of Beowulf is one of the oldest surviving ghost stories, probably composed in the eighth century. This is the tale of a Scandinavian prince who fights the monster Grendel. Evil and terrifying, Grendel has many ghostly qualities, and is described as a “grimma gaest” or spirit, and a death shadow or shifting fog, gliding across the land.

In 1611, Shakespeare wrote The Winter’s Tale, which includes the line: “A sad tale’s best for winter, I have one of sprites and goblins.” Two centuries later, the teenage Mary Shelley set her influential horror story Frankenstein in a snowy wasteland, although she wrote it during a wet summer in Switzerland.

The Victorians invented many familiar British Christmas traditions, including Christmas trees, cards, crackers and roast turkey. They also customised the winter ghost story, relating it specifically to the festive season – the idea of something dreadful lurking beyond the light and laughter inspired some chilling tales.

Both Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins published stories in this genre, but the most notable and enduring story of the period was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). In this vivid and atmospheric fable, gloomy miser Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted first by the spirit of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, and thereafter by a succession of Christmas ghosts.

Their revelations about his own past and future and the lives of those close to him lead to a festive redemption which has spawned a host of imitations and adaptations.

Dickens wrote the story to entertain, drawing on the tradition of the ghostly midwinter tale, but his aim was also to highlight the plight of the poor at Christmas. His genius for manipulating sentiment was never used to better effect, but perhaps the most enjoyable elements of the story are the atmospheric descriptions of the hauntings themselves – the door knocker which transforms into Marley’s face and the sinister, hooded figure of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The tradition was further developed in the stories of M R James, a medieval scholar who published Ghost Stories of an Antiquary in 1904. His chilling Gothic yarns focused on scholars or clergymen who discovered ancient texts or objects with terrifying supernatural consequences.

Chilling tales

Typically, James used the framing device of a group of friends telling stories around a roaring fire. In the introduction to Ghost Stories he said: “I wrote these stories at long intervals, and most of them were read to patient friends, usually at the seasons of Christmas.”

Seminal stories in his oeuvre include Number 13, Oh Whistle & I’ll Come to You and A School Story. Like Dickens, James has been widely imitated and adapted, with Stephen King citing him as an influence. King’s The Shining certainly fits into to the genre of ice-bound chiller.

Christmas ghost stories morph into new forms as time passes, like ectoplasm. Spin offs of A Christmas Carol include Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the story is transposed to small town America, and the 2019 film Last Christmas, the tale of a dysfunctional young woman permanently dressed as a Christmas elf, ripe for Yuletide redemption. This contemporary version conveys messages about integration and the value of diversity.

A new, high-octane version of A Christmas Carol will be shown on TV this Christmas, written by Peaky Blinders creator Stephen Knight. And M R James’ Martin’s Close, the story of a 17th century murder and its supernatural outcome, has also been adapted for the small screen.

So it seems the atavistic desire to lose oneself in tales of the supernatural is still with us. Christmas ghost stories enhance our enjoyment of the mince pies and mulled wine, and the frisson of a paranormal tale offsets the “feel-good” festive spirit that might otherwise be cloying.

Some things never change – we still have a fear of the unknown, a yearning for what is lost and a desire to be secure. In an uncertain, fast-paced world, mediated through smartphones and social media, the seasonal ghost story is here to stay. The jolt of fear and dread such stories convey make the Christmas lights glitter even more brightly.The Conversation

Sally O’Reilly, Lecturer in Creative Writing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why do teachers make us read old stories?



Teachers often assign older books.
vovidzha/Shutterstock.com

Elisabeth Gruner, University of Richmond

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com.


Why do teachers make us read old stories? Nathan, 12, Chicago, Illinois


There are probably as many reasons to read old stories as there are teachers.

Old stories are sometimes strange. They display beliefs, values and ways of life that the reader may not recognize.

As an English professor, I believe that there is value in reading stories from decades or even centuries ago.

Teachers have their students read old stories to connect with the past and to learn about the present. They also have their students read old stories because they build students’ brains, help them develop empathy and are true, strange, delightful or fun.

Connecting with the past and present

William Shakespeare wrote plays in the 1600s that are still read today.
Martin Droeshout/Yale University, CC BY

In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” for example, teenagers speak a language that’s almost completely unfamiliar to modern readers. They fight duels. They get married. So that might seem to be really different from today.

And yet, Romeo and Juliet fall in love and make their parents mad, very much like many teens today. Ultimately, they commit suicide, something that far too many teens do today. So Shakespeare’s play may be more relevant than it first seems.

Additionally, many modern stories are based on older stories. To name only one, Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” has turned up in so many novels since its original publication in 1848 that there are entire articles and book chapters about its influence and importance.

For example, I found references to “Jane Eyre” lurking in “The Princess Diaries,” the “Twilight” series and a variety of other novels. So reading the old story can enrich the experience of the new.

Building brain and empathy

Reading specialist Maryanne Wolf writes about the “special vocabulary in books that doesn’t appear in spoken language” in “Proust and the Squid.” This vocabulary – often more complex in older books – is a big part of what helps build brains.

The sentence structure of older books can also make them difficult. Consider the opening of almost any fairy tale: “Once upon a time, in a very far-off country, there lived …”

None of us would actually speak like that, but older stories put the words in a different order, which makes the brain work harder. That kind of exercise builds brain capacity.

Stories also make us feel. Indeed, they teach us empathy. Readers get scared when they realize Harry Potter is in danger, excited when he learns to fly and happy, relieved or delighted when Harry and his friends defeat Voldemort.

Older stories, then, can provide a rich depth of feeling, by exposing readers to a broad range of experiences. Stories featuring characters from a diverse range of backgrounds or set in unfamiliar places can have a similar effect.

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ has been retold many times.
John Tenniel/Wikimedia Commons

Reading can be fun

Old stories are sometimes just so weird that you can’t help but enjoy them. Or I can’t, anyway.

In Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” there’s a character whose last name is “Pumblechook.” Can you say it without smiling?

In Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a cat disappears bit by bit, eventually leaving only its smile hanging in the air. Again, new stories are also lots of fun, but the fun in the older stories may turn up in those new stories.

For example, that cat returns in many newer tales that aren’t even related to Alice in Wonderland, so knowing the cat’s history can make reading that new story more pleasurable.

I won’t deny that some old stories contain offensive language or reflect attitudes that we may not want to embrace. But even those stories can teach readers to think critically.

Not every old story is good, but when your teacher asks you to read one, consider the possibility that you might build your brain, grow your feelings or have some fun. It’s worth a try, at least.


Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com. Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]The Conversation

Elisabeth Gruner, Associate Professor of English, University of Richmond

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fantasmagoriana: the German book of ghost stories that inspired Frankenstein



File 20181029 76413 65m8ga.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Frontispiece from the original German version of Fantasmagoriana.
Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Fabio Camilletti, University of Warwick

The story of how Frankenstein was born is well known, and largely relies on the account given by Mary Shelley in her preface to the 1831 edition to her novel. She and her (soon-to-be) husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, were summering on the shores of Lake Geneva and close by Lord Byron and his personal physician John Polidori. It was 1816 – the so-called “year without a summer” and the inclement weather kept the party indoors, reading ghost stories as a pastime.

In one of the most famous propositions in literary history, Lord Byron suggested that each of them should try their hand at writing a supernatural tale. Ironically, it was the two novice writers, Mary Shelley and Polidori, whose works have endured. Almost out of nothing, the pair invented modern horror. Polidori’s story, The Vampyre, would inspire Bram Stoker 80 years later to write Dracula, while the 18-year-old Shelley wrote Frankenstein – which also has a good claim to be the first science fiction novel.




Read more:
Older than Dracula: in search of the English vampire


The book the Shelleys, Byron, and Polidori were reading during their trip was called Fantasmagoriana. It was an anthology of eight stories of the supernatural published in Paris in 1812 but translated from the German. No indication of authors or of original sources was given and readers were invited to think of stories as of embellished versions of real supernatural cases. The title joyfully played with this ambiguity, evoking the kind of shows, popular at the time, which were known as phantasmagorias.

A Victorian depiction of a phantasmagoria, or magic lantern show.
William Heath (1794–1840)

Based on the magic lantern (an ancestor of cinema), these shows enabled audiences to see ghosts floating in the air, devils appearing and disappearing, young girls transforming into skeletons. In the end, the impresario came upon the stage, explaining it was all a trick. But in Paris, around 1798-99, such shows had been briefly shut down by the police, when rumours had spread that the phantasmagoria could bring the king, Louis XVI, back from the dead. The book read by our holidaying writers proposed a similar gallery of horrors. As Mary Shelley recalled:

There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who […] found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race, whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house […] he advanced to the couch of the blooming youths, cradled in healthy sleep.

It’s worth looking into the influence of such stories on Frankenstein. At some point in Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein dreams to hold in his arms the “pale ghost” of his bride to be, which may remind us of the story Shelley referred to as History of the Inconstant Lover (in truth, La Morte Fiancée or The Corpse Bride, by Friedrich August Schulze).

Frankenstein’s “Creature” is a gigantic being who causes the extermination of an entire family – a plot device that may have been inspired by what she calls “tale of the sinful founder of his race” who “bestows the kiss of death” on his descendants (actually a story called Le Portraits de Famille – or The Family Portraits, by Johann August Apel).

But if we read Frankenstein with Fantasmagoriana in mind, we see that the influence of those stories is definitely more profound than a simple inspiration.

Illustration from the 1922 edition of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.
Cornhill Publishing Company

While trying to describe in the preface to the book: “How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea,” Shelley describes her mental processes as a phantasmagorical show. Imagination, in her words, is a screen onto which stories project impressions. At night, in her bed, Shelley sees “with shut eyes, but acute mental vision” the central scene of her novel to be – the idea of the novel comes first as an image, not as a plot.

It is an image she knows perfectly not to be true – but which is nonetheless frightening: like the ghosts of phantasmagoria shows or of Fantasmagoriana, which were explained to be tricks of the mind, but still left the imperceptible feeling of the uncanny. In Les Portrais de Famille, Shelley read of a ghost “advanc(ing) to the couch of the blooming youths, cradled in healthy sleep” – half asleep she imagines a man in bed, beholding “the horrid thing” he created “stand(ing) at his bedside, opening his curtains”. The story read, in other words, mirrors and anticipates the story to be written.

At her bedside, Shelley too is visited by a ghost – in this case, the ghost of the novel:

On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story.The Conversation

Fabio Camilletti, Head of Italian Studies, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Eight bedtime stories to read to children of all ages



File 20180608 191962 100u50z.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock

Raluca Radulescu, Bangor University and Lisa Blower, Bangor University

Speaking at the 2018 Hay Festival, His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman said: “To share a bedtime story is one of the greatest experiences of childhood and parenthood.” This couldn’t be more true. Besides helping sleepyheads absorb language through the familiar voices that nurture them, understand the complexities of their world, and the reasons behind their feelings, bedtime stories show how childhood can be the greatest adventure of all.

1. Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson

Age range: two to five years

Toddle Waddle, by Julia Donaldson.
Macmillan Children’s Books

Even the youngest child can engage with sound, colour and fun, and this book (illustrated by Nick Sharratt) is filled with bright joy and wonderful onomatopoeia. From the sound of flip-flops to the excitement of slurping a drink at the beach and the music made by different instruments, the sounds, then words, are a wonderful introduction to the intricacies of language.

2. Mr Men & Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves

Age range: three years+

Hargreaves’ colourful 2D characters behaving to type are a wonderful way to identify with basic emotions by interpreting colour as a feeling. As journalist and author Lucy Mangan puts it in her memoir Bookworm: “Of course uppitiness is purple. Of course happiness is yellow.” These are no fuss, easy to follow collectables – and bitesize too, so you can gobble through second helpings before turning out the light.

3. The Lorax by Dr Seuss

Age range: three to eight years

The Lorax, by Dr Seuss.
HarperCollins

No child should grow up without The Lorax. They’ll never be the same when they’ve learned about the Swannee-swans, Humming fish, and Bar-ba-loots bears, their Truffula trees being cut by the mysterious and scruple-free Once-ler. While the environmental message of the book is even more urgent now than it was when The Lorax was first published in 1971, the story is just as entrancing, instructive – without preaching – and, above all, as hopeful as ever. A wonderful wise Lorax speaks for the trees, and for all the world’s children, who want to keep the future green.

4. My Big Shouting Day, by Rebecca Patterson

Age range: two to eight years

A funny picture book for younger readers that will resonate with many parents for its keen perspective on patience. It positively encourages under-fours to shout along with grumpy Bella who gets up on the wrong side of the bed. It shows the child that it’s ok to feel angry – heck, they’ll be a teenager soon enough – but it also gives them permission to express it, and reminds them that tomorrow is always a new day.

5. The Moomin books by Tove Jansson

Age range: three to eight years

The Moomins’ home, Moominvalley, is a place of wonder and fun, populated by fairy-like, round creatures that resemble hippopotamuses, but enjoy human hobbies such as writing memoirs (Moomin papa), making jam (Moomin mama), and playing make-believe (Moomintroll and Snork Maiden). Their adventurous side comes out at all opportunities, stirred by friends Little My and Snufkin, or by mysterious intruders.

First published between 1945 and 1970, in recent years the stories have been tailored for both younger (soft and flap books) and older children (hardback storybooks). The Moomin books tell dream-like stories while tackling questions about love, friendships, encounters with strangers, and so on. An all-round winner.

6. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice, by John Tenniel.
Wikimedia

Age range: four to 11 years

The first true book written for children about children never fails to bewitch and baffle. Young Alice-like readers can explore the topsy-turvey Wonderland, while the grown-ups reading to them will appreciate the metaphorical Mad Hatter and role of the white rabbit as leader in the adventure in a way they wouldn’t have been able to as a child. Carroll’s book is a celebration of a child’s wonder and curiosity, and fears of growing bigger too. It invites you to talk dreams and nightmares, to accept the weird and extraordinary and, best of all, to conjure up your own adventure down the rabbit hole. It’s a rite of passage, ideal for sharing.

7. Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki, retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Age range: five to 12 years

In a world where comic book superheroes and heroines reign supreme, these legends can entrance a young mind forever. This selection of Norse myths brings all the gritty dark stuff about trickster Loki together with tales of hammer-wielding Thor, and the machinations of Asgardean king Odin and goddess of love, battle and death, Freyja. It tickles the imagination of the young and challenges the parent too. Fabulous illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love accompany Crossley-Holland’s delightful retelling, bringing these ancient stories to life in a way that no other anthology has.

8. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Age range: eight to 12 years

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl.
Penguin Random House

This chocolate wonderland is the perfect read-aloud book, thanks to Dahl’s masterful use of the English language. Amid all the magic and invention is a wagging finger providing moral lessons on the perils of being greedy, or a brat or overly competitive – and that goes for the adult reader too. Thank goodness then for Willy Wonka, the man who really never grew up, and his band of oompa-loompahs who punish the bad, reward the good, then provide reason for it all through song.

In truth, there is no right book to share – there are plenty of them available these days – nor should there be any chronological order to how and what we read. These are just some suggestions on ways to make bedtime a little more magical. But never underestimate how marvellous it can be to reread a childhood favourite to the little one you’re now tucking in to bed. It could inspire a passion for reading and spark an interest that lasts a lifetime.

The ConversationThe age ranges used in this article are mostly based on interest and reading level ratings from Book Trust.

Raluca Radulescu, Professor of Medieval Literature and English Literature, Bangor University and Lisa Blower, Lecturer in Creative Writing, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Best Sherlock Holmes Stories According to Arthur Conan Doyle


The link below is to an article that takes a look at 12 of the best Sherlock Holmes stories according to Arthur Conan Doyle.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/the-12-best-sherlock-holmes-stories-according-to-arthur-conan-doyle/

Book inscriptions reveal the forgotten stories of female war heroes



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Librakv/Shuttestock

Lauren O’ Hagan, Cardiff University

Open up a book from the late 19th or early 20th century and chances are that you will find an inscription inside the front cover. Often, they are nothing more than handwritten names that state who owned the book, though some are a little more elaborate, with personalised designs used to denote hobbies and interests, tell jokes or even warn against theft of the book.

While seemingly insignificant markers of ownership, book inscriptions offer important material evidence of the various institutions, structures and tastes of Edwardian society, and act as tangible indicators of class and social mobility in early 20th century Britain. They can also reveal vast amounts of information on how both attitudes of ownership and readership varied according to geographical location, gender, age and occupation at this time.

My research involves collecting these inscriptions from secondhand books and working with archives to delve into the human stories behind these ownership marks. I am particularly interested in “everyday” Edwardians – the miner, the servant, the clerk – who are so often forgotten by time, yet played an essential role in ensuring Britain ran smoothly during the war years.

My latest work has focused on the stories of the female heroes of World War I. They weren’t fighting on the battlefield but their contributions at home and abroad were nothing short of incredible. Using the inscription marks they left in books, censuses, local history, and Imperial War Museum archives, I have tracked several untold tales, two of which I’ve written about here.

Elizabeth Veronica Nisbet

Elizabeth Veronica Nisbet’s inscription inside her copy of George Du Maurier’s book.
Author provided

Elizabeth Veronica Nisbet was born in 1886 in Newcastle. The daughter of a colliery secretary, Nisbet was part of the lower-middle class that emerged in Britain at the end of the Victorian era. She studied art at Gateshead College before serving as a nurse with St John Ambulance and the Royal Victoria Infirmary.

In 1913, Nisbet’s father gave her a copy of the biography of cartoonist George Du Maurier, and inscribed it “with dear love”. Du Maurier was well-known for his cartoons in the satirical magazine Punch, which inspired Nisbet’s own artwork. Just one year after receiving the book, World War I broke out and Nisbet headed to France to aid wounded soldiers at St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples. This hospital was the largest to serve the British Expeditionary Force in France and treated over 35,000 casualties.

Throughout these troubled times, Nisbet’s passion for art was her salvation: she kept a scrapbook of cartoons, sketches and photos, which provide an insight into wartime Étaples and the vital work of the female nurses. Looking at her artwork, it is clear that she was strongly influenced by the cartoon style of Du Maurier, suggesting that the book remained a treasured artefact to her while she was serving in France.

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Today Nisbet’s work is kept at the Museum of the Order of St John in London. After the war, she returned to Newcastle and worked again as a nurse until the 1920s when she became a full-time artist, travelling regularly to the US and Canada to showcase her work. She died in 1979 at the age of 93.

Gabrielle de Montgeon

Born in France in 1876, Gabrielle de Montgeon moved to England in 1901 and lived in Eastington Hall in Upton-on-Severn throughout her adult life. She was the daughter of a count of Normandy and part of the upper class of Edwardian society.

Gabrielle De Montgeon’s bookplate.
Author provided

Her affluence is showcased in the privately-commissioned bookplate found inside her copy of the 1901 Print Collector’s Handbook. The use of floral wreaths and decorative banderoles in her plate – both features of the fashionable art nouveau style of the period – mimic the style of many of the prints in her book. This demonstrates the close relationship that Edwardians had between reading and inscribing.

Stepping out of her upper class life, during World War I, de Montgeon served in the all-female Hackett-Lowther Ambulance Unit as an assistant director to Toupie Lowther – the famous British tennis player who had established the unit. The unit consisted of 20 cars and 25-30 women drivers, who operated close to the front lines of battles in Compiegne, France. De Montgeon donated ambulances and was responsible for the deployment of drivers. After the war, she returned to Eastington Hall and led a quiet life, taking up farming, before passing away in 1944, aged 68.

The ConversationConsidering the testing circumstances of war, the survival of these two books (and their inscriptions) is a remarkable feat. While buildings no longer stand, communities have passed on, and grass on the bloody battlefields grows once more, these books keep the memories of Nisbet and de Montgeon alive. They stand as a testimony of the unsettling victory of material objects over the temporality of the people that once owned them and the places in which they formerly dwelled.

Lauren O’ Hagan, PhD candidate in Language and Communication, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.