What Makes Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn So Great?


Mark Twain’s watershed novel has been one of the most controversial and disputed pieces of literature ever since its publication in 1884. Describing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Ernest Hemingway once said:

“American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

Many, however, would vehemently disagree with that statement. While readers from one camp call it “the Great American Novel,” others – including writer Louisa May Alcott – condemn its supposed lack of artistry, the use of vulgar language, and even claim it’s racist. To this day, it’s frequently banned in a number of schools in the US on the grounds that it corrupts youth.

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In this post, we want to explore the motives of the supportive camp. After all, those who love this novel can’t get enough of it. Why? Here’s a brief summary followed by a list of the most appealing traits of the book.

Summary:

For those who are not familiar with this famous novel, it’s the sequel to the simpler and more child-friendly The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In the first book, the protagonist is Tom, who lives in the fictitious town of St. Petersburg (inspired by the real city of Hannibal, Missouri) on the Mississippi river in the 1830s.

Tom is an imaginative kid, who leads a regular life, goes to the local school and lives with his younger brother Sid and his cousin Mary under the vigilant and protective eyes of Aunt Polly, his dead mother’s sister. Although Tom and Huck (short for Huckleberry) are best friends, the latter, as the son of the abusive town’s drunk, lives a completely deregulated life, playing and roaming the streets of St. Petersburg in total freedom. He is obviously the envy of all the other kids in the region. At the end of the book, after taking part in a number of adventures throughout the narrative, Tom and Huck get rich, having discovered a great amount of money stolen and hidden in a cave by a gang of robbers. The well-to-do and religious Widow Douglas, one of the town’s luminaries, becomes then Huck’s guardian, with the job of “sivilizing” him.

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At the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we learn that 13-year-old Huck cannot stand the civilized life he’s living at Widow Douglas’s house. He finds the clothes uncomfortable, the table manners constrictive, and the school lessons boring. Moreover, he doesn’t understand or agree with all the religious moralism inflicted on him by the authoritarian widow’s sister, Miss Watson. At this point, he gets kidnapped by his father, who wants to get his hands on the kid’s money. Huck is forced to live with him in a shack across the river.

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Huck realizes he has no choice: he must either submit to living with his abusive father or go back to the horrors of the so-called civilized life under the righteous wing of Widow Douglas. So he decides to fake his own murder and run away. As he tries to escape, Huck bumps into Miss Watson’s black slave Jim, who is also running away, having heard that his mistress is planning to sell him. They get a raft and start floating down the Mississippi river on their way to freedom. Wherever that may be. The novel is the story of that journey.

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The Metaphors:

One of the most enchanting aspects of the novel is Twain’s powerful use of metaphors and symbols. The motif of man in close contact with water – be it sea or river – and its associated subconscious meanings is common in Western literature (take Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness, The Old Man and the Sea, and Life of Pi, for example). The monstrous big Mississippi River in Twain’s novel is also said to stand for a pagan God, both good and evil, leading and interfering with the minute lives that dare to float on its waters; the many storms in the novel seem to be prophetic, signalling approaching turmoil and difficulties. Life on the raft sums up the benefits and downsides of freedom (wild, unconfined and dangerous), in contrast to the oppressive civilized life Huck got to know for a while.

The Innovative Language: 

With The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for the first time North American literature breaks away from the limitations of formal and pompous language. The story is told by Huck in his own particular vernacular, which replicates oral language. Ungrammatical sentences and misspellings highlight the expressive force and energy of regional dialects. In the introduction to the novel, Mark Twain explains his linguistic choices:

“In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.”

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Humor:

Despite its deep themes (the distorted values of civilization, the hypocrisy of the official religion, inequality, and freedom), the novel pulses with satire. Among the hilarious passages, we’d pinpoint: the description of local superstitions (the bad luck that touching a rattlesnake’s skin can bring about, for example); Jim’s fear of spirits in the fog and of witches in the woods; Huck’s inability to pretend he’s a girl in an encounter with a newcomer to the town; Huck and Jim’s endless discussions about the French language, the wisdom of King Solomon, and the lifestyle of kings.

The Beauty of Descriptive Passages:

The book does not want for poetic strength, as it describes life on a raft, dawn on the river, or a big storm in progress:

“Pretty soon it darkened up and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest—FST! it was as bright as glory and you’d have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about, away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before.”

Huck’s charisma: 

The protagonist is a very likable character: good-hearted, loyal and sensitive. Most readers can identify with his rebellion against the constraints of civilization and the moral dilemma he goes through as he’s helping set Jim free. After all, the events narrated in the story take place long before the American Civil War and the official abolition, in a time when the act of helping to free a slave was illegal and against the established social and moral order. This is how Twain verbalizes the main point of the story:

“A book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat”.

However one feels towards The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after reading it, rest assured that it is very unlikely they will remain INDIFFERENT to the experience.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

 

Writing Powerful Comic Book Characters


In his extraordinarily insightful and funny book, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, author Scott McCloud states that comics is (yes, the verb is used in the singular!) a 3000-year-old sequential art form. More precisely, he defines comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” In modern times, however, the medium has mostly been used to combine pictures and words in the telling of stories.

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Since we are in the realm of storytelling, we must necessarily allude to the seminal works of Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and Christopher Vogler (The Writer’s Journey) to advise writers on how to go about creating strong characters. Given the limited space of this blog post, we will not be covering the visual aspects of comics here.

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Comics – sometimes called graphic novels, when not serialized but released as a standalone volume – is a medium, not a genre. As a writer, you must therefore stick to the set conventions (again, beyond the scope of this post) of the style of the work you are producing: be it romance, satire, horror, sci-fi, fantasy or superhero story. The guidelines for character creation that follow apply to all of those genres.

The Characters

Writers who populate their stories with archetypes resonate a lot more deeply with their audiences. Archetypes – as defined by the famous psychologist Carl Jung – are characters or energies that represent mental functions common to all human beings. They are part of what is known as the collective unconscious and are projections of the different parts that together constitute a complete person, though they tend to appear as individual characters in a story. Let’s illustrate our analysis of the main archetypes used in graphic novels with examples from Marvel’s popularSpider-Man: Season One.

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The Hero

The hero is the story’s protagonist. It is through his/her eyes that the audience experiences the story. It’s therefore essential to create engaging characters that the reader can identify with. An effective way to do that is to make the character well-rounded. Popular heroes tend to balance noble qualities with major flaws. It’s essential to avoid passivity in heroes. They are more appealing when they proactively conduct their journey.

In Spider Man, this is, of course, the part of Peter Parker.

The Herald

The herald is the character, institution, or event that announces the upcoming adventure; he/she anticipates the need for the hero to leave his normal world (or the stable situation he finds himself in) and go on a mission. The herald is the bearer of disturbing news. Wrongs must be righted and only the hero can take on this responsibility.

The article on the Vulture’s sightings in New York, featured in the Daily Bugle, sets off the action in Spider-Man: Season One.

The Mentor

In Joseph Campbell’s words, a mentor is usually represented by the wise old man or woman. But, of course, any character, of any age, can perform this function in the story. The mentor helps the hero out, by example or advice. He plays the hero’s role model.

Uncle Ben plays the mentor in Spider-Man.

The Shadow

Here we have the enemy. The hero’s arch nemesis. The personification of the hero’s worst fears. It’s said that the shadow may also reflect what heroes don’t like about themselves, their dark side.

In Spider-Man: Season One, this function is obviously performed by The Vulture.

Threshold Guardians

Threshold guardians are gatekeepers who are always testing the hero on their progress towards their goal. They guard the doors that will allow the hero to enter a more evolved phase. They might be confronted head-on or have their energies tapped into by the hero. Sometimes they happen to turn into allies.

Flash Thomson, one of Peter Parker’s bullying schoolmates, is undeniably a gatekeeper in Spider-Man: Season One. The editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, is another formidable threshold guardian.

The Trickster

These characters challenge the status quo; they provide comic relief (which is necessary to break the otherwise unbearable tension of a suspenseful story). Tricksters put things into perspective.

Peter Parker himself can be thought of as a trickster hero in Spider Man.

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It’s important not to forget that the archetypes listed above perform key dramatic functions in any story. Therefore, two or more of these masks can be worn by the same character at different points in the narrative.

This is all we have time for today. Good luck with the creation of powerful characters in your graphic novel. Let us know if the advice above is useful to you.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

The Six Pillars of Horror


What makes a great horror story? Of course, many people will argue that the answer is self-evident. There’s not much to analyze; you just sense it. The reader feels their heart pounding fast; a cold sweat dampening their hands; a shiver down their spine. Suddenly, they’re afraid to turn the page, their ears prick up at the faintest noises around them.

These are the reactions that reading a great horror book bring about, but they only tell half the story. To get the full picture, we must identify what it is in the book that causes these feelings of anxiety, discomfort, fear, and excitement!

The most powerful horror books are sustained by the following pillars:

1.The Familiar Made Strange

It’s terrifying when something close to the reader or the character starts to look or act differently. The more familiar the setting, the greater the impact on the reader if it is twisted. This is what happens in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis; Gregor Samsa, the main character, wakes up one day in the comfort of his own bedroom to find out he’s become a disgusting insect-like monster. His family and coworkers will have to deal with it.

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2.Tapping into the Reader’s Darkest Fears

Mothers, for example, are terrified at the prospect of something going wrong with their children. How is that cute little baby going to turn out? What lurks in his future? That is the chilling scenario of We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Eva Khatchadourian is confronted with the terrible fact that her little son grew up to become a mass murderer.

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3. Verisimilitude 

This does not mean that the story needs to be realistic. It means that the universe created by the author follows precise and specified rules, which are maintained throughout the story. There is consistency in the internal laws of the novel. The demon that possesses the little girl in the shocking The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, for example, has limited powers. Although he claims to be the Devil himself, he cannot untie Regan from the bed or make her fly around at night.

4. A Sense of Claustrophobia

Confined spaces make the ideal setting for horror stories. The fact that you cannot leave a place enhances the feeling or powerlessness that a horror book must instill in the reader. In Peter Benchley’s Jaws, for example, three men battle a fierce shark in the middle of the ocean. All the space they have is a small boat, which starts to crumble to pieces as the predator attacks it. In Stephen King’s The Shining, the main character’s mental health starts to deteriorate. As he becomes progressively more unhinged and violent, his wife and little son cannot escape the isolated and weather-beaten hotel they are stranded in.

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5. A Sense of Paranoia 

The main character feels that all around are plotting his downfall. In Ira Levin’s horrific Rosemary’s Baby the pregnant mother doesn’t feel she can trust anyone. Everyone around seems to be in on a conspiracy to hurt her baby, including her doctor. In fact, those people are members of a coven of evil witches and all of them have the baby’s best interests in mind. The problem is the baby himself.

6. Violence

An element of horror books that never fails to cause extreme discomfort in readers, and, at the same time, makes this literary genre very attractive to so many, is the amount of physical of psychological violence depicted in horror stories. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, a classic of the yuppie era, is soaked in gore. Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs details an unbearably tense relationship between a young FBI agent, Clarice Starling, and her mentor in the solution of a crime, Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer kept in high-security prison.

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American Psycho (from the movie based on the novel)

What is your all-time favorite horror novel? Which of the traits above does it use to scare the living daylights out of its readers.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Machado de Assis – o Bruxo do Cosme Velho – em 10 pensamentos expressos nas suas obras.


Machado de Assis é considerado por muitos o maior escritor brasileiro de todos os tempos. Conhecido como o Bruxo do Cosme Velho (o tradicional bairro carioca onde morava), Machado foi um dos fundadores da Academia Brasileira de Letras (1987).

 

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Machado de Assis

Autor de poemas, peças, romances e inúmeros contos, suas obras mais famosas incorporaram as características do movimento literário realista no final do século XIX e início do século XX. Destacam-se, sobretudo, os romances Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Quincas Borba, Dom Casmurro, Esaú e Jacó, e Memorial de Aires. Machado morreu aos 69 anos, deixando um legado literário inestimável.

 

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Pão de Açúcar: o maior cartão-postal do Rio de Janeiro.

Irônico, perceptivo e sagaz, Machado revelou-se um profundo conhecedor da sociedade brasileira (especialmente a carioca) da sua época, e da alma humana de forma geral. Eis alguns dos seus pensamentos mais populares, expressos nos seus livros:

Tudo acaba, leitor; é um velho truísmo, a que se pode acrescentar que nem tudo o que dura dura muito tempo. Esta segunda parte não acha crentes fáceis; ao contrário, a ideia de que um castelo de vento dura mais que o mesmo vento de que é feito, dificilmente se despegará da cabeça, e é bom que seja assim, para que se não perca o costume daquelas construções quase eternas. (Dom Casmurro)

A imaginação foi a companheira de toda a minha existência, viva, rápida, inquieta, alguma vez tímida e amiga de empacar, as mais delas capaz de engolir campanhas e campanhas, correndo. (Dom Casmurro)

O destino não é só dramaturgo, é também o seu próprio contra-regra, isto é, designa a entrada dos personagens em cena, dá-lhes as cartas e outros objetos, e executa dentro os sinais correspondentes ao diálogo, uma trovoada, um carro, um tiro. (Dom Casmurro)

Assim, apanhados pela mãe, éramos dois e contrários, ela encobrindo com a palavra o que eu publicava pelo silêncio. (Dom Casmurro)

Prazos largos são fáceis de subscrever; a imaginação os faz infinitos. (Dom Casmurro)

Eu não sou propriamente um autor defunto, mas um defunto autor. (Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas)

Gosto dos epitáfios; eles são, entre a gente civilizada, uma expressão daquele pio e secreto egoísmo que induz o homem a arrancar à morte um farrapo ao menos da sombra que passou. (Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas)

Matamos o tempo, o tempo nos enterra. (Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas)

O maior pecado, depois do pecado, é a publicação do pecado. (Quincas Borba)

Deus, para a felicidade do homem, inventou a fé e o amor. O Diabo, invejoso, fez o homem confundir fé com religião e amor com casamento. (Esaú e Jacó)

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On reading – from Roald Dahl’s Matilda


“Mr Hemingway says a lot of things I don’t understand, Matilda said to her. ‘Especially about men and women. But I loved it all the same. The way he tells it I feel I am right there on the spot watching it all happen.’ ‘A fine writer will always make you feel that,’ Mrs Phelps said . ‘And don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.”

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For Those Who Enjoyed Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why


The popular Netflix series about teenage angst and issues – including bullying, sexual  orientation problems, drug use and suicide – has prompted many fans to look for similar material in literature. Of course, the series itself was based on the bestselling young-adult novel by Jay Asher, which came out in 2007. Therefore you might as well start there.

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I would also recommend the following novels, which, in addition to the similarity and relevance of the issues discussed, are – just like the series – carefully crafted, brimming with colorful characters, mystery and suspense.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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(Originally published in 1993). Aimed at adults. Issues covered: suicide; teenage inadequacy; family problems.

This option is ideal for readers who are looking for more sophisticated and literary material on similar topics. This debut novel by Jeffrey Eugenides is certainly one the darkest (and funniest) I have ever read. The five oversheltered Lisbon sisters were difficult to differentiate: all blond, good-looking and reserved. Ranging from 13 to 17 in age, they were an eternal source of mystery and attraction to the young male kids of the neighborhood of this quiet Detroit suburb – these same boys, decades later, will narrate the sinister events which took place in the 1970s as an interesting choral voice, reminiscent of the format of Greek tragedies. Things get weird when the youngest sister, Cecilia, commits suicide, jumping from her bedroom window. Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon are devastated. The girls become progressively more detached and emotionally removed from their school and community until they stop leaving home altogether. Meanwhile, their house is undergoing a pathetic process of deterioration and decay. It looks terrible and smells bad. One year later, all the sisters will have killed themselves as well. What happened? Who’s to blame? Disturbing. Beautifully written. A masterpiece. The story was made into an acclaimed movie by director Sophia Coppola in 2000.

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

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(Originally published in 1998). Aimed at young adults and adults. Issues covered: teenage pregnancy; young love; suicide.

Chris Harte and Emily Gold have known each other since they were born 17 years ago, only a few months apart. Their parents are neighbors and best friends. The kids were inseparable and their friendship blossomed into romantic love, which was exactly what their parents had been hoping for all along. They are about to finish high school, their whole lives ahead of them. Nevertheless, when they are found lying in a pool of blood near the carousel they loved going to at night, it looks like a double suicide took place. Could it have been a sinister pact? But only one bullet was fired and Chris survives, which makes the police suspect foul play.

Undone By Cat Clarke

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(Originally published in 2013). Aimed at young adult readers. Issues covered: sexual orientation; bullying; suicide.

This time, instead of the infamous tapes of 13 Reasons Why, the protagonist, high-school student Jem Halliday, gets monthly letters from the afterlife with specific instructions for her to follow. The story, which takes place in a small town in England, is narrated in the first person by Jem, who has a huge crush on her best friend and long-time neighbor Kai McBride. Kai, who happens to be gay, is brutally outed when a video showing intimate scenes between him and another boy gets e-mailed anonymously to his colleagues at school, kicking off heavy homophobic bullying. As a result, Kai kills himself. Jem, outraged and angry, sets out on a mission to avenge her beloved friend. But to accomplish that, she needs to become part of the elite gang of popular kids at school.

A Gothic Christmas Angel by Anna Erishkigal

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(Originally published in 2013). Aimed at young adults. Issues covered: relationships; family matters; suicide.

This retelling of Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol takes place in modern-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 18-year-old Cassie works as a barista to help her alcoholic and harping mother. Her father abandoned the family when she was a kid. It’s Christmas Eve. Cassie gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend of five months, and out of despair, deliberately crashes her car into an old beech tree. As she lies slumped over the steering wheel, Cassie has an out-of-body kind of experience, being visited upon by a dark angel, Jeremiel – described in the book as “a smoking hot, really tall Goth Dude”. Can he help her review her life and avoid being sucked by demons into Hell?

Would you have any other suggestions? Please let us know.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Stephen King’s The Shining: Like Father, Like Son.


Looking for the perfect book to read during Halloween? The Shining by Stephen King is a classic: one of the scariest books ever written. One reason for its popularity is the novel was turned into a celebrated movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval in the main roles, back in the 1980s.

Rumor has it that King himself was not entirely happy with the movie adaptation. If you read the book, you will probably understand why. Although the movie is heavily inspired by the book, it takes a lot of detours from the original plot and skips important themes that play an essential subtext.

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In broad strokes, the novel tells the story of Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic with a short temper, who – unable to find a job anywhere else, after beating up a student at the school he used to work as writing teacher – is hired, with the help of a friend, as the caretaker of the sinister Overlook hotel for the winter months, taking his young wife, Wendy, and their 5-year-old son, Danny, with him.

The hotel is completely empty and isolated. To spice things up, Danny has the gift of precognition, popularly known, among the initiated, as the shining: he can read people’s thoughts, foresee the future, and have glimpses of violent incidents that took place a long time ago. Weird things start happening at the hotel. The family, especially the father and the son, are haunted by ghosts and unusual experiences.

Among the strange ocurrences that contribute to its sense of horror, the novel depicts a topiary – bushes and trees trimmed in the form of a rabbit, two lions and a dog – that seems to come to life occasionally; a dead woman who rises from a bathtub in room 217 (to this day, guests in many real hotels are said to turn down the offer to occupy the room with this number because of the novel); images of a mob murder that happened years before materialize in vivid form in front of the kid; in addition, mufffled sounds of a mask ball from the past are heard continually at night.images-2

Could all this be a metaphor for a darker link between father and son? The symptoms of something terrible lurking inside the boy and ready to blossom?

As the months go by and the winter becomes harsher, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the hotel inevitably starts to unhinge Jack Torrance, whose madness slowly sets in. He becomes a deadly menace to his own family.

(Watch the clip of one of the best scenes of the movie below. Warning: strong language is used)

Stephen King is not only a bestselling and prolific author, but he’s also really talented. His books are not just airport thrillers made out of a schematic formula meant to provide a couple of hours  of entertainement before being thrown out in the trash can at the end of your journey. The Shining, for example, can be read on at least two different levels. On a simpler, more straightforward level, we have the chilling mystery tale of a family stranded by heavy snow and lack of telecommunications, living alone in a more than 50-year-old luxurious hotel up in the mountains of Colorado.

An even more disturbing way of interpreting The Shining, however, is to read it as a vigorous metaphor for alcoholism, its genetic origins and terrible consequences: the story would consist of hyperbolic images translating the symptoms of that powerful disease that can be handed down from father to son to grandson, causing extreme anxiety, cravings, hallucinations, madness, violence, and, ultimately, death.

As backstory, the reader learns that Jack’s own father was an alcoholic. He would come home from his job as a nurse, smelling of booze and behaving nastily to his wife and kids. Despite being very fond of his father, Jack’s love wears out, as he witnesses a vicious beating his Dad administers to his Mom, for no reason at all.

Danny and Jack, for their turn, are quite close too. As a matter of fact, the bond between father and son is so strong that Wendy sometimes feels left out of their peculiar masculine world, and, as a result, even gets a bit jealous.

In an alternative interpretation of the novel, therefore, the closeness between father and son, Jack’s increasing madness at the hotel and Danny’s precognition gift can be easily understood as the addictive genetic inheritance handed down to the next generation, the beginning of what will become for Danny a full-blown disease in the future.

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Steven King himself was an alcoholic at the time he wrote the novel and the theme in The Shining reflects his own worries and unhappiness about the problem. Writing, after all, has always been a potent way of purging one’s own demons.

Whatever layer of the story you choose, rest assured it will scare the living daylights out of you, which is why the book is such a great thriller in all respects.The book sustains a very oppressive atmosphere, making it a rather dark reading experience – entirely suitable to celebrate your Halloween night. The tension in the story grows progressively unbearable, culminating in a gruesome climactic sequence. Not to be missed.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

Philip Roth on Love (The Dying Animal)


“The only obsession everyone wants: ‘love.’ People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you’re whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked open. ”

 

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Almodóvar’s Julieta


The critics are right: Almódovar is not the same. Julieta, his latest movie, is nothing like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which catapulted the Spanish director to international fame almost thirty years ago.

Julieta is more mature, serious and, in many respects, a lot better, reflecting the evolution and progressive refinement of a seasoned maestro. Of course, some fans will miss the raw humor and shock value of his earlier movies, which celebrated la movida madrileña, the cultural movement of the late 70s and early 80s that stood in direct opposition to the values and life style of Franco’s dictatorial years. In those days of la movida, it was necessary to burn the cultural bra to make a point. Those times are over, though. Besides, for more nostalgic viewers, quite a few of his movies of that era are available on Netflix, at your fingertip.

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 Julieta, on the other hand, belongs to the 2010s. It is allowed – strike that; required is the precise word – to be simpler and more contained. Nevertheless, it has kept the director’s inimitable voice and style: the bright colors, the Madrid touch, and the inscrutable strong women are still there. And even Rossy the Palma, one of the muses of his early years as a filmmaker, makes a comeback; her wondrous nose, uneven eyes and twisted mouth working their magic, in the role of a modern-day Cassandra.

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Rossy de Palma in the 1980s.

I find it unbelievable that many critics will say that Almodóvar has never mastered the skills to tell a story. His narrative powers are weak, some say. Obviously, these critics abide by only one model of storytelling: the commercial cinema of Hollywood. Although I respect the claim that some narrative elements and archetypes make themselves present one way or another in every story ever told, they should be rearranged in as many different ways as creative directors can come up with. Almodóvar’s storylines do follow a structure – although an idiosyncratic one. Digression plays a big part in his method.

Without the digression, Julieta would be a simple tale about guilt. It’s the digressions that allow Almodóvar to present the viewer with unique images (an elk running in slow motion alongside a moving train at night; the bluest sea shown though the open windows of a living room in Galicia; the Swiss Alps shot in all their glory); intriguing metaphors: references to Homer’s Odyssey and the power of the sea to entice men like Ulisses and Xoan, pulling them from the safety of their houses and the comfort of their families; and one of the most original transitions between youth and old age in movie history: actress Adrian Ugarte is replaced by Emma Suárez at the sudden removal of a red tower.

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Pedro Almodóvar

Julieta is a delight to the eyes. You could just sit back for hours watching these beautiful women move around in fashionable clothes, stepping in and out of fascinating Madrid buildings, walking along its narrow cobblestone streets or just sitting in close-up against the backdrop of stunningly decorated apartments.

With the help of great actors and a stunning musical store by Alberto Iglesias, Almodóvar turns the straightforward story of a family marked by tragedy into a Hitchockian thriller – with echoes of Vertigo. Viewers will be met by twists and little surprises at every turn, relishing the journey. Almodóvar has developed the fearlessness of those who have nothing more to prove. He shoots his movies out of sheer pleasure. Who can blame him?

Au revoir

Jorge.