Dracula: We Can’t Stop Here, Jon


I’m not too far into my reread of Dracula, but I wanted to point out a couple of things to pay attention to before we get too far.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Dracula, and I always remember Mina more than anyone (because, obviously, Mina). But I was amused to seet the first mention of her in one of Jonathan’s little memos: “Mem. get recipe for Mina” (Stoker 5).

That’s right, I guess we have to hang out with our good friend Jon for a while, don’t we? Oh well. It’s okay, because we can entertain ourselves with memos!

“Mem. I must ask the Count all about them” (6). Good luck with that, Jon.

“Mem. I must ask the Count about these superstitions” (11). Jon, no. Jon. JON.

All I’m saying is, if Jon had asked Mina about superstitions and the Count about recipes, things might have Turned Out Differently. Keep an eye out for more memos.

Another thing to look out for: possible disguises. On this reread I’m wondering, is the barking dog under Jonathan’s window secretly Dracula??? Why else is the barking dog even mentioned, when dear Jon hasn’t even made it anywhere near to Castle Dracula yet? PONDER PONDER.

Third thing: TECHNOLOGY. One of my favorite things about this book is the mix of Gothic horror with cutting-edge Victorian tech. Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories do the same thing, only in the mystery genre. So far I’ve only come across Jonathan’s Kodak  camera (what a cool dude) but I know there’s plenty more to come.

Fourth and last thing that is sorta tied to thing three: Dracula starts out as a travelogue, narrated by our foreign correspondent Jonathan.Stay alert for the racial stereotypes but also pay attention to when the genre shifts, and how it does so.


COMING UP NEXT: On Monday I’ll talk about dear old Jon and his narration, as well as look at the Count in some more detail.

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Dracula Readalong

Dracula by Bram Stoker (in which Mina and her many boyfriends hunt monsters) has all the spine-tingles of a good horror story and all the wordcraft of a classic. I’m rereading one of my favorite books, starting September 5th. I’m hoping to finish by Halloween, as if right and proper. Please join me!

The Schedule: img_1779
9/13: Finish Chapter 3
9/20: Finish Chapter 7
9/27: Finish Chapter 10
10/4: Finish Chapter 14
10/11: Finish Chapter 17
10/18: Finish Chapter 20
10/25: Finish Chapter 24
10/31:Finish Chapter 27

I’ll be posting here a couple of times a week with quotes, questions, and random observations/commentary. Any page number references will be to my copy, the Barnes and Noble 2003 paperback.  I might do some extra reading on JSTOR or other weird places; if I find anything interesting, I’ll link it.

Starter question: Have you read Dracula before? Is there an edition or cover that you particularly love? I keep meaning to take a peek at The New Annotated Dracula because it sounds hilarous and awesome.

Here For The Cozy: Holiday Recs

Happy Holidays! One of my favorite things to do during December is to cuddle up in a chair with a cup of coffee and a book. Oh wait…that’s every month. But especially in December. If you need a cozy book for the holidays, below are some of my favorite holiday-themed books (mostly Christmas ones) for all ages.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
5327If you like your Christmas stories cozy but with a goodly helping of terror and regret, this is for you. It’s not nearly as intimidating as most of Dickens’ books, either – it is much shorter and has a smaller cast of characters. Delicious Christmas dinners, bone-chilling ghosts, and life-changing epiphanies abound.




My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins20309175
This is a collection of holiday-themed Young Adult stories. There is a lot of coziness, family, and romance, a smattering of humor, a dose of struggle, and a few terrifying monsters. The overall quality of writers/stories is very strong. I’m not an avid short story fan but even I could get along with most of these. Some of them are SO COZY I COULD DIE. I especially recommend the stories by Gayle Forman, Kiersten White, David Levithan, and Stephanie Perkins.



7741325Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
During the holidays, Dash finds a notebook full of challenges on a New York City bookstore shelf, left there by a girl named Lily. They begin to trade the notebook back and forth with various challenges. This is a fun light snowy read with romance and absent families and romance.



Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

77766I want to put pretty much all of the “Little House” on this list because they all have excellent Christmas chapters. But these two from the beginning of the series are really good and chock-full of pioneer Christmases with oranges and snow and coziness. Laura and her family live in a tiny cabin in the woods and Almanzo and his family live in a big house on a horse farm, and they both have awesome Christmases.


Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide
1256825Jotham, a young shepherd, is kidnapped and sold into slavery (WAIT WHERE IS THE COZINESS) and has to escape and find his way back to his family who are headed to Bethlehem for that one census you might have heard about. It’s aimed at families and best when read aloud. If you need an Advent book, and/or if you have kids, and/or if you like suspenseful stories with adorable characters and tidy endings and terrifying bad guys and jolly rescuers, this is a really fun book.

Morris’ Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
988042In this picture book,  Morris and his siblings are enjoying their Christmas presents to different degrees. But then Morris finds a Disappearing Bag under the Christmas tree and has adventures, and soon his brother and sister want in on the action. IT’S THE BEST.




Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble
935094This is a beautifully-illustrated picture book about a very important apple tree and the family that loves it, but especially the little girl who loves to draw. There are cozy meals and cozy presents and scary snowstorms.





What books did I miss? What’s your favorite book to re-visit for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

The Ladies and Lasses of DWJ: Howl’s Moving Castle

I love this version of The Witch of the Waste, by rozefire on deviantART.
I love this version of The Witch of the Waste, by rozefire on deviantART.

This month is, of course, DWJ March, an all-month celebration of Diana Wynne Jones, hosted by WeBeReading. The theme this year is “The Ladies and Lasses of DWJ” which is a little overwhelming because A) Diana Wynne Jones populates all of her novels with many fantastic characters and B) as you would expect, there are some females in there.

I’m going to try to post throughout the month, and select one book to focus on to showcase some of the amazing female characters DWJ created. For my first post, I picked Howl’s Moving Castle, as it’s my favorite and also the one I’m most familiar with. Below I’ve tried to show the range of characters in this novel without belaboring the point too much.

The protagonist, Sophie Hatter, is one of my favorite characters in literature of all time, and obviously my favorite in this one. A couple of quotes about some of her key parts of her personality:

‘That was Sophie’s trouble. She was remorseless, but she lacked method.’


‘“I’m the eldest!” Sophie shrieked. “I’m a failure!” “Garbage!” Howl shouted. “You just never stop to think!” …. “And you’re too nice,” he added.’

Sophie is hardcore. She’s not a ‘Strong Female Character’ trope, she doesn’t kick butt warrior-princess-style; instead she focuses on whatever she wants to accomplish and then GOES FOR IT with a fierceness that is both fun and intimidating to watch. She is also very compassionate, even to her greatest rivals – she wants Lettie to be happy, even at a big personal cost to herself, and she doesn’t try to ruin Miss Angorian’s life, either.

Speaking of Lettie, one of Sophie’s sisters, she could have been a Mean Girl sort of character, beautiful and boy-crazy and out to take everything good from everyone else. But instead (even though she is beautiful and flawless and boys love her) all she really wants is to become a powerful witch.
‘Lettie looked up, glowing with health and beauty which even sorrow and black clothes could not hide. “I want to go on learning,” she said.’

Martha Hatter, Sophie’s other sister, is good-hearted and affectionate.
“But I discovered that people like me—they do, you know, if you like them—and then it was all right.”
I love how she gets all judgy about Fanny but it’s more her being brutally honest about other people’s flaws than it is about Martha disliking Fanny.

Fanny Hatter is Sophie and Lettie’s step-mother. She is neither the stereotypical Evil Stepmother, nor a flawless Perfect Mother trope; instead she’s just a middle-aged lady with her own life and flaws.
‘Being old gave her an entirely new view of Fanny. She was a lady who was still young and pretty, and she had found the hat shop as boring as Sophie did. But she had stuck with it and done her best, both with the shop and with the three girls—until Mr. Hatter died. Then she had suddenly been afraid she was just like Sophie: old, with no reason, and nothing to show for it.’

Mrs. Pentstemmon, Howl’s teacher, is another older lady character and, though she clearly cares about Howl, is frightening. Fortunately, she uses her powers for good.
‘Mrs. Pentstemmon put both gold mittens on top of her stick and canted her stiff body so that both her trained and piercing eyes stared into Sophie’s. Sophie felt more and more nervous and uneasy. “My life is nearly over,” Mrs. Pentstemmon announced. “I have felt death tiptoeing close for some time now.”’
She does her best to help Sophie and Howl, in spite of her rigid views on the use of magic.

Mrs. Fairfax is another teacher in the story, this time Lettie’s. If you haven’t noticed yet, there are a LOT of mentor-women characters in this novel. Sophie feels some jealousy that Lettie is able to study under her; Mrs. Fairfax is clever in her own way, rigid in her own way, and a chatterbox.
‘She was one of those plump, comfortable ladies , with swathes of butter-colored hair coiled round her head, who made you feel good with life just to look at her.’

Miss Angorian is a terrifying school-teacher demon lady, and if that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what to say to you.
‘For a fierce schoolteacher, Miss Angorian was astonishingly young and slender and good-looking. She had sheets of blue-black hair hanging round her olive-brown heart-shaped face, and enormous dark eyes. The only thing which suggested fierceness about her was the direct and clever way those enormous eyes looked and seemed to sum them up.’
Miss Angorian is developed just enough to be mysterious and interesting, and pulls off several roles within the story simultaneously, including but not limited to both rival and damsel.

The Witch of the Waste, the villain of the book, is terrifying, formidable, beautiful, and honestly pretty awesome.
“I always bother when someone tries to set themselves up against the Witch of the Waste,” said the lady. “I’ve heard of you, Miss Hatter, and I don’t care for your competition or your attitude. I came to put a stop to you. There.”
She is irredeemable, but she is also a foil to Howl, the hero: the same event happened to both of them, and he could end up just like her if he doesn’t try to redeem himself in time. Even more importantly, Howl could just as easily have ended up the heartless villain and the Witch the hero.

What I Owe to Diana Wynne Jones

It’s Diana Wynne Jones month over at We Be Reading. When Diana passed away two years ago, I considered writing something about what her books meant to me, but I was too despondent, and in the end, just read the many amazing tributes to her by other people (such as Neil Gaiman). But I do need to express what I owe to her, hence this post. 6124248

I became a fan of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki when I was in high school, after Spirited Away came out. When I heard about his next movie, Howl’s Moving Castle, and that it was based on a book, I figured I had better check the book out first. The next time I was at my local Barnes and Noble, I found the book, by someone I’d never heard of before (I know, scandalous) and opened it at random.


“As the million soft echoes died, Howl and the scarecrow were left thoughtfully facing one another across a pile of bones.”

I knew immediately I had to find out how the story got to that point.

Howl’s Moving Castle became one of my favorite books and is still one of my “comfort reads.” I devoured the Chrestomanci series next, as well as the sequel to Howl, Castle in the Air. I couldn’t understand how every single book was comprised of such utter perfection. I read Fire and Hemlock, which I didn’t completely understand at the time, and Hexwood, which was so convoluted, confusing and complicated that of course I adored it (it also has one of my favorite anti-heroes of all time). I read Eight Days of Luke and was inspired by the creative reimagining of old Norse myths. I read Power of Three and was amazed at what a writer can do with point-of-view limitations to tell an old story in a completely new way. I read Dogsbody and The Homeward Bounders and cried over them. I read many of Diana’s short stories and, even when I didn’t love them, exactly, was amazed at the way she tells stories as if they’re standing on their head. I read Dark Lord of Derkholm, and have never looked at epic fantasy the same way again. (I could probably write pages on how that novel is a far better critique of epic fantasy than A Game of Thrones, in pretty much every way and on every level, but I will refrain.)

34286I haven’t read all of her books yet; partly because, now that she’s gone, I want them to last as long as possible. Then again, her books thrive on rereads, as far as I have experienced.

Every single one of her stories that I’ve read have affected the way I read, the way I write, and the way I look at the world. I don’t care if that’s trite or clichéd because it is completely true. The way she twists stories, looks at them from a different angle or gives you something unexpected, made me look at all other stories differently, too. It’s like an exercise in looking at everything upside down and contrariwise. Because of that, Diana Wynne Jones expanded my reading repertoire in many directions, as well. Fire and Hemlock made me interested in fairy tales, Hexwood in Arthur tales, Eight Days of Luke in Norse tales, and Howl’s Moving Castle made me interested in John Donne and English poets. Because of authors like her (Tolkien is another), I developed a relationship with words and stories and communication that will last my lifetime.

18932But that’s not all her books have done for me personally. No matter how sad or dark they can be in parts, her stories always emphasize the incredible power and importance of kindness. Her books make me laugh much more often than they make me cry, and there is always a kind moment even when a situation is grim or a character is feeling discouraged or helpless. There are unkind or evil characters in her books (they reflect reality) but they don’t stop with the “Life is Dark so Deal With It.” The characters in them always persist and endure and find other people who are kind and compassionate (as well as goofy or strange or flawed).

In conclusion: I’m in love with Diana Wynne Jones’ work and I don’t care who knows it. Thank you for everything, Diana.

Magical Words: The Power of Speech in Old Irish Texts

[Originally posted on my old blogspot, written after I took a college course called “Age of Beowulf.”]


I am a word nerd; I love words, their meanings, and the connections between them. Therefore I have a tendency to focus on specific words rather than on the overall effect or power or meaning the collective words have. This term I took a course called “The Age of Beowulf,” and it changed the way I think about words to include how words produce an action, and how heavily actions rely on words. The relationship between words and deeds, especially the question of which causes which (i.e. chicken or egg) was a prevalent theme in most of the texts we read, but I was particularly struck by it in the Celtic texts because of the concept of geis (or plural gessa). This is essentially a taboo or spell-like order on someone else, requiring them to operate under those gessa. But words in general are very powerful from the viewpoint of the Celtic texts we read, as we see time and time again.

In the Old Irish lyric, “To Mary and Her Son,” the speaker says, “I call upon you with true words” (Carney 19) “that we may have talk together with the compassion of unblemished heart” (21). Mary, a saint in heaven, is expected to come and speak with her caller because of mere words, almost like a summoning. The speaker expects Mary to listen to him because of his words. In “The World,” another lyric, the speaker says, “Take no oath, take no oath by the sod you stand upon” (41). The implication (taken with the rest of the lyric) is that since oaths are binding but the earth won’t last, the oath will remain but it will be impotent, because its witness is gone. Oaths, statements of words, are more permanent than the earth itself. In the wisdom poetry “The Sayings of Flann Fina,” this idea is complicated by the statement, “Vain speech is the beginning of evil” (Ireland 79). Speech is very powerful; once spoken, it spreads a certain power that enables speaker, listener, or both to act on the vain speech. This emphasizes the negative influence words can impart.

These are examples of how words influence actions, but there are also many instances in Celtic texts where words are blatantly magical, affecting the weather or other people in forceful ways. In “The Irish Life of Brigit,” Brigit communicates through speech with an infant, asking it who its father was. The infant, “thought it had not yet begun to speak” (Davies 153), answered, thereby saving an innocent man from a rape accusation. Birgit also calmed a storm, “stilled the rain and wind” (154), by chanting a verse to God. Brigit’s power is drawn from her spiritual connection with God, and channeled out through words.

This is evocative to the powers druids are shown to have throughout the earlier texts “The Book of Invasions” and “The Second Battle of Mag Tured.” When the Irish druids send a wind to keep the sons of Mil away, Amergin stands up and chants a counter-spell of some sort, beginning with “I invoke the land of Ireland” (Cross 19). This suggests names are very powerful as well. The result of Amergin’s chant is that “Immediately a tranquil calm came to them on the sea” (19). Amergin is a druid, but also one of the “men of learning” (19) Donn refers to, and also a “poet” (21), showing once again how closely connected magic is to words. Words, simple sounds that these druids make, are able to influence and control nature itself.

In The Tain, the gessa that Cuchulainn and the Morrigan place on each other further illustrates the power words have over deeds. When Cuchulainn refuses her proposition, she vows to hinder him in his fights (Kinsella 133). They trade promises of pain to each other until Cuchulainn finishes with, “I’ll hurl a stone at you…and shatter your leg, and you’ll carry that mark forever unless I lift it from you with a blessing” (133). All of these pronouncements eventually happen: “Cuchulainn did to the Morrigan the three things he had sworn” (136). In this episode, their previous meeting and words dictated the actual events in the future and the outcome of what happened.

Additionally, as we saw, words can have both positive and negative results. This is humbling and makes me want to be very careful and aware how I use my words, both in speech and on paper. As an English major, my entire academic life revolves around how well or how foolishly (as is more often the case) I use words to communicate and attempt to affect others. Before this term, I had considered this solely in terms of how I can persuade other people, but now words seem much more volatile and powerful in real life, not just the abstract world of ideas.

All of these examples drawn from the texts show words as having concrete, physical consequences. The power that words can have over people and situations, and their power to create, support, and destroy ideas is amazing and terrifying, and the Celts clearly knew all about this. When ideas move history, from the mundane day to day history of one person to the nation-changing wars and treaties of global history, it shows how absurdly powerful mere words are.

I have two large goals as I move out of this term resulting from this course specifically. The first one is to handle words as I would dynamite: very, very carefully and respectfully. I may not be able to use words to raise or calm storms (although that would be awesome), but how I speak to everyone around me on a daily basis, how I write, how I use Facebook to express myself, how I speak to employers, professors, and peers, are all very powerful forms of communication and directly influence both my own actions and those of others’.

My second new goal is to learn Old Irish.

Works Cited:

Carney, James. Medieval Irish Lyrics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. Print.

Cross, Tom Peete. Ancient Irish Tales. ed. Tom Peete Cross and Clark Harris Slover. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1936. Print.

Davies, Oliver. Celtic Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. Print.

Ireland, Colin A. Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria. Tempe: Arizona
Center for Medieval Renaissance Studies, 1999. Print.

Kinsella, Thomas. The Táin: From the Irish Epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2002. Print.

In which I buy comics

All the Wonder Woman!
All the Wonder Woman!

Last Friday I bought comics for the first time. Well, mostly. Well, sorta. It was my first time buying comic issues, rather than trade paperbacks (TPB), and it was my first time buying from an actual store rather than ordering online or getting them through the library. Although it was a comic/hobby/book store, rather than a solely comics store. BUT STILL. I BOUGHT ISSUES. FROM A COMIC-DEALING STORE.

It was fabulous. And I decided that I have definitely become One Of Them.

I only started reading American comics (I’ve been reading manga for a while now) this year.

So I went to this local nerdy store called Dragonvine, because I had a few minutes to kill. I went to their little comic section and was looking through all the current issues and being greatly tempted by everything. Before this, I had just gone in there to drool. But I don’t normally buy issues because for series that I LOVE, I wait and buy the TPB, and for series I’m curious about but haven’t read, I check it out from the library first. So I’m lurking and looking at all the comics and this girl who works there asks if I need any help. I asked her if they had Young Avengers in (the new stuff, I love the old-ish series), because I knew it was coming out in January but I couldn’t remember what day. She informed me that it would be coming out in a couple weeks. I was so excited to meet a young female nerd (like myself) who clearly knows what’s up, without looking it up! Usually the people in stores who know about comics are the scary old dudes.

Then she went away, but I discovered their boxes of older issues that were marked down. So I prowled through there like a professional predator and found two issues that I haven’t been able to find in any TPBs. So I bought them. Hooray!

Fear Itself: Captain America and Fear Itself: Alpha Flight

The girl came back while I was looking and, out of the blue, asked if I liked Journey Into Mystery. I was like HAYYLLLL YES and we had a moment. And then I told her that I hadn’t read much of it because it was hard to find and she said yeah, they only get like two copies at the store even when there’s a brand new issue, and I was like that’s sad. So we had another moment. And then I bought my issues and she told me I made good choices and we approved of each other.

Also have I mentioned recently that I REALLY want to read the new Hawkeye title?

Literature and Realism

Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.

— C. S. Lewis

Somehow my brain connected the idea in this quote to the recent obsession with 3D movies. 3D movies and HDTV and such are obsessed with giving us the clearest picture, the absolute most detail in every single frame. But I usually enjoy the more traditional (almost old-fashioned at this point) 2D. It’s warmer and fuzzier, with more of a fantastical feel than a THIS IS SO REAL IT LOOKS LIKE A DOCUMENTARY sort of feeling.

I feel the same way about the books that I enjoy and get the most out of. It doesn’t need to reflect reality perfectly, it doesn’t have to be completely believable at all times. If it describes something that I have experienced in real life, that’s great, that’s fascinating. But there has to be something more. I can get real life while I’m in real life; literature, real, good literature, “enriches,” adds significance or meaning, expands, what we see  so that we perceive it in a completely different or much more expansive way.