“That It Should Come to This!”

 

My review of Hamlet for the Back to Basics Challenge 2017

SPOILER ALERT: This analysis of Hamlet is written for those already familiar with the play in its entirety or don’t mind me giving away the ending.

hamlet

I have been trying to read Hamlet for quite some time, but was unable to “get into” the story. So, I forced myself. I’d heard it was the greatest play ever written and felt I should know more than the image of some guy holding a skull, saying “To be or not to be.” Which didn’t happen in the play. The skull came later.

A major issue is that I’m not one of those who can read Shakespeare as though it is my second language. I struggle. So, I admit I bought the No Fear Shakespeare version with the original play on the left and the modern translation on the right. I could not have understood the plot without it.

Alright, so what do I think? Sigh. My first thought went to Old Hamlet’s ghost. “Are you happy now?” I wanted to ask him. “Is this what you’d hoped would happen?” It seems the death of his widow and heir along with his brother/murderer was, so to speak, overkill.

And what of Young Hamlet? He was hurt and angry by his mother’s remarriage to his Uncle Claudius, but the revenge his father’s ghost required seemed more an unwelcome burden than an undying passion. (More death words, reflecting the major theme) He basically knew he was charged to kill his uncle, but found a myriad of ways to avoid the actual act.

That’s when I realized. This is a parody of the popular genre of the day, the revenge tragedy. Not in the sense of making a mockery of it, per se. To me, it explores the shallowness of the stereotypical drama. Shakespeare himself must have been, like Hamlet, very introspective to develop the deep, layered characters he did. I can imagine him in the audience of one of these plays and asking, “What’s the point? Is making revenge your life’s goal really productive?”

Hamlet spends most of the play ruminating on such dilemmas, all while feeling hogtied to a doctrine of honor killings. Eventually, he goes about his life, letting it slide. Only through the unintended chaos of a sword fight—designed to murder Hamlet—did he follow through on his father’s command to kill Claudius. With disastrous results all around.

I’ve read analysis on Hamlet‘s themes and learned that experts believe this exploration of the play itself is a factor. To me, it’s a major takeaway. Perhaps because I feel the same whenever I watch an action movie. Really? I want to ask. Was all this destruction necessary? Why are the characters so dumb? A little forethought, please.

I believe Shakespeare was pleading for just such reflection and depth of character when he wrote this classic play.

hamlet-joke
My former stereotypical view

 

Reading Challenge 2017

4button2017

 

Happy New Year! I’m going through my usual New Year’s Day goal-setting which will include another stab at a BACK to the CLASSICS Challenge. This contest sets up twelve categories of classic literature for the participant to read throughout 2017. If you’re curious about this or would like to join, go to https://karensbooksandchocolate.blogspot.de/ and click on the logo.

I have chosen a dozen books I’d love to finish before December 31, 2017 which could help me win a $30 Amazon gift card. Of course, the prize would be nice, but that’s not the point. As one who works best under a mild amount of pressure and reasonable deadlines, joining this competition helps me accomplish what I’ve always wanted to do anyway—read some of the world’s great books.

I am also a remote member of a book club in Queensland, Australia, which has introduced me to many wonderful contemporary novels, so 2017 is looking to be a good year for some intellectual stimulation.

Not to worry. My primary goal for the New Year is to complete Harps Upon the Willows, the sequel to my debut novel, Aroon. How long? Not long. I’ve finished 93,000 words of what I expect to be a 100,000-word book.

Anyway, as part of my commitment to this challenge, I am listing the books I plan to read next to each of this year’s categories. (If I state it publicly, I’m more likely to follow through.) I’ll post reviews as I finish each one.

count-of-monte-cristo-jpgA 19th Century ClassicThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (read The Three Musketeers in a previous challenge and loved it.)

A 20th Century ClassicNight by Elie Weisel (Heard him speak in Columbia, SC years ago and he was the rare combination of wise and humble)

A classic by a woman author – My Antonia by Willa Cather

A classic in translation – (one initially published in another language) Don Quixote by Miquel de Cervantes

A classic published before 1800Hamlet by Shakespeare (tried before but couldn’t get into it. I’m determined, though, since it’s rated the greatest play ever written)dorian-gray

A romance classicFar from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

A Gothic or horror classicThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A classic with a number in the title – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (another I’ve planned to read for years, but haven’t. I enjoy Dickens, though.)

A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title They anna-kareninaShoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

A classic set in a place you’d like to visit – (I’ve chosen London) Bleak House by Charles Dickens (As I said, I enjoy Dickens)

An award-winning classic – The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1919)

A Russian ClassicAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution)

What are your thoughts on these choices? Have you read any of them? Please let me know in a comment.

Who is the Real Ichabod Crane?

Ever wonder ichabod_cranehow authors name their characters? It can be a tricky business. My characters have undergone multiple name changes due to my bad habit of giving them all names starting with the same letter. Ugh. Can you say ‘confusing’?

A main character in AROON, Eveleen, was originally named Catherine. I can’t remember what prompted me to change it to Margaret, which was shortened to Marg. That’s with a hard G like a friend from Australia years ago. My writer’s group was annoyed since they wanted to call her Marge. She is not a “Marge,” whatever that means. Names do have personalities.

Nonetheless, I found a website called “Baby Names of Ireland” (http://www.babynamesofireland.com/) which has the added feature of Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) reading each name and its Gaelic meaning.

I chose the first initial ‘E’ since I hadn’t used it in a character name yet. (That was when Sir Edward was Sir Robert—same initial as Richard. Sigh.) I like the soft, lyrical sound of Eveleen, which is pronounced ‘Ay-vleen’ and has the bonus of sounding like my sister’s name, Evelyn, to whom the book is dedicated.

But I digress.

In more recent research, I was focused on the physical description of a character who, in my mind, resembled Ichabod Crane of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I googled to find images to help with descriptions.

Clicking around (half research/half procrastination), I discovered that Ichabod Crane was a real guy! Yes. Ichabod Bennet Crane was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1787.

The son of a general, he chose a military career. First as a U. S. Marine, he was made a second lieutenant and served aboard a frigate for two years. In 1812, he left the Marines to become a captain in the U. S. Army. I don’t know why he switched branches. Maybe he’d hit some early 19th  century version of a Marine glass ceiling. Still, he had many successes as an army captain.

ichabod_b_crane-for-real

Ichabod Bennet Crane (1787-1857): the real deal

So, what about Washington Irving and his gangly character? How many Ichabod Cranes could there have been? We don’t know for sure. But we do know the two men met in 1814 at Fort Pike in upstate New York. As an aide-de-camp to the governor of that state, Irving helped his boss inspect defenses in that area.

Ichabod Crane is a cool, lyrical name and may have stuck in Irving’s mind, only to come out when he wrote his short story six years later. In the one photo of the real Crane, he doesn’t look too skinny, but it was taken thirty-four years after they met, so who knows?

Either way, Ichabod Crane—who only would have been remembered perched upon the Crane Family Tree—has become an immortal part of our American culture.

 

tom-mison-as-ichabod-crane

Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane

Though I bet he’d prefer the more recent characterization.

 

Lincoln–A Towering Figure

IMG_1598

On a recent trip to our nation’s capital, I marked a visit to Ford’s Theater—the site of Lincoln’s assassination—off my bucket list. While I could write plenty about the awe I felt standing so close to where Booth pulled the trigger—and just might—I must note a fascinating tribute to our greatest president that I’d not known existed. One that honors him on many levels.

lincoln tower cropped

More Lincoln books than I could imagine!

Across the street from the theater is the Center for Education and Leadership connected to the boarding house where Lincoln breathed his last. There, a tower of books written with Lincoln as their focal point scaled three stories, thirty-four feet in all.

I was flabbergasted to learn that, over the decades, about 15,000 separate titles have been written about our sixteenth president. How much could there be to say? This is phenomenal considering books that center on his wife, Mary Todd, or the Civil War in general are not included in that number. Only books that deal with the man himself.

The tower is comprised of 6,800 copies of 205 titles, all made of fireproof bent aluminum. Cover art was printed directly onto the metal versions of each book. Imagine if all 15,000 were included. The building could not contain the soaring literary monument.

In 2010, designers glued each book onto the tower by hand, taking about ten days to complete. The video below shows the construction in about a minute and a half.

 

That so much has been written is a testament to the times Lincoln lived in, yes, but also to the wisdom the man gleaned from a lifetime of tragedy and pain. On top of that, he masterfully steered our country through the most trying time in our history, despite cruel and crass derision by too many of his countrymen from the North and the South.

We will not see his like again. Not because people of his caliber cannot or will not exist, but with our present-day fixation on the superficial, we will never, ever elect them.

 

I Want a Grogoch

grogochmainIn writing my book, Aroon, I needed some Irish mythical creatures. In the story, a prominent character, Eveleen, is telling fairy (or should I say faerie) stories to her little sisters. Having some Irish blood in my veins is not enough–it was off to Google to discover a beastie or two.

I searched “Irish story creatures” which led me to a lovely site, “Irish Myths & Legends.” Under the heading, “Creatures,” I discovered the grogoch, a half-fairy, half-troll of a man who runs around naked, covered only by coarse, reddish hair. Unfortunately, since he never washes, he also reeks.

He (and it’s always a “he”) is harmless and helpful. According to the site, “he may even attach himself to certain individuals and help them with their planting and harvesting or with domestic chores – for no payment other than a jug of cream. He will scuttle about the kitchen looking for odd jobs to do and will invariably get under people’s feet.”

I want one! I hear Glade Plug-Ins® handles odors quite well, and I’ll provide plenty of cream. Plenty!

Judy's facebook picture

 

“No king? How about a queen?”

 

They do not like the religious, though. If a member of the clergy is in the house, they will leave. So, if my sibling, Sister Judy of the Daughters of Divine Providence, wants to visit, I’m sure she can get a room at the local Day’s Inn. It’s not far.

This worked out great for my story, providing some cute banter between the siblings. Wanting to learn the correct pronunciation of the creature’s name, I googled further.

It was then I found it: The Demoniacal, a blog dedicated to “the demons, monsters, & mysterious creatures that reportedly haunt our world.” (www.the demoniacal.blogspot.com) It even had a primitive video from YouTube of a grogoch story which showed me how to say it.

Then I read a comment on one of the blogposts: “in fact I think that vampires are hidden in somewhere of the earth, is only that they is not interest in attack us because they are already found a new feeding method or something like this.”

Oo-kaay. A little joke, perhaps? Regrettably, I don’t think so.

The blogger asks on a sidebar for readers with any supernatural experiences or “who identifies as a Witch, Vampire, Werewolf, Fairy, Alien or other supernatural being” to contact him. Or her.

This person ain’t playin’. To date, he’s posted 150 times about werewolves, 284 references to Satanism, 1,696 concerning UFOs and aliens, and 193 posts about Kurt Cobain.

Well, this shows two things. One is that you never know to what world your searches will lead you, and two–how easily I get sucked into the internet’s rabbit hole when I needed only ONE TINY PIECE of information. Help!

 

Note: This post has been re-worked from one I wrote in January of 2012. The site, “Irish Myths & Legends” was part of Thinkquest.org, which no longer exists.

Wrote a book…wish you were here

Wrote a book...Wish you were here!

You’d have to know my mom. She was smart, funny, and a lover of life. She was not cuddly. She avoided emotions as one would a bill collector. So, her reaction to the first few chapters of my book made me giddy.

After reading, she set down the manuscript and looked at me with mild annoyance. “It that all you’ve done? You need to get writing.”

That meant she loved it. If she hadn’t, she’d have said, “It’s very nice, Mary Beth.” See, you had to know her.

Last week that book finally appeared on Amazon, and how I wish she were here to see it. She wouldn’t gush—that would make me suspicious. She’d wear a look of satisfaction, though, and it would be enough.

My mom adored books. Until she became ill, she read like a starving woman at a church picnic. One of my early memories (no, not the one where I peed on the kindergarten classroom floor) is of the pride in her eyes when I turned six. She marched me down to the local library and said to the clerk, “My daughter needs a library card.”

I didn’t really understand what was going on at first, but it was clear this was special, a treasure of some sort. Mom handed it to me like it was a living thing. “Now you can get books to read yourself.”

An amazing gift. Every description of the wonder of reading has already been written. I’ll just say, it’s like that mythical pot of gold that never empties. She could have handed me a hundred-dollar bill and it would soon be gone, but you never run out of books. Never.

Yesterday, I took my novel to our local library. Receiving it, Kim Hatfield, the manager, asked me to whom I’d like it dedicated. I hadn’t thought about it, but knew immediately.

“My mom,” I said. “In memory of Mary Ellen Connor.”

Wish you were here.

Ben Franklin on Donald Trump

benjamin-franklinIn his time, Benjamin Franklin could be considered “the most interesting man in the world.” He was an author, printer, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, diplomat—and he had a way with the ladies.

You may not know he was also a bigot. At least he “played one on TV.” That is to say, tracts spouting his anti-immigration views were widely distributed. But his target may not be who you’d think. As a resident of Pennsylvania, he resented the largest group ever to emigrate to America—the Germans.

Yes, more Germans have moved to our shores than even the English or Irish. Estimates are that twenty percent of all Americans have German ancestors. In fact, Donald Trump’s family, originally named Drumpf, came from the village of Kallstadt.

So what kinds of things did Ben Franklin say about Trump’s ancestors?

  1. “Those who come hither [Germans] are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…” (Trump: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.”)
  2. Ship owners “were sweeping the German Gaols to make up the number of their passengers.” (Trump: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”)
  3. “The German women are generally so disagreeable to an English Eye, that it wou’d require great Portions to induce Englishmen to marry them.” (Trump referring to Carly Fiorina: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”)
  4. “Few of their children in the Country learn English…They begin of late to make all their Bonds and other legal Writings in their own Language, which (though I think it ought not to be) are allowed good in our Courts.” (Trump: “Well, I think that when you get right down to it, we’re a nation that speaks English. I think that, while we’re in this nation, we should be speaking English.”)
  5. German migrants, “who will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexions.” (Trump: “African American youth is 58 percent unemployed.” This is false. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states the rate as 25.2 percent.)

NOTE: Franklin believed that only Saxons and the English could be considered white. All others he called ‘swarthy’.

  1. “French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also … why should we … darken its [America’s] People?” (Trump: “Well, I have to look at the group [KKK]. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look.”)

Summing up Benjamin Franklin’s thinking on German immigrants, he wrote, “In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, … they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.”

Over two hundred fifty years later, not only were Franklin’s remarks offensive, his fears never materialized. Similar predictions for future waves of immigrants to the United States, including the Irish, the Chinese, the Italians, and the Great Migration of African-Americans, proved no more valid.

Now Hispanics and Muslims face the same ignorant mudslinging that Donald Trump’s ancestors were subjected to. History tells us these slurs and predictions of doom are not only immoral, they are wrong.

Photo Credit: http://www.returnofkings.com/9588/updating-benjamin-franklin
Sources for Benjamin Franklin’s quotes: http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2008/02/ben-franklin-on.html http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-09-17/droves-german-migrants-arrived-pennsylvania-1750s-and-benjamin-franklin-went                                                                                                 http://www.shmoop.com/early-american-immigration/benjamin-franklin.html https://journals.psu.edu/phj/article/viewFile/25467/25236 (most comprehensive source)
Sources for Donald Trump’s quotes:                                              http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/9-outrageous-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-latinos_us_55e483a1e4b0c818f618904b                                                                         http://www.people.com/article/carly-fiorina-responds-donald-trump-beautiful-face http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/donald-trump-speak-english-spanish-820215 http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/trump-and-the-black-vote/ http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/why-wont-donald-trump-repudiate-the-ku-klux-klan/471345/

 

 

 

What’s a Deckle Edge?

Many20160220_133643 (1) (2) people, including myself, mourned the news that the South Carolina Book Festival was no more. Nothing (except maybe writers’ conferences) can get my blood gushing like a room full of books, writers, and readers. Even the smell of the pages invigorates me.

Fortunately, some movers and shakers in Columbia, South Carolina felt the same way—hence, the Deckle Edge Book Festival, which held its inaugural event this past weekend.

First, one might ask “What the heck is a deckle edge?” (As were most people at the festival) It turns out to be the cut of a book’s pages, which today are typically razor sharp. Deckle-edged books are considered “uncut” or “untrimmed.” According to abebooks.com,deckle edge

“the deckle edge was unavoidable until the 19th century, a byproduct of the papermaking process. Since it became unnecessary, the rough edge gradually turned into a status symbol. Advertisements for books in the late 1800s are rife with mentions of a “deckle edge” alongside the fine paper on which a title was printed.”

I kind of like it. It has character. But on to the festival.

There were four days of events, but I was only able to attend on Saturday. This turned out 20160220_115412 (1) (2)well for two reasons. One, a critique partner of mine, Sasscer Hill, was on the “Writing Mysteries” panel that day. Two, it coincided with a street market just outside.

This event differed from the old festival in that it was not held in one location. Panels, roundtables, author interviews, and workshops were held in a variety of places. The art museum, Agape Conference Center, and the Jasper Beer Hall to name a few. Even the historic Woodrow Wilson House hosted a workshop.

I can’t cover all that was available. Check out http://www.deckleedgesc.org for a complete list. For me, listening to writers talk about their inspirations, frustrations, and the exhilaration of success was fantastic. I now have a long, diverse list of books to delve into. As I read them, I will write a review on this blog.20160220_093307_Richtone(HDR) (1) (2)

For avid readers, start with Sasscer Hill’s horseracing mysteries. The Nikki Latrelle series is available now. Her new Fia McKee books come out from St. Martin’s Press next year. Read more under my You’ll Love These Books! tab or go directly to http://www.sasscerhill.com.

A Suitable Memorial

Wendy's birthday cruise 225Even today, the turbulent history of slavery is often watered down, ignored, or dismissed. Toni Morrison, Nobel-prize winning author of Beloved, will not be silenced. Her novel on the effects of our national sin is as eye-opening as it is chilling.

In 1989, she called out this denial of our history, saying,

“There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”

On Sullivan’s Island, just north of Charleston, South Carolina, many are unaware that captured Africans were quarantined there upon their arrival. Determined to prevent infectious diseases from spreading through the colonies, both free and

1776 map including pest house

1776 map including pest house

enslaved passengers were placed in pest houses. If healthy enough, Africans were hauled across the Cooper River to be sold on the blocks.

Historians believe slave ships brought 200,000 to 360,000 men, women and children into Charleston’s harbor. That’s forty percent of all slaves brought to North America between 1619 and 1808. For today’s African Americans, there’s a good chance some ancestor set foot on Sullivan’s Island.

The Toni Morrison Society has a mission to hallow our hidden history. In 2008, a simple bench was placed at Fort Moultrie, part of the National Park Service. It faces the intercoastal waterway, making it a peaceful place to “think about or not think about” all the souls that passed this way.

It is not a 300-foot tower, but something infinitely more poignant. As we say of the Holocaust, “Let us never forget.”

Wendy's birthday cruise 224

Sources:

http://www.nps.gov/fosu/planyourvisit/upload/African_Passages.pdf

http://www.tonimorrisonsociety.org/bench.html

General James Longstreet: Defying the Stereotypes

General James Longstreet

General James Longstreet

What do Civil War General James Longstreet and U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond have in common?

They both served their country, they were both Republicans, and they were both born in Edgefield County, South Carolina. That’s not far from where I live.

On the surface, they seem mighty similar. But on closer inspection, they are radically different.

James Longstreet was second in command to Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. While he highly respected his superior, Longstreet held a different philosophy regarding war tactics. He petitioned strenuously for Lee to move to a defensive position between the Union Army and Washington, D.C. where they could find “ground to their own liking.”

Lee was an aggressive leader who, like General George Patton of World War II, had much success, yet high casualties. These traits did not serve him well in this pivotal battle. Analysts believe his command style did not suit the situation at Gettysburg, but Lee was unable to adapt. He, against the advice of many of his officers, decided to attack the middle of the Union forces on July 3, 1863.

Longstreet was reluctant to lead an assault he did not believe in, and reportedly asked to be replaced, but Lee refused. The “Gettysburg” film clip below shows Longstreet’s vision of what has become known as Pickett’s Charge. A vision that proved devastatingly true.

After the war, Longstreet committed the unpardonable sin in the eyes of the “Lost Cause Movement,” which romanticized the Confederacy. He publicly criticized Lee’s leadership at Gettysburg in his memoirs. Worse than that, he became a Republican after the war. This was not Strom Thurmond’s Republican Party (the party infamous for its Southern Strategy). No, this was Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party. Longstreet served in the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. He advocated equal rights for blacks. For these reasons, he was vilified by his former compatriots.

General Longstreet at Gettysburg

General Longstreet at Gettysburg

In 1998, the above statue of James Longstreet was one of the last to be erected. Compare it to that of Robert E. Lee. Rather than set upon a massive pedestal as are most generals’ statues, it is tucked into the trees and at ground level.

General Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee

I wonder which took more courage for Longstreet—fighting the horrific battles of the Civil War or daring to hold unpopular beliefs among his own people.

Strom Thurmond, Longstreet’s fellow native son of Edgefield, fathered a black daughter while he labored to obliterate civil rights for African-Americans. Who showed integrity? Who pandered to white racist fears for his own advancement?

I know whom I admire.