Archive for Book Reviews

Media Page is Up!

Posted in Publication, Publishing, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

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Hi!

Many of you showed interest in my adding a media page here, with links to my public appearances, interviews, and etc. So after a bit of research and deciding exactly how I wanted to go about it, I’ve put a nice, simple one together here. Do let me know what you think in the comments, and thank you SO much for all your wonderful support!

Reviews!

Posted in Books, kidlit, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

I received not one, but TWO wonderful reviews of “Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine” last night, and wanted to share them with you!

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“This book was awesome! My children range from Kindergarten to Freshman in highschool. This was a book that, as a family, we all enjoyed reading. My 7th grader struggles with reading and she had a hard time putting it down.She even wrote a book report on this book for school. Love the double spacing and larger print. So much easier for young readers who still run a finger under the words to keep their place. We love the book and are impatiently waiting for the second book.”

and…

“My 9 year old son who is high functioning autistic and refuses to read anything unless it contains horses, absolutely loved this book. At first he didn’t want to read because he really wanted to play computer games but after telling him about the beginning of this book and not saying another word to him, he went and picked it up off of the counter. Three days later he had finished the book. An amazing feat, to say the least. It was all we could do to get him to put this book down to stop and eat meals. I asked him what he thought of this book. He told me “That was the best book ever without horses.” I have to say if a book can get my son’s undivided attention the way this book did, it is an absolute blessing and wonderful writing that got his attention and kept his attention through the whole book. He is now anxiously awaiting book 2 in this series. Thank you Jessica Rising for writing this book that even a “i hate reading” kid loved to read.”

(Reviews can be read — and written ūüėČ — here.)

To say these are wonderful reviews is an understatement. I’m GLOWING! Bringing the¬†joy of literature¬†to children — especially ones who normally hate reading — nothing compares to that. I am SO blessed to be a writer!

The Twilight of My Career: Part II ~ The Rest of the Book

Posted in Book review, Books, Fiction, Literature, Writing with tags , , , on October 12, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

So.

It’s taken me a while to get back to everyone on my¬†Twilight adventure. It’s a long, troubled story that you don’t want to hear, yadda yadda. Still, the end result is, instead of doing this chapter by chapter I’m just going to post about the rest of the book, as during the interim I have completed reading it.

I already blogged about¬†Chapter 1, so I’ll move on from there. As I first laid out, I’ll give a list of pros and cons for the story, and add them all up to decide, once and for all,¬†weather¬†I can continue to hate¬†Twilight¬†with my now educated opinion, or if I have to swallow my pride and decided that it’s… okay.

Pros:

  • Bella researches vampires early on in the story. Oi. I bet some of you were just WAITING for me to find THAT out, huh? Sadly, this is why it was important for me to read this book. So. Stephanie Meyer DID look into some vampire lore, did she? My anti-Vampire argument… is no longer valid. Though I still say vampires don’t sparkle. +1 for pro.
  • Wait… there’s actually a BAD GUY? Holy crap! Where did he come from, and why is there NO mention of him ANYWHERE in all the¬†Twilight hype? The dude is actually pretty interesting, and smart, too. +1 for pro, for having someone in there that’s more like an actual vamp.
  • Wait again… there’s actually a PLOT? Holy crap! And it’s a good one, too! Kidnapped mother, father in danger, chase across the country, dark, seedy hotel rooms and creepy dreams? THIS is a horror novel! Why the hell doesn’t anyone mention this… EVER? +1 for pro, for having a PLOT.
  • I like Lucy and Esme. Why isn’t there more about them? Their backstories alone are fascinating. +1 for pro, for having a couple of characters I can actually stomach.
  • Stephanie¬†Meyer has a degree. In English. ¬†From a Mormon college, but whatever. It’s a degree. In English. That means… ugh… maybe she might know a LITTLE about writing. Maybe. +1…¬†dammit.

Cons:

  • Vampires STILL don’t sparkle. And they certainly don’t sparkle like angels in the sunlight. Oi. My friend Jessica would argue with me on this, as apparently there IS an obscure sect of mythological nosferatu that sparkle, but I am going to be stubborn on this. You want a vampire? Look at Dracula. Damnit. +1 for con, for being dumb about vampires just so you can make them all pretty.
  • Meyer’s writing style gets on my last nerve. She repeats words¬†incessantly¬†(I was going to scream and throw the book across the planet if I read one more “murmur”), overemphasizes body language, (just how many ways can you describe Bella’s¬†clumsiness, anyway), and WAY overdescribes the vampires while underdescribing everyone else. Sure, the latter might be on purpose, but come on. We KNOW Edward is hot. Move the hell ON already. -1 for being about as professional at writing as a Hollywood exec.
  • Edward is a jerk. Sure, that’s on purpose, considering he IS a vampire (allegedly), and he tells Bella this from the get-go, so it’s not like he’s even trying to pretend to be nice. But he’s also supposed to be the hero of this weird story, and a hero doesn’t stalk people, control people, and brow-beat people. The guy is the perfect example of a boyfriend who WILL become abusive if the girlfriend doesn’t dump his ass asap. -1 for creating a HORRIBLE example for girls to look for in a man.
  • Bella is whiny. Like… really whiny. And when she’s not whiny, she’s the perfect example of a cutter in training. I can’t imagine why any of her friends even like her, let a lone why all these guys at school are so into her. Apparently before she moved to Forks she wasn’t even noticed, but in Washington, boy-oh-boy, she’s like a supermodel! What happened? It makes this Washingtonian wonder if Stephanie Meyer thinks all our boys are so tired of all our girls that one new girl coming along, no matter how “plain” she is (as Bella is described numerous times), is like winning the lottery. And that? Well… that’s just offensive. Not to mention a HUGE¬†character-hole, as far as I’m concerned. -1 for Bella.
  • Jacob. WHOO boy did the movie get HIM wrong! Okay, so this isn’t exactly the fault of the book, so I won’t take a point off for this, but since when did little Jacob Black become this big teen hearthtrob? He’s supposed to be like 13! WTH? The descriptions of him in the book do NOT coincide with the¬†pictures¬†I have seen… like… everywhere of the guy playing him in the movie. Just… no.
  • The actual plot… you know, the thing that made me so happy above… doesn’t even START until more than halfway though the book. Instead, Stephanie Meyer pulls the reader though this needlessly long, drawn-out torture of a romance between Bella and Edward, which reads like a cross between a psychotic’s diary and a stack of short romance stories out of Teen Beat or Bop. She could have given the reader a great image of their relationship in a few chapters, then gotten on with the actual STORY. But no. There had to be more murmuring! MORE! +1 for con for being storyline dumb.
  • Meyer pretty much took a fascinating cast of characters, then threw in two entirely flat, horrible characters, and made THEM the hero and heroine. Wait… what? Obviously she has some skill. The backstories of the vampires alone are fascinating. But she chose instead to be vapid and shallow. I can’t respect that. +1 for con for selling out and not living up to what I can easily see she is capable of.

So, the final count, including my count for chapter 1, is…

10 points positive.

10… points… negative?

… Well. THAT wasn’t what I was expecting. O.o

So, now I guess I have to ask my readers. How do I break this tie? What are your thoughts?

Works Cited:

Meyers, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Little Brown & Company, 2005. Print.

The Twilight of My Career

Posted in Book review, Books, Writing with tags , , , , on September 15, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

Sigh.

Okay, so I just have to come out with it.

I’m reading¬†Twilight.

Yeah. The one with the sparkly vampires that that one chick wrote overnight which started the zombie apocalypse by turning its fans into mindless, shrieking drones. THAT¬†Twilight. I, like the overwhelming majority of my professional peers, have hated that book and the series it spawned almost since it was first introduced to the public. My reasons have been varied and — I have felt — highly justified. They have included:

  1. Stephanie Meyer isn’t even a writer. She herself admitted that she just decided to write a book one day after having a dream. This alone drives dedicated, hardworking writers batguano nuts. Now, add to the fact that she became an overnight billionaire and superstar from it, and, well, she’s not my favorite person in the world. Call it jealously. I don’t really care. There it is.
  2. Vampires don’t sparkle. They just… they don’t. They’re evil, demonic creatures of the undead who literally¬†suck human beings dry and don’t care that we have feelings. Or boobs, for that matter. The fact that they have not been proven to exist does not mean we can just go stomping all over their lore. Lore that has existed in numerous cultures all over the world for centuries, by the way. It’s the same to me as saying that Tinkerbell is a faerie (the Disney version; Barrie’s original is MUCH closer to the lore of the fae), or that Jesus was a dancing clown that did magic tricks. Just… no.
  3. From what I have been told by numerous people, Bella is the epitome of the very WORST role model a girl should EVER have. That whole “I can’t survive without a man” thing? Not that men are bad — I happen to be entirely and¬†completely¬†taken by my own wonderful husband — but to base your entire reason for living on ANY other human being is just asinine. Bella has no identity of her own past what Edward thinks, and it just gets worse from there, until, when she finally becomes a vampire, what is left of her already¬†negligible¬†personality is gone. Just… gone. Sucked (heh) up by a man who is now, almost literally, her entire Self. Now, it’s true that teenagers are VERY insecure — especially girls — but that only means that it’s MORE important that they don’t have a role model who bases EVERYTHING SHE IS AND CARES ABOUT¬†solely¬†on the opinions of another person. A person who, by the way, is ALWAYS putting her down — the perfect image of an emotional abuser. Just… no.
  4. The writing style, again I have been told, is awful. The reason? I assume #1 on this list. It makes sense, after all. And if there’s one thing I can’t read, it’s awful writing. It gives me a headache.
  5. I hate anything that’s that popular. Sorry. I just do.
  6. Edward is a stalker. That’s not romantic. That’s creepy. He’s also dead. And WAY older than Bella, who is a minor. Why is none of this creepy to any of the series crazy fans? Oh yes. Because they’re crazy.
  7. The movies remind me of the worst teeny-bopper idea of horror ever¬†conceived¬† They’re like a cheerleader and a football player¬†decided¬†to write a soap opera about vampires.

Now you might have noticed a theme in all of these points. In case you didn’t, I’ll spell it out: none of them come from my own reading of the material. They are opinions based on the opinions of others: things that I have read or seen or heard second-hand. And no matter how justified they are or how real they feel to me, they aren’t educated — and they aren’t professional.

A couple of weeks ago two of my friends called me on that, and I had no choice but to answer.

They came to me with the words “we love you” (which worried me right away; you had to be there), and proceeded to handed me a stack of Meyers’ work. These are very brave friends, I’ll tell you that. But also caring and kind and wonderful. They are both fans of¬†Twilight, who respect me as a writer and a friend and asked me the question I had hoped nobody would ever ask: “how can you say you hate it if you have never read it?”

Ugh. Dagger to the ego.

See, I call myself a professional. I take pride in both my own writing and my knowledge of the profession as a whole. But a professional does not hold opinions that aren’t their own. A professional does not jeer at another’s work just because they don’t like how it “smells”. And above all, a professional does not take the words of rumor — nor the opinions of others — as undeniable fact.

And dammit, I don’t just call myself a professional.¬†I am a professional. So I have begun to read¬†Twilight of my own accord and thus form my own, educated, professional opinion.

I have also decided to document this adventure in my blog, chapter-by-chapter. I will try to be as unbiased as possible, though I am human and therefore fallible. That said, to try and counteract this inescapable fallacy, I will  give a list of bad AND good thoughts as I go through each chapter. I will also give a tally of points between these, in the end comparing the two in order to make a final judgement that is as unbiased as possible.

And so begins my newest adventure…

My thoughts on Twilight Chapter 1:  First Sight

The Good:

  • Meyers’ writing style is easy to read. I found myself breezing through the first chapter like a hot knife through butter. As a children’s writer especially, I know that it is far easier to write wordy, flowery prose than it is to truly engage a reader who might have an entirely¬†different¬†thought processes than you. One point for positive.
  • The narrative voice of Bella is convincing as an¬†uncomfortable,¬†awkward¬†teenager who is trying to find her way in the world. I bought her as a high-school girl hook, line and sinker. Another point for positive.
  • Bella is relatable. I can see why so many teenage girls fell instantly in love with these books, seeing themselves in Bella’s shoes as easily as trough a mirror. Point three.
  • The storyline begins interestingly, and the cliffhanger at the end of chapter 1 is one I can respect as a fellow writer. If I didn’t already know from its huge¬†commercialism¬†that Edward was a vampire, I’d be very curious to know why he reacted like he did to Bella. Meyers fulfilled a very important¬†writers’ mantra here: keep the reader turning pages. Another point for positive.
  • I feel the need to point out a particular passage I enjoyed: “Inside the truck, it was nice and dry. Either Billy or Charlie had obviously cleaned it up, but the tan¬†upholstered¬†seats still smelled faintly of tobacco,¬†gasoline¬†and peppermint.” (Meyers¬†12) I liked this description because it brought to mind the exact smell of so many old trucks I grew up riding in here in the Pacific Northwest. I’ll admit: it made me smile. One more point for positive.

The Bad:

  • As a denizine of Washington, I wasn’t thrilled by Bella’s hatred of my beloved state. It not only painted her as someone I personally could not connect with, but also as a whiny, superficial brat. One point against.
  • Meyer describes everything. I’m all for description. Heck, I love Anne Rice and J.R.R.¬†Tolkien, the King and Queen of description! But Meyers’ descriptions border on (and sometimes¬†completely¬†pass),¬†redundancy. Here is one great example of what I mean: “Every one of them was chalky pale, the palest of all the students living in this sunless town. Paler than me, the albino.” (Meyers¬†18) Okay, so they’re pale. That’s enough with the use of the word — “… I glanced sideways at the¬†beautiful¬†boy, who was¬†looking at his tray now and picking apart a bagel with long, pale fingers.” (Meyers¬†20)¬†… pale. Ugh. Something tells me this word in particular will haunt the rest of my reading of this book, but Meyers seems to have a thing for redundant description overall, “pale”¬†notwithstanding. And speaking of redundancy…
  • Meyers doesn’t seem to understand the reason thesauri¬†exist. The repetition of same words within a few sentences drives me entirely nuts, and she does this often. Example: “In the Olympic Peninsula of Northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains in this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my¬†mother¬†escaped with me when I was only a few months old.” (Meyers¬†3) Okay. We now¬†thoroughly¬†and without a doubt know that Forks is a town. Use the word one more time and I’m going to go entirely bonkers! Also, it’s depressing. We get that. Move on. This is not the only time Meyers does this, by the way. It’s¬†consistent. One more point against.

The Conclusion:

Five points positive, three points negative. Meyers is off to a good start! Of course we haven’t started on the whole “vampire” thing just yet, so we’ll see…

Works Cited

Meyers, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Little Brown & Company, 2005. Print.

My Unadulterated Gushyness for “The Hunger Games”

Posted in Book review, Books, Dystopia, Literature, Writing with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m allergic to bandwagons. I tend to break out in hives and cold sweats and some odd and rare strain of turrets that involves me spewing words like “shallow”, “lemmings” and something akin to “brain-rape”. However, every once in a while, I see one that I actually want to ride. “The Hunger Games” is my latest.

Now, before you tell me the obvious, yes I know I’m a little late for this ride. But for someone who didn’t jump on “Harry Potter” until the original book had been out for over a decade,¬† I think I’m doing pretty good here. So cut me some slack. Geez!

Actually, originally I only bought the first book in the “Hunger Games” trilogy in order to do some research for my own writing. After all, when you are writing a middle grade post apocalyptic dystopian novel, and there’s a young adult series out that is the same genre and is doing so crazily well that¬† nobody can imagine the world before it existed (okay so I’ll concede that’s a strech, but not a huge one), it’s probably a good idea to read that series. For those that are not in the know about this, middle grade generally follows young adult for what is popular. So… you get the picture as to why I bought “The Hunger Games”.

However, that does not explain why I bought “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” the moment I was finished with the book before them. Considering that I am a full time student and planning and paying for a wedding in June, I do not spend money frivolously right now. But with books like that, you have to get the next one as soon as possible. It is not a choice. It must be done.

Where do I begin in explaining why I love this trilogy so much? Maybe it’s the post-apocalyptic dystopian setting of which I am an obvious fan. Maybe it’s the depth and breadth of the characters, whom you actually care about before they have to die terribly. (Damn you, Susan Collins!) Maybe it’s the social commentary and hilarious irony of them making movies of the books. Or maybe it’s because, with these books, both Susan Collins and society in general are giving a big old fat middle finger to the flawed idea that children these days must be protected from all negativity.

Yes, these are young adult books and not children’s. And no, my own books do not have that kind of violence in them. However, in the publishing vernacular, “young adults” are teenagers, which means they are not yet adults. And in the real world it is teenagers who often have to deal with the harshest realities. Maybe not quite as harsh as having your name picked at the reaping, but still far from the perfection many fiction stories would have you believe. In Katniss, young readers see a picture of themselves. No perfection, despite what society might cover them in. No peace, despite what society might say of their lives. Just a harsh reality they have to somehow survive. And maybe, if they’re lucky, they will still retain their humanity on the other side. If they make it that far, anyway.

So, yes, “The Hunger Games” deserves all the hype it has gotten. And I will not only ride this bandwagon, I would drive it if they’d let me. Bravo, Ms. Collins. And thank you for returning dignity to young adult authorship and literature.

Gothic Dystopia

Posted in Books, Dystopia, Fiction, Literature, Scholarly, Writing with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

I’ve been away for a while, working on my wedding plans, midterms and Christmas, not to mention an enormous rewrite of “Guts and Glory”. I hope, in length and quality, this post makes up for it. This is the third installment in my graduate papers series, and by far the most detailed. Below I have pasted my midterm thesis. If you like dystopian literature and/or Edgar Allan Poe, well, I hope you enjoy this!

I’ll be back posting fun shorts soon. Promise! ūüôā ~ MM

Gothic Dystopia

Metaphor of the Fall of Social Conventions

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The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe

Dictionary.com defines dystopia as ‚Äúa society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.‚ÄĚ The literary genre of dystopian science fiction is generally said to have begun in 1899 with HG Wells‚Äô publication of The Story of Days to Come. (xtimeline.com) Yet sixty years prior, in 1839, Edgar Allan Poe published his classic tale of a dying noble House, entitled The Fall of the House of Usher. This short horror tale has been critiqued by many literary scholars using a variety of classifications, from vampiristic narrative (Kendall) to the unification of Enlightenment thinking with romanticism (Timmerman), to historical significance and permutations (Dougherty), to name only a few. In this paper I will add to those yet another theme, identifying The Fall of the House of Usher as uniquely and deeply dystopian. Though of course dystopia was not known then as it is today and thus Poe himself would not have called it so, I feel that its image of a dark and twisted future for the upper-classes is very much a precursor to our modern view of dystopian literature. In this vein, I will first discuss Poe‚Äôs own personal social status and political opinions, then the political environment of Poe‚Äôs larger world, and lastly the themes of a dystopian social downfall in The Fall of the House of Usher itself.

Edgar Allan Poe’s personal social status was unstable at the best of times. Born to thespian parents, Poe’s father David Poe Jr. had been a lawyer before changing his career, though his own family could best be described as middle-class. (eapoe.org) When he was three years old, Poe’s natural parents died. He was then unofficially adopted by the tobacco merchant John Allan and brought up in the upper-class world of private schools and distinguished gentry. His relationship with his adoptive father was always strained, however, and in 1827, after Poe quit college from lack of funds, their relationship deteriorated beyond repair. Not long after that Poe joined the army where he earned the rank of regimental sergeant major and later enrolled at West Point. Once again, without Allen’s adequate financial backing Poe was forced to leave, this time ending up with his aunt in Baltimore. Allan died in 1835, leaving Poe no legacy, and although Poe gained great prominence as a writer and a literary critic, his work brought little income. He supported himself and his wife, Virginia Poe, with various editorial pursuits until her death of tuberculosis in 1847 and then his own mysterious death of brain legions in 1849. (Contemporary Authors Online)

Considering his strained relationship with a gentried guardian who never actually adopted him and who left him nothing, as well as his overall negative criticism by, and snubbing of, his upper-class writer contemporaries (Contemporary Authors Online par 25), it cannot be too far off the mark to assume that Poe’s own opinions on social class and political structure were what we would call liberal today. Even though little is known about Poe’s actual political and social beliefs beyond that he was an idealist and a visionary (Biography.com 3), this fact alone would press one to believe that he felt the class structure of his time was unjust. And when one adds to this his boyhood days with house slaves and merchant sailors while growing up in Allen’s home (Neurotic Poets par 2), the assumed image of Poe as a social idealist and visionary in addition to his well-known artistic idealism and vision can easily be seen.

Still, it is a well known fact that Poe did not subscribe to the idea that works of literature should have a moral. Instead, he would best be described as an aestheticist, having said about his own work, “Beauty‚Ķ is the sole legitimate province of the poem.” (Canada par 5) Thus, he believed in the aesthetic mantra of art for art‚Äôs sake. With this in mind, then, is it erroneous to think that Poe may have put his personal societal beliefs and opinions in his work at all? I would argue that he very much did, even if he did not do so intentionally, as I believe a writer inevitably pours much of himself into his work. To back up this claim, Poe himself based his literary criticisms on a dualistic theory that ‚Äú‚Ķfirst, a work must create a unity of effect on the reader to be considered successful; second, the production of this single effect should not be left to the hazards of accident or inspiration, but should to the minutest detail of style and subject be the result of rational deliberation on the part of the author.‚ÄĚ (Contemporary Authors Online par 22) And so we see that Poe believed a work of literature should, in fact, contain deep-seeded themes that would affect the reader in an emotional way, if not teach an overtly stated lesson. Also, many of Poe‚Äôs modern critics compare his oft-used metaphor of a dying young woman with his personal experiences in the young deaths of his mother and his wife, and again with his idealistic view of beauty in life and death (Biography.com 3). So we know that he did include at least some of his own psyche in his work. Opinions on the social order of the day can easily be included under that emotional umbrella.

Poe published The Fall of the House of Usher in September of 1839 while living in Philadelphia with his new wife Virginia. (Scharf 1) Though Poe himself found the height of his success during this time, the social and political order of his environment was highly volatile. Slavery was a huge hotbed topic of the day, an issue that would culminate into the American Civil War only two decades later. (Philadelphiahistory.org) As well, a terrible economic depression gripped America in early 1837, lasting until 1843 and forever changing the standard American social order: ‚ÄúEvery class in the community was affected, and economic interests were deeply stirred.‚ÄĚ (Rezneck 663) Living in the bustling urban setting of Philadelphia, Poe must have been entirely aware of these issues. Indeed, knowing that he was an idealist brought up by the upper-class and now a member of the financially lower-classes living in poverty (Scharf 1), it is safe to imagine that the economic depression, especially, effected him in a deep way. It is only natural that these deep emotional underpinnings of financial depression and societal ruin would seep into his work of the time.

The Fall of the House of Usher takes place ‚Äúin the autumn of‚ÄĚ an unspecified date, as the Narrator makes his way to the home of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher. The house, while not technically a barony or lordship, is called The House of Usher by the peasantry around it for the length of generations that the high-class family of Usher has held it. The Narrator‚Äôs friend Roderick is the last of that noble line, with only himself and his sister the lady Madeline still living there. Within days of the Narrator‚Äôs arrival at the House, Madeline, having long been sick, dies. Roderick, who has been wasting away for some time of the same affection, urges his friend to help him wall her body up in a deep vault below the Narrator‚Äôs own room. Once this has been accomplished, Roderick‚Äôs mind spirals into deep madness until, in the end, he is certain that his sister is indeed alive, has clawed her way out of her entombment, and is now coming for him. In a terrified stupor he cries out, ‚ÄúMadman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!‚ÄĚ (Poe 42) And indeed she has been alive, if barely, and has found her way back to the living only to finally die at the threshold along with her brother, who himself dies from terror as her dead body falls on him. The story closes as the Narrator flees from the House of Usher in horror, leaving it and its ghosts, both literal and metaphoric, to the dark tarn that engulfs it.

The Fall of the House of Usher is ripe with dystopian allegory. For the purposes of this paper I will split these allegorical images of a society’s social and economic downfall into four distinct parts: The physical deterioration of the once proud house itself; the direct connection between the house and its noble family; the downfall of the Usher family from a mysterious disease; and finally, the Lancelot story-within-a-story and the sudden freak storm that together finalize the demise of Usher.

The story opens with a bleak description of the house: ‚ÄúI know not how it was ‚Äď but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom invaded my spirit.‚ÄĚ (Poe 25) This description goes on for over three pages and, while no outright assumption is given of what it may have looked like in its heyday, in-between the lines of Poe‚Äôs dreary description of the house one can see that it had once been strong and beautiful: ‚ÄúIts principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity‚Ķ there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old woodwork‚Ķ Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eves‚Ķ [yet] the fabric gave little token of instability.‚ÄĚ (Poe 28) Inside the house, this theme of the decay of beauty and strength continues: ‚ÄúThe room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow and pointed, and so vast a distance from the black oaken door as to be altogether inaccessible from within‚Ķ The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered.‚ÄĚ (Poe 28-29) Altogether, the home of the Usher dynasty reflects a stark image of its once-proud high-class family, now fallen into decay.

The direct connection of the house to its family is blatant, as told by the Narrator early on: ‚Äú‚Ķ I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people‚Ķ speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other‚Ķ ‚Ķ in the minds of the peasantry who used it‚Ķ [the title of The House of Usher applied to] both the family and the family mansion.‚ÄĚ (Poe 27) ¬†This connection is thematic throughout the entire story, sometimes restated as blatantly as in the beginning, but most often far more subtlety noted. These subtle hints can best be seen in the physical duality of the house with its current master, Roderick Usher. Take, for example, the initial description of Roderick in comparison of the earlier description of the vast windows of the house as quoted above: ‚Äú‚Ķ an eye large, liquid and luminous beyond comparison ‚Ķ‚ÄĚ (Poe 29) and this, as compared to the fungi growing on the outside of the house: ‚Äú‚Ķ hair of more than web-like softness‚Ķ‚ÄĚ (Poe 29) Indeed, it seems that Roderick and the house are one in the same. This connection is further confirmed in the final scenes when Roderick goes mad from entombing his sister in the vault below. Although he has no concrete way of knowing that she is still alive and has made her way out of the vault, Roderick is not only certain she is coming, but he tracks her progress: ‚ÄúWill she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste‚Ķ she now stands without the door!‚ÄĚ (Poe 42) It may seem to the discerning reader that the house itself has told him where she is at each moment. Finally, the house‚Äôs connection to its master is clinched in its supernaturally violent sinking into the tarn directly after Roderick, its final master, meets his own demise.

When the story opens, both the lady Madeline and Roderick are sick with a mysterious disease that their doctors have been entirely unable to diagnose, let a lone treat. Madeline is further gone than her brother but not by much. The Narrator meets the main physician of the family when he first comes to the mansion: ‚ÄúHis countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and passed on.‚ÄĚ (Poe 28) ¬†The description of ‚Äúlow cunning and perplexity‚ÄĚ seems an odd oxi-moron. However, I believe this pertains to the doctor having an idea of what is wrong but also not entirely believing it, as the mysterious disease is far more psychological than physical. Indeed, the sickness is observed in as much a way in Roderick: ‚ÄúHis action was alternatively vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision ‚Äď that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation ‚Äď that leaden, self-balanced, and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard‚Ķ‚ÄĚ (Poe 30) Even Roderick himself seems to know that his condition is not entirely physical, as he tells the Narrator, ‚Äú‚ÄôI must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results‚Ķ In this unnerved, in this pitiful condition I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.‚Äô‚ÄĚ (Poe 30-31) Taking into consideration Poe‚Äôs perceived political and social beliefs and the devastating financial depression of the day, this commentary by Roderick can easily be seen as a direct connection to the uncertainty of future that the upper-classes were feeling at the time.

This disease of fear slowly eats away at both Ushers, just as the economic fear ate away at the people in Poe‚Äôs real world, until both Ushers are dead. Madeline dies not only from her disease but from her brother‚Äôs premature burial of her body, a metaphor that can easily be traced to the attitude of Poe‚Äôs day towards the workless poor: ‚Äú”Fly, scatter through the country, go to the Great West, anything rather than remain here. . . .‚Äô‚ÄĚ (Rezneck 665) Roderick, in a desperate effort to wall away the fear of his own demise, walls away the demise of his sister so that he can‚Äôt see it. But still it haunts him, just as the wails of the poor haunted the wealthy during the depression, until he, too, is dead. One can even say that he dies from her own hand, his fear getting the best of him at the end and that fear being clinched in the view of his sister‚Äôs terrible state. This can be viewed as a veiled warning that when society ignores its brothers and sisters in need, its own demise cannot be far off.

In the final pages of the story, the Narrator is in his own rooms experiencing a terrible feeling of foreboding when Roderick visits him in a condition that appalls his friend: ‚Äú‚Ķthere was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes.‚ÄĚ (Poe 38) A storm has been brewing for some time before this visit, but the Narrator has chosen not to look at it. Roderick, however, throws open the casements and forces his friend to look. The storm is mostly made up of violent and unpredictable winds along with an ‚Äú‚Ķ unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly gaseous exaltation which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.‚ÄĚ (Poe 39)

The Narrator, fearing the storm and its possible effect on his already mad companion, closes the shutters and forces Roderick to sit and listen to him read a story in the hopes that it will distract them both from the wailing winds and unnatural light outside. The story, not one of Roderick‚Äôs favorites, is titled ‚ÄúThe Mad Tryst of Sir Lancelot Canning‚ÄĚ. Though the hero of this story-within-a-story is not Sir Lancelot, it should be noted that to most, Sir Lancelot is best known for his affair with Queen Guinevere and the resulting toppling of King Arthur‚Äôs golden rule over Camelot. As such, I feel Poe‚Äôs choice to use this particular character in his imagined title is very telling in the metaphor of the dystopian-esque fall of his own society. As the Narrator begins to read, Ethelred, the hero of the tale, has just decided to force his way into a hermit‚Äôs dwelling, being both drunk and in need of a place to stay. There Ethelred is attacked by a dragon and is forced to slay it. During the course of the story there are three distinct points where both the Narrator and Roderick hear literal echoes from the fictional story within the house: the tearing of wood as Ethelred smashes his way into the dwelling, the harsh shriek of the slain dragon in its death-throws, and finally the mighty and terrible ringing sound of the great enchanted bronze shield as it falls to the silver floor, Ethelred having taken it down from the wall. In each instance the Narrator is shocked, so we know that these sounds are not in Roderick‚Äôs own head, but quite literal. To his terrified friend, Roderick gives his perceived account of each: ‚ÄúAnd now — to-night — Ethelred — ha! ha! — the breaking of the hermit’s door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangour of the shield! –say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the vault!‚ÄĚ (Poe 42) These three sounds can be interpreted another way as well, when taking into consideration The Fall of the House of Usher as dystopian allegory: The fall of the hermit‚Äôs door is the fall of the lower-classes that always comes first in a depression. Then follows the dragon‚Äôs protection of the great shield, or the government‚Äôs protection of the high-classes and the death-cries of its ultimate fall. Finally, the shield itself falls with a great clangor: the fall of the upper-classes and the end of society as it has previously been known. Taking Madeline‚Äôs metaphoric place as the out-of-work masses ignored out of fear by the upper-classes (Roderick), this metaphor finds its way full-circle as she accosts him, thus finalizing her own death as well as his own.

The storm plays a part in all this as well. Raging outside as the Narrator reads the story of Ethelred, it throws a great gust of wind into the chamber, opening the doors and revealing Madeline‚Äôs dying form: ‚Äú‚Ķ the huge antique panels to which the speaker pointed threw slowly back‚Ķ It was the work of the rushing gust — but then without those doors there DID stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher.‚ÄĚ (Poe 42) The storm is also the final nail in the Usher coffin, with its gusts finishing a crack down the middle of the house and sinking it into the tarn forever. Metaphorically speaking, I can see the storm and its winds as change, forever altering society (Usher) as it has henceforth been known.

Taking all these things into account, then, we can see that Roderick’s house, family, and physical and emotional state can be seen as a mirror to the misery-filled dystopian future that Poe and many others of his day feared coming from the depression that gripped their world. Thus, while it is not directly considered so, I feel The Fall of the House of Usher can be seen as a precursor to modern dystopia as we now know it.

Works Cited

Canada, Mark. ‚ÄúEdgar Allan Poe: 1809-1849.‚ÄĚ uncp.edu, 1997. Web. 4 January 2012. <http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/allam/17841865/lit/poe.htm&gt;

Dougherty, Stephen. “Foucault in the House of Usher: Some Historical Permutations in Poe’s Gothic.” Papers on Language & Literature 37.1 (2001): 3. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

“Edgar Allan Poe.” 2012. Biography.com. Web. 04 Jan 2012 <http://www.biography.com/people/edgar-allan-poe-9443160&gt;

“Edgar Allan Poe.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

‚ÄúEdgar Allen Poe: 1809-1849.‚ÄĚ neuroticpoetc.com, 1997-2102. Web. 4 January 2102 <http://neuroticpoets.com/poe/&gt;

‚ÄúThe History of Dystopian Literature.‚ÄĚ Timeline. Xtimeline.com. Famento Inc, 2008-2009. Web. 2 January 2012. <http://www.xtimeline.com/timeline/The-History-of-Dystopian-Literature&gt;

Mowery, Carl. “An overview of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’.” Short Stories for Students. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

Poe, Edgar Allan. ‚ÄúThe Fall of the House of Usher‚ÄĚ The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings. New York: Bantam Classics (1982): 25-43. Print

‚ÄúPoe‚Äôs Family Tree.‚ÄĚ Family Tree. eapoe.org. Jan. 30, 1998. Web. 2 January 2012 <http://www.eapoe.org/geninfo/poegnlgy.htm&gt;

‚ÄúQuest for Freedom.‚ÄĚ philadelphiahistory.org. Web. 3 January 2012 <http://www.philadelphiahistory.org/quest_for_freedom&gt;

Rezneck, Samuel. ‚ÄúThe Social History of an American Depression, 1837-1843.‚ÄĚ The American Historical Review, Vol. 40, No. 4. (Jul., 1935) 662-687. JSTOR. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

Sharf, Douglas. ‚ÄúEdgar Allan Poe:¬†Biographical Contexts For “‚ÄôThe Fall of the House of Usher‚Äô.‚ÄĚ American Literature Research and Analysis Web Site. 1 (April 2000) Florida Gulf Coast University. Web. 4 Jan. 2102. ¬†<http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/poefall.htm#First&gt;

Timmerman, John H. “House of Mirrors: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’.” Papers on Language & Literature 39.3 (Summer 2003): 227-244. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Vol. 111. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

© Jessica Sandoval 2012

A Call For Reviewable Kids’ Books

Posted in Books, Fiction, Kid Lit Reviews, Literature, Writing with tags , , , , on October 3, 2011 by Jessica Crichton

Hi everyone!

I start graduate school today, so I don’t have a whole lot of time to blog. But I have a quick announcement/request I want to make:

I will begin reviewing a book a week on here starting next Monday.

If you would like your book reviewed, email me with the following information:

  • Your name.
  • Your pen name (if applicable).
  • The title of your book.
  • The genre of your book.
  • A short synopsis, no longer than two paragraphs.

My email address is morganmarshallliterary@yahoo.com.

I will chose the books that interest me from the emails I receive. If I chose yours, I will reply with a request for you to send a me a review copy and the address where you should send it. I will read and review each title as I receive them, so if you get a request and wish a review as soon as possible, send it to me right away.

Here are the requirements:

  • Your book must be published. I would like to let my readers know where to buy your book, and if it’s not purchasable, this is not possible. That said, I will accept self-published books, of course.
  • Your book must be a children’s book. Middle grade adventures and genre fiction would be best, but I will consider picture books and YA as well. For picture books, I will filter them though my own children for the best opinions straight from the horse’s mouth.
  • You need to be able to send a copy to me at your own expense. I will return the copy if requested, though I would also love to keep them. If you wish to sign your book, that would be awesome but not required. In case you’re wondering why you should bother sending me a review copy at all, I welcome you to read about me and decide for yourself if you feel I am worthy to review your work.
  • My review will include a private e-mailed critique only if requested.

Please know that my reviews will be 100% honest. The last thing I want to do is recommend a book to my readers that is of poor quality. That said, I will write the review in a way that is sensitive to your feelings and will include positives in every review I post. If, in the sad event I can’t find anything positive to say, I will email you a private critique instead.

That is all. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them here. Thank you, and I’ll blog at you again soon!

~MM

John M. Cusick

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