Top Ten Tuesday: Monsters and Creators

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 25: Halloween Freebie

I recently read Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, which dealt a lot with the ideas of monsters and their parents. The book was concerned with mothers as a feminist concept, but for the purpose of this list, I’m considering any creator of a monster as that monster’s “mother.”

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly – At this point it’s pretty common knowledge that a) “Frankenstein” is the name of the creator rather than the monster and that b) the creator may just be the real monster. All of that is true. But I think the central question here is whether Victor was more wrong for taking the powers of life and death into his own hands, or because he abandoned any responsibility for his creation immediately after her brought it to life?

The Stranger Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis – This is an interesting case because the creator and the monster are the same person. Everything in Mr. Hyde was in Dr. Jekyll all along. The Hyde part of his personality was kept in check by the better parts of Jekyll’s nature. By trying to separate the two, he unintentionally took away that check and set Hyde free on the world.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Schriver – What Kevin does is monstrous. There’s no question about that. In this case the question is where the blame for the monster’s action lies. Eva didn’t want to be a mother, and struggled to connect to her son. Did she sense some evil in him and shy away from him? Or did he go wrong because of his distant mother? And what role does his father play in his crimes? Even though the focus of this novel is on the mother/son dynamic, Kevin’s father is unable to see Kevin as anything other than perfect, regardless of what he does. How much is this to blame?

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – We don’t usually think of this as a story of monsters, but go with me on this one: Miss Havisham is a Frankenstein figure. She wants revenge on men, so she “creates” Estella as a weapon against them. In doing so, she not only punishes Pip who had nothing to do with what her fiancé did years earlier, but she also hurts Estella who isn’t able have normal relationships.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wracker – Chava is very much a created creature: born of clay and Kabbalistic magic. Ahmed is born of the desert, but is in some way created when he’s trapped in a copper flask by a wizard. That experience creates him. Yet in another way, their creators are really their experiences in life (or whatever the equivalent is for magical creatures). This is about what happens when they meet in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss – This is a mash-up where Mary Jekyll meets Hyde’s daughter, Diana, as well as Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau and Justine Frankenstein. Together with Sherlock and Watson they take on a secret society. I read this years ago, before the rest of the series was available. Now that all three books are released, I need to give the first a reread before I read the others.

Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathanial Hawthorne – Read this if you want to know more about Beatrice Rappaccini. This is actually a short story. It’s one of those things that’s a great story, but I find the prose rather cumbersome. It’s definitely worth a read though.

Dollanganger series by VC Andrews -This series is essentially about generation after generation of monsters creating more monsters. And while these books are not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, these inevitable, destructive family patterns are absolutely terrifying in their own way. Just a note, I can only attest to the first five books in the series that Andrews wrote herself (well, the fifth was finished by the ghost writer), the rest of the books were the work of ghost writer Andrew Neiderman.

Carrie by Stephen King – Once again the “monster’s” mother may be the real monster. Or a real monster anyway. We could also argue that Carrie’s “creators” may also be the peers who repeatedly humiliate Carrie eventually push her to a place where mass telekinetic murder seemed like a good option.

The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells – Truthfully I don’t really have strong feelings about this book, but no list of monsters and creators would be complete without it!

In conclusion, monsters rarely act alone!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Villians

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 23: Villains (favorite, best, worst, lovable, creepiest, most evil, etc.)

I went with the creepiest/ most evil for this one

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these villains do some very bad things, so in discussing them, I mention some of those. It you have triggers, be warned.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– You don’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a creepy villain, but Mrs. Danvers totally is. From forbidding demeanor to her pathological obsession with her employer’s late wife (the title character) she makes life a living hell for his second wife, interfering in their marriage, playing psychological games and trying to goad the second wife to suicide.

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51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_2. Annie Wilkes in Misery by Stephen King- I think that the development of the internet makes such a villain even more plausible. I’ve seen fandoms in which a few people are only lacking the opportunity to save their favorite writer (or actor/singer/whatever) after being injured in a carwreck in an isolated, snowbound area and keep him/her prisoner for months, demanding new material according to the specifications of the individual fan. When the object of Annie’s fanning resists, things get ugly.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_3. Black Jack Randall Outlander by Diana Gabaldon– There’s a common misconception that Black Jack Randall is gay. He’s not. According to the author, he’s a “bisexual sexual sadist” but I might leave off the “bisexual” because if the opportunity presented itself in an appealing way, I don’t think he’d limit himself to only men and/or women. Early  on in the book he assaults the heroine, and only circumstances keep him from raping her. Later we learn about his assault on our heroine’s sister in law which  was unsuccessful because his intended victim began to laugh (a hysterical reaction, but he took it to mean that she wasn’t suffering, so he couldn’t perform). His fixation with a male character stems from an encounter in which Randall flogged him until he was near dead, but he stills refused to give Randall the satisfaction of screaming and begging. That makes him see this character as his ultimate challenge. It’s got nothing to do with gender.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_4. Corinne Dollinganger Foxworth in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– Corrine was disowned by her parents about fifteen years prior to the action of the book. When she’s widowed and in dire financial straits, with four children,  she returns to her wealthy parents home. Her mother explains the situation: her father won’t accept her back if he knows that her marriage produced children, but he’s on his deathbed. She can tell him there were no kids and he’ll write her back into his will. So the children need to stay hidden from him. Fortunately the mansion has an attic where the kids can stay. Once he’s dead, they can come out. It’ll probably only be a week or so. Corrine reluctantly agrees to this plan. But as time goes by and her father lingers on, Corinne develops a fondness for the finer things in life. The kids are really perfectly fine in the attic. And when it becomes clear that her inheritance may depend on no one ever learning of their existence, Corrine is really OK with that…

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_5. Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- Eva Khatchadourian is ambivalent about motherhood, even after the birth of her son, Kevin. She does most things “right.” She pays attention to him, takes care of him, is involved in his life at school. But something about him strikes her as “off.” He’s manipulative, and often hostile to her, but her husband, Franklin is pretty convinced that they have the perfect son. When Kevin commits a series of horrific crimes as a teenager, Eva is left wondering where the responsibility lies. Was it nature? Did she sense that something was deeply wrong with her son from the beginning? Is that why she was unable to form an attachment with him? Or was it nurture? Did his own mother’s distaste for him turn Kevin into a monster? Eventually she asks Kevin why he did what he did, and his answer is chilling.

41bzvplqikl-_ac_us218_6. Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens– This may surprise some people since Miss Havisham is generally seen as pathetic rather than villainous. And she is a pitiable figure, refusing to change out of her wedding dress, or take the wedding decorations down after her intended leaves her at the alter. But I think that she becomes villainous some years later when she takes in beautiful  young orphan named Estella, and trains the girl from childhood to torment, manipulate and spurn men, as a revenge against the man who broke Miss Havisham’s heart years earlier. Not only is this unfair to men (who are not all responsible for her fiance’s behavior!) but it’s unfair to Estella, who misses out on friendships and healthy relationships due to her early training.

51cfd7bn2hl-_ac_us218_7. The Other Mother in Coraline by Neil Gaiman- As children, we are supposed to see our mothers as safe, nurturing, and loving (though some of the ladies on this list prove that isn’t always the case!). Coraline’s mother isn’t perfect. She’s often busy and inattentive. But she loves her daughter, and tries to help her. When Coraline stumbles upon the Other World, she discovers the Other Mother. She looks like Coraline’s real mother, but with black button eyes. During the course of the story she comes to look less and less like Coraline’s real mother as she grows taller and thinner. She’s unable to create and can only copy the real world and make her own twisted version of it. She wants someone to mother, so she collects children who she loves possessively to the point of destruction. She’s a twisted version of what we usually associate with motherhood.

51f1lrsblyl-_ac_us218_8. Frederick Clegg in The Collector by John Fowles– When Freddie Clegg wins the lottery it’s a chance to do something he’s wanted to do for a long time. He quits his job and buys an isolated house with a big cellar. He’s admired Miranda Grey for a long time, and he wants to be with her, but his social awkwardness keeps him from approaching her. So he kidnaps her instead, so that he can add her to his “collection” of pretty, preserved objects. Hopefully, after being with him for a while, she’ll grow to love him. After all, he’s fixed up the cellar for her nicely, and he treats her with “every respect.” His difficulty relating to others might make Freddie sympathetic in some circumstances. But when he chloroforms Miranda, shoves her into the back of a van, kidnaps her and holds her prisoner in his basement for an extended period of time, our sympathy starts to waver a bit. But the book is insidious in making us feel for Freddie at times anyway.

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. Henry Winter in The Secret History by Donna Tartt- Henry is a Classics student at Hampden College in Vermont. He’s a linguistic genius and probably a sociopath. When he’s blackmailed by another member of his social group (for accidentally killing a man, but it was an accident, so that’s OK) Henry’s solution is to kill his blackmailer and get his friends to help him. As the murder, and the response, tear the group apart, Henry’s sanity begins to unravel (though whether he was ever very “ravelled” is up for debate!) but his charm is probably his most disconcerting characteristic.

512sbygkbgl-_ac_us218_10. Zenia in The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood– This  novel is a gender reversed contemporary re-imagining of the fairy tale The Robber Bridegroom, in which the title character lures women promised to him in marriage back to his house, where he eats them. Zenia isn’t a literal “man eater” in this book but she’s already destroyed the lives of three women by stealing their partners, meddling in their careers, and interfering with their lives. But perhaps the most “evil” thing she does is create a dynamic amongst these women, where they’re almost dependent on hating her. Once she is no longer a threat they seem lost.

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Book Titles

For The Broke and The Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

October 24: Top Ten Unique Book Titles: For this one I decided to go with titles that stood out and were very appropriate for the story they told. Oh, and actually there are only 9 this time!

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_1. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver– I liked that this almost seemed like a phone message or a note. It’s a conversation that happens many times in the book. But it’s not enough, and it’s not the conversation that needs to happen. We’re ultimately left wondering if things would have been different if that needed conversation had happened.

 

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– The title here comes from a framed nursery rhyme in the bedrooms of the eight guests of Mr. Owen, on a remote island off the coast of England. As the guests start to die off, we’re left wondering whodunit, and making guesses by process of elimination. It’s only when there are no suspects left that the true killer is revealed.

 

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– This book about the experience of Ifemelu, a Nigerian, who moves to the US to study. The title refers to a word that is used in Nigeria, meaning someone who pretends to have been Americanized or has been Americanized. It’s a word that deals with American identity from the outside; what a foreign culture perceives “Americanization” to be.  And the novel itself deals with Ifemelu’s discovery of what it means to be a person of color in the United States, and how race goes from something that wasn’t on her radar in Nigeria, to being a construct that she has to navigate on a constant basis.

51e1m-kbfkl-_ac_us218_4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan– Goon squads were originally groups of thugs would beat up workers who tried to unionize. Later the word “goon” came to refer to any violent thug. This novel is really interconnected short stories that shift back and forth in time from the 1960s to the near future, as the characters are sent in different directions by life. So what is the “goon” here? Time? Life? Yes, to both I think.  The characters in the book that find happiness, do so in ways that were unintended, and the happiness is usually limited; an illustration of the goonish nature of things.

5180ubrqqzl-_ac_us218_5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– Merricat Blackwood and her sister Constance live in their family’s house with their uncle Julian, following the murder of their entire family, for which Constance was acquitted six years earlier. They’re the beginning of a local legend; the mysterious, slightly witchy sisters living forever in their “castle”. The secret they keep is about the true nature of the Blackwood family’s murder.

 

6. Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan– This book deals with a group of American tourists travelling from China to Myanmar. The story is told by the tour guide, Bibi Chen, who dies before the trip takes place and watches over the group as they travel. They’re kidnapped by the Karen people who believe that a teenage member of the tour group is their savior. The book is as absurd as the actions of the title suggests. It deals with the notion that well intentioned deeds can be so misguided that they might cause harm and vice versa.

41oieugca5l-_ac_us218_7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– This title also comes from a nursery rhyme.  We’re told that the narrator’s grandmother recited it to him. “One flew East, One flew West, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” The novel is set in a mental hospital in the early 1960’s; a time  when the Civil Rights movement was gaining traction, and changes were being made to the practice of psychiatry and psychology. There was a movement toward less institutional facilities, but the characters in the book are in a very traditional hospital. The “one” in the title who “flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is the one that doesn’t do pick a clear direction like the other two. The suggestion that the patients at the hospital are those who flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and were called crazy for not conforming.

51sb1fc4xl-_ac_us218_8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer- This published in 2005. In some ways the US was still recovering from the horrors of 9/11. The nine year old protagonist, who lost his father in the World Trade Center, uses the words “extremely” and “incredibly” quite a bit in his narration. The words can certainly be seen as a witness’ description of the attacks, but the absence of a loved one to whom you felt close is also “loud”.

51rvjiougpl-_ac_us218_9. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray– This title references a line in the book, but as a phrases it pretty much sums up the themes of the the book (which begins a trilogy). The main character, Gemma Doyle is a Victorian girl sent to boarding school, where she happens upon a secret society. Her daily life is structured and dictated but the secret society offers her power that Victorian England doesn’t. That power has the potential to be both great and terrible depending on who is using it and for what purpose.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Fathers

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 13: Father’s Day related Freebiefavorite dads in literature, best father/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your dad, worst dads in literature, etc. etc.

I wouldn’t give up my own father for the best of these guys. But they are pretty amazing. Just a few notes: I didn’t want to include Atticus Finch because he shows up on all of these lists. Also, I found it interesting that so many of these were adoptive rather than biological fathers. In many cases they do far more for their children than the children’s biological fathers ever did. It just goes to prove love makes a parent. Not biology.

  1. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- Early in the novel, ex-con Valjean turns away from a life of crime and tries to live as an honest man. But he only truly learns to love when he adopts the orphaned Cosette. He’s 110% devoted to her.
  2. Silas Marner in the novel of the same name by George Eliot- Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Silas Marner becomes curmudgeon and a miser. One night he finds a two year old girl wandering in the snow and adopts her. Little Eppie changes his life. He becomes more involved in the community, he makes friends and cares for her completely.
  3. Mathew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables– While his tough as nails sister, Marilla takes a while to warm up to the orphan Anne, Mathew loves her right away. He is the first person in her life to truly show her kindness, and he faces his fears to make her happy.
  4. Daniel LeBlanc in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr-  Widowed father of a blind daughter, Daniel LeBlanc teaches his daughter, Marie-Laure to be independent by creating a scale model of their Paris neighborhood for her to memorize by touch. He also provides her with novels in Braille. When the Nazis invade Paris Daniel brings Marie to the coastal town of Saint-Malo, where he once again creates a model for her to learn her surroundings.
  5. James Fraser in the Outlander series– Over the course of 8 books (so far) fatherhood isn’t always kind to our hero. Unable to raise his biological children from childhood, Jamie still raises his fair share of kids, from the French pickpocket Fergus, to his nephew Young Ian. But when his biological children do enter his life later on, he proves that parenthood doesn’t end when one’s children are grown.
  6. Frank Gilbraith Sr in Cheapter By the Dozen by Frank B Gilbrath Jr and Ernastine Gilbraith Carey is an efficiency expert and father of twelve. He was rather eccentric, but his children’s book about him recalls a home full of children, laughter, warmth, and love.
  7. Pa Ingalles from the Little House series by Laura Ingalles Wilder is always present.  He had a major case of wanderlust but took his family along with them, giving them a view of life that few people did in the 19th century. He was able to go hunting and built a house but also taught his children to treat others with kindness and care and led by example.
  8. Horton from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss- When Mayzie the bird lays an egg but can’t be bothered to hatch it, Horton steps in.  In spite  of the absurdity of an elephant sitting on a bird’s egg, Horton refuses to abandon his charge.
  9. Dr. Wilbur Larch from The Cider House Rules by John Irving- Dr. Larch is the founder and director of the orphanage of St. Cloud. He gives all the children in his care his attention and affection, but he loves Homer Wells like a son. Even as Homer grows up and makes his own way in the world, he and Dr. Larch maintain a powerful bond.
  10. Ned Stark in Game of Thrones by George RR Martin- once he left the series I lost a lot of my interest in the story actually. Everything he did was for the safety and well being of his children. No principle had priority above their welfare

And a few of the worst literary fathers on my “dishonorable mention” list:

  • Harry Wormwood in Matilda– Harry is a duplicitous used car salesman, who believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from television. He is initially horrified that his daughter, Matilda, isn’t a boy. His horror is compounded when it becomes clear that she would rather read a book than watch TV. Otherwise doesn’t much care what she does.
  • Jack Torrance in The Shining– From the beginning of this book, Jack isn’t an example of paternal excellence. He’s an alcoholic who has a tendency toward violence when her drinks. But when he gets a job as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, the now sober Jack, moves there with his wife and 5 year old son, Danny. As the ghosts of the Overlook invade his psyche Jack becomes increasingly unstable, until, finally, he ends up chasing his wife and Danny through the hotel with a croquet mallet.  But in his final moments he is able to wrench his mind free from the hotel’s destructive influence encourage Danny to escape. So perhaps, in spite of his many flaws, there was love at the bottom of it all.
  • Franklin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I spoke about his wife, Eva as a notable, but deeply flawed fictional mother. But Franklin is just as flawed. His sin is denial. He can’t- or won’t- see that his son is anything less than wonderful. When his wife tries to make him see warning signs in Kevin’s behavior he turns a blind eye. He pays for this in a major way.
  • Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- It’s one of my favorite books, but Heathcliff is still a nasty piece of work. He marries for revenge after his true love marries another man. Then he takes his anger and sadness out on his sickly son. Nice.
  • Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- I know he has his fans, and that his wife has her own issues (discussed here) but there is a very serious issue facing his family that he completely disregards. He has five daughters who can’t legally inherit his property. That means that following his death they’ll be without resources. His wife is, understandably, concerned about this, and he mocks her for it. To make it worse, he mocks her in front of his daughters, thereby diminishing their respect for their mother.