Friday, October 28, 2011

Romance Tale: Green Knights and Severed Heads



Last week, I introduced the characteristics and themes of romance tales. This week, I wish to review romance tales again, this time with one of the earlier ones, one from the Middle Ages, a tale titled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. As you read, note the characteristics and high ideals (refer to last week’s post as needed) in evidence.

First, the facts:

·      Gawain is a knight in Arthur’s court.
·      He is Arthur’s nephew.
·      He is physically smaller than the other knights, and he has fewer wins in his column.
·      Morgan, Arthur’s half-sister, is a powerful sorceress, often cast in the role of antagonist.
·      Morgan casts a spell that transforms a distant Lord into a large Green figure in order to test the Knights of the Round Table and thereby, Arthur himself.
·      Gawain agrees to represent Arthur and all of Camelot by submitting to the Green Knight’s challenge.
·      The Green Knight makes his entrance during a banquet on one of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The story begins when the Green Knight rides in on a mighty steed, its shod hooves making sparks upon the stone floor. No one recognizes him—after all, he’s green, and green giants are not common in Camelot. Furthermore, he appears in a show of force, riding his huge steed into the banquet hall, wielding an enormous double-bladed axe, his unnatural green flesh and fiery red hair terrifying. The Knight then invites Arthur’s men to engage in a challenge: use the axe to strike a blow against the Knight’s neck, then kneel to accept an identical blow in one year plus one day.

Of course, Arthur’s men are slow to agree. They know that a single blow will kill any mortal and thus are reluctant to accept until Arthur himself stands and steps forward. This, if the story were to end there, would have satisfied Morgan. She would have her proof that Arthur’s men do not really have the right stuff. After all, they swore oaths to serve and honor God first and King second; in thinking of their own lives above all else, the men failed. Their own survival overshadowed their duties, and the Green Knight is quick to point out their cowardice. He mocks the legend of Arthur until Gawain takes charge. He accepts the Green Knight’s challenge and asserts that his life is inconsequential when compared to Arthur’s. Thus, his demonstrated loyalty, courage, and humility redeem Arthur’s court.

The Green Knight’s head falls and rolls toward the feet of the banquet guests, spraying blood, grotesque against the verdant skin. Yet the Green Knight lives to retrieve his head, mount his steed, and while holding his own head by his own hair, speak before the horrified guests that Gawain must seek him out no later than one year and one day hence.

How quickly those days must have passed for Gawain, especially because there is a death sentence at the end of them. Gawain knows that he has no magic to survive a severed head.

Nevertheless, he dresses in his finest, saddles his horse, and rides forth to find the Green Knight’s castle. On his journey, he passes through stark landscapes and unforgiving weather. He rides far and father still, asking for assistance from others who send him in a general direction. His last stop is at a castle set on high ground where he takes refuge.

The Lord and Lady of the castle are excellent hosts. They provide Gawain with warm, dry clothing of the finest cloth. They assign him to a suite where a large fire warms him. They seem to spare no expense and urge him to remain, to restore his strength, assuring him that the Green Knight’s green chapel is quite close.

The Lord hunts every day, giving the poet opportunity to describe the hunting strategies for various creatures and the Lord another opportunity to prove his generosity. He promises to share his kill with Gawain as long as Gawain returns to him whatever he has received while at the castle. Therein lies another test of Gawain’s character for while the Lord is away, the Lady tries to seduce him.

Gawain resists her temptation. Then she tries to bribe him, first with precious gems and finally with a simple green scarf. The jewels Gawain refuses because he has nothing in kind to offer; he has performed no feats of valor for her and thus, deserves no payment, but she presses the scarf upon him, telling him that it has life-saving properties. That proves to be one temptation too great to refuse; after all, Gawain is in dire need of something that will save his neck.

On the appointed day, Gawain travels to the Green Knight’s green chapel and bares his neck for the blow. He flinches once, twice, but the Knight’s taunts teach Gawain to hold steady for the third, a blow that merely knicks his flesh, thanks to the scarf.

The Knight then reveals himself as the Lord, transformed by Morgan the sorceress for a test to determine if Arthur’s knights live up to their own legend. Gawain thinks he has fallen miserably short because he accepted the scarf and flinched twice. The Knight, on the other hand, believes Gawain to be brave for he only hesitated when faced with his own death; that, the Knight contends, is understandable and forgiveable.

Reading Challenge:

At the outset of this post, I asked you to discover the characteristics of Romance tales as you reviewed Gawain’s story. How did you fare? Let’s see.

Romance tales feature:
·      Unknowns, including the true identity of key characters or destinations
·      Supernatural interventions
·      Fantastical settings
·      Numbers that carry symbolic weight, e. g., three, seven, and their multiples signify completion (a complete Holy Trinity or Creation itself, for example)
·      Love and temptation

Gawain’s tale features:
·      The true identity and nature of the Green Knight is an unknown.
·      A sorceress transforms a man into a Green Knight, and magic transforms a scarf into a life-saving tool.
·      The setting is epic for Gawain travels far from his home, he spends more than one year proving his courage, and the way to the Knight’s castle takes Gawain through terrain he has never seen, terrain that resembles a hell on earth rather than a kingdom near Camelot.
·      The contest features numbers that carry symbolic weight. Gawain’s test lasts one year and one day or 366 days, clearly a number that is a multiple of three. He also endures three blows to his neck before the test is over.
·      Gawain’s love of God and King urge him on to honor. He resists the Lady’s attempts to seduce him for the same reasons.

Gawain’s tale ultimately shows the heroic nature of remaining true to a code of honor, of remaining true to oneself, and in doing so, the tale upholds principles of the Middle Ages.

Writing Challenge:

Send a modern-day knight on a quest to uphold honor. Cast him in the role of presidential candidate or Occupy Wall Street leader. Be sure to incorporate unknowns, interventions (perhaps a storm?), fantastical settings of time and place, numbers that have symbolic weight, love, and temptation (Wall Street bonuses?). Have great, good fun!

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): More Commonly Confused Words

The Green Knight flaunts his prowess. In other words, he parades in a showy manner before the Christmas dinner guests. He flaunts his superiority over the laws of nature when he picks up his own head and holds it aloft as it speaks from a mouth divorced from its airways.

The Knight’s wife, Lady of the castle, flouts the rules of common decency and marriage by trying to seduce poor Gawain. In other words, she demonstrates contempt for the laws and standards of her day.

Many people confuse flaunt and flout, two words that may begin and end the same, but have very different meanings.

Next week: A Romance tale set in Arkansas and Oklahoma when it was called Indian Territory

Friday, October 21, 2011

Romance Tales with a Modern Twist


Another favorite fun read for me is the romance tale, oft told and re-told in the Middle Ages. Many featured King Arthur and the knights of his court, but a much more modern Jim Carey film, Bruce Almighty (2003), is a classic romance tale re-imagined with humor and heart.

Allow me to review the characteristics of romance tales from days of old, then apply them to the twenty-first century comedy.

Romance tales feature:
·      Unknowns, including the true identity of key characters or destinations
·      Supernatural interventions
·      Fantastical settings
·      Numbers that carry symbolic weight, e. g., three, seven, and their multiples signify completion (a complete Holy Trinity or Creation itself)
·      Love and temptation

Romance tales exist to illustrate and uphold high ideals. They also demonstrate how a hero’s choices and actions may benefit a nation or group.

Bruce Almighty uses all of these features to serve the purposes stated in bold font above.
First, Bruce invokes God often. Unfortunately, his wishes, prayers, and desires are self-serving; they come to little, especially when Bruce dares God to send a sign and rescue Bruce’s thwarted ambitions.

God delivers, placing literal signs in front of Bruce reading “Yield” or “Stop.” Bruce, of course, too caught up in himself, does not make the connection and drives into an unforgiving light post. God even pages Bruce, but Bruce refuses to return the call until the pager, crushed and broken, continues to beep, alerting Bruce to something odd, something we recognize as supernatural.

When Bruce arrives for his appointment with God, he finds an African-American dressed in a janitor’s work clothes, mopping a shiny floor in a huge, empty building. The man’s true identity doesn’t fool viewers, but it does fool Bruce who is too arrogant and too frustrated to take notice.

Even after God introduces himself as God, Bruce continues to doubt Him and clings to the ordinary in a fantastical place, arguing that the file drawer is just a file drawer that extends through a wall. Bruce defies any magic about the drawer until God proves that its amazing length and detail are not a sleight of hand, an illusion; the drawer is real and really continues every detail about Bruce.

God is, of course, the owner and manager of a pristine building, one where he labors, cultivating a calm, peaceful spirit. God, in this place, is the supernatural intervention that sends Bruce on a journeya quest, his destination unknown, and God gives Bruce all the powera metaphor for the divinity that resides within each of us. He can accept himself and his gifts; he can be joyful and grateful in every moment, or he can continue to want, complain, and wallow in what he does not have. Bruce takes for granted his power and what he has, especially the love of Grace, his devoted and patient girlfriend.

Grace, you may recall, is the one gift to which we are all entitled whether we are worthy or not, and the female embodiment of Grace is generous, forgiving, and selfless. She wishes for Bruce’s happiness above her own. She is a Christ-like figure representing the highest of high ideals in matters of love.

Bruce can’t even recognize what he has in Grace. He can only focus upon what he does not have: gravitas in the world of broadcast news and the promotion he thinks he deserves. With God’s powers vested in him temporarily, he grants himself what he lacks, butyou know you saw it coming—the anchorman position fails to fulfill him. His journey leads him into more pathless woods where temptations and thorns prick and sting. He even dies, but God grants him one more chance, his third, I believe, when he finally thinks of someone else’s happiness as more important than his own.

Bruce prays for Grace to find someone who will cherish her, someone equal to the gifts she brings to this world. And when Bruce does this, he receives what he truly needs: self-acceptance, humility, and love. Grace is, of course, by his side as he recovers. The station allows him to return to work, but this time, human interest stories bring him as much joy as they do viewers. He dedicates himself to good works on and off the job. He finds the peace that passes understanding, a peace within himself.

Bruce Almighty tells the tale of Christian ideals, and it celebrates the hero who makes the world a better place by caring more for others than for himself.

Next week: A classic romance tale, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Reading Challenge:

Read the film Bruce Almighty. Enjoy.

Writing Challenge:

Write a romance tale. Make it modern. Use cell phones instead of pagers, automobiles instead of horses as in the days of old, and a quest for a destination unknown. Uphold the highest of high ideals as your tale unfolds.

GUM (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics):

A romance, in the literary sense (see definition 3 below), differs from romance between two people (see definition 1 below). Online, The Free Dictionary distinguishes between the uses of the noun romance:

1.
            a. A love affair.
            b. Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; love: They kept the romance alive in their marriage for 35 years.
            c. A strong, sometimes short-lived attachment, fascination, or enthusiasm for something: a childhood romance with the sea.

2. A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful: "These fine old guns often have a romance clinging to them" (Richard Jeffries).

3.
            a. A long medieval narrative in prose or verse that tells of the adventures and heroic exploits of chivalric heroes: an Arthurian romance.
            b. A long fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary or mysterious events, usually set in a distant time or place.
            c. The class of literature constituted by such tales.

4.
            a. An artistic work, such as a novel, story, or film, that deals with sexual love, especially in an idealized form.
            b. The class or style of such works.

5. A fictitiously embellished account or explanation: We have been given speculation and romance instead of the facts.

6. Music A lyrical, tender, usually sentimental song or short instrumental piece.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fabulous Fiction: The Gum Shoe Gun Show


Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.

My favorite fun read is crime fiction.  Whether Ms. Scarlet in the Library did it with a gun or the real estate moguls in Florida killed the competition or Nazis in rural Sweden drove a girl to Australia, I’ll give the book a try. I love to solve a mysteryalthough, in the interest of full disclosure, I am one among many who read the ending when I just cannot bear the suspense any longer. Then I settle in to watch how the author winds his way to that ending. Sometimes I believe I’ve guessed who done it so I must read the last pages to check my wit; alas, I am wrong about as often as I am right.

Anyway, give me the philosophical ruminator who, over a cup of tea, brushes away the red herrings to solve the unsolvable crime. The great Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s invention, is a ruminator. Alexander McCall Smith has created two more: Precious, owner and operator of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana, and Isabel Dalhousie, editor and occasional sleuth in Edinburgh, Scotland. Both are delightful women, women that I’d like to knowwomen with sharp minds like the one Galileo must have had, a mind that discerns the real center of things and things oft overlooked by everyone else.

I will walk with the lawyer and his minions, too. Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and several John Grisham books, including A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Client, The Runaway Jury, and The Rainmaker, have become great movies after being good reads. Stieg Larsson’s third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, belongs in this category, too for it is as much about legal procedure as it is about governments gone wrong and sick, twisted men.

For books that focus upon governments gone wrong, books by John LeCarré, the Bourne books by Robert Ludlum, or The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian are excellent examples and good reads. From these, we realize that: “Ideologies have no heart of their own. They're the whores and angels of our striving selves” (LeCarré).  Entire nations and the men who fight for them, most often in secret (spies), are both whores to the causes and angels facing down enemies. Their stories are both gripping and deadly.

Equally gripping are the psychological suspense versions in crime fiction. I was one of thousands who could not put down Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs and Stieg Larsson’s first, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. Protagonists Clarice Starling and Carl Mikael Blomkvist invest as much time in developing a profile of the suspect as they do in pursuit of the murderer. These books also present, often in morbid detail, the horrifying things done to their victims and the horrifying things done to transform a human into a monster. One classic movie in this genre is Psycho. We watch the blond leave behind law-abiding in favor of law-breaking in the name of love, only to stumble into a stunted boy broken by his mother’s betrayal. The twists and turns of the human mind make the outcomes terrifying.

Another category I adore is the cop. The first three seasons of The Wire (HBO) provide a university degree in police procedure as McNulty, Daniels, Freamon, and Kima Greggs try to take down the Barksdale Baltimore drug cartel. Parallels between the rules by which police live and rules by which drug dealers live are, at times, mirror images of each other.

P. D. James, Robert Parker and Joseph Wambaugh also wrote crime fiction featuring policemen, often world and work weary, frequently conflicted and disconnected from hearth and home. Like David Simon’s police in The Wire, Parker’s and Wambaugh’s are just one very fine line away from criminality. The best of them, Spencer and Jesse Stone or Lester Freamon and Adam Dalgliesh, pull themselves back before crossing the line.

Police drama draws advertisers to TV programming like hummingbirds to nectar. Law and Order and all its descendants are one part police procedural and one part legal thriller; they've been entertaining us since 1990. Currently, a version still runs on BBC, and Law and Order: SVU is still in production. Masterpiece Mystery on PBS has given us numerous police procedurals, including Zen, an Italian detective; Wallander, who solves crimes committed in Sweden; Inspector Lewis and DS Hathaway working the Oxford, England beat; and Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, a tortured British woman working an urban beat.

Sherlock Holmes is a quintessential figure for the puzzle genre of crime fiction. When no other witness or investigator can understand how the crime was committed, Holmes can. He is keen for detail, possesses encyclopedic knowledge of all things, and presses to uncover the truth regardless of consequences. His mind and the crimes he solves with it have been brought to life by countless actors. PBS distributed a version with Holmes and Watson in modern times while the Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law incarnations show us the nineteenth century in all its grit and glory.

My personal favorite is the hard-boiled genre. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. McDonald are just three authors who invented tough, jaded detectives. Often, they were  once policemen, but their inability to place nicely with others has forced them to become Private Eyes. They know the streets of whatever city they work. They have contacts on both sides of that fine line, criminal and law-abiding. They frequently answer the siren call of some dame, only to regret the path on which lust set them. They can lock up the dame just as easily as the mope. Best of all, they can knock back of shot of whiskey right before being gut-punched without losing a drop. Even after a pummeling or gunshot, concussion and blood loss notwithstanding, they can chase the evil-doers on foot and bring him to justice or send him to the morgue without breathing too hard. These guys are superheroes without any gimmick. Spidey did not bite their hands, bats never haunted their dreams, and iron suits were just too cumbersome. Still they fight with might for right.

Elmore Leonard and Walter Mosley are two more terrific authors in the hard-boiled genre, and both season their books with irony and wit. Leonard’s Chili Palmer in Get Shorty or Mosley’s Easy Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress are uncharacteristic detectives who move along the fringes of society, but they excel at solving mysteries.

Crime fiction is a rich, long-lived genre, and those that I have listed here are just a few of my favorites. Consider fifty more listed as “50 Crime Writers to Read Before You Die” at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3671363/50-crime-writers-to-read-before-you-die.html. You may also wish to see three more categories for crime fiction and representative titles at http://www.rd.com/family/the-best-thriller-books-of-all-time. Whatever you do, read several. Reading makes good writing, and you can challenge your inner problem-solver as you read.

Reading Challenge:

The entire post is a reading challenge so make a list and begin.

Writing Challenge:

After you have read at least one title from one category in the crime fiction genre, make a list of the protagonist’s characteristics. By becoming mindful of the conventions, you can make better use of them or invent one or two new ones of your own.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Capitalization

As the seasons shift from summer to spring, let’s review when and when not to capitalize a word referring to a season. See if you can infer the rule from the statement below.

In the middle of Winter Break, which falls between semesters, I will enjoy winter sports similar to those celebrated through the Winter Olympics competition.

If the word for the season is part of an official title, as it is in Winter Break or Winter Olympics, then capitalize the word. Otherwise, small letters will suffice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Beautiful Language

-->
Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.

Last week, I cited a passage from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson. Several pages beyond last week’s sample, a character, the concierge, describes when she discovered reading:

I learned to read. . . . written signs together, the infinite combinations and marvelous sounds. . . . I read as if deranged, . . . .The feeble child had become a hungry soul (45).

The word deranged struck me. It seems incongruous when discussing reason and beauty, yet I can remember passages that struck me, caused me to stowaway aboard the author’s vessel and leave behind all that was real and familiar in favor of worlds unseen, feelings unimagined.

The first book that seemed to unhinge me, to draw me on to a second, third and fourth reading was Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (New York: Random House, 1943).  I was much too young to comprehend the love between Catherine and Heathcliff or Catherine and Edgar, but their inability to choose well and wisely hinted at love’s conquering tyranny and man’s frailties. Both fascinated me as did Bronte’s language on the second page:

Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed; one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun (2).

Since then, I see the slant of trees and know that Frost’s ice storms (from “Birches”) are not responsible. The unrelenting, bracing winds are. Moreover, I see that thorns might be gaunt and crave the blessings of the sun; they are images that paint themselves across the mind, images that endure.

Another book that deranged me is Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag (New York: Harper and Row, 1955). Stories of the Pilgrims and Puritans, including their hardships, never impressed upon me just how soul-shattering and faith-destroying those hardships might be. Rolvaag’s book stamped upon me a clear and vivid perception of hardships insurmountable, triumphs crushed, and life withering under the assaults of Nature. At first, however, the pioneers experience only glory:

Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon[ . . . .] Bright, clear sky, today, tomorrow, and for all time to come.

[. . .] And sun! And still more sun! It set the heavens afire every morning; it grew with the day to quivering golden light—then softened into all the shades of red and purple as evening fell [....] Pure colour everywhere. A gust of wind, sweeping across the plain, threw into life waves of yellow and blue and green. Now and then a dead black wave would race over the scene[....] a cloud’s gliding shadow [. . .]now and then [. . . .] (3)

The plains, as Rolvaag describes them, move in light and shadow, color and warmth, possibilities and promise. They live as characters live within the pages of a novel. And I have never seen Nature as anything less since. Nature is majestic and fantastical; it is also malignant, another truth that Rolvaag unfolds and resolves in the final words of his novel:

One day during the spring . . . , a troop of young boys were ranging the prairies, in search of some yearling cattle that had gone astray. They came upon the haystack, and stood transfixed. On the west side of the stack sat a man, with his back to the mouldering hay. This was in the middle of a warm day in May, yet the man had two pairs of skis along with him; one pair lay beside him on the ground, the other was tied to his back. He had a heavy stocking cap pulled well down over his forehead, and large mittens on his hands; in each hand he clutched a staff [. . . . ] To the boys, it looked as though the man were sitting there resting while he waited for better skiing [. . . .]

[. . .] His face was ashen and drawn. His eyes were set toward the west (452).

In this novel, a woman walks into a pond and allows herself to drown because of the unrelenting sameness of season after season, a cycle of never ending hope and deprivation, promise and betrayal, plenty and want. The man from the passage above, a fine loving man and father, becomes so lost in the swirling snows that he sits down to die against hay that has rotted under its own weight, facing west, seeing only the dying days.

These were unimaginable consequences of forging a new world. These were unimaginable consequences of being human, at the mercy of Nature’s might and majesty. These were heretofore unimaginable consequences in a world that seemed solid and forgiving, but that is, in fact, transient and stern. Yes, this book shook me.

The list of books that have similarly shaken, delighted, and startled me does not exist. I did not write them down, and I would surely fail to include important authors and titles. Shakespeare would be among them—everything I’ve read by Shakespeare, sonnets, histories, tragedies, and comedies. Wordsworth would be there, too. Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree. Lots of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some of Ernest Hemingway. Cormac McCarthy. Toni Morrison. Steinbeck, especially his last, The Winter of Our Discontent. Robert Frost—well, poetry in general. And most everything I’ve read by Annie Dillard who writes in The Writing Life (Dillard, Annie, Annie Dillard, Annie Dillard, and Annie Dillard. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek ; An American Childhood ; The Writing Life. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1990. Print.):

The line of words fingers your own heart. It invades arteries, and enters the heart on a flood of breath; it presses the moving rims of thick valves; it palpates the dark muscle strong as horses, feeling for something, it knows now what. A queer picture beds in the muscle like a worm encystedsome film of feeling, some song forgotten, a scene in a dark bedroom, a corner of the woodlot, a terrible dining room, that exalting sidewalk; these fragments are heavy with meaning. The line of words peels them back, dissects them out. Will the bared tissue burn? Do you want to expose these scenes to the light? You may locate them and leave them, or poke the spot hard till the sore bleeds on your finger, and write with that blood. If the sore spot is not fatal, if it does not grow and block something, you can use its power for many years, until the heart resorbs it (20).

Could anyone describe the art of writing by which we become deranged any better?

Reading Challenge:

Read any of the works cited in this post. They are:

o   The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
o   The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
o   Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag
o   Obasan by Joy Kogawa
o   The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
o   Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Or, read any of the authors listed. In addition to those in the list above, they are:

o   Annie Dillard
o   Robert Frost
o   Cormac McCarthy
o   Toni Morrison
o   William Shakespeare
o   William Wordsworth

Writing Challenge:

From one of the books or poems from the lists above, select a passage that briefly deranged you, then imitate its word order with a fresh line of words of your own creation.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):

Look back at the passages from Rolvaag. Most of the ellipses are inside brackets. Why?

MLA requires that ellipses used by the original author be wrapped in brackets so that readers will know that nothing has been omitted from the passage by the writer making use of the quotation. Ellipses that stand alone, without brackets, are those of the person quoting, not the author. Here is the rule as it appears for The OWL at Purdue (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/03/):

"Adding or Omitting Words in Quotations


If you add a word or words in a quotation, you should put brackets around the words to indicate that they are not part of the original text.

Jan Harold Brunvand, in an essay on urban legends, states: "some individuals [who retell urban legends] make a point of learning every rumor or tale" (78).

If you omit a word or words from a quotation, you should indicate the deleted word or words by using ellipsis marks, which are three periods ( . . . ) preceded and followed by a space. For example:

In an essay on urban legends, Jan Harold Brunvand notes that "some individuals make a point of learning every recent rumor or tale . . . and in a short time a lively exchange of details occurs" (78).

Please note that brackets are not needed around ellipses unless adding brackets would clarify your use of ellipses."